If the US or Europe intervenes, they’ll back the wrong side, same as they always do.
By Jemal Oumar for Magharebia in Nouakchott – 27/04/12
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Ansar al-Din are not receiving a warm welcome in Azawad.
Days after Touareg rebel Iyad Ag Ghaly’s Islamist group seized Timbuktu with the help of al-Qaeda, residents struck their first blow against what they called the “Islamic and foreign groups in the region” by staging a protest on Friday (April 20th).
“Elements of al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Din tried to stop the march, but young people ignored them,” an official of the Belferandi mosque told Magharebia.
Northern Mali’s strong cultural pride, Touareg heritage, affinity for Sufism and respect for women’s freedom make them deaf to the extremists’ message. They are vocal about their refusal to let their UNESCO World Heritage Site be held hostage by Islamic hardliners.
“We held our own banners to show our rejection of al-Qaeda and the carriers of black flags [Salafists],” Elhassan Cissé, a bus driver in Timbuktu, tells Magharebia.
“The people who took part in the march were very angry with the behaviour of al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Din because they enter people’s houses, break their belongings and intervene in the details of their lives,” he adds.
Local imam Daoud Ibn Mohammed explains that Timbuktu residents sought to do more with their rally that condemn the presence of extremists and denounce the new al-Qaeda affiliated wali.
“They also wanted to protest against the behaviour of the new leaders,” the imam says. “The way they run our lives led to acute food shortages and the spread of hunger and poverty among the people.”
Extremist groups have allied to control the Azawad region as a prelude to controlling all of Mali, analyst al-Mokhtar al-Salem warns. But that will prove impossible in a region where the values of openness and tolerance prevail, he adds.
“Women, for example, move around without veils and enjoy much freedom in management and leadership,” al-Salem says. “It would be difficult to apply strict Islamic laws in a society that has habits and traditions which run against repression and restriction.”
Mali is much different than places where al-Qaeda gained a foothold, such as Afghanistan, he points out.
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