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  • The “Ahbashism” Campaign in Ethiopia and the Resistance of the Muslim People

     (From August 2011-January 2012)

    By Ubah Abdusalam Seid

    Introduction

    In the last six months, The Ethiopian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (in short called “Majlis”) is trying its best to mold all of the Muslim citizens of Ethiopia according to the beliefs and doctrines of a newly arriving politico-religious faction called “Association of Islamic Charitable Projects” but whom the public know as “Ahbash” (the “Abyssinians”, a term denoting Ethiopia where Sheikh Abdullah Al-Harari, the founder of the faction, was born). The campaign of enforcing the new belief on Muslims, called  “Ahbashism” by the citizens, is supported by the government of Ethiopia. Both parties (the Majlis and the government) claim that “The new campaign is undertaken to eradicate religious extremism from the country which a radical Islamist movement called ‘Wahhabiyya’ was sowing in every direction for more than a decade”.

    The wide majority (over 85%) of the Ethiopian Muslims believe the Ahbsashism campaign to be unconstitutional and illegal blow aimed at suppressing their religious rights. Since they see the beliefs of Al-Ahbash as a deviant and heretical one which can never fit the thoughts of the true beliefs of Sunni Islam, they were resisting it in all possible ways.

    In this short essay, I deal with the backgrounds of the Ahbashism campaign taking place in the country, the features of the campaign, and the resistance of the Muslim population. In my presentation, I tried to be free of bias and subjectivity. However, in any case, all of the thoughts and descriptions discussed here express my view only.

    Backgrounds of the Campaign

    The Ahbashism campaign is an extension of the works carried out by the past Majlis leadership. Most of the Muslims are aware that the Majlis lead by persons like Elias Redman was performing to its maximum to revive the ritual activity of shrine visiting which was highly prevalent in Ethiopia before two decades but diminished by the awakening efforts of young Muslim preachers who taught such act was a “shirk” (polytheistic). To this end, the old “Majlis” undertook many projects aimed at rehabilitation of infamous shrines (eg. that of Sheikh Hussen in Bale). The Majlis believed those projects could empower the old Islamic cult and its followers, and it would expose and silence opponents like the “Wahhabi” sect (the term in which the proponents of old Islamic cult call any Muslim who opposes their non-Islamic actions like shrine veneration). Elias Redman’s amazing letter written to USA embassy in Addis Ababa (the financer of the projects) shows that the Majlis was going to wipe up those who were “Wahhabi” and the Wahhabi ideology itself. Accordingly, the Majlis is one of the main parties who collaborated in designing the current Ahbashism campaign.

    On the other hand, the USA was so concerned about the changes in the Muslims attitude and practice of Islam. And it thought that the source of this change is a growing influence of “Wahhabism”. According to the analysis of one US cable released by wikilieaks, the source of the growing wave of “Wahhabism” was the Gulf Region. It further stated that the finance to construct new “Wahhabi” mosques and madrasa was coming from the oil rich Wahhabi dominated gulf countries. They reason US linked all of the awakening efforts in the Muslim society to external influence (in her word “Wahhabism”) is unclear. But the way she analyzed her claim was very poor. For example, in the same cable released by wikileaks, US diplomats thought that all Muslim women who wear “niqab” (face-veil) are influenced by the “Wahhabism” of the gulf region. But this is very far from being the truth. (click the following links to get acess to the wikileaks cables http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/07/09ADDISABABA1674.html

    http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/07/09ADDISABABA1675.html

    hhtp://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/07/09ADDISABABA1672.html)

    Why USA was so concerned is evident. We know that since the tragic incident of September 11/2001, USA has been saying the source of extremism in the Muslim world is the “Wahhabi” version of Islam which is emanating from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. So it’s pressuring all Arab and Islamic governments, clerics, groups etc to suppress the movements, teaching sessions and institutions thought to be influenced by the so called “Wahhabiyya”. One way of doing this is cultivating, reinforcing and institutionalizing groups like Ahbash who have fierce enmity with the “Wahhabi” sect. So according to my thought, USA is another force which has big role in designing and financing the Ahbashism campaign currently being implemented in Ethiopia.

    The third big collaborator is the Ethiopian government. Why the government involved in designing and implementation of the campaign can be viewed in five ways. First, it might be carrying out the order it received from USA which asserts “Wahhabism should be reduced at everywhere”. Second, it may have feared that the growing share of Muslims in schools, local administrations and the business and commerce would lead them to demand equal share in all aspects and the total de-marginalization of the Muslim society. Third, the priestly oriented and radical orthodox authorities in the government might had thought that “Wahhabism” is influencing the Ethiopian Muslims to resist the supremacy of Christianity, something that hadn’t been a case in the so called “Christian Island” for many centuries. Fourth, certain personalities who are taken as the distinguished experts of the geo-politics of the horn of Africa may have warned the Ethiopian government about the threat it faced by “Wahhabism” and the importance of silencing its wave by importing energetic opponent like Al-Ahbash which claims the same faith as the “Wahhabiyya” itself. Fifth, the Majlis leadership, which officially introduces itself as “Anti-Wahhabi”, may have rushed to some influential government authorities and described about the “abilities of Al-Ahbash to eradicate the evils caused by Wahhabi” and convinced them to launch on a campaign which can diminish the growth of “Wahhabism”.

    To summarize, the “Ahbashism” campaign was designed, approved and launched by a group of many collaborators who see the mythological movement called “Wahhabism” as a threat to each one of them.

