As Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups consolidate control in northern Mali, various communities are responding differently to life under occupation, with local political dynamics coming to the fore.
“Right now, the Islamists are in control and things are calm,” said Ibrahim Toure, a resident of the northern city of Gao. “Life is hard and we are living day to day, but at least there is no war.”
Toure is one of many Gao residents interviewed who welcome the modicum of order provided by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, an offshoot of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. In late June, the movement and its allies succeeded in driving a separatist group led by ethnic Tuaregs called the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad — known by its French initials, MNLA — out of the city.
For much of the local population, the MNLA movement had come to be associated with anarchy, looting and physical abuse.
“You must understand, the people are angry and we do not want Sharia,” Toure said. “But the Islamists do not bother you if you follow their rules.”
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