Somali President to ‘Asharq Al-Awsat’ : No Talks with Sisi on War Declaration against Ethiopia

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Cairo (Photo: Abdel Fattah Farag)
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Cairo (Photo: Abdel Fattah Farag)

Somali President to ‘Asharq Al-Awsat’ : No Talks with Sisi on War Declaration against Ethiopia

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Cairo (Photo: Abdel Fattah Farag)
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud during his interview with Asharq Al-Awsat in Cairo (Photo: Abdel Fattah Farag)

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat after a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, played down the possibility of a war between Egypt and Somalia against Ethiopia.
This comes after a controversial deal between Ethiopia and the breakaway region of Somaliland, giving it access to the Red Sea.
From his residence in Cairo, Mohamud discussed the situation in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea in light of the Gaza conflict, following talks with Sisi, Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb.
He clarified that Somalia is not about to declare war on Ethiopia but urged Ethiopia to respect Somalia’s sovereignty.
Despite tensions in the Red Sea and the Horn of Africa, Mohamud sees opportunities amid the crises.
He ruled out war with Ethiopia, stating that Somalia’s focus is on fighting terrorism, particularly the extremist “Al-Shabaab” movement.
Mohamud expressed willingness to negotiate with them if they abandon Al-Qaeda’s ideology and recognize the Somali state.
Emphasizing that his country hasn’t dismissed political solutions regarding the recent developments in Ethiopia, Mohamud clarified that there's “no official war declaration, neither from Egypt nor Somalia.”
He stated that talks with Sisi didn't involve planning a war against Ethiopia.
“We haven't discussed how to wage war. Our relationship with Egypt is long-standing and supportive over time,” affirmed the president.
“No new agreements or defense pacts are needed. Both Somalia and Egypt, as Arab League members, follow an Arab approach in defending themselves,” he highlighted.
“The framework is there. Our discussions focused on improving the normal relationship between two brotherly nations, enhancing economic ties, addressing geo-political and strategic issues, and, of course, security,” explained Mohamud.
He stressed that improving relations with Egypt doesn't mean targeting any other country.
“Our discussions were in the interest of both our nations and not a threat to another country,” reiterated Mohamud.
When asked about the possibility of a military alliance against Ethiopia, he said : “Our ties with Egypt are not meant to be against any country. We aim to support Somalia in self-defense, not to threaten anyone.”
“We don't consider war lightly, and Somalia doesn't want it. We are already dealing with a significant threat from terrorists like Al-Shabaab.”
“We are not planning for war unless it becomes necessary, and we hope it doesn't,” emphasized Mohamud.
Regarding talks with Al-Shabaab, the Somali President explained, “We won't consider war if Al-Shabaab acts rationally or has a national agenda. However, they are a global terrorist group following Al-Qaeda's agenda. If they abandon that ideology and recognize Somalia, we are willing to negotiate.”
He also denied having information about countries supporting Al-Shabaab, saying, “There might be sympathizers with Al-Qaeda in various parts of the world, but Al-Shabaab raises funds locally, and we are working to stop that.”
Discussing the current situation in the Horn of Africa, Mohamud acknowledged its complexity but highlighted potential opportunities.
He noted the world’s renewed focus on Africa due to various challenges in the region, such as Houthi activity, piracy, and Ethiopia’s considerations regarding Somalia.
Mohamud emphasized the importance of a Somali state, emphasizing that it can only be achieved by the Somali people.
He mentioned past attempts by the world to establish a state in Somalia without success.
However, he expressed optimism about the Somali people creating an effective state, with global support from the African Union and international partners.
He pointed out positive developments, including the lifting of a 31-year arms embargo and the cancellation of debts.
Mohamud stated that strong and responsible state institutions are developing in Somalia, instilling global confidence in government operations.
He sees this as a sign of Somalia's resurgence, expressing great optimism that the historical issues of state fragility are nearing an end.
Despite Somalia’s richness in resources and its vital global position, past challenges like state collapse, civil war, and fragility have led to poverty. The president affirmed his belief that Somalia is now moving past these challenges and entering a new phase.



Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Fakhri Karim: I Conveyed Talabani’s Advice to Assad on Terrorists

Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Fakhri Karim (Asharq Al-Awsat)

The late Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, excelled at delivering messages subtly. In private meetings, he spoke more freely than in public statements or interviews. His chief advisor, Fakhri Karim, often joined these discussions.

Luncheons were lavish, showing Talabani's respect for different opinions, though he rarely followed doctors’ advice.

Talabani believed that Iranian leaders were smart and hoped they wouldn’t try to control Baghdad from Tehran, citing the failed attempt to manage Beirut from Damascus.

He noted that Iraq’s independent spirit makes it hard for the country to follow the US, Iran, or Türkiye. Talabani also admitted giving refuge to 80 Iraqi officers who had fought against Iran, after they were targeted by certain groups.

