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Escalating conflict with Muslims could spur more troubles for Ethiopia

ethiopianmuslimsby OPride Staff

The Ethiopian government warned Muslim activists not to congregate at the Awolia School,

which had been the Tahrir Square for Ethiopian Muslims opposing that country’s government interference in religious affairs for the past four months, in a statement read out on state television on Thursday.

After importing a new sect called Al-Ahbash from Lebanon, the ruling party had facilitated the sect's silent take-over of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs against massive protests. Having invested heavily in training religious cadres, soaked its hands with the blood of five protesters in the small town of Asasa, and incurred the wrath of the Muslim community; EPRDF now finds itself too entangled, too jingoistic, and too committed to pulling back from the precipice.

Precipice not only to those at the tip of the spear facing arrest without charge, detention in communicado, expulsion without cause, expropriation without recompense, and disappearance without trace but also to the government itself, which is bound to earn so much enmity as if it has not earned enough in its two-decade reign. Nobody can tell what an aggrieved populace would or wouldn't do out of desperation – economic, political, and social.

But the government's narrative is eerily the same as all of its past rhetoric when confronted with similar political problems. As it has done time and time again, the ruling party swears in the name of the very constitutions it flagrantly tramples upon.

The regime claims to defend the "rule of law" while charging all who are peacefully opposed to its repression indiscriminately and irredeemably as "enemies" of the state to be quashed, deserving of a heavy-handed response, using all the machinery of coercion at the state's disposal. As it has done so in 1992 against the Oromo, against the Hadiya and the South in 2000, and the Amhara in 2005.

The crackdown was already underway before Thursday’s announcement was made. EPRDF likes to declare war after it is already half waged. Hundreds are reportedly detained in Asasa. And over the next weeks, thousands might face the same fate all over the country. Should anyone become bold and crazy enough to stage a protest, the gun is at the ready. An unusually large number of government troops mounted on patrol pickups were reported in Addis Ababa since last Friday.

The regime’s “spin doctors” are are spewing out a litany of abominable charges to demonize opponents and justify the state's action. Moreover, the government's mouthpieces are also trumpeting how the rest of the country is congratulating the government for its swift action to "protect the constitutional order" and to avert a calamity aimed against the very survival of the country.

Shadowy figures, experts, and impostors are popping up on “media” outlets, posing as spokespersons of this or that sector, including Muslim clerics, lauding the police with soaring words "for its professionalism" and "steadfastness in its commitment to preserving the constitution."

Despite all the hoopla, the Muslim community’s demand is for the separation of religion and the state – as stipulated in the country’s constitution – and the mere right to elect one's own leaders democratically--also enshrined in the constitution.

The first victims of the state's salvo were two teenagers and a 70-year-old man who tried in vain to prevent the conflict in Asasa from degenerating into violence. In today’s Ethiopia, even an elderly, who tried to play the customary role of peacemaker bestowed on him by virtue of his advanced age, is a trouble rouser. Let alone those who peacefully petitioned their government for redress of grievances, even he died while striving in the heat of bullet fire and against all odds to restrain, with feeble entreaties of peace, the state's trigger-happy security personnel from firing on unarmed civilians is an enemy of the state.

The government believes, the Muslim community would be cowed into silently watching as the government teaches its young how best to practice their religion and make them better Muslims by herding them into detention centers spread throughout the country.

It also assumes that the rest of the country would not only look the other way but also enthusiastically back the operation; who would not support a government that brought a constitution, rule of law, and democracy to a country that had none? At a time when even countries in the first world are languishing under a tough financial crisis, who would oppose a party that brought a record growth and produced a full-employment economy that has made everyone super rich?

The regime is also banking that the international community would not only condone its action but also bless it. After all, isn't the EPRDF sacrificing its status to rid the world off proponents of a "radical ideology?"

The government's calculation of the international community’s reaction is not off the mark. What can a world encumbered by economic malaise and bigger conflicts, like Syria, to do anyway?

But it is doubtful that the rest of the country would stay on the sidelines; even if it had done so, not for far too long. If they do stay put, it won't be for lack of indignation but paralyzed with fear. Who would speak up now that did not stir when all rights, big and small, are violated in broad day light in the name of the constitution?

It is even more likely that the Muslim community would be intimidated into submission, watching begrudgingly as its peaceful and legal demands are construed as acts of treason against the state, its image falsely tarnished for harboring radicalism, and its children faced the torturer's biting lashes.

But one should ask: Even if all goes as per the government's best wishes, is this not playing with fire when a nonviolent win-win resolution is achievable at no cost to either side?

Only a deluded government would see otherwise; a government so paranoiac to think that if it blinks now, sundries of groups would come knocking tomorrow, calling for one concession after another, opening the floodgates to the dreaded liberalization and opening up of the political system.

Talk of the march of folly – this one tops them all. What a tragedy for a poor country with a bucket full of challenges!

On May 4, 2012, protest continued in Addis Ababa despite government warning: