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David Copperfield, Isaias, and Dahlan

For more than two weeks, Eritrean activists guessed and speculated about the whereabouts of Isaias Afwerki. The unelected ruler of Eritrea was not seen in public for a long time. But a few days ago, curiosity seemed to have come to an end when Isaias made a four-minute appearance in a recorded video.

In the early nineties Isaias rubbed shoulders with teenagers in nightclubs when he frequented Shamrock, the hip nightclub of the day. He flirted with young girls, often beat up patrons, and forced himself on their partners. But now, long after Independence Day in 1991, memories of the first few euphoric years are gone. Isaias is no more seen in showy strolls down the main street of Asmara donning Shidda plastic sandals. On the contrary, now he has a hideout, a “presidential complex” near Adi Halo, a village in the surroundings of the capital city. And the complex is endlessly showcased as a major achievement of his development projects.

Of course, the complex is on the side of a dam whose construction he personally supervised. Yet, a few kms away, residents of Asmara line up on the streets, in anticipation of tanker trucks to get their weekly ration of water. They drag their blue plastic barrels, a chemical container commonly used as a water container in Eritrea. Tens of thousands of such barrels have found their way to Eritrea from the Gulf countries and almost every household has one. That blue plastic barrel has been a landmark of Eritrea for forty years, the Shidda is not even a remote second. And since more than forty years, Eritreans have been living under acute water and electricity shortage.

But the above is not the focus of this editorial. That’s rather a preamble. The topic is about the similar behavior of the UAE and Eritrean governments.

Dahlan and Isaias imitating David Copperfield

In the last few weeks, some Eritreans fell into Isaias’ trap, yet pretended to have credible sources and invincible intelligence networks inside Eritrea. They claimed Isaias is dead, he had a stroke and is being hospitalized in Saudi Arabia, and other tasteless exposition about his disappearance. But at long last, Isaias shot a four-minute clip from Adi Halo and aired it on the television station owned by the ruling party, that monopolizes all media, including the Tigrinya, English, Tigrayit, and Arabic prints. All are clones of each other. Surprisingly, the short clip was unusual for Isaias who needs more than thirty minutes to answer a simple question by interviewers, who are too scared to ask follow up questions.

The Adi Halo clip should have ended the speculations about Isaias’ whereabouts, but there are a few Eritreans who think it’s cowardly to admit mistakes, and to apologize. Therefore, they elevated the craze to a new level, claiming the videoclip is doctored, and Isaias is actually dead, hospitalized, in hiding, jailed, and anything else they fancy. Such amateurish undertaking has backfired many times, but a few hardheaded activists within the opposition do not seem to learn from experience.

Luckily Eritreans were relieved after discovering it’s now the turn of other countries to guess the whereabouts of their strongmen. Mohammed Dahlan, the infamous Palestinian-Serbian advisor of Mohammed Bin Zaid, the UAE’s crown prince, has not been seen for a while. Rumors had it that Dahlan was arrested together with Gaddafi’s son in AlWatyah, a Libyan airbase southwest of Tripoli, and controlled by General Khelifa Hafter. The base is under heavy fire and reports indicate it’s expected to fall in the hands of the advancing government forces. But so far no credible news outlet has reported the arrest of Dahlan, though the Arab social media platforms are buzzing with rumors.

If the past is an indication, Dahlan could have released the false news hoping his adversaries would take the bait. He might let the rumors ferment for a while before he smilingly appears on television to embarrass his opponents. Dahlan has done it several times before; many suspect he is pulling one such usual trick. But the rumors will not die out until his arrest is confirmed or denied by credible sources, or he appears on television like Isaias did.

Dahlan, the overly smart intelligence professional is the UAE’s front man in most of its destructive adventures. In 2011, the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas accused him of killing Yassir Arafat (died 2004). In 2013 he was accused of involvement in the overthrow of president Mursi of Egypt. In 2016 Turkey accused him of conspiring to oust its government; a bounty of $700,00 was put for his arrest. Dahlan’s fingerprints are also in the aggression on Yemen and the Libyan conflict. Last February, the Sudanese Popular Party (founded by Turabi) accused Dahlan of conspiring with separatists in Kordufan.

