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The Debate Over Arabic Language in Eritrea!

Orally told stories relate a conversation that took place in the first parliament in Eritrea in the 1950s. During a heated parliamentary debate on the official languages of Eritrea, a member of parliament from the Independence Block stood up to speak in favour of adopting Arabic as the second official language of Eritrea. As he was speaking in Tigrinya, he was interrupted by another pro-union parliamentarian who asked him rhetorically, why do you speak in Tigrinya, speak in Arabic? Isn’t Arabic your language, as you claim!? This exchange highlights the tensions surrounding the status of Arabic in Eritrea. It is a tension that began early in the history of the national discourse and continues today in different forums. Eritrean politicians and intellectuals have taken various opposing positions. Some relegate Arabic to being the language of the minority Rashaida and Muslim religious rituals. Others view Arabic in Eritrea as the prime language that supersedes all local languages.

Historical background

Eritrean history, culture, and social reality is intertwined with the history and culture of Arabia. Eritrea was the meeting point between the two cultures across the Red Sea, the Semitic-Arabian and African cultures. The Axumite kingdom, the Geʽez language and its off-shoots Tigrinya and Tigre have deep Yemeni-Arabian connections. Across centuries, through migration, trade and invasion, Eritrea has been subject to waves of Arabian influences. Accordingly, Arabic language has been part of the Eritrean mosaic from early time in history. The extent of Arabic influence and presence in Eritrea before Islam can be debatable, but the possibility that it was part of the Eritrean mix of languages is undeniable. According to some historical reports, the king of Abyssinia who welcomed Prophet Mohammad’s companion spoke Arabic and had spent part of his youth in Arabia. With the arrival of Islam, Arabic spread further and deeper.

Colonial powers utilized both Arabic and Tigrinya in their communications with the public and in line with their divide and rule policy, treated Arabic as the language of Muslims and Tigrinya as the language of Christians. During the era of Eritrean self determination, the emerging two main political groups took two opposing stances. The independence block led by AL Rabita advocated for the recognition of Arabic and Tigrinya as official languages. The pro-union block opposed the recognition of Arabic and favored Tigrinya only or Tigrinya and Amharic. In drafting the Eritrean constitution, following the establishment of Eritrean parliament, the official language article was the most contested. After heated debates, much wrangling and negotiated compromise, the parliament voted in favor of article 39 which stated:

  1. Tigrinya and Arabic shall be the official languages of Eritrea.
  2. In accordance with established practice in Eritrea, the languages spoken and written by the various population groups shall be permitted to be used in dealing with the public authorities, as well as for religious or educational purposes and for all forms of expression of ideas.

During the armed struggle era, the Eritrean Liberation movement (ELM) and Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) held to the position adopted by the independence bloc and the constitution ratified in 1952. The ELF reaffirmed its stance of favoring bilingual official language policy in its 1971 congress. However, a diverging minority view was emerging within its ranks. The authors of “Our  Struggle and its Goals” –Nehnan Alamanan– (1971), seemed to question the validity of the 1952 bilingual official language policy. They noted:

Arabic became one of the official languages in Eritrea only through the “Federal Decision” of 1952 in which the Eritrean people did not participate”.

Later, the Eritrean Liberation Front (EPLF) adopted what was termed as the “equality of language policy”, which practically diverts from the long-established bilingual policy. Following Eritrea’s independence and during the drafting of the 1997 constitution, the official language debate came to the fore front. The draft avoided any mention of the official languages and instead formulated article 4 (3) which simply stated:

 “The equality of all Eritrean languages is guaranteed”.

Pros and against arguments in Eritrean parliament

Eritrean parliamentarians passionately debated the official language issue. Both sides of the debate presented their arguments forcefully. Most of these arguments are still relevant and form the basis of much of the arguments made today. Here is a short synopsis of the pro and opposed arguments made in the parliament. 

The opposing:

  • In Eritrea, there is no one who doesn’t understand Tigrinya, it should be the only official language.
  • Arabic is a religious language; it is foreign, and it can’t be official language.
  • Since we are federating with Ethiopia, let Amharic be the second official language with Tigrinya.
  • If a second language is needed, let it be then Tigre language.
  • Officiate Tigrinya only, but use Arabic in the interim until those who don’t know Tigrinya will come to learn it.
  • Most nations have one official language, one flag…, let us only adopt Tigrinya.

The Pros:

  • Arabic has a much longer history and is spoken by many nations.
  • Tigrinya is limited and it is the language of highlanders (Kebesa) only.
  • Arabic isn’t more foreign than Tigrinya, both Arabic and Tigrinya originated from Yemen.
  • Arabic in Eritrea isn’t just a religious language, but also intellectual and educational language.


