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How To End Government Intolerance Of Islam In Ethiopia
By Alemayehu Fentaw Weldemariam
Previously Published in eurasiareview.com
The current Ethiopian constitution provides for freedom of religion and requires the separation of state and religion. However the Muslim community in Ethiopia has been, for more than a year now, holding protests at mosques around the country against what is perceived as government interference in religious affairs. The protesters are demanding that the current members of the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (Majlis) be replaced by elected representatives and that elections for Majlis representatives be held in mosques rather than in the Kebeles. Some members of the Muslim community accuse the Ethiopian Government of controlling the Majlis and sponsoring the propagation of Al-Ahbash, a little known sect of Islam. The Ethiopian Government, on the other hand, accuses the protesters of being led by extremists who want to establish an Islamic state in place of the current secular multination federation.
The Ethiopian Government has responded against some protests in 2012 with deadly force, most recently in Assassa in April and Gerba in October, resulting in the death of at least seven protesters, a large number of injuries, and the imprisonment of a number of protesters on terrorism charges.
The protests were triggered by the suspension of the Awoliyah Muslim Mission School and the dismissal of 50 Arabic teachers via a letter issued by the Majlis. The Awoliyah Muslim Mission School, has been a member since 1993 of the Islamic charitable agency known as International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and has been linked to the Saudi Arabia controlled World Muslim League. Ethiopian authorities consider Awoliyah to be a breeding ground for a new generation of radical Muslims, which they refer to as “Salafi-Jihadists” or “Wahabi-Salafists”. However, the Muslim protesters have consistently adhered to nonviolent demonstrations, leaving the Ethiopian Government with little to no evidence of behavior or action that could be described as terrorism. It is clear to date that the Ethiopian Government is manufacturing a security problem where none actually exists.
A careful consideration of the matter reveals that what’s happening in Ethiopia today is a reflection of what has been taking place in the West. Concerns about terrorism have degenerated into an irrational suspicion of Muslims, which will continue unabated until Ethiopia and its Western partners reflect more critically on their own perceptions.
It is reasonable to argue that Ethiopia’s leaders are experiencing a growing fear of Islamic terrorism given the fact that it is combating the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab in Somalia and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) in the Somali region of Ethiopia. This is buttressed by a universal consensus among analysts that Somalia and Sudan are exporters of both political Islam and Islamic terrorism. Given that Ethiopia is widely considered as a bulwark against Al Qaeda-linked terrorists in the Horn of Africa, Somalia and, across the Gulf of Aden, in Yeman, one could argue that Ethiopia is not suffering from siege mentality, but rather that it is suffering from rational fear.
There is some evidence that the Ethiopian Muslim community has been radicalized, although 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 has become more aware of its particularistic identity. In light of “Arab Spring” events that took place in North Africa and the Middle East, toppling repressive governments, it can be argued that the Ethiopian authorities are haunted by the fear of an ‘Ethiopian Spring’, which has not only contributed to the current crackdown on the media and the political opposition, but also against the Muslim community. Ethiopia has increasingly become intolerant of Islam.
There is little evidence to support the Ethiopian Government’s claim that its own Muslim community poses a legitimate threat to national and regional security. It only seems to be driven by a shrewd strategic calculus. Since Ethiopia is a critical partner in the West’s war on terror, the government thinks it helps to foment fear of the rise of radical Islam in Ethiopia that would lead to an improbable takeover of power by political Islam. The current Ethiopian Government seeks to keep Western support and aid flowing into the country through characterizing the Muslim community as linked to Islamic radicals and terrorist and thus a threat to national security.
The fear being cultivated by the Ethiopian Government without basis in evidence has lead to the dubious actions it has engaged in. It would be irrational for a country that has had a history of Islamic terrorism to dismiss the fear of Islamic terrorism. When it comes to Ethiopia, the fear is irrational in light of its recent past and current events. My point is that rational fear can be a guide to sensible public policy. However, it is simply absurd to believe that all Muslims in Ethiopia are fiends and terrorists in disguise. The Ethiopian Government is using irrational fear to justify intolerance of Islam, and all of this because of bad public policy.
To the extent that secularism is a constitutionally enshrined principle of governance, the interference is unacceptable. 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. Recognizing the threshold requires not only good public policy and laws, but also responsible enforcement. If the Ethiopian Government supports a religious group such as Al-Ahbash, it must leave the task of propagating it to the faith-based nongovernmental organizations, rather than the Ministry of Federal Affairs. The primary problem is that the Ethiopian Government has already legislated civil society out of existence with its charities legislation, so that the legitimate activities of religious groups are constrained.
The threat claimed by the Ethiopian Government, which as yet is not clear and present, does not emanate from radicalization, 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 better addressed by civil society organizations. Unfortunately, in Ethiopia today there is barely any vibrant civil society, including religion-based and inter-faith NGOs working in the area of peace and reconciliation as they were legislated out of existence by the government itself.