    The Campaign in Action

    The Ahbashism campaign was officially launched when the government and the Majlis prepared a training program in July 2011. Here are the main features of the campaign.

    1.     Trainings

    a.     The first training was undertaken at two campuses of Haramaya University (Harar Campus and the Main Campus at Haramaya, East Ethiopia) where 600 people had participated. The training was given by the Ahbash clerics who came from Beirut. Even though the training was named “Training on Religious Tolerance”, the courses taught had almost no relation to this title. Most of the session was occupied by a course titled “Radd Alal Wahhabiyya” (Refuting Wahhabism). The books distributed to the trainees were prepared by Ahbash in Beirut. From among them, a book titled “Fadihatul Wahabiyya” (“the Evils Caused by Wahhabiyya”) was the top ranked. (The cover page says the book was written by Sheikh Abdullah Al-Harari, the founder of Al-Ahbash).

    b.     Similar trainings were undertaken in September and October in the major cities (like Addis Ababa, Harar, Bahirdar, etc…) and other trainings are on progress. From these trainings, some are kept very secret (However, the public could know about it easily).

    c.      The Majlis planned to train all “masjid” (mosque) imams and Majlis representatives at different levels (sub-district, district, zone and region); and it is feared by the public that the “Majlis” may extend the training session to all Muslims.

    d.     The training session was not smooth. In all sessions, the participants challenged the Ahbash trainers on many of their stances. For example, many participants boldly denounced the Ahbash clerics when they ordered them to take an Islamic oath of faith in a new manner. On the other hand, when the Ahbash trainers were trying to do many mischief in the name of exhibiting the relics of the Prophet (such as their claim to exhibit the hair of the prophet- s.a.w), the trainees had challenged them in great emotions.

    2.    Brainstorming and “Silencing” Activities

    Some of the brainstorming activities undertaken by the collaborators (the Majlis and the government authorities) are

    a.  Conferences for University students where high government authorities (like Juniedi Sado, Minister of the Civil Service) briefed the upcoming government stance on what they called “extreme Islamism” and the government’s strategy of handling intolerance. These authorities were telling the university students that it is forbidden to pray in a group in a university compound. The authorities even went to an extent of saying “What is the use of a big beard for a university student? What is the use of wearing face-veil (niqab) for girls?”.

    b.  Many universities are applying the new regulation drafted for the higher educational institutions (which isn’t yet ratified by the house of the ministers). The university administrators took silencing actions on the students whom they call “non-respectful for the institution’s directives”. But most of these students were punished only because of their trial to practice their religious rights. (Even in some universities, students were prohibited from praying in the campus in any case, bet it in individually or in groups). 

    3.     Terrorizing Media Campaign

    To deepen the root of Ahabsh in the society, some government authorities and the Majlis leadership were undertaking a very terrorizing media campaign. Here are some examples.

    a.  On a half day workshop conducted at the Addis Ababa Police Commission assembly hall, the Minister of Federal Affairs briefed the participants by saying “From now onwards, the government officially denounces the ‘Wahhabiyya’ as ‘an extremist and unlawful organization which seeks to demolish the government and establish an Islamic state in illegal and unconstitutional way”.

    b.  The Ethiopian Television broadcasted a documentary blaming an unnamed Islamic group (but believed to be the so called “Wahhabiyya”) where it said “Members of this extremist group uses Islam as a shelter to achieve their hidden political target”. All people were shocked by the way the documentary was addressing the Muslims. The wide mass of the Muslim society believe that the instigator and co-producer of the documentary was the Majlis itself.

    c.   The Majlis on its behalf used all pages of the October’s issue of its quarterly organ called “Hijra” (a magazine) to attack the group it calls “Wahhabiya”. The magazine presented a detail biography of Sheikh Abdulah Al-Harari (founder of Ahbash) in which the sheikh was depicted as a champion of Islam whom Allah sent to save His religion from the “heresy of Wahhabiyya”. (the cover page of the magazine said “Kawarija is a military wing of the Wahhabiyya movement”).

    d. In the news session and other programs of Ethiopian Radio, Ethiopian Television and some private newspapers the Majlis repeatedly accused the “Wahhabiyya” as extremist and un-Islamic group which strives to take the country to violence. It also defended its Ahbashism policy by words like “Ahbash is the same as our Sufi version of Islam. We didn’t bring a new belief. We brought the Lebanese teachers only to assist us in eradicating the Wahhabiyya and teaching religious tolerance”.

    The Resistance of Ethiopian Muslims to the Ahbashism Campaign

    At the beginning, most of the Ethiopian Muslims were not aware of the Ahbashism campaign. This is because both the Majlis and the government authorities were deceiving the public in their press conferences. They were saying “The government is working in close contact with the Majlis to teach about religious tolerance”. However, when local Muslim presses and foreign based Ethiopian Muslim radio stations (like Radio Bilal) have brought the issue to the forefront, “Ahbash” became a discussion agenda in the whole of the country. Since then, every group of the Muslim Society (men, women, youth, students, scholars, journalists and many others) are taking in part in the resistance movement. I will discuss only the main features of this resistance.