  • Interestingly, the suggestion to officiate Tigre was made, not by the Tigre speaking parliamentarians, but by the ardent unionist from Serai district, Keshi Demetros, vice-president of the Eritrean parliament. The Tigre speakers were opposed to this proposal and were the most ardent supporters of officiating the Arabic language.
  • Some unionists, such as Ambae Habte –Keren district- spoke in support of officiating Arabic and Tigrinya.
  • Muslim members of the Unionist Party took a different stance and issued statement in favour of Arabic.
  • Most pro-Arabic parliamentarians were opposed to the inclusion of item 39 (2). They were suspicious of its intent. They felt it was unnecessary and could undermine item 39 (1).
  • Some argued, if a unilingual official language policy is to be adopted, then let Arabic be the be only official language.

Analysis of issues of contention

a) Is Arabic a mother tongue in Eritrea?

The simple answer is no, except for the Rashaida. However, a deeper look would illustrate that even though Arabic isn’t a mother tongue, it is a language that has a strong presence in many Eritrean homes. A cursory look at many Eritrean Muslim families illustrates that next to their mother tongue, many speak Arabic. Furthermore, in laws with different mother tongues, widely use Arabic as a common medium of communication and correspondence. This is most commonly noticed within a wide spectrum of Massawans and the lowlanders. Moreover, Arabic language terminology is prevalent not only in the Semitic languages of Eritrea, but also the Hamitic languages, such as “Saho”. The Tigrinya spoken by the Jeberti, for example, is full of Arabic terminology. Reading the “Saho” poetry, particularly the poems of the legendry “Saho” poet, Haj Saleh Indego, we find a lot of Arabic vocabulary usage. Usage of Arabic has become even more prevalent today within the largest Eritrean communities in diaspora, in Sudan and Saudi Arabia, where Arabic has become a household language. 

b) Is Arabic a religious language?

Yes, and more. Arabic is the language of the Quran and Muslim prayers. But proponents of Arabic reject the notion that it is limited to religious observances and oppose equating Arabic to Ge’ez, the language used by the Tewahdo clergy. At the request of Enzo Matenzo, the UN envoy to Eritrea, the late Mufti of Eritrea wrote an elaborate letter in 1950, explaining the prevalence of Arabic and how far it is used by Eritrean Muslims at that time. The letter highlights the following points:

  • Arabic is used not only in religious education, but also in secular education.
  • It is widely used in the media. From the inception of press in Eritrea, fourteen Arabic newspapers have been established. They range from daily, weekly to monthly; five were governmental and the rest non-governmental.
  • It is used in family matter documentations, such as the wills, family lineages, ancestral histories, and correspondences.
  • It is used commercially in all contracts; including partnership agreements, collaterals, debts and commercial accounts.
  • It is used judicially in all Islamic court documents. The court archives have records of nearly a century. The Massawa Court alone has over sixty volumes of documents written in Arabic, all before the Italian era.
  • It is used socially; all Islamic organizations, whether cultural, sports, political or national, write their constitutions, regulations, notebooks and documents and deliver their lectures all in the Arabic language.

c) Is Arabic a threat to Christianity?

Semere Habtemariam in his book on the history of the Tewahdo church notes:

Christian Abyssinians, whether in Eritrea or Ethiopia, don’t have any problem with Islam, but they are not comfortable with the importation and promotion of a language and culture that would give their cherished heritage a run for its money. Arabic language is perceived as a fundamental threat by most Christian Abyssinians”. Page 266.

The above noted fears is understandable. Historically, the spread of Arabic was associated with Islam. Arabic might have also been conducive to the spread of Islam in some cases. However, looking at the Arabic literature today and in the past, we find that some of the most prolific poets, writers and proponents of Arabic were Christians. One of the highly celebrated poets during the early Umayyad Islamic caliphate was a Christian Arab, known as Al-Akhtal, in addition to others who came later. In contemporary Arabic literature the names of Christian Arab writes such as Jubran Khalil Jubran, Mikhael Naema, Salama Mussa, Boutrous Albustani and others are among the top. One of the top proponents of Arab nationalism was a Christian, Michael Aflaq. Some of the oldest Christian churches and communities in the world today speak Arabic. Therefore, it is not entirely accurate to associate Arabic with Islam only or to perceive Arabic as a threat to Christianity. Arabic is the language of significant Christian communities in the Middle East and diaspora, estimated to be around 15 million. Some of these Christian communities have been using Arabic prior to the advent of Islam.

d) Is the proposition of officiating Arabic genuinely Eritrean?

