Ever since Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mahamoud appeared on video with obvious signs of assault on his face, stories have been rife. The video released by the Villa Somalia presidential palace was an attempt to dispel concerns over the president’s isolation since returning from the United Arab Emirates on June 24.
What has fueled more speculation about the origin of his bruising and swollen eye are conflicting and unconvincing reports about the circumstances of his trip to Abu Dhabi two weeks ago.
The president left on June 19 for a business trip for just two accompanied by Mahad Salad, the director of National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA). Unusually, the president had left behind his bodyguard who never leaves his side, especially when traveling abroad.
President was called by the Emirati President Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan (MbZ), according to Abdikarin Ali Kaar, the president’s spokesman. Mahamoud was catapulted to the presidency through the money and machinations of the Emirates, Egypt and other foreign countries.
The rushed trip came at a time when the new president didn’t even have a government formed.Upon arrival in Abu Dhabi, he was met by an Emirati official at the airport and then remained incommunicado until June 22.
There were several days when no one knew where he was and Somalis on social media urged Villa Somalia to break the silence around the president’s trip. The presidential spokesman who traveled to Abu Dhabi the next day, generally forthcoming with details, did not communicate anything during this 3-day disappearance.
Some Somali commentators immediately suggested that he had taken a private plane to Tel Aviv where it seems that the president intends to negotiate his association with the Abrahamic agreements that certain Arab countries have concluded with Israel for diplomatic relations and a full cooperation. Israel has been courting Mohamoud for some time.
Other commentators worried about the president’s safety. It is no longer surprising in recent years to see Saudi Arabia, the Emirates or Egypt using gangster methods to brutalize the leaders of other Arab countries in defiance of international law and mutual respect between states.
In November 2017, Saudi Arabia held Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri against his will and even forced him to announce his resignation in a video. The Prime Minister had traveled to Saudi Arabia on business and then disappeared. Hariri was released after Lebanese politicians sensed something was wrong and all rejected his resignation. The situation remained tense until France intervened and Hariri was able to return to Beirut to continue his work.
In July 2021, Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, summoned by Tunisian President Kais Saied who had just dissolved the elected parliament and is about to sack the government, was assaulted to force him to resign. Mechichi was then confined to his home for several days. He was injured in the face during an ordeal where Egyptian agents were present. Saudi and Emirati intelligence services were also part of the plot.
In Somalia, the story of an assault on President Hassan Sheikh Mahamoud grows stronger when he reappears three days after his suspicious disappearance. A photo of him chatting with MbZ was shared by Villa Somalia showing him wearing dark sunglasses and a face mask.
To the questions raised by concerned citizens, Mr. Kaar stated that the president was in quarantine during the days that he was incommunicado. Back in Mogadishu, the president isolated himself and avoided any public or video appearances. The same spokesperson justified this isolation to the fact that the president contracted the Covid-19.
Moreover, for the first time in Somalia’s history, a sitting president refused to participate in the June 26 independence celebration. The president delegated the parliament speaker to replace him during the public demonstration that day. His first public appearance at the July 1 Somali Union commemoration ceremony shows the scars of violence on his still puffy left eye.
Always with the public scrutiny about this mysterious trip to the United Arab Emirates, Villa Somalia produced on June 29 a video where the president wandered in the garden of the presidential palace with the prime minister Hamza Barre. Even with the precautions to film the president on the right side, it was noticeable the president had a black eye.
There, the doubt on the information which filters from the palace and the increase in the questioning on the president of Somalia’s safety and on this trip to Abu Dhabi.
If the Somali president suffered the same fate as Mechichi and Hariri, it is certain that Somalis including the head of the NISA who accompanied him were part of the plot. Mahad Salad who is close to the Egyptian secret service was imposed on Hassan Sheikh Mahamoud against the advice of the former intelligence chief.
For the Somali public, any agreement signed under duress during this controversial trip is not in line with Somalia’s interests and should be considered and rejected by parliament. In the absence of a transparent investigation to elucidate the circumstances surrounding the president’s trip, the mandate of this current administration is in jeopardy.
Somalia under previous President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo had a difficult relationship with the UAE and Saudi Arabia after he refused to join Qatar’s isolation by MBS and MBZ and turned down 80 million bribes. Relations deteriorated when the Somali government thwarted a destabilization attempt by corrupt politicians assisted by an army trained, equipped and paid for by Abu Dhabi.
The UAE cut short all cooperation with the federal government but continued to maintain good relations with autonomous regions such as Somaliland and Puntland, taking over their ports, Berbera and Bosaso respectively. In the case of Puntland, it continues to maintain a local army.
Their all-out media and political war against Farmajo culminated in the selection of the current Hassan Sheikh Mahamoud on May 15. Mahamoud acted as their local conduit but made promises to all foreign forces opposing a staunch nationalist Farmajo.
Mr. Kaar, President Mahamoud’s spokesman, has repeated on TV shows that the president did not return from Abu Dhabi empty-handed. He said MbZ had pledged $20 million in aid and various unspecified contracts.
The Emirati government has many interests in Somalia, starting with controlling the ports of the African nation with the longest coastline, in addition of geostrategic interests that link it to Egypt and Israel are at stake. As in Yemen or in Libya, among these Gulf Arabs, respect for the sovereignty of countries and the rights of local populations is not their forte.
In the state we find ourselves in now, it is difficult to know how Somalia will get out of a relationship that gives a potentially irreversible advantage to the interests of the Emirates and its Egyptian and Israeli allies.