To ward off criticism of its wide involvements in the internal affairs of other countries, the UAE has established a trolling and misinformation infrastructure. It has been training operatives of the Eritrean ruling party and others in Abu Dhabi. But judging by the mediocre performance of the UAE trainees, including the Eritrean ruling party’s Tweeter ambassadors and ministers, the training didn’t pay much. However, Isaias is an expert in the field of manipulating and misinforming the public. Some Eritreans are still dancing to the tune of his erstwhile agitational music, his manifesto of 1970, Nehnan Elamanan (We and out objectives). Usually, once his signals penetrate the skulls of his unquestioning followers, it becomes a perpetual reference in any circumstance. Obviously, the ruling party is torn between staying loyal to the old and effective Isaiasque manual, and between implementing the tactics its cadres were trained on by the UAE.

What are the stakes of Eritreans?

The Awate Team is concerned about the Libyan conflict for two reasons.

  1. Sudanese mercenaries: As reported by Gedab News, the UAE and the Eritrean ruling party are secretly transporting thousands of Sudanese mercenaries to Libya via Asmara. And judging from the statements of some mercenaries and their commanders, Sudan will face a grave danger once the Libyan conflict ends. The Guardian quoted Sudanese mercenaries who said their presence in Libya is temporary, and when they get enough resources and weapons, they will go back to Sudan to face the government there. One of them told the Guardian, “We don’t believe that Omar Al-Bashir is gone. We are now in Libya … but there are other battles waiting for us in Sudan.” This will mean conflicts and instability in the region, and Eritrea can ill afford that.
  2. Refugees and human trafficking:  The Sudanese mercenaries are not limited to fighting in the Libyan conflict, they have been involved in human trafficking since the fall of Gaddafi in 2011. Thousands of refugees have been abused, raped and slaughtered by extremist groups in Libya. And many others have drowned sailing onboard rickety smuggler boats while crossing the Mediterranean Sea to seek refuge in Europe. Still, many Eritrean and African refugees are detained in different militia and smuggler camps in Libya, some waiting for their ransom to be paid.

Conclusion: For years, Libya was having its own Mini World War. Sudanese mercenaries are fighting alongside both sides of the conflicting forces. National interests has pulled in France, Italy, Qatar, Russia and other countries that are supporting one side or the other.

Until recently, General Hafter controlled large parts of the Libyan Mediterranean shores from where he threatened the internationally recognized Libyan government. Egypt provides him with experts, field commanders and weaponry, and the UAE provides financial support and fighter planes that had given his forces air superiority. Recent report indicates that tens of wounded and dead bodies of Egyptian soldiers were brought back home from Libya. As of last year, Turkey threw its might behind the Libyan government and provides it with air-cover using Turkey’s Byraktar type of drones. Since then, the balance of power has drastically swayed in favor of the government forces that pushed deep into the regions that Hafter controlled—that is where the rumors claim Dahlan was arrested, though we believe it’s a false news.

We know Isaias proved the speculations wrong, and we are left with a question: will Dahlan do what Isaias did so that we can all await for the next Copperfield moment?

Related topics
Saudi, UAE, and Eritrean Internet Trolling Cooperation
Sudanese Mercenaries To Libya: Air Bridge Over Asmara
We and our objectives
David Copperfield

About Awate Team

The PENCIL is's editorial and it reflects the combined opinions of the Awate Team and not the individual opinion of team members.

