It is bitterly disappointing, but there is a sense of the inevitable to it. When the Tuareg rebels of the MNLA first claimed to have seized northern Mali and declared the independent state of Azawad last month, they trumpeted their commitment to secularism and dismissed the Islamist factions that had evidently taken power in Timbuktu and elsewhere in the territory as insignificant “groupsicles” that they would shortly crush. Now, just a few weeks later, the MNLA announces that it is merging with the most significant of these factions, Ansar Dine. The marriage of convenience is an obvious one. The MNLA, despite its boasting, was not able to crush the Islamists and is adhering to the old adage “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” They have betrayed their supposed commitment to secularism in order to achieve their more fundamental aim of an independent Azawad. Ansar Dine, in turn, have sacrificed their loyalty to a unified Mali (which probably never meant much to them anyway) in order to achieve their more fundamental aim of an Islamic state.
“The Ansar Dine movement and the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad [MNLA] proclaim their dissolution in Azawad,” the two groups said in a “protocol agreement” sent to AFP. “The two movements have created the Transitional Council of the Islamic State of Azawad.” The MNLA website, which last month was boasting of a secular Azawad and an imminent crackdown on Islamic “groupsicles,” has posted nothing new since May 10—and this was just more triumphalist crowing about the “intangibility” of Azawad’s borders.
Alghabass ag-Intalla of Ansar Dine told AP: “I have just signed an accord that will see an independent and Islamic state where we have Islamic law.” MNLA spokesman Moussa ag-Acharatoumane meanwhile assured Reuters: “The Koran will be a source of the laws of the state. But we will apply the things we want and leave aside those we don’t. It will not be a strict application of the law.” We can imagine that the women who have been forced to take the veil at gunpoint and the Sufis whose shrines have been destroyed are less than reassured.
In any case, we’ve speculated that one reason Mali’s government (such as it still exists) hasn’t made any effort re-take the north is that the junta was waiting for the MNLA to crush the Islamists, sparing an intervention force the effort. With this new development, the pressure for international military intervention against Azawad just got much higher. It is amazing how little attention the world is paying to this crisis, but we anticipate that is about to change, soon and dramatically…
See our last post on Mali and Azawad.