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Ethiopia's Muslim Activists Pave a Path for Nonviolent Political Activism
By Terrence Lyons, on 21 Aug 2013, Briefing
Source: World Politics Review
A year after Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn came to power following the death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi in August 2012, the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) remains firmly in control. It has continued to govern through a collective leadership that includes three deputy prime ministers from the Amhara, Tigray and Oromo wings of the coalition; Hailemariam hails from the Southern People’s Party. Party discipline and coherence has held, although the lead-up to elections in 2015 may reveal destabilizing fissures. But while older opposition parties and armed movements have been marginalized, a social movement of Ethiopian Muslims is an important new development.
Rapid economic growth has been key to Ethiopia’s stability. The economy grew by more than 10 percent annually over the past decade, and while growth has slowed down it remains higher than the African average. Recent data, however, suggest that earnings from coffee and gold, Ethiopia’s two largest sources of export revenues, have declined. The World Bank also raised concerns that Ethiopia’s boom has relied too heavily upon public investment and that sustained growth will require a significant increase in private investment.
The political opposition to the EPRDF—currently divided into camps based on whether they subscribe to ethno-national or pan-Ethiopian goals and whether they operate in exile or have remained in the country—has struggled to find channels to influence Ethiopian politics. After competitive elections in 2005 and the subsequent crisis that led to the arrest of much of the opposition leadership and the collapse of the main opposition coalitions, the regime effectively criminalized dissent. Restrictions on independent media and civil society limit the ability of Ethiopians to mobilize outside of the structures of the ruling party. The EPRDF’s dominance was evident in local elections this year, in which it and its affiliated parties won all but one seat nationwide.
As a result, opposition political parties that challenged the regime in 2005 now play virtually no role in national politics. The Semayawi, or Blue, party organized a notable demonstration in June and has some following among the youth, but its potential to challenge the regime is limited. Berhanu Nega, a politician who had considerable influence in 2005, is now operating in exile without a significant presence in the country. Repression and the use of anti-terrorism laws, as well as weak structures and leadership, limit the opposition’s ability to operate within Ethiopia.
Meanwhile, several groups, notably the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), remain engaged in protracted armed struggles, but Addis Ababa has effectively managed these military challenges. Oromo nationalism remains potent, but the OLF leadership is divided and discredited. Promising talks between the ONLF and Addis Ababa collapsed in October 2012, but there are officials on both sides that see advantages from a negotiated settlement. The government would like to end the war in order to concentrate on development of the region’s natural gas and other resources. Some Ogadenis recognize that they are unlikely to win the military contest and wish to end the ferocious counterinsurgency campaign in the region. But reaching a durable agreement, a recent International Crisis Group report accurately notes, will require “unprecedented concessions from both sides.”
Finally, the ongoing demonstrations by Ethiopian Muslims, who make up approximately 40 percent of the country, provide an important model of politics outside of the ruling party that relies upon neither armed struggle nor the strategies of electoral competition on a hopelessly lopsided playing field. The demonstrations began 18 months ago to protest government interference in Islamic affairs and the regime’s links to the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council. The movement has been extraordinarily disciplined and nonviolent and has succeeded in part by focusing on a specific set of issues. Demonstrations have been held after Friday prayers in Addis Ababa but also notably in other towns across Ethiopia.
Muslim activists emphasize that they are operating within the framework of the Ethiopian constitution and that they are not seeking to overthrow the regime. The Ethiopian government, in contrast, has consistently claimed that the protests were organized by extremists bankrolled from overseas and seeking to establish an Islamist state. More recently Addis Ababa has identified neighboring Eritrea as the source of this alleged external support. The movement’s leadership was arrested July 2012 and charged with terrorism in October.
Earlier this month there were clashes between Ethiopian security forces and Muslims reportedly following the arrests of three local imams in Kofele, a town in the Oromo region. A heavy police presence and arrests in Addis Ababa following the Eid al-Fitr ceremonies celebrating the end of Ramadan on Aug. 8 further raised the temperature and tensions. Government spokesman Shimeles Kemal alleged that the arrests were of “Salafist elements who tried to create disturbances.”