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  • መሃንድስ-ምዕባለ

    መዓልካ ፕረሲደንተ

    ናይ ገዛኻ ቱቦ ማይ ሰጊጥካ
    ——-ሓድሽ መስኖ ጎረቤት ክትምርቕ
    ኣንታ ኣምብረዛ ዝብሉኻ
    ——-ክንደይ ከ ትደርቕ

    ብጀካ ምስጋጥ የለን ካልእ ሕርያ
    ትብል ጸኒሕካስ ድቕድቕ ናብ እስጦብያ

    ዶ ዋላስ ናይ ነገር ብርኩታ
    ኣብ ስጦብያ ኬድካ ክትስኽትታ

    ንዓና ፈናጪልካ
    ብድቁስና ኣሰንኪልካ
    እስጦብያ ኴኑ መነሃርያ ናትካ

    ዝፈለጡኻ ኣይመስለንን
    ——–ዝተንከፍካዮ ከምዝሓርር
    ኣስተውዒሎምልካ ዮም ኣይብልን
    ናይ ውድቀት ጥፍ ኣት ውጥን
    ከምዝመስለኒ ቲ ናትና
    ናይ ዓመታት ዑና
    ——-ነይ እኪት ተሞክሮኻ ኣብ እስጦብያ ከተስግር

  • bardavidi

    Hi……..While criticising others internal sources………You seem to fall in to a Trap yourself that Isaiases Media outlet is spreading……….That is a sign of lack of Resources from within………….You seem not to note the Facts that all Foreign Intelligence Officers of the State have been pulled in the Last 2=weeks namely the Agents and Network Led by B/G Taame and Gaim for Domestic Restructuring……….A few nations to include USA,France and England have pulled their Emissaries and Citizens out of Eritrea to Ethiopia………..There has been Unusual movement of Troops Specifically around Massawa, Mendefera and the Southern section of the Capital………..He/Isaias just came back from Saudi after 2 weeks of Hospitalization……….Foreigners would not be pulled out unless there is a very Tense atmosphere……….A coup detat……..Change of Guards……..Possibility of Conflict because they need their Spy,s operating at all Times………..You need Eyes and Ears on the Ground otherwise you will end up Believing a made-up Video as Authentic and fall in their Lap……..When Ali-Abdu reads this he will Laugh like Crazy……….Selah

    • Saleh Johar

      Hi Selah,
      I will not go to the flat earth society argument 🙂
      Pls check the UK and USA websites, they have an update. The issue is not security related, it’s a safety step necessitated by the Coronavirus pandemic. BTW, the alert came out on April 18 poorly stated) 4 days later Tigray online disseminated it in the way it was spread the last two days.

      Now, I am limiting my comment on the evacuation of personnel from the embassies. Only that but the rest it’s open to ijtihad and I have mine. It’s all in the air

      • bardavidi

        Hi…..Johar……DO you think the Virus is ravaging Eritrea with assumable 39 people infected..?That they have to pull out their Personnel , China, Spain Italy……Did they pull out…?………what they post on the website is for public consumption but the Intelligence is a different matter………You have to read between the Lines and connect it to situation on ground zero………What a Coincidence the day they Posted it is the day Isaias came back from King Faisal hospital…………….Selah

        • Saleh Johar

          I do not read between the lines and if I do, it is not a good argument. Let’s talk about what’s publicly available. I do not have access to intelligence info and if I speculate, it will be my opinion not a fat.

          Let me tell you what I know: the embassies were overwhelmed by their citizens who wanted to return home because they they were stranded longer that expected. With no flights , they pressured the embassies and a few diplomats met to find a solution and Ethiopian Airlines agreed to provide an airplane. That is why the embassies told their citizens to catch the last flight and that they were evacuating their non-essential staff… and they cannot provide consular services outside Asmara (it has always been that way) . I know a person whose wife was stranded there and he confirmed the pressure there. I talked to a mini-mini-mini contact and he confirmed that. I checked the official statement of the embassies and that is what I found. I do not claim to have knowledge of ground zero, whatever that is.

          King Faisel hospital: that we did our due diligence and it was not true, if you are sure he was there, good for you but I do not believe it. So, “the day Isaias came back from King Faisel hospital” is you finding, and I do not agree with it.