    A.     Awakening Activities

    1.     The press and Radio broadcasts

    As I said above, the Muslim oriented free press was the first to alert the Ethiopian Muslims about the upcoming Ahbashism campaign. Starting from the first half of the month of Ramadan, newspapers like “Salafiyya”, Al-Quds, Al-Islam etc were discussing about Ahbash, and the Mjlis orchestrated Ahbashism campaign. The Radio Bilal (based in Minnesota, USA) has also warned the public about the campaign at its early stage. However, the agenda had reached the climax instantly when the August edition of the monthly magazine called “Ye Muslimoch Guday” (the Muslims’ Affair) was suspended by intervention of the Majlis and government authorities. Meanwhile, an internet site called “Nejashi” was reportedly blocked in Ethiopia during the same time. (“Ye Muslimoch Guday” magazine was later published, and it was the best sold issue since its foundation).

    At the start, with the exception of a pro-Majlis newspaper called “Ethio Muslim”, all Muslim oriented press had the same stance against Ahbash, Majlis and the Ahbashism campaign. However, from the month of December onwards, the newspaper called “Al-Quds” (the oldest one but filled mostly by untrustworthy stories, non-literary mythologies and self-exaggerations) is distanced itself from the majority and started talking in favor of Majlis. Unconfirmed reports say that the Majlis had bribed the editors of Al-Quds Newspaper. The rest of the presses have continued denouncing the Ahbashism campaign until now.

    Some Muslim writers even extended their anti-Majlis and anti-Ahbash articles to the wider private media. For example, many articles were published on “Awramba Times” newspaper and “Inquu” Megazine”.

    The Majlis has done its best to silence the press. For example, three journalists of “Ye Muslimoch Guday” magazine were detained on false accusations of the Majlis. However, they were released after four days without being charged for unknown reason. The wide section of the public believes that they were released in relatively short time because the government had feared the escalating anger of the Muslim society.

    Radio broadcasts of Foreign based Ethiopian Muslim community organizations have also took their part in awakening the Muslims against the Ahbashism campaign. These include Bilal Radio, BBN (Badr Broadcasting Network) and Nejashi Radio.

    2.    The Internet

    Since the time the Ahbashism campaign was launched, the Ethiopian Muslims are using internet as a big weapon to move the public against Majlis and its plan to enforce the Ahbash ideology on the mass. To this end, internet sites like www.badrethiopia.com , www.ethioislamicart.com , www.nejashionline.com etc… are shouting loudly for the rights of Ethiopian Muslims. Blogs like www.notoahbashinethiopia.wordpress.com and www.ethiomuslims.blogs.com have been opened for the same purpose. Non-Muslim owned networks like Addis Neger Online (www.addisnegeronline.com ) are reporting the Ahbashism campaign and the resistance of the Muslims continuously.

    3.    The Facebook

    The most effective and efficient cyber based activities of combating the Ahbashism campaign have been executed on facebook where many of the Ethiopian Muslims familiar with internet are expressing their views and commitments to save Islam and Muslims in their country. Here, the Muslims established groups (forums) and discuss each and every Ahbash related moves of the Majlis and the government authorities. They share with their group members news on any illegal activity aimed at empowering Ahbash that was happening in their locality. They teach each other about the heresies and deviances of the Ahbash cult. They undertake fierce arguments with the Ahbash members on many topics. They even expose strange conspiracies circulating around the Ahbash which id officially called “Association of Islamic Charitable Projects”. For example, the young Muslims who founded a facebook group called “Anti-Ahbash”- the United Voice of Ethiopian Muslims on Hertic Groups” exposed that Ahbash is a member of a coalition formed by a huge Jewish Organization called “Anti-Defamation Leage”. The list of the coalition members shows that “Al-Ahbash” is the only “Muslim” organization registered with many Jewish organizations to form the coalition. Further, there are also gay and lesbian rights groups in the coalition. (You can get access to the list on this link http://www.adl.org/philadelphia/coalition.asp)

    The youth of the facebook groups have exposed the crimes done by Majlis leadership against the interest of the wide mass (example: they exposed an amazing letter written to US embassy in Addis Ababa by Sheikh Elias Redman, the former Deputy President of the Majlis). Further, due to their active attendances of the facebook forums, they could turn the demonstrations of Aweliya students into a strong mass movement of expressing opposition in a peaceful and legal way.

    The Ethiopian Muslim facebook attendants are now leading their peaceful struggle through two groups designed for the purpose namely

    a.     “Anti-Ahbash” -the United Voice of Ethiopian Muslins Against Heretic Groups (http://www.facebook.com/groups/ethioagainstahbash )

    b.     Wake Up! Against Political Ahbashism in Ethiopia

    (http://www.facebook.com/groups/AntiPoliticalAhbashism )

    4.    Books and Audio Videos

    Another front of counter Ahbashism campaign was opened through literary works and audio-visual productions. A book called አሕባሽ ከየት ወደየት” (“Ahbash From where up to where”) was written by Ahmed Mohammed in November. A documentary film called “Conspiracy Against Ethiopian Muslims” was produced by an unknown scholars and distributed free of charge.  (Reports show that the documentary had reached as far as Ilubabor in Oromia region, Jijjiga in Somali Region, and Asaita in Afar region).

    On the hand, some audio productions were produced on the subject and distributed to the society. And the video and audios are uploaded on internet networks like www.youtube.comwww.diretube.com etc…

    5.    Da’wa Programs

    Muslim scholars and preachers arranged and undertook many Da’wa programs on the deviances and heresies of Al-Ahbash and the constitutional rights of Ethiopian Muslims. The Da’wa programs are still going on throughout the country.  

