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On the Current Muslim Protests in Ethiopia
- A Conversation between Jenny Vaughan of AFP & Alemayehu Fenatw of the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas
Jenny Vaughan: What does the government’s response to the Muslim protests tell you about religious tolerance among the ruling regime in Ethiopia?
Alemayehu Fentaw: What’s going on in Ethiopia is a reflection of what’s happening in the West. Fears of terrorism in the West have deteriorated into an irrational suspicion of Muslims, which will continue until the West turns its critical eye inwards. Since Ethiopia is a critical partner in the US war on terror, its government thinks it helps to appear terrified by the prospect of the rise of Islamism and an improbable takeover of governmental power by political Islam. That way, Ethiopia hopes to keep Western aid flowing into the country.
Fear with no basis in evidence leads to dubious actions such as the one the Government of Ethiopia is engaged in. It’d be irrational to dismiss the fear of Islamic terrorism, given that a country has had a history of Islamic terrorism. When it comes to Ethiopia, nonetheless, that fear is irrational in the light of its recent past and current events. Rational fear ought to guide sensible public policy. It’s simply absurd to believe that all Muslims are fiends in disguise. Look at the protests. The authorities make no distinction in disappointing the Muslim community based on sects. They are being intolerant generally of all Muslims without distinction, and all of this because of a bad public policy.
There’s no doubt that the Ethiopian Muslim community has been radicalized, not in the sense that it has a political agenda, but in the sense that it has attained a higher degree of religious consciousness and hence become aware of it particularistic identity far more than it used to be in the past. And in light of events that took place in North Africa and the Middle East that came to be known as the Arab Spring, it can be safely assumed that the authorities are being haunted by fear of an ‘Ethiopian Spring’. As you can see, that fear of a possible ‘Ethiopian Spring’ has resulted not only in the current crackdown on the media and the opposition, but also on the Muslim community. Ethiopia has increasingly become intolerant of Islam.
Jenny Vaughan: Do Muslims in Ethiopia pose a legitimate (extremist) threat to the country and region?
Alemayehu Fentaw: There’s very little evidence to support the claim that Ethiopian Muslims pose a legitimate threat to national and regional security. However, there’s a universal consensus among analysts worth the name that Somalia and Sudan are exporters not only of political Islam, but also of Islamic terrorism. This again is not a universal claim about Muslims in Ethiopia. There could be individual Muslim proselytizers bent on using violence. There were a few incidents of violence, but it takes an independent commission to investigate into the claims. I don’t personally buy the government’s claims.
Jenny Vaughan: Some members of the Muslim community say there is no real government pressure to impose Al-Ahbash, while others say the imposition is indeed there and unconstitutional. In your assessment, do you think the government is legitimately trying to impose the sect?
Alemayehu Fentaw: The Muslim community is claiming in unison that there’s uncalled-for governmental interference in the internal affairs of Ethiopian Muslims. To that extent and to the extent that secularism is a constitutionally enshrined principle of governance, the interference is unacceptable. Therefore, any sponsorship by the government of a religious sect over others or any attempt of privileging one religion over another is illegitimate, be it Al-Ahbash or Wahabi. But this is not to divest the government of its legitimate authority to neutralize security threats as they arise and recognizing the threshold requires not only good public policy and laws, but also responsible enforcement. If the government feels like Al-Ahbash, it has to leave the task of propagating it to the faith-based nongovernmental organizations, rather than tasking the Ministry of Federal Affairs with a non-governmental mandate. The problem is the government has already legislated the civil society out of existence. Evangelists or what have you could also do some work, but thanks to the charities legislation, their activities are constrained.
Jenny Vaughan: Will the government’s relationship with Muslim community change now that Hailemariam Desalegn has taken over as PM?
Alemayehu Fentaw: It seems to me the replacement of a Marxist Prime Minister by a Protestant Prime Minister would not do much in realigning the Muslim community with the government. What is crucial is putting in place a sensible public policy, competent public service, and proper enforcement, which is badly wanting in Ethiopia today.
Jenny Vaughan: Do you think there is potential for protests to grow and threaten government? Or will they go away now that council elections are over?
Alemayehu Fentaw: The protests will surely grow so much so that the government becomes too frustrated to handle the situation. But, I don’t expect them to resort to violent means in the course of their protests. My fear is that the government will eventually resort to more force than is warranted under the circumstances. And you never know what will happen after that.
The protests won’t go away easily. They will stick there as far as the protesters demands are not met. It’s too stupid to think that they’ll go away once the Majlis elections are over. And I guess that’s what the authorities are thinking.
Jenny Vaughan: What should the government response to protesters’ demands be?