Some opponents of Arabic assert that the idea of officiating Arabic was not genuinely Eritrea. It was an idea implanted by foreign forces and agents. Such an assertion is certainly detached from reality but have some validity in some respects. Eritreans were divided over Arabic language, mostly along sectarian line; Muslim Eritrean, despite many of their disagreements and political divisions, they were unanimous in calling for officiating Arabic, including Muslims in the Unionist Party. This unanimity came from within much before Petro-dollar or Arab nationalism influences. Certainly, there is an element of Arabism that can be attributed to foreign agents. During the armed struggle, the Ba’ath Arab nationalist party -with its two rival branches in Syria and Iraq- was attempting to infuse Arab nationalism into Eritrea through some of the Eritrean factions it sponsored. This definitely is objectionable. Eritrean calls for the officiation of Arabic wasn’t a call for embracing Arab nationalism. Such calls were alien to Eritrea and shouldn’t be confused with the legitimate demands clearly expressed by a significant segment of Eritreans.

e) Is the Arabic language the real issue?

Debates over official languages and other similar national issues are not unique to Eritrea. The real issue, however, isn’t whether Arabic should or shouldn’t be official.  The real issue is the “mindset” through which these issues are address. A calm, objective, common-good oriented mind set is critical for a meaningful and healthy debate. A mind set that thinks in “We” not “Me” terms; pursues a “Win-Win”, not “Win-Lose” outcomes; searches for “common ground” not “dichotomy and exclusion”; seeks to understand before it seeks to be understood. Arabic language contention is a symptom of a bigger problem that undermines effective resolutions of contentious issues. Agitated, fear-driven, conspiracy-ridden, partisan-spirited, segment-based approaches only prolongs the tension and entrenches factionalism. A paradigm shift within Eritrean discourses is certainly overdue.


Regardless of what the official language is, knowledge of Arabic and Tigrinya is critical for anyone who seeks to fully grasp the Eritrean pulse and mindset. The Eritrean intellectual output has been mostly in Arabic and Tigrinya. Social media exchanges, online discussions and Eritrean websites are also mostly in both languages. As I noted in an earlier article[1], an intellectual gap exists within Eritrean intellectuals and that can only be remedied by a global view of the Eritrean reality. Segmented and partisan views need to wane.

The Eritrean reality today is far from what it used to be in the 1950s. Tigrinya isn’t a kebesa language anymore. It has made significant strides to be a full-fledged language. Arabic has also made huge in roads within the general public and among a growing number of the educated and intellectual segments. Today in the global world, linguistic, sectarian, ideological boundaries have lost meaning. The way to thrive in this new world is to learn, to engage, to reach out and to embrace with confidence and independent mind. No wise Eritrean should shun away opportunities to learn Tigrinya and Arabic. That will only undermine their scope and limit their horizon.


Redie Bereketeab, The Politics of Language In Eritrea: Equality Of Languages Vs. Bilingual Official Language Policy, The Nordic Africa Institute Uppsala, Sweden.

Richard A. Rosen (1999), Constitutional Process, Constitutionalism, and the Eritrean Experience.

Habtemariam T. Semere (2017), Reflections on the History of the Abyssinian Orthodox Tewahdo Church, Africa World Press, Inc.

Negash Ghirmai (2010), A History of Tigrinya Literature, Africa World Press, Inc.

محمد سعيد ناوود، العروبة والإسلام بالقرن الأفريقي

أبوبكر جيلاني، جذور الصراع حول لغات التعليم في أرتريا

አለምሰገድ ተስፋይ (2005), ፈደረሽን ኤርትራ ምስ ኢትዪጲያ

Mukhtar com


About Ismael Ibraheem Al-Mukhtar

Ismael Al-Mukhtar is a scholar, a mentor, and and Eritrean writer. He lives in Canada

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  • Eulate

    I don’t see the big deal of Arabic being an official language of Christians. Lebanon was borne as a Christian country & Arabic & French are its official languages.

  • Brhan

    Hi forum visitors:
    Ruhus Awde Amet and enjoy it and incase you have time during the festival mood, I would like to share research (related to language issues in Eritrea) done by Abdulkader Saleh Mohammad, a sociologist with long experience in teaching, research and university administration. He was a professor at the Universities of Sebha, Libya and Asmara, Eritrea. He also worked as researcher for GIGA Hamburg and the University of Hamburg, Germany Department of Political Science.
    Note that you will be asked to downlad the research
    Enjou reading it :

    • Ismail AA

      Ahlen Brhan,

      Thank you for the link. Those who are interested, especially the young, would find this work a must. I know several research have been done on the subject, which approach it from pure academic perspective. This one is more thorough and original. Readi it would establish a good ground as threshold to understanding the issue in the context of its political and other variuos levels of concerns of the nation.

