Epiphany came & went. Now Mawlid is here, without TPLF stopping its war against our religions & poorest citizens

25 Jan

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

On January 20, 2013, Ethiopia celebrated Epiphany under grim circumstances. As far as the Tigrai People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is concerned, its design was in place in time for Epiphany, the Orthodox Church’s most attended devotional. The blow it administered was intended to bring to its logical conclusion this historic Church’s split with two Synods in place now.

Since preserving its power is the ultimate goal, the Front has welcomed this at the cost of denying the nation of its strong and united traditional church tied to its history and evolution. Barely a practicing Christian in the institutionalized sense of organized religion, nonetheless, subversion of the separation of faith from politics, the law of the land requires, worries me for the country’s future. Its institutions have already become body and soul as executive arms of the TPLF, the ruling party in power for the past 21 years.

Today, it is reported from Addis Abeba that the 1,487th birthday of the Prophet Mohammed was celebrated throughout our country. For the last 49 years, Ethiopia has officially recognized three important Moslem holidays – Id al-Fitr, Id al-Adha and Mawlid al-Nabi, instituting by law for the first time in the national calendar their official observance as part of its public holidays.

With this measure, that law made clean break with Christian Ethiopia’s longstanding discriminatory practices against Islam, which by virtue of its role as state religion, was able to arrogate. Of this rupture, the renowned Ethiopian scholar the late Prof. Hussein Ahmed noted, “This was an unprecedented and fundamental policy decision that was universally and enthusiastically welcomed by Ethiopian Muslims.”

Mawlid celebration at the Anwar Mosque (Courtesy: ENA)

Mawlid celebration at the Anwar Mosque (Courtesy: ENA)

From Addis Abeba, the news indicated that today’s festivities were organized at the usual place – the Grand Anwar Mosque, which since a year ago has become nerve center of the Moslem protests against interference by the state in their religion.

The occasion was commemorated with official prayers, speeches and messages to the faithful with adherents of the religion, official representatives and Addis Abeba resident foreign dignitaries in attendance, according to ERTA and ENA – the government-owned news sources in Ethiopia.

Seizing the opportunity the occasion has afforded them, the newly-elected Moslem leaders, whom the protestors reject, urged followers of the Prophet to implement his teachings of “love, kindness and compassion to the people“. It is not clear what reactions were there from the faithful masses that teem the mosques during this festive occasion.

In this situation and against the backdrop of the tension between the Moslem community and the state, one cannot help wondering, whether instead this message should be addressed to the TPLFand its minions. The past year has shown that they are the ones at war with both Orthodox Christianity and Islam – the two religions that have made significant contributions to the country’s continued survival and maintenance of its independence.

In fact, on this occasion, as I did during the celebration of Epiphany, I could not help asking why those in power are failing to lead our country on the path of mutual respect and each and every citizen as coequals.

Instead, we see the TPLF more preoccupied by this or that side conspiring against them. Most unfathomable is their persistence in engaging in such constant provocations against the country’s two major religious institutions, based on false assumptions – to which they have neither provided to date any evidences. Like many fellow citizens, I am deeply worried what they are dragging the country into.

Ethiopia is increasingly heading toward the precipice

In the last few days, I openly expressed those concerns in a three-part article, which can be accessed here, here and here.

One question that bothers me is why the government has been incapable of realizing the errors of its path, especially the tensions it has fostered between the Moslem community and itself. It is important that this is done, before the situation gets out of hand both within the Moslem community and in the face of the rising anger within a non-negligible membership of the Orthodox Christian faith.

What can the TPLF attribute the resignation of some of the bishops in Addis Abeba from their responsibilities; one example of which is Abune Hizkeal? Was it not the division it has fostered within the clergy along ethnic lines?

From what has so far been reported on the national and international media, the government has proved too heavy-handed, unwilling to resolve whatever issues and crises that arise between the governed (without consent) and those that govern (without legitimate mandate) through consultations, negotiations and compromises.