Talabani praised Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad for his invaluable support, providing accommodation and passports.

Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat, Karim revealed he had warned President Bashar al-Assad, on behalf of Talabani, that militants allowed into Iraq to fight US forces might later turn against Syria.

This, Karim noted, did happen.

After the Israeli invasion of Beirut in 1982, Karim relocated to Damascus. There, he expanded his Al-Mada organization, focusing on publishing, translation, and organizing book fairs, alongside his political activities.

This allowed him to build relationships with top civilian and military officials.

In 2000, after Bashar al-Assad came to power, he met with Karim.

“I felt Assad was eager to listen, especially given my connections with many intellectuals,” recalled Karim.

“I told him dissenting voices exist but are mostly positive. You talk about modernization and renewal; this is a chance for some openness, even in elections,” Karim said he told Assad.

“Do you think anyone could really compete with you, given your position as the Baath Party's leader with all its resources?” Karim questioned.

Karim then discussed the situation of Syrian Kurds with Assad, noting that many lack identification papers, even basic travel documents. He also mentioned seeing historic Kurdish areas in the Khabur region with their names changed to Arabic, which causes sensitivities.

“I am not satisfied with this situation. Rest assured, this issue is on my agenda, and you will hear positive news about it,” Karim cited Assad as saying at the time.

In a later meeting, after the change in Iraq, Karim met Assad several times.

On one occasion, Karim recalls conveying Talabani’s greetings and concerns about armed fighters moving into Iraq and the dangers this posed to both Iraq and possibly Syria.

“We have deployed large forces to secure the borders, but what can we do? There are tribes and smugglers,” Assad complained about the situation.

“I told President Assad that as Fakhri Karim, I couldn’t share with the Americans what I know. I assured him that terrorists enter Iraq from a specific location I’m familiar with, not from all borders,” Karim recounted to Asharq Al-Awsat.

“I also noted that Syria tightly controls its airspace, shooting down any foreign aircraft,” he added.

Assad then responded to Karim and said: “We’re prepared, let us know what we can do.”

In reality, Damascus was worried because there were reports suggesting that Syria’s Baath regime could be the next target for the US army at its borders. Additionally, Damascus was concerned about the sectarian divisions—Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish—in dealing with Iraq and the potential impact on Syria.

Repairing Kurdish Relations

Karim has spent years working on repairing the relationship between Kurdish leaders Talabani and Masoud Barzani.

This history began with the split that gave rise to the ‘Patriotic Union of Kurdistan’ from the ‘Kurdistan Democratic Party.’

Despite bloody conflicts and external meddling, Karim believes Kurdish leaders unify in the face of danger to their people and region, a pattern he expects to continue.

Karim believes that the Kurdish leadership, symbolized by Masoud Barzani and Jalal Talabani, made a big mistake at the beginning by focusing only on regional issues, ignoring Baghdad’s affairs.

He thinks they should have aimed for a federal democratic system that respects citizenship rights.

Karim pointed out that without a unified Iraq, the region’s rights would be uncertain. He also criticized the Shiite-Kurdish alliance, which he sees as odd.

Additionally, he mentioned mistakes in failing to unify regional institutions and increasing corruption, with party interests often trumping competence in appointments.

Asked about the personal bond between Talabani and Barzani, Karim said: “Both have moved past their tough history, but they haven’t done enough for the future.”

“I want to highlight an act by Barzani that shows his character. When Talabani was sick, Barzani made it clear to anyone thinking of harming Talabani or his family that there would be consequences,” he revealed.

“This isn’t hearsay, it’s firsthand,” affirmed Karim.

“Barzani also refused to discuss the presidency or a successor during Talabani’s illness. I personally organized a gathering for Talabani’s family, where Barzani reassured them, ‘I’m here for you, I’m family.’ His words moved everyone, showing a strong emotional connection,” he added.

When asked about Barzani’s character, Karim said: “He's been a long-time friend, and our relationship has been politically aligned and personally warm from the start.”

“I see him as a loyal friend, and he's shown that loyalty on multiple occasions. He’s smart, decisive, and listens carefully, often changing his mind after thorough consideration,” he noted.

“Once Barzani commits to something, he finds it hard to go back on his word. There was a moment during negotiations with Saddam Hussein when he stood firm despite my advice to reconsider,” recalled Karim.

Regarding the aftermath of the independence referendum, Karim believes that the negative turn in the political landscape began during Nouri al-Maliki’s tenure.

Al-Maliki’s attempts to shift alliances and his refusal to compromise exacerbated tensions.

The referendum itself wasn’t the problem; rather, it was exploited by some to punish the Kurdistan Region.

However, Karim emphasized that holding referendums is a citizen’s right, and the purpose of the Kurdistan referendum was to affirm this right, not to declare independence.