    6.    Social Clubs

    The aftermath of launching of Ahbashism campaign made many Muslims to group themselves in a small social clubs and held discussion on Ahbash, the rights of Ethiopian Muslims, and the way to resist the Ahbashism campaign. Students use their social group to produce and distribute different pamphlets to warn the society against the beliefs and habits of Ahbash cult.

    B.    Joint Counter Reactions

    The Majlis was able to impose its campaign in most of the regional states. However, the Somali and Afar regional states didn’t recognize its stance as legal and authoritative. The authorities of the Somali region event went to an extent of detaining the regional Majlis leaders for corruption cases while the latter were trying to undertake the Ahbashism campaign. Reports from the two regions indicate that despite the instability of the areas, the authorities never tolerated the attack on Islam and Muslims (the authorities themselves are Muslims who share the feeling of the wider public in many ways if not all in all). They have been resisting the Ahbashism campaign jointly with the Muslim society. And still now, Majlis has no full control over its two unites of Somali and Afar.

    C.    On Spot Resistances

    In the last six months, whenever the Majlis and its adherents try to take possessions of mosques and madrasa and install its Ahbash branded people in those institutions, the local Muslim communities haven’t allowed them. Reports show that the Majlis adherents couldn’t take the leadership of any mosque and madrasa except those they had before the new Ahbashism campaign. However, this had never happened without a cost. Many imams, scholars, preachers and community leaders have been detained. Some of them are still imprisoned at different places.

    D.    Public Demonstrations

    In the last six months, Ethiopian Muslims living in different places had demonstrated against the unjust actions of the government and Majlis. Some of them are mentioned here

    1.     The Demonstrations held in Washington DC in November: It was a very successful though the number of participants was small.

    2.     The Demonstrations of Aweliya Student: When the Majlis had deposed the teachers and students of Aweliya Islamic Institution, the students were very angry. They gathered themselves at once and demanded the Majlis to allow their teachers and spiritual leaders back. They demonstrated continuously for about a week. But thereafter, they decided not to leave the compound of the institute unless they got satisfactory solution.

    They passed three nights in the compound. On the third day, which was a Friday, they were joined by the large mass of the Muslim people. The Majlis, fearing the public rage, allowed the imam of the mosque and the teachers back on their usual service. However, the incident had laid a base for the biggest movement of the Muslims that had never been seen in the last two decades. (Discussed below)

    3.     The Demonstration of Dessie Muslims: In the afternoon of January 23/2012, the Federal Majlis sent its delegates to take control of the Zonal Majlis offices of Dessie and the “Shewa Ber Madrasa”. Hearing that, the Muslim population gathered at once in the zonal Majlis and shouted against the actions of the delegates. They clearly stated that they won’t allow an imposition of any new ideology or unelected leadership on their faith.

    On the next day, they gathered in large mass at the zonal Majlis office and then, marched for a big demonstration in the streets of the city against the Ahbashism campaign. Seeing this, the zonal government authorities requested the Majlis delegates to lift up their demands and return to where they came from.

    E.    The Aweliya Movement

    The strongest of all anti-Ahbashism resistance movement is the peaceful public demonstration being held weekly at Aweliya Islamic Institue . The start of the movement was the small demonstration undertaken by Aweliya students about a month ago. Now, it became a movement where about 100,000 Muslims pray the mandatory Friday Prayer (Salatul Jum’a) together and speak against the Ahbashism campaign in one voice. The participants come from every corner of the city of Addis Ababa. And both genders (males and females) attend it in large masses. The call for the meeting have been done mostly on the aforementioned facebook groups, the cell-phone sms services and social clubs.

    In the last three weeks, the public had exerted considerable effort to save their religious right. Among the main activities conducted are

    1.     The petitioning against Majlis and its Ahbashism policy (records show that over 40,000 people have petitioned until now).

    2.     The establishment of a provisional committee of 16 people that will speak on the behalf of the Muslim public.

    The committee had taken appointments from different government authorities in the last week. But when it tried to present the demand of the public on Wednesday, February 1/2012 (on the day of the appointment), they Majlis had played a malicious game and delayed the meeting. And it is postponed for 13/ 2012. (It was said that the Majlis leaders came to the meeting place and said “It is wee who can represent the Ethiopian Muslims so that we must be present on the meeting”).

    Conclusion

    In this short report I tried to show the start, extents and current status of the Ahbashism Campaign in Ethiopia and the challenges it has been facing from the Muslim society. The main question is now “What will be its future trends?”

    As a Muslim, I can’t say many words about the future trends. But I definitely say neither of the collaborators (USA, Ethiopian Government and the Majlis) can meet their demands in any illegal and unconstitutional method. Allah Knows better.

    , February 6/2012

     

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  • Ethiopian Muslim stick to nonviolence to overcome the regime’s divisive and repressive tactics

    Ethiopian Muslim stick to nonviolence to overcome the regime’s divisive and repressive tactics

    Published on August 20, 2012.

    Ethiopian Muslims have been staging weekly protest, every Friday, to demand government respect their religious freedom. Specially they demand the government to stop  the ongoing stop forced imposition is an alien religious doctrine imported from Lebanon, and allow them to freely elect leaders of Mejlis,  their central institution.  Instead of addressing  this simple demands, the regime has attempting to repress, divide and mislabel the protesters. This article looks at how Muslim protesters have been utilizing methods of nonviolent resistance to overcome  the regimes repressive and divisive campaigns.

    Why is the regime messing with religion?