          On Corona infection, 39 is the regime’s figures and for consistency, I would expect you to question that unless you work there or you are sure of it. I am not.

          Dear Selah, that is all I have and please let’s leave it at that and move on. Time will tell.

          • Sultan M.G.

            Selamat Saleh:
            Your cautious approach is recommendable.
            Your argument and analysis hold waster.
            Here are few issues,which should not be ignored:

            -The clause or statement added by the British Embassy claiming “ … due to the rapidly changing situation in Eritrea”!

            -The new highest alert on the Travel( Total ban with a RED FLAG through the entire Eri borders to the Sudan and Ethiopia))
            -New troop movements across the nation
            As far as the status of the COVID-19 is concerned, it is not a rocket science to assume or deduct that tge pandemic is slow or contained due to the aggressive measures taken by the GoE/ the MoH, Wether the figure is 39 or 39k, this is not coz the regime is genius or secretive.
            The number of the COVID-19 cases in the USA is estimated to be more than 10 million minimum ( up-to 100million)by applying simple estimation parameter / formula of minimum 10 cases estimated for each positive case… up to 100 cases estimated for each confirmed case!
            It is ok to say or to speculate that it is possible that some kind of a political and / or military activity might be going on as a some kind of a coup!

            It is also possible that PIA might have been sick requiring some Mefical attention somewhere considering his old medical issues.
            But time will tell and let us monitor the situation and pray that we shall have a smooth and nonviolent transition of at all that is what is going on!

          • Paulos


            I tend to agree with Aya Saleh. First of, the “Isaias is sick and fighting stroke or ፈጸጋ ኣብ ግምባሩ or ዕንፍሩር ኣብ እግሩ” is a total fabrication and fake. The guy is well and alive. The only suspicion I have is, he may attack the Weyanes as he did to the G-15 when the whole world was gripped with the dreadful and sad event in history—9/11.

          • Sultan M.G.

            Tuf bello!
            To declare war while on another war?
            No way Jose!!

          • Amanuel

            Hi gentlemen
            Hope you are all well.
            I have nothing to add here but there is speculation that Kim Jong-un has died of heart attack and we are not going to know the truth for sure for long time to come. And by the some token we are not going to know what happened to IA for sure. It is just about which speculation is better. After all it has been said “Eritrea is the North Korea of Africa”.

          • Paulos

            Selam Amanuel,

            Welcome back. Hope all is well with you. Stay safe

          • Amanuel

            Thank you Dr Paulos.
            I am good and hope you are as well.

          • Germay Berhane

            perfect and correct

      • Nitricc

        Hey SJ; long time ago, when awate-team declared as sister web site; I was the one stood up and opposed the idea. Back then I said is nothing but a liability for the Eritrean struggle for any change. Now, what I am witnessing is people want you to be they wanted you to report false and fake news. people wanted you to tell them what they wanted to hear. However; I liked how you hold your ground and refused to be I hope you don’t give in to the pressure of good for nothing people on this forum.

  • Haile WM

    hello all,

    british embassy advice to leave eritrea says bbc tigrinya… what’s cooking ?

  • Brhan

    Hello Awate,
    Thanks for your analysis,

    Isayas’s recovery from sickness was once nationally observed, as Asmarino were asked to line up in the main streets to cheer him up when he came from Israel , I believe this was 1994. At that time he was in honey moon with his men, including G 15. Now it is different. Very very different and tense. In addition to the country’s setbacks in human rights, political process towards democracy, rule of law and development, it has become polarized when he turned against his colleagues. The polarization is from top to down and has touched every citizen, where the majority are against dictatorship.

    There is no transparency in the country and only those who are reading Eritrea thoroughly can provide info about what is going on in that country. Those who deny such kind of info, like the analysis above , argue that he is not ill and he is not dying, as if he is going to live forever. But to the tyrant (who can’t share the deniers point view) the issue is who is capable to takeover the power and follow his steps. There has been a lot of talk about Abraham, his son. Also another nominee is Hagos Kisha who holds the key to the depositary box. They represent a typical example of tyrant power transfer. Do the generals will be satisfied by the credits of either persons to continue do the same job? That must be the maths that has been going on during the absence of the dictator.