Despite the government’s arrests and condemnations, the Ethiopian Muslim demonstrators have shown that sustained, nonviolent political activism is possible in Ethiopia. What is not clear, however, is the movement’s future. Many leaders in the older ethno-nationalist movements, including those with large Muslim constituencies, such as the Oromo and Somali, view the multiethnic nature of the movement with trepidation. Others, including leaders in the Semayawi party, view it as a vehicle to advance pan-Ethiopian political ideas. Some Muslim activists propose a strategy of sustained low-level protest that avoids confrontation and recognize that a quick victory is impossible. To move more assertively would spark a military crackdown, and the movement’s leadership is likely to lose control if there is violence. The key dynamics to watch in the lead-up to elections in 2015 are therefore competition within the ruling party and the potential for the Ethiopian Muslim movement to create new space for political activism.
Terrence Lyons is associate professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution and co-director of the Center for Global Studies, George Mason University.
This is good news. I hope all the world has now seen how novel our Ethiopian Muslims are. The only force (evil) that is objecting to this change is the government at hand. I urge the government that for the sake of saving the nation and for the sake of our children and grand children that they should convert what they have been preaching and that is the full application of the Law, the Constitution. What we demand is for all citizens to be free. Especially as the government starts to open up Public investment to Private investment, there is no other way that it can block individual liberty and grant access to private investment. Simply it does not work that way. At any cost, we need full freedom like Americans do. No restriction whatsoever. We are civilized nation and it is hard to instigate Ethiopians to torture or beat each other on the streets of Addis for religion. Simply that is not possible. If at all may be some factions of Islam within will act against each others. Surprisingly Ethiopian Muslims are tolerant of their peer Christians on most level. They have no ill intentions however except some hate comments but that is no close to being really out of control. The same way I would say that Christian Ethiopians think the same way toward their Muslim peers than against each other. Again this is my personal take. Yes, there were discriminations but those discriminations come from the top down order than the people on the ground. More over, we are not holding responsible every individual for things they have not committed except their leaders who claim they stand for them. In addition, I urge all scholars to place the history of past leaders to be in their rightful place so we can move forward. This is the only way we can keep our land together. That is why I urge my Somalia and Oromo and Afar friends to join unity on condition that you will be a land where your identity, your culture and legacy will be included in you future Ethiopia.
Woyane is like an old termite infested house. Looks big, power full and intimidating from outside but rotten and fractured inside. through time and persistence internal opposition, one day it is bound to come crashing. Therefore this movement need to continue.
On another hand, No political party in exile thousands miles away will win democracy in Ethiopia. It has to have grass root movement in the country to succeed. That is something the Starbucks politicans in DC have not learned yet.
A Muslim protester had the nerve to burn Ethiopia’s flag at the protests in Addis Ababa. Becareful, my Muslim brothers, Ethiopia isn’t Europe or America - we know civil rights does not work in dealing with Extremism. You may just wake up the sleeping Christian extremists of Ethiopia. When that happens, God (Allah) help you, because you shall realize all the rights you enjoy in Ethiopia due to Mengistu and Meles !
you are going to die wishing, lol.
Wishful thinking is what you and Teddy have been doing all along. Keep doing that until you, some time in the near future hang yourself up due to inferiority complex. death to you and the likes
Protesting for a religious freedom or for a freedom of political Islam
The author of the article deliberately misleads the Ethiopian people by exaggerating the number of the Muslims in Ethiopia. Secondly, he assumes the demonstrations by the Jihadist Muslims in Ethiopia “…provide an important model of politics outside of the ruling party that relies upon neither armed struggle nor the strategies of electoral competition on a hopelessly lopsided playing field.”
Their method of prostrating on the streets of Addis Ababa, shouting their slogans “Allah Akbar,” and creating a traffic jam is not a good model of expressing a protest for freedom of religion mixed with a political Islam. This type of protest cannot be imitated by the other political aspirants such as OLF, ONLF, Ginbot 7, Semayawi, Dimthachen Yisema, and others.
The author of this article must be a Jihadist himself because his article praises the Muslims’ violent protest in Ethiopia: he simply declares, by purposely ignoring the deaths of our police men and the burnings of our churches by the Jihadist Muslims in the Christian land of Ethiopia, “The movement has been extraordinarily disciplined and nonviolent and has succeeded in part by focusing on a specific set of issues.”
