AL-SHABAAB COUNTEROFFENSIVE IN MOGADISHU THREATENS AFRICAN UNION’S MILITARY GAINS
The cautious consolidation of its control over Mogadishu by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) encountered a pair of serious setbacks in late October as al-Shabaab Islamists ambushed a Burundian patrol on October 20 and mounted a suicide attack on Ugandan troops in their base at the German Metal Factory near Mogadishu Stadium.
A statement from al-Shabaab describing the “Mogadish Bloodbath” claimed two “martyrdom seekers” disguised as Transitional Federal Government (TFG) troops infiltrated the camp housing Ugandan troops and forces of Somalia’s TFG and set off their bombs, killing themselves and a number of Ugandan soldiers. This much is acknowledged by AMISOM; the Shabaab statement, however, describes a more complete victory obtained when mujahideen followed the blasts by raiding the base, securing all access routes in and out and massacring all Ugandan and TFG forces contained within.  Al-Shabaab spokesmen later claimed at least one of the two suicide attackers was an American citizen who had joined the Somali mujahideen (AFP, October 30). Uganda’s Lieutenant General Katumba Wamala claimed the Ugandans had suffered only three killed and two wounded in the attack, though some reports have suggested far greater losses (Sunday Nation [Nairobi], October 30). Nevertheless, sources in Mogadishu have confirmed that gunmen wearing TFG uniforms rushed the camp after the bombings, killing at least ten soldiers (AP, October 29; Reuters, October 29). Following the attack, a senior AMISOM officer promised that the African Union forces would soon “destroy” al-Shabaab (Shabelle Media Network, October 28; Horseed Media, October 28).
Though al-Shabaab claimed to have killed anywhere from 76 to 150 Burundian troops in the earlier ambush in Dayniile district and displayed dozens of bodies wearing AMISOM gear afterward, the real figure appears to be closer to 50. Burundian authorities have claimed a much lower figure of ten killed, but this figure appears intended to ward off domestic opposition to the mission in politically volatile Burundi. The Bujumbura government reaffirmed its commitment to the AMISOM mission after the clash, urging its troops to “double their efforts and vigilance” while calling on the international community to supply the African Union peacekeepers with enough “hardware” to carry out their mandate (PANA Online [Dakar], October 27).
Al-Shabaab now describes their sudden August withdrawal from most of Mogadishu not as a sign of weakness, but rather as a strategic operation designed to focus efforts on causing as much damage to AMISOM as possible without having to defend ground. According to the Shabaab statement on the Dayniile clash of October 20, “The recent battles have lured the AU forces, who previously sought refuge behind their heavily fortified bases and underground bunkers, out into the open; thereby exposing their intense vulnerabilities and proving their inability to fight in an urban area” (Ansar1.info, October 24; Mareeg Online, October 24; Africa Review [Nairobi], October 25). Al-Shabaab’s general withdrawal from Mogadishu has presented the undermanned African Union mission with the dilemma of how to occupy and consolidate its gains in Mogadishu without spreading AU forces too thin. According to AMISOM spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Paddy Ankunda: “The outer north and eastern fringes of the city must still be cleared, but key ground and buildings are no longer under the control of the extremists" (AFP, October 11). The Shabaab strategy also has the benefit of freeing up forces to fend off Kenyan occupation of the Shabaab-held port of Kismayo, which would constitute a crippling financial loss to the Islamist movement.
1. Press Office, Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen, “The Mogadishu Bloodbath – 80 Ugandan Soldiers Killed,” October 29, 2011.
LEADER OF EGYPT’S MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD DISCUSSES FUTURE OF EGYPT AND RELATIONS WITH THE UNITED STATES
A series of once inconceivable meetings between U.S. representatives and leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood [MB] in October presented a triumph for the Brothers’ efforts to establish themselves as responsible partners in the post-Revolution democratic transition. In the wake of these developments, the Egyptian Brotherhood’s leader, Dr. Muhammad Badi, discussed the implications of these discussions and the Brotherhood’s role in Egypt’s political transition (Akhbar al-Yawm [Cairo], October 30).
