By Yuunus Hajji Mul’ataa in Addis Ababa
ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopian Muslim protests spread across the country on May 4 when hundreds of thousands in the Ethiopian capital defied government threats and went on protesting against the “Ahbashism Campaign” instigated by the government and “Majlis”.
Observers agree the brutal killing of innocent people in Assasa town has fueled tension between the government and the Muslim community which has now drawn more towns into the strikes.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Government said on Friday night that it has expelled two Arabs who came to call for “Jihad” and incite violence at the grand Anwar Mosque of Addis Ababa. However, the report is dismissed by many Muslims as “a fabricated story”.
Protests and Silencing
Shocked by the mass uprising after the recent killing of seven innocent Muslims in Assasa town (Arsi province), government authorities were busy on defending the massacre and threatening the public through state-owned media. They were also mobilizing Ahbash adherents to deter the protests in the upcoming days. The imams of mosques have been told to take all actions to stop Muslims chanting “takbira (i.e saying “Allahu Akbar!”) and marching for protests after Friday prayer. On the other hand, more than 300 people have been reportedly arrested in Assasa and other towns of Arsi Province over the week.
On May 4 beginning early in the morning, thousands of police and civil security forces were deployed in Addis Ababa and other towns to scare off the people. But at midday, all of the preventive methods applied by the government were proved to be ineffective. And immediately after the completion of Friday prayer, hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Addis Ababa and other towns filled the sky with defeafening chants of: “Stop Ahbashism campaign! The people want to step down Majlis! Allahu Akbar!!”
Sheikh Mohammed Adem, a Muslim religious scholar living in Addis Ababa says, “The people are asking their basic right. We are asking for freedom of worship. We tolerated many repressive measures for more than 17 years. But this time, we say ‘enough’ to oppression. We won’t turn back until we attain our goal”.
The protest at the Anwar Mosque (the grand mosque of Addis Ababa) and over the nearby streets was so intense that Mercato – one of the largest open air markets in Africa – came to a standstill for hours. Witnesses say there have been similar protests in Dessie, Jimma, Assela, Agaro, DireDawa, Alaba, Assasa, Warabe, Jijiga, Robe and Shashemene.
The current tension between government and Muslim Ethiopians started in July 2011 when the government-backed “Majlis” launched a campaign to indoctrinate Muslims in the ideology of a newly arriving controversial sect called “Ahbash”. But Muslims came to direct protest at the beginning of this year when the leaders of “Majlis” sacked 50 teachers of Aweliya Islamic institute and tried to substitute them with “Ahbash” scholars. The government supported the action taken by “Majlis” and said “Aweliya had been a training center of terror ideology. ‘Wahhabis’ were arming the youth with fundamentals of extremism. So the Majlis has taken the appropriate measure”.
In spite of its open support for “Majlis”, the government continues to deny any interference in religious affairs. Through state owned media, it says “We are training Muslim scholars on the constitution and legal framework of the country. Apart from this, the government hasn’t interfered in spiritual affairs of the Muslims”.
Free viewers say “The government is highly terrorized by a continuing wave of protests. This week’s intensive media coverage about the Assasa massacre and the Muslim uprising are indications of government’s fear. In some occasions, some government authorities were expressing their worry about the ongoing condition”. These viewers point to what happened recently on a meeting conducted at Addis Ababa city hall where only selective pro-government imams and “Majlis” leaders have participated. On that meeting, sources say, the head of Addis Ababa Bureau of Justice and Security spoke to the attendants “The mass has turned against us. We couldn’t control the people. You have taken a mission to convince the people. But you did nothing. What were you doing until now? Our government is highly troubled by the Friday protests.” He also ordered the imams to stop any protests in and around mosques. Muslim scholars say “The authorities are disturbing themselves. We are asking for freedom of worship. We are asking them to stop imposing the ideology of ‘Ahbash’ on our people. We are asking them to apply what they have written on the constitution of the country. We didn’t ask them to share us political power.” They also say that the current media campaign can’t silence the people and add “Our faith is the only hope we have. It is the only rope that ties us to our God. They are going to cut out this rope. But that will never happen as long as we are alive”.
The two Arabs
On Friday night, The Ethiopian Television reported that two Arabs who came from the Middle East to incite violence in the main mosques was caught red handed and immediately expelled from the country. The government said that the two people were found while they make inflammatory statements and distribute materials calling for “jihad”. The two Arab came to Addis Ababa on Friday morning, says the government. Their name and nationality was not disclosed even though they were shown on TV screen.
The Muslims who attended the Friday prayer at Anwar mosque say “The government’s statement is completely false. It is fabricated to defame our peaceful struggle. No one has distributed inflammatory material at Anwar Mosque. If they caught two Arab “Jihadists”, why didn’t they disclose their name and nationality? How do people caught on such illegal activity expelled without being investigated and tried?”
One scholar rejects government’s statement and asks “How can a person that came to Ethiopia on Friday morning directly goes to Anwar mosque and distribute “Jihadi” papers in the midday? Why did the Ethiopian government authorities contented only in expelling them to their country? Why didn’t they bring the two Arabs to the court? They have to answer these questions”. To paraphrase his statement, this scholar mentions what happened to two Swedish journalists when they were caught in the remote region of Ogaden together with some fighters of Ogaden National Liberation Front.
After the “Assasa Killing”
After the deadly incident happened at Assasa, in the last week, many top leaders of the ruling party were undertaking a “silencing meeting” all over the country. In one of such meetings undertaken at Assasa town on Wednesday, Mr. Abdul-Aziz Ahmed, the Vice President of Oromiya regional state was heard in public media saying “In the name of asking for freedom of worship, some politically motivated groups have planned to overthrow the government. They have caused the death of civilians in this town. They have plotted similar deadly riots in all of the country. They government won’t allow them to continue in this way. We will stop them in all possible ways”.
Sheikh Aman Nure, an elderly scholar living in Adama town (originally from Assela town, Arsi province) rejects the official’s accusation and says “Last week, they said they have arrested a man calling for ‘Jihad’ and they killed his ‘Jihadi’ supporters. Now they say ‘political groups have plotted the massacre’. This has been their behavior for two decades. They can’t repeat what they speak today. Our country is governed by such liars who don’t care about the tradition and ethics of our people”.
The Assasa massacre was highly condemned by many religious scholars of the country. Ethiopian Diaspora communities of Europe, North America and the Middle East have sent strong statements to the government asking to investigate the actual cause of the massacre through an independent commission. Rebel political groups like Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front have condemned the massacre and released statements in support of the peaceful struggle of Ethiopian Muslim Society.