What are the main issues of the demonstrations of these Jihadist Muslims in Ethiopia? Can you tell us? You may think to confuse the Ethiopian Christians that the main issues of the demonstrations are religious freedom and the releases of the criminal Jihadists from jail. That is not true as most of us know the deceptions of Muslims throughout the centuries. The main issues of the demonstrations of the Jihadist Muslims in Ethiopia have been freedom to establish an Islamic state, freedom to apply the Sharia law throughout the Christian land of Ethiopia, and freedom to build a grand Mosque in the holy city of Axum. These are some of their hidden political demands next to their lackadaisical religious freedom.
The author of this article lies, as most of the Muslims of the world do according to their religion that allows them to lie, by telling us: “Muslim activists emphasize that they are operating within the framework of the Ethiopian constitution and that they are not seeking to overthrow the regime.”
The Ethiopian Constitution does not allow protesters to kill police men, to burn Christian Churches and police stations, to mislead the Ethiopian Christians to join the Jihadist movement to overthrow the Ethiopian Christian government, but these Jihadist protesters have violated the Ethiopian Constitution by allying themselves with foreign Islamic governments and by accepting millions of dollars from the Arab Muslim world in order to destabilize the peaceful Ethiopian Christian government.
The author of the article further demonstrates by allegedly blaming the Christian government of Christian Ethiopia for its condemnations of the Muslim protests in Ethiopia. He says without any shame:
“Despite the government’s arrests and condemnations, the Ethiopian Muslim demonstrators have shown that sustained, nonviolent political activism is possible in Ethiopia.” This author is, without doubt, a foreign Muslim agent who is advising the other violent political parties to use the method of the protestors of the Jihadist Muslims in Ethiopia in order to succeed in overthrowing the present Christian government and thereby bringing chaos to our Christian country. He prepares the Jihadist Muslim movement in Ethiopia for the 2015 elections by telling us:
“The key dynamics to watch in the lead-up to elections in 2015 are therefore competition within the ruling party and the potential for the Ethiopian Muslim movement to create new space for political activism.” He is using the present Jihadist Muslim movement in Ethiopia as a model for the opposition political party to use and to bring down the present Ethiopian Christian government and put Ethiopia into the hands of the Egyptian Morsi type Jihadist Islamic politics.
Do we want our Christian country to be like Egypt, like Syria, like Pakistan, and like many other chaotic Arab-Muslim countries by following the advice of an Islamist Arab agent, such as Terrence Lyons and others? Mr. Terrence, no one wants to hear your demonic political strategies for the 2015 elections. Ethiopia is capable of handling her own election procedures; she does not need
your intrusion and muddling in the affairs of her Christian government by foreign agents of your kind. Even though you have exaggerated the number of Muslims in Ethiopia to frighten the Ethiopian Christians, Ethiopia is still a Christian country, and she will remain so as a Christian island for eternity, and the majorities of the Ethiopian people are Christians. Take your breath and swallow your inane pride!
Gragn Ahmed (visitor),
Yes, for you, a Morsi follower, Terrence Lyons’ factious article is indeed good news, but, for the majorities of the Ethiopian Christians, it is a treasonous information – information that incites different political factions to join your jihadist and violent movement to destroy the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahido Church and to bring your backward Islamic culture and spread it in every Ethiopian Christian community. No, we do not want any political faction emulates your sadistic movement to overthrow our Christian government. You have told us many times your protest on the street of our Christian city is for a religious freedom, and now you have changed your first demand to another demand, i.e. freedom for a political Islam. Terrence’s article clearly evinces your Jihadist movement is an ideal for a political Islam for the 2015 elections. This means you want your political Islam to achieve its main goal to take over the Ethiopian Christian government and replace it by an Islamic one in the year 2015.