    As an authoritarian system built on a slim power base and lacking popular legitimacy, the TPLF has been able to prolong its reign through two important tactics that complement its use of brutal force.  First, by dividing the population across all imaginable segments, and second, by destroying, co-opting, or corrupting existing social institutions and obstructing development of new ones. Religious institutions have been one of the primary targets.

    The first victim was the Orthodox Church, which saw the dethroning of its legal patriarch, Abune Merkorios, in violation of the church’s rules and traditions, and his replacement with a long time loyalist of the rising ruling party, Abune Paulos. Abune Merkorios along many bishops that protested the new regime’s actions were forced into exile while others, such as monk Fekade Selassie, were gunned down in cold blood. Aside from ensuring the powerful Orthodox church is run by one of its own, this outrageous action, was also meant to divide the faithful along the ethnic fault-lines as the regime quickly framed  criticism on  the illegitimacy of the new patriarch as an attack on Tigreans by the Amhara. Split into two Synods contesting legitimacy, marked with allegation of corruption and moral decay of the leadership,  the Orthodox church has been neutralized to the level where it cannot defend  its historic monasteries against threat of demolition by the government.

    Once Meles paralyzed the Orthodox Church, the next target was the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Council, which was established in the 1970s to centrally coordinate and represent the affairs of the country’s Muslims. When the regime’s attempt to co-opt the existing leadership into its own surrogates failed, the regime instigated violence at the Grand Anwar Mosque in 1995 during a  prayer. Using the riots as a pretext, the regime eliminated—through assassination, imprisonment and exile—those religious leaders who refused to let the regime use their institutions for its political objectives. Then the Mejlis was filled by political appointees. Later on  Elias Redman, a  ruling party loyalist who was converted from layman to a spiritual leader overnight,  became ‘deputy chairman’ for life of the Mejlis, where he exerted more real power than  the supposed chairmen  that were used and thrown out whenever they fell out of favor with the regime. (Note that Elias Redman openly campaigned for the ruling party during the 2005 election and was also a member of  the Investigative Commission, in which he allegedly leaked the committee’s verdict that  blamed the government for the killing, forcing members of the commission flee the country to muggle the documents before it was confesticated. He later went on the the TV and radio and attempted to  legitimize the killing of 200 peaceful protesters in broad daylight.)

    The Long Fight for Independence of Religious Institutions

    Having eliminated any watchful eye from their side, and protected by the palace, Redman and his selected cadres began embezzling funds donated by foreign charities and contributed from the domestic faithful through Zakah.  For instance, as this document shows, although an organization  in Saudi Arabia had facilitated accommodation for Ethiopian Hajj  pilgrims for a fee of just 1000 Ryals, the Mejlis leadership continued to collect thousands more  from the unsuspecting pilgrims and embezzled it for personal use while falsely claiming it was paid to the Saudis. Such corruption, coupled with the illegitimate ways in which they were appointed, led to  a  growing demand to replace them through the regular election. When the 2001 (1992 EC)  election approached, realizing its favored candidates would lose, the regime intervened taking the drastic measure of indefinitely postponing the election. According to the rules, elections were supposed to take place every five years, yet no election has taken place for the last 12 years. Although community elders kept petitioning the Mejlis and pleading with the government to organize elections, their pleas were ignored since the regime did not see the need to address their concerns.

    The regime ignored the plight of the elders because it did not anticipate a strong protest against its intervention in the internal affairs of the faith community. The reign of Meles Zenawi coincided with an ongoing Muslim spiritual revivalism that resulted in the development of a number of reform movements. This phenomenon allowed the regime to avoid unified pressure from the Muslim community by pitting one movement against the other. However, in the last few years, the youth who have been active in the reformist movements and close observers of the destructive consequences of the regime’s manipulation began to quietly work towards narrowing differences and defusing tension.

    Having persuaded the main senior religious leaders to freeze their theological debates, they built an active network that reached across all organizational and social divisions in the country. Disgusted with the immorality of the Mejlis leaders and determined to reassert public ownership of the institution through legitimate leaders elected through free and fair elections, the youth intensified their campaign to exert the utmost public pressure on the regime. The youth were assisted by intellectuals who have also been concerned about the consequences of lack of legitimate and active leadership at the time when the faith was undergoing transformative spiritual revival and reforms.

    The Plot  to radicalize the youth

    In response to the emerging unified demand for institutional independence, the regime began to plot a new tactic meant to justify its planned crackdown. It took the unprecedented and outrageous action of importing an alien sect from Lebanon and coercively imposing it on the Muslim population. Claiming that its puppets leading the Mejlis lacked sufficient religious knowledge and therefore needed to be upgraded, the regime brought some 200 foreigners belonging to al Habash—a notoriously controversial politico-religious group that has been engaged in a bitter dispute with various Islamic movements in the fractured politics of the Middle East.

    Two factors appear to have motivated the regime to choose this group. First, importing such an already globally controversial group would immediately generate negative reactions from the established Muslim groups on the ground. This would help  the regime to proclaim the ‘rise of extremism’ in order to consolidate its external support and further fragment the country’s population across religious lines and obstruct  the development of a unified democratic movement. Second, one of the key concepts of this group, al Habash, is that it advocates complete submission to political authority, a belief that Meles tirelessly worked for two decades  to  install in the minds of his subjects through his ‘revolutionary democracy’. Remember when articulating  his  vision , Meles  wrote that “when revolutionary democracy permeates the entire the entire society, individuals will start to think alike and all persons will cease having their own independent outlook. In this order, individual thinking becomes simply part of collective thinking because the individual will not be in a position to reflect on concepts that have not been prescribed by revolutionary democracy.” Therefore Habash is  just the latest of many  foreign ideologies  Meles has been importing to help him   implement such absurd  and delusional project.