My prognosis is that the protests will surely grow so much so that it overwhelms the government’s ability to handle the situation. I don’t expect the peaceful Muslim protesters to resort to violent means in the near future. My concern is that the Ethiopian government will eventually resort to more force and repression than is warranted under the circumstances. While it is impossible to predict the consequences, one thing is certain – hatred begets hatred. Some thought the protests would simply go away with the Majlis elections. Now we know that a significant proportion of the Muslim community boycotted the polls that took place on 7 October 2012, although the Government claimed the elections were concluded successfully.
Another reason why the Ethiopian Government’s actions are misguided is because Islam has been historically a decentralized religious institution in Ethiopia. With the formal establishment of the Majlis by the Ethiopian Government in 1976, it has enjoyed an official governmental status, with its chairman considered by the government as “representative of the entire Muslim community,” and is accorded the same courtesies as the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, the Bishop of the Catholic Church, and the Head of the Protestant Churches in public ceremonies. Historically, it has always been the responsibility of local mosques to appoint clerics, which makes the Ethiopian Government’s effort to control each and every mosque in the country through the Majlis untenable. It simply doesn’t work that way.
If the Ethiopian Government wants to help resolve this emerging conflict, it should refrain from interference. It should also make a goodwill gesture not only towards meeting the demands of Muslim protesters, but also in promoting a respectful and sustained dialogue among Muslims belonging to different Islamic sects, instead of promoting one sect of Islam to the exclusion of others. A positive first step would be to release the imprisoned elected leaders of the Muslim community and conduct the election of the members of the Majlis at the mosques rather than at the kebeles. Moreover, it must stop sponsoring Ahbashism at the expense of other sects of Islam as long as they respect the constitution and other laws of the land.
Last but not least, the Ethiopian Government should refrain from unnecessary provocations, which have been abundant in government publications and statements by authorities. After all, the Ethiopian Government owes Ethiopian Muslims all due respect and treatment, if not tolerance. For me, tolerance is not enough. The problem with applying the concept of tolerance to the case of Ethiopian Muslims is that it neglects the rich history of Islam in Ethiopia. It ignores the fact that Ethiopia’s Muslims were early historical converts in the same way as Ethiopia’s Christians.
However, through repressive interference the Ethiopian Government will only be sowing the seeds of a radicalized political Islam that it seeks to keep at bay. The ongoing interference will do more harm than good.
The Awoliya mission school was the same as the Madrassas in Afganistan, pakistan and other muslim countries well known breeding islamic fanatic extrimists and terrorists. Ethiopian govt was well aware of these problems to close that known breeding ground of terrorists.
Alemayehu Fantaw, the above article writer is a hate monger, dellusional fanatic ginbot7 member who has nothing to do with Ethiopia. He’s rather an enemy of the people of Ethiopia, who will do anything to distablize and destroy Ethiopia. For him this islamic movment is yet another hope to fulfil his destruction dream and satanic mission of whatever it takes to discredit our govt.
Look what the arrogant wayanes are doing by reading the above post.
By far Mr writer you have a fair view of the dangers of Wayanes. I wish you sent strong message to them.
Other than that let me say also that in Ethiopia Islam has become so diverse that my aunt no more eats in my other relatives house. The characterization of Muslims to different sects I think is a grave mistake especially when we don’t know the consequences.
Wayane uses the tactic “If you want to kill the fish dry the pond". Wayanes have little brain so they think like a lizard they have no protective mechanism. They did the same think when they planned the gibe dam with little knowledge on its environmental impact.
There is no prove whether gov’t is irrationally or rationally intefering into Muslim society or their religion. Even there is no evidence that the gov’t impeded religious freedom or tried to get attention from West.
There is no organization necessary to mediate between Muslim and gov’t. It is a function of justice system.
How to resolve the ongoing protests?
First, gov’t has to release those who were detained arbitrary without any precondition. This will develop trust between gov’t and all citizen. For example, Junedin’s wife.
Second, rule of law must implemented on these who clearly engaged on radicalism irrespective of who they are, provided that this can be proved beyond doubt.
Third, the election was done in Kebele. If they still disagree among themselves, they have to pay for security services so that government can give them a protection services. In this case, Muslim can still discuss among themselves for reelection or take it what was already elected in Kebele.
Fourth, Gov’t must be not prejudice for/against any religion activities or no religious at all.
Gov’t can let protesters to express their ideas. If there will be any break of rule/law, in transparent ways, gov’t has a mandate to assure rule of law. Then justice must be rendered.
last point, Ethiopian need to economically develop. Poor need to feed and led their worldly live. Gov’t must function without a biased. External political parties or members must stop a conflict inciting activities. Otherwise people are to suffer at the expense of gov’t, political parties, and terrorism which none of them helps to bring economic growth rather it shows ignorance and wildness!
Adgi ,what the hell are you talking about .Why don’t you talk about who the hell brought Pakis ,Saudis ,even Iranians preachers in the country .It’s too late to cry days and nights “Whabi ,Whabi..",by the way you know the origin of your “BIENFAITEUR” ,the Sheraton Sheik for whom you are prostituing yourself for his Shakes…LOL !!!!
By puting TPLF cadres on top of the Awalia
counsil ,Agazi bandits wanna to interfere in religious affairs as they had done by the past on the Tewado Orthodox Church by placing the then Woyane Pop .They are themselveses the Authors of the crisis .