As if you were a concerned citizen, you claim: “What we demand is for all citizens to be free.” We Ethiopian Christians have never been enslaved, and the Muslims in the Christian land of Ethiopia have always been free like the Ethiopian Christians. Slavery is attached to your religion Islam, and, unfortunately, all Muslims are forced to be slaves to Islam created by Muhammad for his own enrichment in money and sexual gratification. We cannot make you free from the bondage of Islam and the Sharia law, but you are not free to drag us into your messy and bloody religion – Islam and its politics as Terrence the illusionist is trying to convince us, and he has indeed deceived you by asking other violent political parties to join your Jihadist movement since the confused Terrence thinks both your movement and the Ginbot 7 movement and the other movements are more or less the same; therefore, he advises all political parties, including your Jihadist movement, to join hand in hand and bring down the Christian government. That has been your wish too, hasn’t it?
You have been saying Ethiopia is a backward nation and she must be ruled by the Egyptians; and now I hear you saying: “We are civilized nation…” What makes you change your mind? Is it Terrence’s deceptive article? Terrence has never said Ethiopia is a civilized nation. He simply advises the political parties to take your evil example and apply it for the 2015 elections.
You never stopped telling a lie; you stated: “Surprisingly Ethiopian Muslims are tolerant of their peer Christians on most level.” A person is tolerant if he remains quiet when something bad is done to him, but the Ethiopian Christians have done nothing bad against the Muslims in Ethiopia, so how dare you say Muslims in Ethiopia are amazingly patient! In reality, it is the Ethiopians who have been immeasurably tolerant toward the Muslims in the Christian land of Ethiopia. Our Ethiopian Christian ancestors had never retaliated against the Muslims in Ethiopia when these Muslims, supporting Gragn Muhammad, fought against the Ethiopian Christians.
Your unceasing animus toward the Ethiopian Christian genuine history is vividly defined by the following statement of yours: “I urge all scholars to place the history of past leaders to be in their rightful place so we can move forward.” Who told you the chronicles of the past great Ethiopian Christian histories are not in their proper places? Why are you concerned about the Ethiopian Christian histories since you have already said in the past all the Ethiopian histories are false; hence, are you asking Jawar or the editor of Al Jazeera to rewrite the Ethiopian history? You are just dreaming a false dream like your imposter Muhammad.
The writer could not distinguish the Wahhabi extremists from the rest Muslims. Mr. writer to tell you frankly,The whole 40% Muslim population is not demonstrating. please came and see wither the whole Ethiopian Muslims are protesting against the gov’t or not. I think most of the Muslim population is rather a victim of the Wahhabi extremist’s protest. They can not even able to prey in some masques peacefully. the extremists even began killing Muslim fathers because the only preach peaceful coexistence with their christian and other brothers and sisters.This is fact. an ABCD.. of a journalist is to cross check and find the truth before writing such an article.
Unfortunatly ,with all violent actions from the Northern Bandits
slaughtering inocent peoples .Soon
or Later Non Violent Actions shall
be NONSENS .Wonder what will be the reactions of those serving the evil bandits ,specially the Western Leaders bringing them all the supports ,when the peoples shall deal with the Agazi Bandits and their bandas with AK47 rifles and more .Afterall a minority group of only 40.000
members of the Agazi Bandits and Tigre Mafiosis shall not reign for ever against the wills of 80 Millions of peoples .
Yor are very ignorant because the composition of Muslims from the total number of the country people is not 40% but it is less than 30% they never become in the future the dominant but the domination of Christians it will going continually in the same postion in forever if you belive it or not !!!!!!!!!
God bless all Ethiopian people including Muslims.
After what happened to Mursi and his party in Egypt,Islamist parties need to reassess their Questions.Not only the west and secularists all over the glob,but also, Muslims every where are fed up with these movements.Ethiopian Muslims need to ask why Egyptians open war on their own brothers and sisters.Demanding democratic rights is one thing,endangering national security is another.
Gragn Ahmed, Although I do not like your nick name due to historical fact about Gragn, I am 100% agree with you regarding this situation. I am Christian and I love my fellow Ethiopian Muslim. I wish them the best of all. we Ethiopians do not have religious problem whatsoever. I grow up in Muslim dominated area and never alienated for the community for being Christian. we all enjoy the holiday together such us fasika, remadan, wedding ceremony, you name all, we share it. I know leaders have been trying to divide us according to our religion, ethnicity, region e.t.c for long time, but they have never achieved their objective. Having say that, I do not want to see extremist I see in Nigeria, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, and other place I did not mention in Ethiopia. those Extremists are distractive, dangerous, uncivilized, above all they will take us all to dark age. we need to fight them all if they are existing in Ethiopia. I hope you agree with that.
