Mujahideen flock to Mali
By Jemal Oumar and Raby Ould Idoumou for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 25/10/12
As Mali braces for military intervention, growing popular discontent over Islamist governance is expanding well beyond the embattled country's borders.
Foreign fighters have begun arriving in Mali, but these are not the long-awaited African military forces come to liberate the country from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the MUJAO and Ansar al-Din.
"Hundreds of jihadists, mostly Sudanese and Sahrawis, have arrived as reinforcements to face an offensive by Malian forces and their allies," AFP quoted a Malian security source as saying on Tuesday (October 22nd).
[AFP/Romaric Ollo Hein] Malian Islamist group Ansar al-Din uses narco-cash to families of child soldiers.
[AFP/Kangou Sia] Women sell fruit in Kidal in 2006. Under the Islamists, women are barred from working at the food stalls.
[AFP/Habibou Kouyate] Several thousand people march on October 11th in Bamako to call for armed intervention to reclaim the north from armed Islamist groups.
"They are armed and explained that they had come to help their Muslim brothers against the infidels," a Timbuktu resident said.
Sanad Ould Bouamama, official spokesperson for Ansar al-Din, says, "The arrival of hundreds of young mujahideen from different areas across the Islamic world to support us in our war against the infidels and crusaders is not strange or surprising."
"The same thing happened in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, Somalia and Iraq," the Ansar al-Din official tells Magharebia.
Ould Bouamama adds, "The war that the world is planning to wage against us is a war against Islam and all that is related to Islam. Its goal is to combat God's Sharia, and therefore, all mujahideen have to stand by our side."
Abdelhamid al-Ansari, an analyst specialising in terrorism, recognises "the same scenario that the world lived in Afghanistan before the fall of Taliban, and in Baghdad before the fall of Saddam's regime".
"In Afghanistan, mujahideen from different nationalities flocked to the country in search of death for what they believed to be a sacred goal, while in Iraq, Arab nationalists were looking for lost Arab glory, which they believed was represented by Saddam Hussein," he says.
Mali is now seeing the same influx of disaffected youth "from countries suffering from poverty, marginalisation and wars", al-Ansari adds.
Malian citizens are struggling to come to terms with their new leaders.
In an effort to curry favour with the locals, the Islamists removed taxes on many basic goods, fixed some food prices, looted stores and World Food Programme warehouses to resell the merchandise at low prices, and began providing free public utility services, the UN news agency reported on October 18th.
"There are no electricity or water bills… Before, I paid 15,000 and 8,000 CFA monthly (23 euros and 12 euros) for my electricity and water but that’s now free," said Issa Mahamar, a French teacher in Gao.
The Islamists also offer enlistment bonuses and monthly stipends to families of child soldiers.
"They are buying loyalty. They have tremendous resources to buy loyalty because they are now having kickbacks from narco-traffickers in the region," UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Šimonovic said in New York on October 10th."There is also substantial ransom money that is being controlled by them."
"The overwhelming majority of people in the north are not supportive of the rebels and dislike what is happening," the UN official said. "Children can't play soccer."
Mali is not the only country where the population is questioning the efficacy of Islamists.
According to Maghreb analysts, Islamist parties that came to power through the Arab Spring are suffering from a crisis of confidence and may lose the next electoral event.
Two years have passed since the start of the Arab spring revolutions. Still, the Islamists' ability to manage the countries that embraced their movements is tenuous at best.
"It was natural that Islamist parties and groups in the Arab world benefit from the Arab Spring," Mauritanian political analyst and taqadoumy.com director Hanafi Ould Dehah tells Magharebia. "This includes Maghreb countries where they rose to political stardom and dominated the electoral scene in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, and now lead the government in Morocco."
"Many factors contributed to their success, including an emotional, religious discourse in the face of systems that can only be described as secular extremist," he says. "This is what made the collective mind in these countries see in the election of Islamists a definitive break with the governing style that had prevailed."
Ould Dehah adds that upon reaching power, "Islamic leaning regimes failed to fulfil the aspirations of the voters."
"There are definitely problems that have arisen under this kind of rule," he adds. "These problems include women's freedom - no sooner had the Libyan Revolution succeeded than it legalised polygamy - and freedom of personal activities."
He also points out that tourism has suffered under Islamist governance. "Security deteriorated as well as freedoms, and the creativity of authors, writers and directors was stifled. Development regressed too, and prison torture made a comeback. Dreams were broken as well. Hence, a setback is expected for Islamists in the first round of votes to come in, given that they killed the dreams of their constituents," the journalist adds.
In Tunisia, a video circulating on social networks and attributed to Islamist leader Rachid Ghannouchi, head of the Ennahda party, is causing a substantial debate. Ghannouchi is talking about the movement's future plans for security forces, the army and the administration.
Algerian secularists are also turning on Islamists. This could portend further political strife in a country that needs stability more than ever in light of tense regional conditions.
In Morocco, now that the government of Abdelilah Benkirane is close to blowing out its first candle, there is a slowdown in economic growth. Meanwhile, the Economic and Social Council warns, "Social deficits and slowness in containing these deficits might negatively affect social cohesion."
In Libya, it is clear that the Islamists are trying to be more open by co-operating with the liberals, but this relationship is risky because of the basis upon which it was built.
"The agreement that took place between these parties was a need dictated by the current situation, since everyone fears a constitutional vacuum," press analyst Said Farhat wrote in Al-Ahram newspaper.
Mauritanian journalist and researcher Abul Abbas Aberham argues, "It is too early to judge the Islamists' experience in the Maghreb, but we can make some quick observations such as: the promised break with the previous regimes did not occur, and the process of democratic transition that brought Islamic governance derived not from the modern national state, but from state favouritism."
Terrorism analyst Hamadi Ould Dah sees "a real crisis experienced by the Islamic movements that benefited from the Arab Spring revolutions and are turning stricter by the day".
"The rapid pace of events, and the evidence of political indicators, reveals the contradictory discourse of political Islam," Ould Dah continues. "If we look at the slogans of the application of Sharia, from a narrow standpoint referred to for almost half a century, they are against tourism, art, freedom of expression, and freedom of women."
"At the same time for economic reasons, these religious movements cannot apply these positions on the ground because they contradict world trade, globalisation and political openness," Ould Dah adds.
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