    Refusing to be Violent

    Although the regime anticipated that bringing such a controversial group would result in the fracturing of Muslims across ‘traditionalist’ and ‘reformist’ camps,   it faced unified rejection during the very first re-indoctrination campaigns. The regime also calculated that the energetic, passionate and frustrated youth would respond violently to such outrageous provocations  as the closing of the Awolia college. However, to its utter surprise, the community responded in an organized, orderly and disciplined way.  Instead of a disjointed and protracted protest, they democratically elected a committee of 17 that carefully crafted their demands, formally presented them to the authorities, and effectively communicated to domestic and external audiences. Fully cognizant of the regime’s intent to cry foul at “Islamic militancy”, they chose nonviolent resistance and stuck to it as their only choice. Thanks to the efforts of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., who popularized the effectiveness of civic resistance, and Gene Sharp, who formulated it into a strategic manual, violence is no longer the only option for those fighting for their rights. In this way, by building unity of purpose and constructing organizational cooperation, Ethiopian Muslims refused to be divided, avoided being dragged down to violence, ensured solidarity with their Christian brothers, and were able to wage a sustained nine-months long struggle against state interference in their faith. They defied the regime’s expectations and defeated every tactical maneuver it attempted.

    Defeating Violence

    The outmaneuvered regime then resorted to violent suppression, arresting the committee members and hundreds of Muslims across the country.  However, to the regime’s deep dismay, this tactic did  not work; it  actually backfired. Instead of being cowed into submission, Muslims are increasing their protests, even more committed to nonviolent tactics.  After the heavy crackdown , the protest did no show any sign of fading away, instead it  has been attracting larger crowd culminating in the nationwide demonstration on the Eid day, that saw streets filled from Wukro in Tigray to Goba in Bale, and Dawe in Afar to Gimbi in Welega  . The government has been attempting to show off its support among Muslims by forcing people to come and march for it. The problem for the regime is that while the majority boycotted such rallies, many of those marched for the government on Monday joins the mass protest on Fridays, even in the ruling party’s home state of Tigray.

    Inefficiency of the old  divide -and-rule tactics

    The regime also started an intensive constituency focused tactics that aims to scare away various segments of the society from supporting the Muslim movement. On the government media it is common to hear the allegation that protesters are using religion as a cover for a ‘hidden’ political objective.   It accuses them of being a front for political organizations, but refrains from mentioning  that alleged political entity by name. Naming of the supposedly hidden agendas and malicious political forces is left for cadres who spread rumors among targeted constituencies. For instance, the Oromo are told that Amhara elites aligned with Gurages are using the religious uprising to capture state power and also eventually divide and weaken the multi-faith Oromo. In contrast, Amharas are bombarded with tale of conspiracy theory that shows how Oromos, assisted by Arabs, are coming through the backdoor of religion to capture power and of course devastate the country. Tigreans as usual are warned that the Muslim movement is a manifestation of the hidden agenda, cooked by alliance of Oromo and Amhara political elites,  to commit genocide against them.  When we come to the faith community, Orthodox Christians are warned that they are witnessing the return of the Gragn Ahmed era.  On the other hand protestants are told that they are primary targets of the ‘jihadists’.   By pointing to the solidarity shown by the Orthodox clergy for the movement, the situation is explained as a conspiracy between the two old religious groups, Islam and Orthodox, to contain their young rival, protestant. But this divisive tactic has not worked because, at one time or another, all of these social segments have been  victims the regime’s repression.

    Extending Olive Branch Soaked in Deceit

    Frustrated by failure of its strategy and extremely worried that such a protest gaining momentum at the time when the ruling clique is embroiled in a succession struggle, the regime pulled one of its classic tactics, offering pardon in exchange for submission. This past week the regime has been harassing Muslim elders telling them to convince members of the committee to secure their release in exchange for abandoning the struggle for religious freedom. However, each committee member unilaterally and collectively rejected the offer, asserting that negotiations ought to be over the three demands of the Muslim community. They dismissed the issue of their release as an attempt to distract the public from the main issue of contention.

    TPLF Turns into the T-party

    Aside from their own strategic efficiency in organizing, one thing that is working for the protesters in mobilizing the community is the virulently Islamophobic campaign being waged  on state media, that would shame even the most far-right parties of the West. In a brazen effort to characterize protesters as extremists, ruling party cadres, pretending to be religious leaders are spewing allegations that insult common sense. One of their widely repeated allegation is that the leaders of the protest burned down 175 mosques in Jimma. It is debatable if that many mosques are to be found in the zone, but one thing is certain; had that number of mosques and/or churches been burned down, Ethiopia would have been engulfed in a bloody communal war.

    In another bizarre allegation, Minster of Federal Affairs, Shiferaw Teklemariam, shamelessly claims   ”they bring people to the mosque, they put them to the point of the gun and they request them if you’re not converting yourself to the Wahabi, Salafi sect, you’re gone, you’re subject to be killed.” He also adds that the Sadaqa program, a well-known common ritual of the Sufi order was organized for “plotting Islamic takeover”  of the government. The regime further accuses the movement of being backed by the Saudis, forgetting the fact the TPLF has  a closer tie to the Saudi government than any socio-political group in Ethiopia. In addition to being the recipient of petrodollar during their armed struggle, the current ruling clique continues to have a cozy relationship with fellow dictators and embezzlers across the Red Sea.  Ethiopians know quite well that it is not the Muslim activists who gave away huge tracts of Gambella land to the Saudi Star, neither are they responsible for giving monopolistic control over the country’s gold to a businessman with a close connection to the House of Saud.