If my name offended you, then you should also be offended by people who call themselves Yohannes IV who destroyed our Muslims of Wollo. I will be ready to change that. But in Ethiopia we see Air ports named after Yohannes IV and not for Ahmed Gran. But I will leave that to historians.
I will glad to change my name. Also, be mindful that I really salute you for realizing that we are one as a people and our leaders are the problem. If we know this, we can find common solution. Ethiopia is better if it is like China where we never hear bomb exploding. Peaceful rise of Ethiopia is the best way.
@ Assta B. Gettu
Thank you for exposing the hidden evil agenda of the author of this article. He must have got good money from the breeders of extremists all over the world.The author is not credible anymore to Ethiopians christians and muslims alike. He is a jihadist himself who want to see jihadists bring down the gov’t down by 2015. Just dream as this will never happen in this blessed land where muslims and christians had been and still are living in peace and harmony. All we reject is jihadists. The whole world have seen their danger in Egypt,etc.
It is ironic when a typical western journalist who sympathized, encouraged and recommended Political Muslim activism for us, something that is clearly considered as a threat to civilization where he is coming from.
Clearly we need alternative political ideologies where monopoly of power can eventually be dismantled. But we don’t want this kind of suggestion or recommendation from an outsider who feels like he can write stuff mainly from indifference. When people make peaceful struggles for rights to beliefs of their choice and religious equality, which is understandably something all good citizens should stand for.
Terrence Lyons might wish “Ethiopian Muslim movement to create new space for political activism”. But the fact of the matter is Mr. Lyon’s pandering at least for those actively seeking this kind of opinion, is nothing more than a pat on the back. Mr. Lyon, why don’t you make the same recommendation for congress and see if you can escape being labeled as treasonous?
Yes the Ethiopian political landscape can entertain more diversity of political visions. But we certainly don’t need neither Muslim nor Christian nor atheist movement to shape up the political discourse. Politics must operate clear off religion. That should be the way forward. Mr. Lyon, thanks but NO thanks!
Axumawit, aka Gragn Ahmedawit (visitor),
The Jihadist Muslims in Ethiopia don’t care about the danger they have been advocating for over a year: they want each tribe fight each other for the sake of the Sharia law and for the spread of Wahhabism in the Christian land of Ethiopia, and through a tumult they think they can take over the Christian government, destroy it and bury it in an unknown grave yard. Such total destruction of Christendom, they think, will appease their blood-thirsty Allah and their false prophet Muhammad.
Serenity, tranquility, and peace are the enemies of the Muslim Allah and his messenger Muhammad; however, hostility, enmity, and chaos are the true friends of the moon-god Allah and Muhammad the past, the present, and the future messenger of the devil.
Morsi and his Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood represent the evil spirit that nourishes itself with the blood of the Egyptian Coptic Christians, and in the same way, the Jihadist Muslims in Ethiopia possess the spirits of Morsi and his followers. Possessed by the bad spirits of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the Jihadist Muslims in Ethiopia are preparing themselves to wage war against the peace-loving Ethiopian Christians. For this obvious reason, we must be ready to fend of the weapons the Jihadist Muslims in Ethiopia are planning to throw at each one of us.
It is funny that, sometimes, Gragn Ahmed comes in the name of a female person, other times in the name of a camel or a chicken or even in the name of a black dog hated very much by the prophet Muhammad, who ordered the eliminations of all dogs of black color. No wonder why Muhammad hated black people, thinking they are not better than black dogs.
Axumite makes the following statement:
“Ethiopian Muslims need to ask why Egyptians open war on their own brothers and ssisters.” This is not the correct statement: the correct statement should be: Muslims in Ethiopia should ask why they have been protesting for the entire year to create confusion among their Ethiopian Christian neighbors. Confusion creates hatred, and hatred creates war, and war creates death. Is that what the Jihadist Muslims in Ethiopia want to see in the Christian land of Ethiopia?
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