  • Simon Kaleab

    Selam all

    Clearly, this never ending Arabic language issue is an intense obsession of Eritrean Muslim elites. It is used as a rallying slogan for creating a united Muslim front vis a vis Tigrinya speaking Christians.

    One of the unproven assumptions of this effort is to claim that, as a rule, Muslim families speak Arabic as a second language. Being able to read and write in Arabic, taught in Qur’anic schools, does not necessarily imply that one is automatically able to speak Arabic.

    For example, I can read and write using the Ge’ez alphabet but I don’t speak Ge’ez. Similarly, I can read and write using the Latin alphabet but I don’t speak Latin.

    Why should Eritrea spend its limited resources on two languages that have little or no use in the areas of science, technology, international business and diplomacy at the same time?

    • Abi

      The reason we are backward is because we still use Amharic and Tigrinya/ Arabic as working languages.
      These languages should be left for singing and crying. Pick English and move forward!

      • Selam Abi,
        The first time i heard that amharic is a language of songs was from a British teacher in high school. He told us that it is easy to sing in amharic.

        • Abi

          I’m sure you believe me if I tell you I am that English teacher:)

          • Sultan

            Hahaha guaddu!!
            Now you spoke out the truth.

            A Grad of Social Sciences and Linguistics from AAU, then put at the Ethiopian Studies Center under Prof Richard Pankhurst!
            I got it.
            Your articulation in English and Amharic Languages tells it ALL!

          • Abi

            King Sultan
            ሆፕ ገራገሩ የጎርጎራው የጎንደሩ:

            ኧረ ሰዎች ይህን ሰው አንድ በሉልኝ!!
            Horizon is referring to his High school “British” teacher. I repeat , his high school “ British” teacher. He had a British high school teacher .
            በዜግነቱ እንግሊዛዊ …

            እዋይ አንታ ተስፋ! እንዲህ ክንፍህን ጥለህ ስትበር የመንግስተ ሰማያቱን በር አልፈኸው እንዳትሄድ::

          • መሃንድስ-ምዕባለ

            Too bad you are not a stand up comedian. No one would date to hackle you.

          • Abi

            Standup comedian?
            እኔ የከተማ “ቁጭ በሉ” ነኝ:)
            ቁጭ በሉ = አጭበርባሪ

          • መሃንድስ-ምዕባለ

            See what I am saying?
            Or if you had a chance, when you were in junior high or HS, you have been tier one hacker 🙂

          • Abi

            You know me very well:)
            I was very mischievous to put it mildly.

          • Sultan

            Come on, I can understand the basics of sarcasm.
            Horizon prob is as young as or as old as you are or was your classmate .
            But I thought u were defining the brilliance of YOU indirectly/sarcastically, which I used this rare opportunity to recognize/acknowledge that BRILLIANCE!

          • Abi

            King Sultan
            I love you, brother.

          • Sultan

            Love you back Guaddu.
            Read my edited response.

          • Abi

            King Sultan
            Don’t worry brother. My boys are enjoying it on your behalf:)

    • Kim Hanna

      Selam Simon Kaleab,

      You said it right. “…this never ending Arabic language issue…”
      It is really understandable for a lay person like me as to why it is very important for Muslims to always insist and push for the Arabic language to be front and center. At different times and different ways the message to advance the argument goes on. Business reason, family historical connection, a well developed way to communicate and other compelling reasons are provided.

      If I believed as a core belief that God used Ge’ez to to reveal his message to humanity, I not only relearn it myself but I will insist others do too. It is God’s chosen language, what more do you want.

      There are philosophers in humanities I read in school long time ago who belonged to Catholic and other denominations. These highly skillful thinkers and communicators incorporate their religious aspect of their church’s dogma to the scientific reality of the time that was being revealed at the time.
      It is genius and amazing the length they go to reconcile and advocate their positions as Bishops and Cardinals.
      Of coarse, the way these philosophers look at Jesus walking on water and the average catholic or protestant has no resemblance to each other.