Could this perhaps be consequence of the Front feeling too confident about its capacity to suppress anything and everything. Of course, the government ought to realize that this is a bad road for the country and the leaders themselves, as it is unmistakable evidence of bad governance. For a while now, the rest of the world has been talking about it by its real name: dictatorship, often interchangeably with authoritarianism.

The last session of the ruling four-member ‘coalition’, the TPLF spearheads, spent two days discussing the country’s governance problems. In the statement it issued after the conclusion of the meeting, they eventually expressed their concern at the level of serous governance-related problems. The solution they came up with is to urge “expansion of best practices in enhancing participation of the public in ensuring good governance, efficient and quality service delivery in government offices.”

Perhaps one of the major successes of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, as The Economist aptly put it in a simple title is him being The man who tried to make dictatorship acceptable – a description that speaks to the very stark reality under his successor regime.

When national development becomes personal enrichment for some & destruction for others

Efforts at national development are welcome, anywhere and anytime, if all Ethiopians are to benefit equally from its gains. Unfortunately, that is not the case today. The legacy Meles left behind is now hurting Ethiopia. Of that The Economist article, above, profiles the regime the deceased left behind, as follows:

    “The ruling party controls all but one of the seats in parliament, after claiming 99.6% of the vote in the 2010 elections. It abandoned a brief flirtation with more open politics after a vote five years previously, when the opposition did better than expected. The regime subsequently rewired the state from the village up, dismantling independent organisations from teachers’ unions to human-rights groups and binding foreign-financed programmes with tight new rules. Opposition parties were banned and their leaders jailed or driven into exile; the press was muzzled.”

The consequences of this have come in all forms of tragedies for the Ethiopia people non all fronts. As I mentioned in one of the previous articles, in a May 25, 2012 interview with Richard Dowden Meles boasted saying, “Unlike all previous governments our writ runs in every village. That has never happened in the history of Ethiopia.”

Nevertheless, other people saw it for it has been. For instance, in April 14, 2010 article on The New York Review of Books Helen Epstein ably articulated the following analysis anchored on reality:

    “The Western Renaissance helped to democratize “the word” so that all of us could speak of our own individual struggles, and this added new meaning and urgency to the alleviation of the suffering of others. The problem with foreign aid in Ethiopia is that both the Ethiopian government and its donors see the people of this country not as individuals with distinct needs, talents, and rights but as an undifferentiated mass, to be mobilized, decentralized, vaccinated, given primary education and pit latrines, and freed from the legacy of feudalism, imperialism, and backwardness. It is this rigid focus on the “backward masses,” rather than the unique human person, that typically justifies appalling cruelty in the name of social progress.”

One by one, the rigidity began to show its bare knuckles in every avenue of Ethiopian lives. Houses are being demolished, while the so-called residents are inside. In Almata, annexed into Tigrai in 1991, days ago the town’s people rose in unison, when an entire town was locked down because thousands of houses had to be demolished, the people thrown into the street.

Addis Abeba has seen its share and is still continuing, as the government labels everyone squatters and people who have constructed houses. Was it not the government that has provided the services, especially electricity and collected taxes on the lands the houses stand? How did all these people become illegal occupants all of a sudden? Who got the land they vacated?

The Church, Mosques, the faithful & government intolerance

Like the Moslems, Christian monks in Waldba are been a the receiving end of the same mistreatments. Leaders of the Moslem protests fighting for relgious freedom have been imprisoned. News reports have filtered out about them being tortured for refusing to confess that they have links with terrorist organizations. An entire religious community is being condemned as terrorists and the Christians as people longing the past.

Alemayehu Fentaw, a lawyer by training and once a faculty member at the Jimma University Law School has been a very close observer of the Ethiopian reality, especially in the context of peace and security of the nation and the Horn at large. He has also beren wondering why the TPLF regime is whipping up tensions in the country. He has since left Ethiopia for the United States and is actively engaged in writing on the regime’s confrontations with the Moslem community.