Alemayehu Fentaw: Cessation of interference and making a gesture towards meeting their demands is the solution. And the first step would be to release the imprisoned elected leaders of the Muslim community and conduct the election of the members of the Majlis in the mosques rather than the kebeles. Finally, it has to stop sponsoring the propagation of Ahbashism at the expense of other sects of Islam as long as the Wahabis or whatever you call them respects the constitution and other laws of the land.
The government has also to stop using the current Islamic protests to crackdown on political dissent emanating from whether within the ruling coalition or the opposition from the largely Muslim constituency found in much of south Ethiopia.
The government’s interference has been totally unacceptable and served as a recipe for conflict. And to continue to interfere in the internal affairs of the Muslim community will do more harm than good.
Jenny Vaughan: Anything you’d like to add?
Alemayehu Fentaw: If there’s anything I’d like to add, Islamic militancy posed a threat to Ethiopia’s national security at different times in the remote past. … But, the gravest of all the threats came with the advent of Ahmad Gran. In all instances, it was a reaction to oppression by the Christian State. But Islamic revivalism, which is positive in itself, and radicalism, which is undesired and a spillover effect, came as a result of the sacralization of identity politics, which is not such a bad idea in and of itself. So radicalism is one thing, but militancy is different. The threat, which as yet is not clear and present, does not emanate from radicalization (which is purely religious, not political), but from the embrace of political Islam and its concomitant militancy. The threat emanating from radicalization in my view does not call for direct government intervention. It would have been adequately addressed by civil society organizations. (Wait a minute; let me ask you just for once: do you believe that the current interference by the government is justified?) So what’s lacking? As you might already have suspected, what absent is a vibrant civil society organizations, including religion-based and inter-faith NGOs working in the area of peace and reconciliation. Alas, they were legislated out of existence by the government.
Aiga published this provocative article following the peaceful conclusion of the Majlis elections and the passing of a Jum’a without protests in Addis, albeit the protests took place in mosques in some rural areas. A conversation I had with inside sources, however, indicate that Eid is only a week from today and hence it’s a little too soon for any triumphalist celebration by the government. A cable news reporter, whose identity I can’t disclose for security reasons, surmised the Muslim protesters seem to be suffering from “strategic indecision”, which was also confirmed to me by inside sources. I for one wish to warn the authorities against uncalled-for provocations. http://aigaforum.com/articles/the-election-that-broke-extermist-backbone.pdf
Jenny Vaughan: As you know, many Muslim protestors accuse the government of appointing teachers and preachers to promote al Ahbash in schools and mosques. The government denies this. What I am wondering is who is normally responsible for the appointment of clerics and/or teachers in mosques and schools–does that task fall to the Islamic Council or simple the local Muslim community?
Alemayehu Fentaw: The Awoliyah Muslim Mission School, belonged since 1993 to the Islamic charitable agency known as International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and has been linked to the Saudi-controlled World Muslim League. Therefore, it’s the responsibility of the management of the school, and not the government, to hire and fire teachers and Islamic scholars. However, this is not to deny the government’s responsibility to supervise charitable organizations. It seems that Ethiopian authorities consider it to be a breeding ground for radical Muslims, whom they refer to as “salafi-jihadists,” “Wahabi-Salafists,” and what not. I think there’s too much securitization of the matter on part of the government.
In Ethiopia Islam has been institutionally speaking decentralized, albeit the Islamic Affairs’ Supreme Council (Majlis), formally established in 1976, enjoys a degree of officialdom and its chairman is considered by the government as “representative of the entire Muslim community” and accorded the same courtesies as the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bishop of the Catholic Church, and Head of the Protestant Churches in public ceremonials. Therefore, it has always been the responsibility of local mosques to appoint clerics. Put differently, you can’t control what each and every mosque in the country does by controlling the Majlis. It doesn’t work that way.
Note: This conversation took place between Jenny Vaughan, the AFP correspondent based in Addis Ababa and Alemayehu Fentaw, a visiting scholar at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, via email between 8 and 24 October 2012 regarding the current Muslim protests in Ethiopia.
What a stupid assumption is that, telling us terorrism doesn’t exist.
This guy is a pathological liar who try to deny all the crimes being commited by islamic extrimists just to show his hatred against Ethiopian govt. Another blind dispora loser who has nothing to do with current Ethiopian affairs. But only dreaming and salivating for power.
Islamic hardliners are everywhere. We see on our eyes all kinds of terorrist acts everyday.
Are you telling us 9/11 never hapened? Or the day to day terorrist activity in Pakistan and Afganistan is all our hallusination and never hapening? How about the Bokko harrams in Nigeria who declared NO to civillization?
