Muslim cleric positioning himself amid deepening political crisis in Mali

Anti-government protesters demonstrate in the capital Bamako, Mali Friday, July 10

MUSLIM cleric Mahmoud Dicko is positioning himself to become Mali’s moral and religious authority, according to analysts, as he leads anti-government protests seeking the resignation of President Boubacar Keita.

The Salafist cleric, who has railed against homosexuality, alcohol and women’s rights, has led thousands of disgruntled Malians demanding change in the country, with huge demonstrations being met by a violent response from security services.

At least 11 people were killed after protesters temporarily took control of the state broadcaster and stormed parliament over the weekend, accusing the government of corruption and disputed election results.

Opposition groups have rebuffed Mr Keita’s concessions, including dissolving the constitutional court at the centre of the row.

His son stood down as head of parliament’s defence committee on Monday, but Mr Keita remains defiant, resisting calls for his resignation.

The demonstrations have been organised by the opposition coalition M5-RFP amid calls for a transitional government.

Mr Dicko has emerged as one of the main leaders of the opposition forces, yet analysts do not believe he wants to lead a future government.

Sahel analyst for the International Crisis Group Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim said: “Perhaps what he wants is to become a high moral and religious authority to whom political leaders refer to for guidance.”

One Western official in the capital Bamako said: “There are those who suspect he wants a different kind of Mali, a different kind of system.”

The Malian constitution adopted in 1992 states that the country is secular. But religious leaders play a prominent role in society, commanding mass support and influence.

Mali’s security situation has worsened with a rise in attacks from jihadists associated with al-Qaida and Isis.

Around 200,000 are internally displaced due to the violence and a worsening economic crisis.

As many as 4.3 million of Mali’s 18.4 million population rely on humanitarian aid, an increase of 1.1m from last year.