A hard-line Islamist militia known as Al-Shabab is capturing key areas throughout Somalia, but analysts differ over whether the group can actually take over the country.
Al-Shabab has become the focus of much Western media coverage recently for its use of Taliban-style justice, including stoning suspected adulterers and severing the limbs of thieves.
The Al-Shabab administration in Kismayo, around 500 kilometers south of the capital Mogadishu, began by clamping down on clothing, making men shave their moustaches, grow beards and wear pants no shorter than ankle length.
But Richard Cornwell, an independent expert on Africa and a former research fellow at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said the probability that Al-Shabab will takeover the Somali government is "highly unlikely."
"Al-Shabab itself is fracturing along ideological lines," he told The Media Line. "The domestic Somalis and the 'Jihadi tourists' are breaking away from each other. There are those who still want to put Somalia first and others have a more global view of Jihad."
"The transitional government would collapse tomorrow if it weren't for the international community's backing," Cornwell said. "The international community is backing one of the least likely winners in the entire struggle. That gives them a holding position, but it's not the beginning of anything more substantial."
"Whether it's the Taliban-style militias, the importation of foreign jihadis or piracy - no one is ever looking at Somalia as Somalia," he told The Media Line. "Somali society itself is so pestiferous and so prone to faction-forming and to shifts in opinion that a Taliban-style government in Somalia would be like trying to herd cats."
Cornwell argued that such reports "tend to the dramatic" and cautioned that Westerners are inclined to see things through a non-Somali lens.
"We tend to reify these things as if they are organizations rather than a vague franchise," Cornwell said. "We tend to have a very Western idea of what a state is, instead of understanding that the concept 'state' covers a very wide menagerie. To talk about some African states as failed is like saying that a dog is a failed horse."
But Bashir Goth, a Somali blogger and former editor of Awdal News, disagrees about the danger that Al-Shabab poses.
"What is happening in Somalia can easily spill over into neighboring countries," he told The Media Line. "This is where Western and international organizations have a heavy presence, due to the porous borders and due to Al-Shabab's global vision for their cause."
Goth believes Al-Shabab could pose an even graver danger to the West than the Taliban.
"Many of the Al-Shabab have Western passports and they can easily travel back and forth to Somalia," he said. "The Taliban didn't have western passports and didn't speak foreign languages and they also didn't have a global mission for their cause. However Al-Shabab recruits from Western capitals and gets funds from extremist groups in Western capitals."
Al-Shabab has reportedly been recruiting jihadi fighters from outside the country, including around 20 Somali-American youth whose families immigrated to the United States.
Somalia's State Minister for Defense, Indha Adde, accused Yemeni rebels of providing arms to Al-Shabab, fueling accusations that Al-Shabab is an Al-Qa'eda proxy in the region.
Al-Shabab has also said it would send fighters to Yemen to help fight government forces.
Al-Shabab is short for Harakat Al-Shabab Al-Mujahideen (the Warrior Youth Movement) and controls large parts of southern Somalia and Mogadishu. The group is an offshoot of the Islamic Courts Union, which was in control of the country for the second half of 2006 but was ousted by Somali and Ethiopian allied forces at the beginning of 2007.
Following that defeat, the insurgents began regrouping and launching daily attacks on the army, civilians, aid workers and peacekeepers, and seizing strategic areas.
Analysts are concerned that Somalia has become an Al-Qaida haven and the site of a proxy war between Ethiopia, which is Somali-allied, and Eritrea, which has been accused of providing arms and support to Islamists.
Al-Shabab fighters seized Dusa-Mareb in Somalia's central region from the pro-government Ahl A-Sunna on Saturday. The rival group fought back, leaving at least 30 people killed. Both groups claimed victory over the town, most of whose population fled the violence.