The most high-profile foreign fighter in Shabab, Omar Hammami, published two documents online yesterday detailing splits among Shabab’s leaders. Clint Watts has the scoop. Last night, I helped Clint read through the longer of the two Arabic documents and here were some things that struck me:
- Global vs. Local: Hammami uses “Ansar” (“Helpers”) for Somali jihadis and “Muhajirun” (“Emigrants”) for foreign fighters, which hearkens back to the distinction between Ansar and Muhajirs in Medina. The Ansar are divided between those who support the global jihad of al-Qaeda and those with a more local focus. He portrays the Muhajirs in Somalia as uniformly “globalist.”
- Oath of Allegience: On the one hand, Hammami claims that Godane, the current leader of the Shabab and the architect of its merger with al-Qaeda, has a lofty view of al-Qaeda: “[Godane] said that an oath of allegiance to al-Qaeda is tantamount to an oath of allegiance to the caliphate” (bay`at al-qa`ida bi-nafsi mathabati bay`at al-khilafa). On the other hand, Hammami argues that those who gave their bay`a to al-Qaeda later felt tricked by Godane into doing so and that Godane used the merger to isolate his rivals and silence his critics among the foreign fighters. Read Clint’s post for details.
- Game of Thrones: Clint suggested that the best pop culture lens for viewing Shabab infighting is Game of Thrones. Case in point, much of the dispute between the two principal powers in the Shabab, Godane and Robow, centers on protecting their geographical bases of support from one another.
My takeaway as an analyst: Understanding the historical roots of terminology or concepts will only get you so far. What matters more is how actors use those concepts to articulate their aspirations for power.