Regarding the movement’s recent contacts with U.S. representatives, MB General Guide Dr. Badi recalls that not long ago the United States regarded such contacts as “100% taboo” and urges Washington to deal with new political realities in the Middle East: “The U.S. Administration has to understand well the lesson of the Arab spring revolutions. We hope it will deal with the peoples not rulers because rulers are bound to go. Consequently the interests of the Americans are not guaranteed with the rulers. So I hope they will deal with the Egyptian people as being the source of the powers. The people are the side to wager on now.”
Though the Brotherhood has emphasized it is not seeking a majority in the new parliament and is not running a presidential candidate to mute claims the Brothers are seeking to take control of Egypt, the Brothers’ political wing, Ḥizb al-Hurriya wa al-’Adala (Freedom and Justice Party – FJP), has nonetheless emerged as the strongest political faction in the current political environment. Badi insists that this is not a sin or crime for which the movement should seek forgiveness: “It is the harvest of jihad and struggle and of having stood in the face of injustice for tens of years. We paid a dear price for it. Suffice it to mention that over the past 15 years alone 40,000 MB members were detained.” Nonetheless, Badi maintains that reforming Egypt will take a broad, unified effort: “We cannot run Egypt, live in Egypt, or win in the elections except through accord. This is a foregone conclusion, for we know that Egypt’s problems are too heavy to be borne by any single faction under any circumstances.”
However, deliberately avoiding responsibility for the inevitable failings (real or perceived) of the new government may well be a practical political strategy for the MB. As Badi notes, those who are demanding a new government must realize that such a government will face a host of problems accumulated over thirty years: “[The new government] will face problems and those who demanded its appointment will go down to Tahrir Square to call for its downfall. This is why we must realize that we are in a transitional period.”
Despite the Brotherhood’s insistence it is not seeking to take power in the new government, the movement is taking measures to make sure its MPs are among the most effective and least tainted by corruption in the new government by excluding all candidates involved in unethical behavior or financial irregularities. According to Badi, an educational camp has been set up for the training of all MB candidates.
While observers have noted a proliferation of new MB offices in nearly every district of Egypt since the Revolution, Badi rejects accusations that the movement was suddenly in possession of funds from abroad: “Not a single cent entered our pocket from any funds or financing. We are the people most concerned about transparency and integrity because we fear Allah. We can never accept any funds from any quarter under any circumstances.” Dr. Badi warns that the Revolution is under threat from both “vested interests” inside Egypt and external interests that used to benefit from the pliable nature of the former regime, which was always ready to respond positively to foreign demands.
Like most of the MB’s leadership, Badi is a veteran of repeated terms in Egypt’s prisons, but he believes that the detentions of the movement’s leaders gives the group credibility among the Egyptian masses and provided an opportunity to reflect on the correct course for Egypt: “While we were in prison we were thinking of what is in Egypt’s interest, like Prophet Joseph who entered jail on a false charge but despite this kept thinking about how to save Egypt.”
Last month Dr Muhammad Sa’d al-Katatni, the secretary general of the FJP met with an official from a U.S. national security organization and the First Secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo at the FJP headquarters in Cairo (Bikya Masr [Cairo], October 6). Shortly thereafter, a delegation of assistants to U.S. House representatives met with MB Secretary General Dr. Mahmud Husayn and movement spokesman Dr. Mahmud Ghazlan on October 18.
In an interview with a pan-Arab news agency, al-Katatni downplayed the significance of the unprecedented dialogue with official American representatives: “The United States has interests in the region, and if observers see that the FJP is close to power, then it is natural that the Americans should hasten to initiate dialogue with it to know its inclinations. This falls also within diplomatic norms and not only within reconciliation” (Ilaf.com, October 3).
According to MB spokesman Dr. Ghazlan, the MB leaders assured the Americans that the movement had set a ceiling of acquiring only a third of available parliamentary seats and would not run a candidate for president “because the Brotherhood was used as a scarecrow in the past,” adding that the Americans’ understanding of Islam “included frivolities, distortions and misconceptions. We explained to them the status of non-Muslims in the Islamic State and that they have the freedom of belief and worship and to apply the rules of their religion in dealings and to perform their rites in full freedom" (al-Hayat, October 21).