Somalia's Islamists Are ... Retreating?

Drying up of funding. The international community has successfullly squeezed off many of al-Shabaab’s external funding sources. The group has been compelled to rely more on internal sources, largely “taxes” extorted from businesses and herders. But hundreds of thousands of rural people, hit by famine, have gone to Mogadishu seeking foreign aid and have deserted al-Shabaab-controlled areas. The loss of the Bakara market in Mogadishu last August, a prime area for extorting money, was very costly for the group. As a result, al-Shabaab is less able to pay its fighters, support their families, and buy weapons.

Loss of popular support. The movement’s strict Wahhabist interpretation of Sharia law, including stoning, mutilations, and the destruction of Sunni shrines, has antagonized many who consider themselves to be pious Muslims but reject these actions. There have been local demonstrations against the excesses of al-Shabaab, and some have organized Sunni Muslim groups to fight against it. This loss of popular support is reflected in the recent warning by one al-Shabaab leader, Sheikh Mokhtar Abdurrahman Abu Zubeyr, that the excesses of the Islamist fighters must be curbed lest they turn Somalis against Islam altogether as well as against al-Shabaab.

Whilst al-Shabab is far from defeated and can still engage in guerrilla warfare in Mogadishu’s streets, the organization is visibly fragmenting and weakening. This success has been accomplished with minimal Western aid. More help for AMISOM and the TFG might help bring about a bigger victory against the revolutionary Islamists.