By Berhane Kahsay
Tigrai Online March 09, 2013
The EPRDF government has played a significant part in making religious parity as one of the main planks of the FDRE constitution. A secular state that treats all religious denominations in an equal and fair manner has been in existence since 1991. According to the 2007 national census, 42,420,822 follow Christianity (62.8%), 25,058,373 are Muslims (33.9%), and 2,439,311 come under animists & others (3.3%). Owing to the separation of state and religion, believers of different faiths co-exist side by side with utmost respect for one another. Lately, however, the religious tolerance that prevailed for decades is coming under a very serious threat from a minority Muslim group heavily influenced by Arab Salafists.
Over a year ago, the Islamist militants began their grand scheme by falsely accusing the government of inviting the Lebanese Al-Habashi preachers whose interpretation of Islam is markedly different from theirs. They also called and are still calling for the removal of members of the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (Majlis) who they claim do not function in the interest of the Muslim community. Interference in religious affairs is unconstitutional and the government has vehemently denied any involvement in bringing the preachers to Ethiopia. It further made it clear that it was up to the Muslim community to decide whether members the Supreme Council should stay or dissolve.
However, in the interest of peace and harmony, the previous Majlis voluntarily relinquished their seats and agreed to organise free and fair elections in various kebeles to elect new members to the Supreme council. This was peacefully and successfully carried out a short while ago and credit is due to the electorates for turning out in large numbers to exercise their rights. The extremists ‘voices’ have been heard; new members of the Majlis are now in place and the manufactured disputes should have come to an ended after the conclusion of the elections, but they haven’t.
The minority Islamists refused to accept the results claiming that the elections were not conducted in mosques where they had planned to determine the outcome in their favour by employing all sorts of illegal means including physical threats. They knew all along that in free, fair and transparent elections, their chances of winning were very slim. And to circumvent this, they wanted mosques as ‘polling stations’ where it would have been very difficult to monitor the process. It is now high time that the democratically elected council members are allowed to perform their important tasks without unnecessary distractions. What would have happened if the extremists had succeeded in taking control of the Majlis?
The zealots adhere to Salafism which is the extreme version of Islam that Osama Bin Laden and his followers have managed to instil among a sizable population of Muslims around the world. The majority of Muslims, however, do not to subscribe to such a violent strand, and they have been resisting its expansion by all means possible. What we are witnessing in Iraq and Pakistan on a daily basis between the Sunnis and Shiites is a typical case in point. Killing each other in the most atrocious manner and routinely demolishing mosques have, sadly, become the norm in those parts of the world. Thanks to the Salafist extremists, suicide bombings and torching worshiping domains are now firmly associated with Islam and the non-violent followers of the good religion who speak up against the jihadists have been silenced without mercy. The Salfists describe those who oppose and reject their brand of Islam as ‘false Muslims.’
The other catastrophic possibility would have been a highly elevated tension and enmity between the Muslims and Christians that could have led to violence and destructions similar to what is taking place in Nigeria at the present moment. The Nigerian Islamic sect ‘Boko Haram’ is engaged in wanton killings of Christians in the northern part of the country, and in the demolition of large numbers of churches with the congregations inside. There seems to be no end to this tragedy and the Nigerian government appears to be incapable of taking resolute measures to restore law and order. The job of returning the country to normalcy is made very much harder by the existence of invisible foreign hands that are orchestrating the mayhem and massacre of innocent people from afar.
Dislodging the democratically elected government by brute force and establishing an Islamic republic that is solely guided by Shari Law may also have been part of the Salafists plan. An armed struggle to make this a reality was initiated in Kemese but it was nipped in the bud by the law enforcement agencies before it got out of hand. This may be possible elsewhere where the majority are Muslims but not in Ethiopia with nearly 43 million people who are practising Christians. Even Shari Law for the 25 million Muslims would not have been permissible as it would blatantly violate the current constitution of the country. The extremist’s demands have been met, and yet, they are still protesting and dangerously challenging the state and the rule of law. Why? Could there be external and indigenous sponsors of this pernicious campaign? If so, what is in it for them?
Ethiopia, more than any other country, has reduced Al-Shebab into rubbles. And this terrorist organisation has tried to retaliate on numerous occasions as it did in Kenya and Uganda but failed at every attempt. The jihadist Al-Shebab which is affiliated to Al-Qaeda is now involved in indoctrinating, financing and arming the Salafists to attack Ethiopia for playing a part in its demise, and for bringing peace and stability to Somalia after twenty years of complete anarchy.
Egypt also has a good reason to use the Ethiopian Salafists to destabilise the country in order to ensure absolute monopoly of the Nile waters. A Saudi Deputy Defence Minister publically attacked Ethiopia for commencing the construction of the Grand Millennium Dam which he foolishly believes is intended to harm Ethiopia. This is far from the truth; the illiterate Minister disregarded the fact that 85% of the Nile waters originate from Ethiopia, and Ethiopia has as much right as Egypt to use the waters to alleviate poverty. One would not expect fairness, justice and basic humanity from a Saudi Price who is heavily intoxicated with petro-dollar.