Poor Ethiopia, still trying to figure out who will be (Christians or Islams)religion leaders.Send your kids to Madrasas and churches that what we get. send your kid to school( i know we didn’t try this one before)!!!
ethiopian enemy like grane ahmed and other salafist moslims they will happy if they see this kind of view from genbot 7 oppostions.
The true face of this barbaric moslims and demand is not freedom of religion. They have a hi8ding agenda to spread extermisem ,terorisem in the peacefull true muslim population. They have got daily million of dollars from ethiopian enemies for this satanic purpose so they contniue destablizing and terorizing our country. we must destroy them from the land of ethiopia very soon!!!1
Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Muslim countries well known breeding Islamic fanatic extremists and terrorists. Ethiopian govt was well aware of these problems to close that known breeding ground of terrorists thanks 2 Ethiopian government and people of Ethiopia God bless Ethiopia…
THIS STORY REPEATS ITSELF EVERY DECADE.
WHAT EVERYONE FORGETS IS ETHIOPIA’S OWN IMAMS WERE THE ONES WHO WANT SAUDI WAHHABI-SHARIA $$$ OUT OF ETHIOPIA…SAME GOES FOR FOREIGN EVANGELICALS $$$.
Ethiopia is not Afganistan or pakistan.There is no place for ayatolah mullah shit.The gvt must act with more power.Wake up Agazian.
Teddy the big mouth shabian-dog.I blame your mother who decided to keep you to term instead of aborting you. wicked and degraded hater.
There is no free gift tplf. Like a primitive midival king controlling all the countries activity in 21 years leads us to now, the present. Just to have aid money, yes thank you for all has consequences. Was it news to tplf! No! Why journalists labeled like terrorists?
When one ethnic based government abuses its power in 21 years, it creates radicals like mushrooms.
Now is time for like Gragn Ahmed to dance while tplf is singing their dead pm empty words.
Ethiopia has to allow every kind of Christian evangelists in the country to counter those Arab evangelists. Our Church is too poor to evangelise the coutry. Invite millions of conservative American and European evangelists. I preffer them than any sect of islam. Muslims have declared jihad on us. It will stop only if Ethiopia would renounce building of a dam on the Nile.
Saudi Arabia and Gulf states will never abonden their plans to evangelise Ethiopia by any means necessary. That is why Ethiopian Christians need help from Protestants and Chatolics alike. The old religious divide is nonesense, the biggest danger now are muslims not another Christian sect.
awoliya has not been closed, it has been funtioning since hilesilasie regime, rest assured that it will never be closed
This is not the work of Ethiopian gov’t. it is the work of the almighty. Some of the comments written be the Wayaneh are sickining. The are full of hatred. This guy the writer is very rational if you understand what rationallity is. Look what is going on in the West. those for whom you lick their jackass. their biggest worry is the coming of the Mahdi and it is soon. We are not enemies with all christians. we know our enemies are those who follow the zionist agenda of suppressing the truth. the ethiopian gov’t is playing with fire. they won’t to fight the truth. they should look what happened to their masters in Iraq and afghanistan. the money you getting from the zionist will not save you from the Army of God. only those good ethiopian christians will be save. time is nearing. Egypt is ready to eat you alive with your coward behaviour. few chicken legged somalis kicked your ass and made you cry. all you guys know is hatrat. that is the disease known for the wayaneh and the ethiopianist habasha.
Ato Alemayehu Fentaw Weldemariam,
I certainly don’t agree with all the policies of our giv’t.But, I beg to differ with your assertions that there is little evidence to backup gov’t’s claim of radicalisation of Ethiopian muslims. Ther is indeed strong evidence of it although the gov’t unwittingly played a role in it in the first place.Despite claims to the contrary, our leaders are far from being visionaries & and their disastrous self-serving policies & laws have begun to haunt them.
some segments of the muslim community are so radiclaised they even go further to deny their Ethiopian identity, which they mistakenly associate with Christianity. The gov’t interferes in every aspect of life, religion included. The diference is that Muslims have inherent belief that the non muslim world is out to undermine them. We all agree that muslims are loathe to any form of reform or modernisation.
The “Arab spring” started & culminated in overthrowing repressive regimes demanding freedom & democracy not against gov’t interference in their religious affairs.
The gov’t in my view should keep a close wactch on the community. If they have their way they would turn the country into a bastion of Islamic extremeists of every variety.
The writer gives us his own observation about the current Muslim protests in the country. Instead of refuting his idea some people like the person who write his comment on Addis Zemen try to label the writer as Ginbot 7. We can go nowhere by trying to hide the truth or the facts. I think it is better to argue on the facts rather than trying to label the writer. Based on the constitution of the country everyone has the right to practice his own religion without the interference of the government. However what we are observing in the country today is the contrary. The government is interfering in the religious belief of the people by the name of protecting the country from terrorism and extremism. I want to advice the government officials to revise what they are doing on the Muslim communities and remove their hands from the Ethiopian Muslims and answer the basic questions asked by the believers. Otherwise the consequence will not be good for the peace and stability of the country.
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