    History has shown us that the probability of a smooth transition of power in a country that has seen the absence of rule of law, suppression and gross human right abuses, is very low.

    May Allah/ God protect Eritreans!

    • Germay Berhane

      very poor speculation widen your mind. Don’t worry though every body is going to pass away PFDJ is rooted and built in solid base. Only take care of your self and family. Eritrea have thousands like Esseyas.

      • bardavidi

        Hi…Girmay…..You are right…….PFDJ has a solid base in the 360 Prisons and Torture chambers around the State Besides the Kidnap and Murder Squads Ordered and Led by our Beloved President Isaias………..You are the best Observant I have seen on this Forum………..Selah

        • Germay Berhane

          I understand your situation. Even if you say 720 it is your personal or family frustration.

    • bardavidi

      Hi…Brhan……I like your Observation much better……….But Isaiases first choice has always been Ali Abdu and then Abraham Kassa………Unfortunate for him neither one is available………His son would have no Clout and Opposition would be Stiff from the Generals……….His closest Patrons have been Ali Abdallah and Ramadan Awelia………I would bet on those two……….However Fillipos will be on the way due to his Ego and thirst for Power you can not rule him out………..Selah

      • Sultan M.G.

        You are entitled to your opinions but NOT to your own facts, unless you are an insider .
        Even if u r an insider,there is NO way for you to figure out what and how PIA thinks,works and/or plans.
        Mentioning his top trolls and confidantes does not mean that you are correct .

  • Let me invite people to check my blog, Twitter @Seber_Angle
    and voila!

  • Coming from the assumed enlightened, “Eritrean activists guessed and speculated about the whereabouts of Isaias Afwerki.”

    Tells me deep inside, people are infatuated by the existance of Isaias Afwerki.

    The principled perspective of Isaias Afwerki, the re-nouned tyrant of Eritrea, being given ground says a lot about the invalids, old oppositions.

    Today, encountering the yiAkl, Deleyti-ftHi entities is a plausible approach.

    for reflection!

    • Germay Berhane

      dembe KOLLEL

  • Germay Berhane

    May be by your absent mind you can not recognize the existence of President Esseyas. But he is always there with the Warsay in all development projects. Any one can see the president coming and going from Adi Hallo and other projects with his simple land crosser. Only your absent mind is missing his existence.
    God/Allah Bless our president and Eritrea
    Romodan Kherim Kulu Am wo entum b Khier

  • Sultan M.G.

    Scary report.

  • Sultan M.G.

    Hi All:
    O Lord, have mercy on Eritra!
    I told you so, aybelnando bikedemu, that IA will,by all means,create something to keep us confused and distracted.
    Rather than escalating and institutionalizing the Ethio-Eritra Peace Deal to the next constructive level, now he has found a perfect excuse ….to make another U-turn… so as to get us involved into another Yemen by proxy.
    Yeah, one can argue that Egypt and the UAE are also involved for their interest but not sure what will be the interest for Eritrea other than for IA to have another way to prolong his power thru “Kidimmna”!
    Why can’t the so called International Community bring together the warring factions in Libya to a table if they really care about peace ,stability and rebuilding of Libya it destroyed?
    I admire how the Article comprehensively and “perfectly” analyzed the geopolitics of the conflict in Libya and the Sudan as well as the evil agenda of IA against the Sudan!

    I read the following somewhere:

    “The major threat to PIA is the Peace, Democracy and Stability” of Ethiopia and the Sudan”!
    What a prophetically TRUE Asst!

    On the side note,even though I can’t post the link but read the past due and the belated -but “better late than never “ “Manifesto” by the Association of the Eritrean Professionals and Intellectuals!