    The tasteless attacks on Islam and presentation of Ethiopian Muslims as enemies of the state and surrogates of foreign forces have enraged Muslims of every walk of life, catalyzing those standing on the sideline to join the movement. Moreover, instead of scaring away Christians, the propaganda has helped them identify with the plight of Muslims by exposing the regime’s real objective in attacking protesters.  In contrast to the religious war anticipated by the regime, at present Christians are not only sympathizing with the Muslim brothers/sisters but also joining them in solidarity forming a unified resistance.

    By refusing to be dragged on the path of violence and destruction and instead sticking to absolutely nonviolent methods, by refuting the regimes allegation with concrete evidences, the Muslim movement has rendered the state’s repressive tactics fruitless. The regime now has two options; address their demands and defuse the confrontation or step up crackdown and face the bitter consequences of full scale upraising.

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    Jawar Mohammed is a graduate student at Columbia University. He can be reached at @jawarmd@gmail.com

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  • Ethiopia: the ‘war on terror’ and the trial of 28 community leaders

    Ethiopia: the ‘war on terror’ and the trial of 28 community leaders

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  • Ethiopia's 'jihadi' film and its boomerang effects

    Ethiopia's 'jihadi' film and its boomerang effects

    Awol K Allo

    Awol K Allo, is the Lord Kelvin Adam Smith scholar at the University of Glasgow Law School, UK. Previously, he was a lecturer in law at St Mary's University College, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


    Ethiopia's 'jihadi' film and its boomerang effects

     
    The film seeks to transform the "demands for freedom of religion" into a joint criminal enterprise with terror groups.
    Last Modified:04 Mar 2013 15:10
     
    The government's uncanny response to "basic demands of religious freedom" has created a rare opportunity for a decisive break with a docile political past and for the "formation of a new collective consciousness" [AP]

    On February 5, 2013, Ethiopia's only and publicly funded Television Station, ETV, aired a controversial documentary during prime time in violation of an outstanding court injunction. Oddly subtitled "Boko Haram in Ethiopia", Jihadawi Harekat- Arabic for "jihadi movement" - ­ denounces leaders of Ethiopia's year-long protest movement for alleged links to foreign terrorists.

    Muslims in Ethiopia have been protesting the government's control of the SupremeIslamic Counciland its imposition of al-Ahbash, an unknown Islamic sect across mosques in Ethiopia. In a press statement last year, the bipartisan US Commission on International Religious Freedom said: "The Ethiopian government has sought to force a change in the sect of Islam practiced nationwide and has punished clergy and laity who have resisted." Elected to represent the movement, the accused Muslim leaders were arrested and charged under Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law when negotiations with the government failed last July.  

    A joint production of the Ethiopian National Security Agency, the Federal Police and ETV, the film draws a parallel between a local protest movement recognised for its peaceful acts of resistance with Africa's most notorious terrorist groups such as Nigeria's Boko Haram, Mali's Ansar Din and Somalia's al-Shabaab. 

    With dozens of journalists, politicians and activists already charged or convicted under its vague and broad anti-terrorism law that criminalises all forms of dissent, the fight against terrorism has become the primary juridical framework within which to legitimise and justify war against political foes. It is the new legal ideology in which these political motives are institutionalised to provide long-standing relationships of domination some legal pretext. In Ethiopia today, America's "war on terror" is used to short-circuit both the constitution and international criticism

    Making fiction intelligible 

    Made to portray the Muslim community's struggle for religious freedom as a terrorist ploy designed to " establish an Islamic state ",Jihadawi Harekatis less about what it describes so much as the alternative reality that it depicts and crystallises. By drawing politically explosive parallels between groups with radically different political presuppositions, the film dramatises and escalates the gravity of the threat. It replays deeply held narratives of the past and accentuates the "evil" embodied by the committee in its attempts to frame them as "public enemies" working towards a common goal with groups that inhabit an entirely different political universe.

    To amplify this new reality, that is, the cinematic production of new subjects of terrorism, the film appropriates pre-existing frames of reference that sociologists call "processes of signification". To augment the parallel, it situates the protest movement in the context of terrorism - a discourse whose antecedent is always Islamic and "whose stereotypical characteristics are already part of socially available knowledge".  

    "The film is designed to portray the Muslim community's struggle for religious freedom as a terrorist ploy to 'establish an Islamic state'."

    Just because the protest movement shares the antecedent "Islam" with al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, the signification equates a peaceful movementthat operates within the framework of Ethiopia's own constitution with violent groups on the sole basis of their imputed common denominator. The exemplar images of violence embodied by al-Shabaab and Boko Haram are situated within the geopolitical context and cultural idiosyncrasies of Ethiopia to essentialise the association and ultimately render its absurd collocation socially intelligible. 

    There are temporal, spatial, material and editorial questions that the film cannot account for. By connecting events that took place from East Africa to West Africa, from North Africa to the Middle East, by gathering actors of differing ideological persuasions into unity, by reducing complex and contingent historic and political issues into self-evident mathematical varieties,Jihadawi Harekatinadvertently slips into a crisis it cannot contain or suppress. 