On OpenDemocracy in June 2012, he authored Is the spectre of the Arab Spring haunting Ethiopia? . That possibly was his first article on the matter since he left the country.

He prefaces that article by stating that his criticism of the TPLF regime in this current tension with the Moslem community is hardly “to deny the legitimacy of the international and domestic security concerns of the US and Ethiopia, but to question the legitimacy and efficacy of the means used [by the government] to achieve a legitimate end.” He then underlines his message in the following manner:

    “Washington should view Addis Ababa’s problems in the proper context of the wider issue of the rise of authoritarianism in domestic politics. The Arab Spring has already produced an Ethiopian winter as in many other sub-Sahara countries, for fear that comparable uprisings may emerge. Controls have been tightened. It has already become clear from the continued mounting crackdown on political dissidents and journalists following the Arab Street protests that the specter of the Arab Spring is haunting Meles Zenawi. Despite this, we should not lose sight of the fact that Ethiopian Muslims have, for much of their country’s history, been peaceful. Needless engagement could disturb the equilibrium of co-existence and tolerance maintained among the various Islamic sects as well as between Muslims and Christians in the country.”

In that article, his recommendation for the Ethiopian government is to “leave Islamic affairs to the Muslim community an faith based non-governmental organizations.”

If it would give the government some comfort, I would add to his recommendation a clause to the effect “with the government being vigilant about ensuring the nation’s security and stability.” Of course, this is stupidly superfluos, since government must be responsible for security. But it is being suggested because the whole thing in Ethiopia has now become, the way we put it in Amharic, “ጠብ ያለሽ በዳቦ” (meaning literally: asking to pick blood from one’s nose.)

In November 2012, Alemayehu Fentaw returned to the same theme and wrote another article titled How To End Government Intolerance Of Islam In Ethiopia. His conclusion in that article is that there is little evidence to support the Ethiopian government’s claim that its own Muslim community poses a legitimate threat to national security. In fact, he argues:

    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.

To put it bluntly, the persistent provocations by the regime would push vulnerable youth into unwanted direction. For instance, Wednesday we read on ESAT webpage that Moslem students at Bahir Dar University have been forced to stop their education and vacate the campuses, because the university has denied them of any prayer place.

When confronted, the university administration told the Moslem students that it is decision from the higher ups and there is little they can do. Hereunder is that news report ESAT reported on January 23:

    “Over 95% of Muslim students of Bahardar University left the campus following the new directive of the University which bans women students from wearing Niqab and Hijab. The new directive prohibits students from conducting prayer services in the campus according to some students who spoke to ESAT.

    The students left the University after the administration informed them that it was beyond its power to make any amendments. Ethiopian Muslims have been protesting the government’s interference in religious affairs since last year.”

The infantility of this regressive measure is so obvious that it requires no further exposition. Leaving aside the question of usurpation of the independence of academic institutions, as this case confirms, it should be pointed out that Moslems (men) all over the world pray in a group every Friday, known as the salat.

It is , one of their religious duties. Moslems say this group prayer is a must because, the Moslem religious practices, including confession, unlike Christianity (mainly Catholicism), are carried without the help of anyone else by the individual believer, since there is no role for Islamic priests or pastors (imams) in such matters.

Therefore, what is the harm or damage to the TPLF’s political powers, if Moslem students pray in higher educational institutions on Fridays at designated place(s)?

In case, it is not aware, this happens in the developed Christian world, in international organizations, since that is required by teachings of Islam and it is their religious tradition!

Why should this become needless cause for yet further tensions in a country where already politics has been, if they have not realized it, under siege and huge stress because of TPLF’s authoritarian nature!

Why should Ethiopia pay for that?

*Updated with editing and additional materials.

TE -Transforming Ethiopia

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