New outlines of civilization line in the Arab speaking non-Arab states
Abovementioned Arab speaking non-Arab or Arab minority countries are situated around the line of convergence of civilizations. Struggle of civilization bearers in two of those countries – Somalia and Chad is more pronounced while no particular rift is observed in Djibouti and Eritrea. Eritrea’s Muslim and Christian community is more or less equal in size. 50 % of the population is Muslim and 48 % are followers of different movements within Christianity. This proportion is similar to the one in Chad. In Chad, however, the Sara tribe that converted to Catholicism during the colonial rule became the ruling elite, and thus, conflicts on religious grounds and civil war ensued.
At the heart of the geopolitical environment lies the conflict of the predominantly Muslim North with the South, alongside the clashes between Arabs that make up 12 % of the local population and indigenous black population. Moreover, uncontrolled Darfur region is a threat to the regional stability. Chad accommodates some 200 thousand refugees that fled Darfur while Darfur shelters military factions that fight the government troops.
From the perspective of inter-civilization relations, division line in Chad is likely to shift southwards. In a country with 120 spoken languages and dialects Arabic serves the unification purpose – a factor that bears crucial importance for the fate of the country. The colonial empires started to target that point in the early 20th century. Thus, Protestant schools were established in Chad since the 1920s and different European languages were disseminated. However, literacy rate is deplorable and number of educational facilities is insufficient. According to official figures only 35 % of the population is literate; something that contributes to the spread of Arabic taught in madrasas and indirectly to further dissemination of Islam.
Economic factors have also shifted in favor of the Muslim North. In the past France and the U.S. were among the top investors, whereas today on the economic scene China emerges ahead of others. China is a leading player in most of the large-scale projects, primarily in the oil sector. Unlike the Westerners that openly support the South, the Chinese are impartial and interested in maintaining good relations with the incumbent Muslim President. Taking that into account, the Muslim North is expected to enjoy growingly solid position. Nevertheless, in the event of Western forces’ intervention, Chad is most likely to become another hotbed in the geopolitical terms, especially after South Sudan.
Africa’s powder keg
Somalia is an Arabic speaking nation that stands out for its articulate and dramatic state of inter-civilization relations. Africa’s powder keg, Somalia is at the breaking line of the civilizations. Lately, the country is frequently mentioned as home to extremist religious and terrorist organizations. Somali thugs became pirates of the Indian Ocean. “Al-Qaeda” affiliated “Al-Shabab” terrorist organization is posing threat not only for the country but the entire region. The organization is perpetrating bloody terrorist acts in Kenya and Uganda. Albeit this terrorist organization has nothing in common with the Islamic values, its activity is nevertheless branded as Islamic fundamentalism by the West. Western media positions “Al-Shabab” as a player responsible for defining the outlines of the boundary between the Muslim North and the Christian South in the context of inter-civilization relations.
However, let us weigh in and see if those responsible for the graveness of the situation in Somalia and accuse Islam of radicalization actually feel culpability for their actions. Ramifications of the past colonial system lie at the core of the present situation in a predominantly Muslim Somalia.
The country that emerged in the wake of unification of Italian and British colonies in 1960 inherited severe problems regarding demarcation of borders between its neighbors. There are areas in both Kenya and Ethiopia with Somali tribal population. The issue was even a catalyst to a war between Somali and Kenya in 1963-1967. The West had chosen to support non-Muslim Kenya. Soviet Union, then the patron of both countries, had supported non-Muslim Ethiopia. Thereby, the interests of non-Muslims were upheld; the principle of justice was not observed. That eventually bolstered favorable conditions for radicalization of the Islamist forces.
On the other hand, since 1991, the country in fact, lacks central government. Up to 10 Somali groups had declared independence and “Al-Shabab” militants essentially control a significant part of the country. The organization also wields clout in neighboring Kenya and Uganda.
One notable aspect deserves attention in the context of the present situation. As the country plunged into chaos in the 1990s, the U.S. and allies withdrew their troops from Somalia. UN peacekeepers also chose not to stay for too long. In the meantime, no assistance was rendered to liberal Islamists – opponents of “Al-Shabab” in the civil war. Deployment of Kenyan and Ugandan troops within African Union’s military contingent had only backfired in light of already sore relations of those countries with Somalia. At the time, joint forces of the African Union, supported by the Kenyan military and U.S. drones, had launched a major offensive against the terrorist organization. Kenyan military managed to penetrate the Somali territory and inflict substantial damage upon “Al-Shabab”.
Thus, a blind eye was turned on Somalia becoming an uncontrolled terrain and miscalculated foreign intervention was expected to produce a negative effect. The issue of Somalis operating as pirates in the Indian Ocean was not also duly addressed. All of those matters had to leave an imprint. In this regard, in the society exposed to so much injustice, the rise of radicalization trends was inevitable. Religion is a critical factor in the Somali society. Implication of religion and evaluation of many issues from that perspective by the leading foreign media outlets suggests a complicity of many domestic and external forces. Terrorist act carried out by “Al-Shabab” in Uganda’s capital Kampala in 2010, claimed 76 lives while another 70 perished in a heinous attack on a shopping mall in Kenyan capital city of Nairobi in September 2013. The group was also involved in bombing of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Uganda in 1998.
Thus, forces directly responsible for the current situation in the region are somehow reluctant to intervene. Conversely, pretexts for intervention into the Arab states are being devised in the absence of radical Islamist organizations there. Apparently, big powers are interested in that region to remain beyond control while such zones are breeding grounds for terrorist organizations. It is not accidental that today “Al-Shabab” may only be compared with Taliban in terms of outreach and number of perpetrated terrorist attacks.
Everything attests to Somalia’s potential to top the list of the processes capable of provoking a new domino effect along the breaking line of civilizations. Presumably, African countries with Chinese investments will make up the list. New wave of economic crisis may serve as a catalyst here, meaning that redistribution of markets may be the ultimate motivation driving the processes. Therefore, we may conclude that in Somalia – Africa’s powder keg, problems emanate not from inter-religious and inter-civilization issues but rather the interests of influential powers.
Terror being harbored there makes the region susceptible to redistribution and serves the purpose of conservation for other users as no economic projects are introduced and no new forces emerge. Apparently stakeholders wish to see this region unchartered.
Dr. Arastü HABİBBEYLİ