    One excellent example is a hinge the film uses to connect the leaders of the protest movement to the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt. In an unedited interrogation clip wrongly broadcasted after the film, the interrogators coerce Abubakar Ahmed - the chairman of the committee chosen to be representative of the Muslim community - into accepting their conclusion that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis have the ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic world under Sharia law. 

    While the reduction of such complex and contingent issues of historical and theoretical specificity into an either-or binary is emblematic of the logic through which the film establishes its central thesis, I am interested in the logic used to connect the ideologies of the Brotherhood in the Middle East to the protest leaders in Ethiopia. This pivot is a distinguished Qatari public intellectual, Jassim Sultan whose teachings two members of the protest leaders were said to have attended

    In an article that examined the increasing role of Qatar in the politics of the Middle East,The Economistholds up Sultan as an exemplary figure known for his "middle-of-the road" politics, not the extremism depicted inJihadawi Harekat. Sultan, whom the film accuses of being a middle man between the "extreme ideological orientations" of the Brotherhood and Ethiopia's "jihadists", was praised byThe Economist as, "a renowned Qatari intellectual, [who] strikes a chord by rejecting the Brotherhood's demand for strict obedience... derides its slogan, 'Islam is the solution', as facile".

    By editing conversations about conversations, copy-pasting interrogations about different spatial, temporal and material co-ordinates into a coherent Ethiopian story, the film seeks to transform the most basic demands for freedom of religion into a joint criminal enterprise with terror groups near and far. Nowhere else is the conjuncture between words and images, facts and fictions, times and spaces, persons and events manifestly absurd as inJihadawi Harekat

    Instead of generating a moral panic that serves as the material fabric for social control, the film generated consequences that are destabilising the regime. In a statement to the press, a coalition of 33 political parties emphatically denounced the film as yet another spectacle that epitomises the ruling party's contempt for the constitution and the rule of law. 

    Boomerang effects 

    The film, along with the ongoing trial, offers an important window into the cleavage that divides the old Ethiopian Muslim subjectivity from the new. Thanks to the government that never ceases to generate crisis and mobilise the law and its court system to cement this crisis, these events have opened up a space for critical cultural-political awareness.

    Muslims in Ethiopia, who conceive their religious subjectivity as apolitical and go about their lives, have begun to realise that their religious identity can be a potent site of subjectification and domination. As one of 20th century's prescient political thinkers, Hannah Arendt formulates this point; an attack against a specific identity creates spontaneous moment of political self-awareness. "If one is attacked as a Jew," Arendt said, "One must defend oneself as a Jew. Not as a German, not as a world-citizen, not as an upholder of the Rights of Man." 

    Because of the events of last year, there emerged a critical space in which a society that rarely, if at all, engages in questions of law and politics, protested the usurpation of its constitutional guarantees. In their struggle, Muslims in Ethiopia began to see unfair closures and systematic subjections taking place at sites and moments they could not have seen before. The government's uncanny response to basic demands of religious freedom has created a rare opportunity for a decisive break with a docile political past and for the formation of a new collective consciousness. 

    Awol K Allo, is the Lord Kelvin Adam Smith scholar at the University of Glasgow Law School, UK. Previously, he was a lecturer in law at St Mary's University College, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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  • የኢትዮጵያ ሙስሊሞች የመብት ንቅናቄና የኢትዮጵያ መንግሥት፤ ተመቻማች ወይስ ተገዳዳሪ?

    የኢትዮጵያ ሙስሊሞች የመብት ንቅናቄና የኢትዮጵያ መንግሥት፤ ተመቻማች ወይስ ተገዳዳሪ?

     

    ጃዋርሙሐመድ

    (  translated by Isaac Eshetu: You can fine the english version  )

     

    በኢትዮጵያ መንግሥትና በሙስሊም የመብት ንቅናቄ መሪዎች መካከል የተፈጠረውን ፍጥጫ ለመተንተን ብዙ ተሞክሯል። የንቅናቄ አራማጆቹ መንግሥት ከውጭ ያመጣውን የሃይማኖት ቀኖና በግድ በመጫን በሃይማኖታቸው ጣልቃ እየገባ እንደሆነ እየተናገሩ ነው። መንግሥት ደግሞ በበኩሉ የፍጥጫው ምንጭ ‹‹አክራሪነት›› እና ከአገሪቱ ውጭ ያሉ አካላት እጅ እንደሆነ እየገለጸ ሲሆን ተቃዋሚ ፓርቲዎችም ሃይማኖትን ለፖለቲካዊ ጥቅማቸው እያዋሉት እንደሆነ እየተናገረ ነው። ተቃዋሚዎች ደግሞ በተቃራኒው መንግሥት ሃይማኖትን ለ‹‹ከፋፍለህ ግዛ›› መርሁ እያዋለው እንደሆነ ይናገራሉ።‹‹የትኛው ትክክል ነው?›› ነው የሚለውን ልተወውና ሌላ የበለጠ አንገብጋቢ ጥያቄ ላንሳ… ‹‹የውስጥም የውጪም የፖለቲካ ሥራ ፈጣሪዎች (political entreprenuers) ከስትራቴጂያዊ ዓላማቸው ፍሬም ሥር ቀርፀው ለመጠቀም እየተሻሙበት ያለው የሙስሊሙ ኅብረተሰብ እያደገ የመጣ ፖለቲካዊ ንቃት እና ንቅናቄ እንዴት ሊከሰት ቻለ?

     

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