Is promoting Sufi Islam the best chance for peace in Somalia?

Some armed groups who adhere to a more moderate interpretation of Islam have begun battling Al Qaeda-linked extremists.

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Somalia is beginning to seem more and more like the Swat Valley of eastern Africa – a place where Al Qaeda-linked insurgents are setting up religious law courts, assassinating government ministers, and spreading their tentacles farther and deeper.

This week, Al Shabab, the top militant Islamist force that controls most of the country, tried and convicted four thieves. Their punishment: amputation of one hand and one foot each, in accordance with a strict, literal reading of Islamic law. The sentence has been temporarily delayed, but it's the latest sign that Somalia is fast becoming an extremist haven. (Last month, Islamists invited a crowd to see a man suspected of stealing $90 worth of clothing get his hand cut off, BBC reports in a detailed eye witness account.)

And as in Pakistan, many are looking to armed tribes in Somalia who adhere to Sufism – a mystical, moderate interpretation of Islam – as the best chance for peace.

A Somalian writer – identifying himself only as Mr. Muthuma – writes in an opinion piece published on Bartamaha, an independent Somalian news portal, that a "new axis" of conflict has formed in Somalia, in which fighters are battling one another along religious lines.

But not everyone agrees. Ali Eteraz, writing in Foreign Policy this month, laments the goal of propping up Sufis against other religious sects.

It remains to be seen how this internal struggle will play out. In the meantime, could an "Islamic-led international engagement" from outside be the answer?

That's the argument of Nuradin Dirie, a former presidential candidate in Puntland, a semiautonomous region in Somalia. Somaliweyn, a Somali news portal, reprinted this speech Mr. Dirie gave recently in London:

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