The Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) argues that the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab are not as strong as they look and that their popularity is dwindling.|
"The rise and appeal of Islamist groups was linked to the belief that they could transcend the schisms that have so divided Somali society, but despite a gloss of unity, most Islamist groups are equally divided along ideological and clan lines," ICG explained.
The visible and sometimes violent disagreements between Somalia's insurgency partners, the Shebab and Hezb al-Islam, as well as rivalries and divisions within the Shebab movement can have a dual impact on Somalia, the report said.
"The growing internal schisms and factionalism within Somalia?s Islamist movement risk plunging the country even deeper into violence and bloodshed, with dangerous implications for the wider region and beyond," it said.
"However, a limited opportunity may now exist for Somalia?s political actors and the international community to capitalise on these divisions and re-alignments to reach out to the increasing numbers of domestic militants disenchanted with the growing influence of foreign jihadis and extremist elements bent on pursuing a global agenda," it added.
The conservative brand of Wahhabi Islam imported from the Gulf by some Somali clerics has clashed with the more moderate and individualistic Sufi Islam traditionally practised in much of Somalia.
The report argued that the internationally-backed transitional government and its partners could do more in reducing the public appeal of the Shebab.
ICG recommended "step(ping) up the battle for the hearts and minds of the Somali people, including by articulating an argument that the radicalisation is largely driven by a unique set of beliefs that are alien to Somalis."
The Shebab control 80 percent of Somalia although a broad offensive launched jointly with Hezb al-Islam a year ago has failed to topple the government, protected by African Union forces.
While the Shebab have often been met with relief by a population eager to enjoy security and stability regardless of who brings it, the strict form of Sharia imposed in Shebab-controlled areas has also alienated local communities.