You are the one who is real stupid. It is undeniable and very straight- forward that what the protesters want is the right to elect their own leader. If this is terrorism, so be it. People like you with uncontrolable hate toward Ethiopian Muslims should realize that Ethiopian Muslims are citizens and they are not going any where, and their demands will be met sooner or later. If that is a problem for you, then go to Hell where you belong.
Elias kift aff,…
They’ve nothing to do with Ethiopian muslims. These are extrimist and terorrist elements with the help of Ethiopian enemys, working only to achieve one thing, which is to distablize Ethiopia. The extrimist agenda and plan is to establish a sheria law in Ethiopia period!
If you’re one of those extrimsts, you’ve no place in Ethiopia. Go where you belong to TORRA BORRA, or blow yourself up and go to your 79 virgins in HELL.
The only terrorist we know is weyannes militia who are now terrorising musliems in merkato area. This new penticontii PM is heading to religious war supported by Mormorons ,Protestant all new parasites christians from west. They have always choised according to their demand and religion and why is it weyannes Christians involve in this one. The same way penticontii and protestan chose their and these musliems have a right to chose whom they want.
Addis zemen u know torra borra exactly? DINGAY RAS…
Ethiopian muslim protest r peacefull protest in de world. If u r not believe go hell 1000 times.
U are thinking as old, ancient antimuslim rulers like Atse Yohannes IV. You are aroge zemen, not addis zemen.
Ethiopia is multi ethnic & multi religious nation. One out of three Ethiopians is a Muslim. This issue affects a significant portion of our society. It is to the best interest for our nation, our people and the Government to resolve this issue peacefully in a manner that respects and regards the fundamental demands of the Muslim community, and also addresses the Government’s genuine concern with the spread of radical Islam and its potential dangers in a plural society, such as ours. In my view, the best way to resolve this is to allow the Muslims to elect their religious leaders and root out elements of religious radicalism. Unfortunately, denunciations of the concerns of members the Muslim population and intimidation, criminalization of their peaceful and legitimate acts and convection of their leaders will not solve the problem other than creating deep mistrust, resentment and dissent within the Muslim community.
Ethiopia is multi ethnic & multi religious nation. One out of three Ethiopians is a Muslim. This issue affects a significant portion of our society. It is to the best interest for our nation, our people and the Government to resolve this issue peacefully in a manner that respects and regards the fundamental demands of the Muslim community, and also addresses the Government’s genuine concern with the spread of radical Islam and its potential dangers in a plural society, such as ours. In my view, the best way to resolve this is to allow the Muslims to elect their religious leaders and work with the leaders to root out elements of religious radicalism. Unfortunately, the current Gov approach of denunciations of concerns of the Muslim population, intimidation, criminalization of their peaceful and legitimate acts and convection of their leaders will not solve the problem other than ultimately creating deep mistrust, despair and dissent within the Muslim community.
Another hateful brainless imigrant politician. He says nothing about the Wahabists activities nor the behind the scene finances of Arabs. I wonder what they teach them at Universities because these people have no logic nor methods in their reasonings. Extream hate toward the government doesn’t make you an intelectual. You sound as evil as those jihadists.
Tell me why is Alhabish bad than Whabism? From what I have heared the Saudis don’t like Alhabish that is why some Ethiopian muslims are brainwashed to demonstrate against it. It has nothing to do with the government forcing them to accept alhabish. It rather shows how spread the tentacles of Saudi Arabia in Ethiopia is. I think this Alhabish is better than Wahabism. Because it sounds peaceful like the traditional Sufis.
As for Alemayehu Fantaw, you better go back to high school and finsh school. You sound childish.
There is a real and tangible terror going on in Ethiopia, there is no question about that. Alemayehu Fentaw knows nothing what is on the ground, he is just pretending to know what he don’t know. Maybe he is playing politics not knowing he is playing with fire. He is just one from the many “fools and idiots” fake diaspora intellectual.
Alemayehu Fentaw shut the fuck up you idiot.
Reading the first part of the interview, I can notice that neither Jenny Vaughan nor Alemayehu Fenatw know ethiopian muslim, wehabiya or/and ahbash. So completely non-sense interview!
Bullshit I’m tired of this two or three ethio embassy employe where ever there name addiszemen and bla bla …….
