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Friday, July 16, 2010

Harakat al-Shabab

Tuesday, 08 December 2009

Members of Somalia's Harakat al-ShababThe Somali insurgent-jihadi group Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen ["Movement of the Warrior-Youth"] is publicizing its public sector social service work, such as distributing materials and monetary aid to those in need and building bridges, literally. This is a smart decision from a strategic point of view, since it allows the group to foster an image and reputation of being actively engaged in public social services.

Its potential public relations/propaganda effect is increased considering that the country's current interim transitional government, led by President Shaykh (Sheikh) Sharif Ahmed, has been largely unable to deliver similar services to the general populace, in large part due to its lack of control of large parts of the country, in particular southern regions where Harakat al-Shabab is strong.

Thus, the group is able to provide some of the public sector social services that the federal government is not.In a country that has been torn apart by civil war and inter-clan conflict since the collapse of the regime of its last president, the autocrat Siad Barre in January 1991, the potential public relations and propaganda benefits from this should not be underestimated.

By completing and publicizing social service projects, Harakat al-Shabab is able to wield yet another weapon against President Sharif Ahmed's government. "See, we can provide services and the government cannot," they can say.

Harakat al-Shabab is an interesting hybrid movement. Although it has publicly endorsed the ideology espoused by al-Qa'ida Central (AQC), it continues to focus mainly on its nation-stateproject in Somalia. Unlike transient movements such as AQC, Harakat al-Shabab is, at least to some degree, concerned about building a governing structure and base of support, since its future relies primarily on the continued support, or at least tolerance, of the local population. By publicizing its social services work, the group is able to potentially build up its local support base, while also meeting the expectations of its existing base. The Afghan Taliban have recently also shown a greater concern for its place within its own country, sometimes to the detriment of AQC's interests.
Successful social services programs and work have proven to be of great benefit to religious-nationalist groups in the Muslim world, such as the Palestinian HAMAS movement, Lebanese Shi'i party Hizbullah, and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

Harakat al-Shabab's latest video production, "Breezes from the Winds of Victory," which was released on November 14, heavily emphasizes its social services role. Group members are shown distributing books, money, and other prizes to children who have won a competition.

Gifts are also distributed before 'Eid al-Fitr prayers, in accordance with longstanding traditions associated, in many Muslim societies, with the annual 'Eids (celebrations or holidays) that end the month of Ramadan and the Hajj pilgrimage. The video uses the name of the group's current military campaign against the transitional federal government, "Winds of Victory.”

Children who participated in the organization's contest.

The group released a statement, via the Global Islamic Media Front (a transnational jihadi media outlet) on November 21 that announced the opening of the "al-Quds" [Jerusalem] Bridge in the Shabila (Sha-bee-laa) region of the country between the cities of Marka and Shamboud a week before. The bridge's opening was, according to the statement, "greeted warmly by the people of the Islamic state." The inclusion of a description of the part of Somalia controlled by Harakat al-Shabab as an "Islamic state" is noteworthy. The remainder of the statement describes the physical characteristics and measurements of the bridge.

Reprinted with permission from the author. Originally published November 22, 2009 in the blog “Views From The Occident.” The original article can be read here:

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