Cordial relationship between Israel and Ethiopia is also causing great consternations in Egypt, and other Arab countries. And the recent joint venture to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicle or drone would further strengthen Egypt’s resolve to destroy Ethiopia or make it ungovernable in order to deflect it from its resolute determination to qualitatively alter the lives of its people. Recently, the zealots sought the advice of an Egyptian Imam for guidance to advance the year long confrontation to remove an elected government. And this man who could possibly be an Intelligence Officer advised them to wage jihad against Ethiopia, and this clearly confirms that the militants had a sinister and very destructive ulterior agenda from the inception. The Saudi Arabian Wahabians and Iran may also have hands as they seem hell bent on imposing the violent brand of Islam on the entire world. Who else could be goading the Ethiopian Islamists to continue with their heinous protestations?
Over 50% of Mercato traders are Muslims and they have made huge amounts of money over the years but paid very little tax that the government requires to build schools and hospitals, to name but a few. Customs and Excise has been under their firm control as a result of important officials being on their payroll. The law of the land with regard to conducting a legitimate business was daringly flouted by these mostly illiterate mega riches and they were at complete liberty to hoard basic items and fix prices whenever they felt like it. They routinely import large consignments of goods but avoid paying duties by bribing Customs Officers. The items are then sold at exorbitant prices making themselves massive profits with minimal efforts and expenses. These ruthless and unethical traders have been monopolising the whole sale and retail businesses for a number of years, and fleeced their own people with impunity.
The same groups of people are also responsible for the rampant corruption in land ownership and dealings, and obtaining bank loans illegally. Lately, the government has been taking strong measures to force them to act lawfully and the actions are bearing results. In order to protect their empire, some of the Muslim traders are exploiting the Islamic card to destabilise or remove the government altogether by unleashing the Salafist extremists. The danger here is that there is a remote possibility that things could wrong, and the greedy business people may be engulfed by the monster they created with their foreign associates.
Political opportunists are once again rearing their ugly head to exploit the current turbulent situation. Professor Mesfin Weldemariam, who treats Islam with utter contempt, is out of the woodwork to support the extremists. This Machiavellian devoted Christian is devoid of any morality and integrity, and would jump at any opportunity to get at Woyane Tigrai. His previous machinations didn’t bring him any joy and he can be rest assured that the latest one won’t be any different from his last desperate and futile endeavours. The politically expedient and bankrupt toxic Diaspora is also joining the bandwagon to exploit the concocted disputes but they are bound to fail as happened before. In any case this is to be to be expected from those that have been rejected by the Ethiopian electorates in successive general elections and want to assume power by violent means.
So far the government has handled the Islamists with utmost sensitivity despite the deliberate provocations spanning over twelve months. There were numerous occasions in which ordinary Muslims, Imams and police officers were viciously attacked but these were tolerated in the interest of peace. The Salafists were expecting the government to come out with its guns blazing and cause massacres that they were hoping would cause the majority law abiding Muslims to rise up in protest. It didn’t happen and, the extremists and their sponsors were bitterly disappointed for failing to entice the security forces into violent action. Their evil intentions were read from a considerable distance, and thankfully, the chaos, mayhem and bloodshed that they were desperately seeking, never materialised.
Islamist extremists are now shifting to Africa as they have been sustaining heavy losses in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen. With the aid of Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Salafists have now established themselves in vulnerable Sahel states such as Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritian. Weak government, weak national army, endemic corruption, organised crime, religious inequalities, inter ethnic strife, unemployment and poverty are some of the factors that are attracting the extremists. The Ethiopian government must be vigilant at all times and improve the capacity of the law enforcement agencies especially the intelligence gathering services in order to take speedy pre-emptive measures to stop the Islamists from laying a firm presence in the country.
It would be highly erroneous to remain aloof and leave the well being of the country in the hands of the government alone. Ethiopians of all religious and political persuasions are duty bound to do their bit to defend their motherland from all sorts of zealots. The current democratic order prevailing in Ethiopia must be defended at any cost; otherwise, the country’s existence as a single entity would be extremely doubtful. Incarcerated leaders of the extremists should face the full force of the law for attempting to unseat a democratically elected government unconstitutionally. One has to only view a couple of YouTube clips to realise what the militants had in store for Ethiopia. The EPRDF administration must not cave in to pressure from those that have been occupying mosques demanding their release.
The Islamists by their very nature are anti-pluralism, oppressive and intolerant to other religions. Yet, they are taking full advantage of the democratic constitution that they are openly challenging to demand for their ‘’voices’’ to be heard. Clearly, Ethiopia’s democracy has moved on a great deal but the militants ought to be made aware of the unpleasant consequences of going beyond the tolerance threshold. We wouldn’t be in such a dangerous situation if the government had taken stern measures to stop the Islamists from using Awolia as a breeding ground for extremists.