Do u guys ever question what Ethiopian Muslim ask or demand ? since I know the previews gov derg or hileselase time Ethiopian muslim leader always work with the gov no body dinied that but we never seen in the past gov forcing the Ethiopian muslim to accept new kind of religion doctrin or invited some group all the way to lebanon and give them do what ever they want to do Ethiopian Muslim doesn’t know this group this ppl has d/t agenda I heard they use to work with Mossad (Israel intelegent agency ) they are not a Muslim they mask them self as muslem look at what they did in the grand mosque (anwar mesjed)they burn too many book from the mosque they bring their own book the funded money for the course held in sendafa police college more than 7000 Muslim leader and imam from all over Ethiopia take this course What was the agenda do u guys think weyane didnt involve all this what going on ? come on we know weyane we have been known each other 21 years ….. Ethiopiaan Muslim asking very simple question we like the way we use to be ! We are better the old way. What our father left for us .we don’t need new doctrin, we didn’t demand it ,leave as alone! do this in the (orthodox tehadeso ) we don’t need muslim cevil service college were the caderes graduat from why weyane disrespect Ethiopian Muslim because we are peaceful ? because we not involve poletics what most orthodox do ?because our number when the gov try to bring 50% to 33% we didn’t respond it . because most Muslim country like Somalia Sudan Djibouti given shelter to weyane when he was fighting against derg ………it’s .ok to atack and kill Ethiopian Muslim but what kind of justify weyane has to atack Islam religion let me give example do orthodox resperesent by Protestant this what happen try telling us you all Ethiopian muslim form now on u can only reperesent by ahabash ( new religion just arrived 8 month ago ) if not u are ashebari we are smarter than this idiot go to hell ……. I think whom ever do this I bleave berekt smon the one whom play the big role think about he is Eritrean born in gonder …..shefafaw jarso pm eyene-Mariam ya luti areb alamudi ya seltew …….let me pray my beloved God u oready answer our pray by taking pawlos and meles now we only have few left pls pls we are wiatn ur fast answer ….. Amin Amin Amin
The main issue is that, islam religion is being hi-jacked by international etrimist jihadists who are bent to declare sheria law all over the world by means of teror or with what ever it takes. These international jihadists are a sleeper cell anywhere near you, or you could be one of them as long as you defending their action.
All our govt did was, as usual being ahead of the terorrists plan, tried to make our peaceful muslims to be aware of these jihadists not to hijack their religion, and use them as a sacrifficial lamb.
And for sure our people especially the peaceful muslims will never be a sacrifficial lamb for the satanic cause of the jihadists period!
This is not a religious dispute but of a political. People across all sectors of society want change in Ethiopia…however, ethiopian government of politically bankrupt and relies on the west for funding and policies. As a result, the west wants to push terrorism and ethiopian government is on it’a knees implementing the wishes of their western masters….In Africa, muslims and christians live in harmony…governments are trying to disrupts this co-existence.
There is a real terror in Ethiopia those that give us name labels every day: Assta Getu, Addis Zemen, and Extraterrersterial and Nostra Damus. Why the West just ignores this blatant Wayana agents in its own yard? They write one of the most toxic posts on this forum trying to destabilize Ethiopia, trying to cook something for Ethiopian Muslims so that they can finally eat them.
Ethiopian Muslims are not stupid. They will meticulously plan their protest and will never be dinner for mercinary agazians whose mission is from day one to impose their agame hate power over Muslims. They are happy to see Muslims getting killed, to spill the blood of Muslims over on the streets and to give names to Muslims, etc……..
One piece of advise for my Muslim Ethiopians. We Muslims are not afraid to die for our religion. Neither are the christians. What makes one commit to death is the level of injustice and sorrow that benigns the oppressed. We Muslims of Ethiopia have tolerated repression. This is the period we woke up after we went into sleep when Derg gave us what we asked thinking every thing was alright. Muslims of Ethiopia protested against Haileselasie. At the time the King was weak. So protest was much easier and all christians were behind us. Now, wayane is getting weaker but by no means is weak. What Wayane needs however is a little push and he will be gone. Now, to do this Ethiopian Muslims must know one thing. The power of Wayane comes not from fighting the wars, not fighting bravely but by the sheer obedience to foreign power. Even among Muslim states wayane has a clout. Moreover, the West is wary of Wayane take over by the unknowns. These two challenges must be addressed before we can demand our full rights. Muslims are not asking for political change. If the government really wants to stop being overthrown it has to meet the demands of the people unconditionally. Free election and no interference. The last thing Muslims of Ethiopia want is to lose their religious institutions. Because they have lost everything in political influence and in military might etc. Even the economic sphere is now in the hands of others. So, the Muslim population is frustrated. We need to stop that.
Otherwise, once we eiliminate doubts of the West, it will be increasingly difficult for Wayane to stop the storm. This storm is gathering and once we come up with right conditions we go out to the streets and demand change of government. Period. We don’t want that but each day Wayane is killing every innocent person who is growing beard.
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