      Judging just by reading this article alone of Ismael Ibraheem Al-Mukhtar to be one of those philosophers harmonizing the “un-harmonizable” real world.
      I also noticed another highly educated Eritrean, Sem Habtemariam who I understand have written books on the subject of the Orthodox Christian subject matter commenting in such a gingerly way to correct a very minute point.
      he said …” ..the Christian Abyssinian fear is understandable…” he continued …” it does not reflect me or my love of the Arabic language.”
      These elites and philosophers have their own circles of existence. I wish all the rest of us were like them but we are not. Until that day comes we have to live in the real world. The real world demands ALL follow the daily existence of the individual life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. I wonder where I heard that last sentence.

      Mr. K.H

      • Ismail AA

        Selam K.H.,
        Wise and commendable view. You are not less than the two gentlemen you have mentioned.

    • A.Osman

      Selam Simeon,

      Why should Eritrea spend its limited resources on two languages that have little or no use in the areas of science, technology, international business and diplomacy at the same time?

      The current approach with 9 languages has even complicated the point that you are trying to make and those who are on the ground implementing mother tongue policy have come to realise the two language option is the way forward – simply being pragmatic. Your conclusion is probably similar to that of Abi –

      Pick English and move forward!

      and that is what is done from secondary school and beyond.

      Ahmed Raji recent FB post on the topic attracted quite a discussion, you will find it interesting to read.


      • Abi

        Hello AOsman
        Thanks for the link
        The English part sounds like written by Awate’s SGJ. Very well written article similar to the one we read some years back. I’m talking about the paper SGJ presented at some university somewhere in Maryland.

        • A.Osman

          Hi Abi,

          Not sure about the paper that you are referring to, so much was written about the topic, I am loosing track….I expect the arguments to overlap and like you I felt like I read the main article before…it is a sign of age :).

          Since you have been at Awate for quite long you have probably come across Ahmed Raji many times before, recently about prisoners. I must say my favourite of his articles were the “Lost Rainbow” articles.


          • Abi

            Hello AOsman
            Definitely it is a sign of age:)
            Of course, there are overlaps between articles that focus on one particular subject. This one falls in that category.
            Unfortunately, I missed most of Ahmed’s articles. I need to catch up!
            I hate missing good stuff. Thanks for the recommendation.

          • A.Osman

            Selam Abi,

            Ok while at it, I will share a fresh video where you will see Ahmed Raji and Amanuel Hidrat, so you put a face to his name. As Amanuel explained, in the clip Ahmed remembers him as an educator while in Port Sudan.


            The Rainbow articles can be found using the below link (sorry it is an indirect link as my internet provider somehow blocks access to webarchive).



          • Amanuel Hidrat

            Selam AOsman,

            Ahmed is a document by himself. All his eyes are and were on investigative report and documenting stories. He is the best Eritrean intellectual asset on that particular subject. I knew Ahmed when he was a student at “Camboni high School” in Port-Sudan, Sudan. He was one of the sources of “Gadeb News” in the belly of the beast, before he left Asmara – a bold patriotic Eritrean, and am glad to call him my compatriot.


          • Amanuel Hidrat

            Selam AOsman,

            Ahmed is a document by himself. All his eyes are and were on investigative report and documenting stories. He is the best Eritrean intellectual asset on that particular subject. I knew Ahmed when he was a student at “Camboni high School” in Port-Sudan, Sudan. He was one of the sources of “Gadeb News” in the belly of the beast, before he left Asmara – a bold patriotic Eritrean, and am glad to call him my compatriot.


  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Selam Awatistas,

    I heard Abiy repeating Issayas’s words in his interview about the election in Tigray. Did you recall what Issayas had said about the issue of election in Eritrea, in his interview few years ago? Go to the moon. Abiy has said the similar thing in his recent interview. He is a good student in the class of despotism. Saleh was spot on Abiy’s graduation from Adi- Hallo in his Negarit.

    • Selam Amaniel H.,
      I think that you know Amharic and you can follow the pm’s 2 parts new year discussion on all pertinent topics, on walta tv, with a journalist.
      PMAA said that the elections in tigray are similar to “Moon Light” elections, which as i understood he meant that it was similar with those who illegally grab land in Addis and its environs, build fences and houses during moonlight lit nights.
      Unless it is purposeful digital woyane’s fake news, what has it got to do with what IA said, that of going to the moon if one wants elections? Respect for the truth is important, and you don’t seem to do so.

      • Consolation

        Selam Horizon,

        As you noticed, it has nothing to with IA, it has everything to do with people like AH’s obsession with Isu. If they are not accusing him of selling Erirea to Ethiopia, they will accuse him of teaching Abiy his expertise. As for the Tigrayan election, it is turning out to be a big joke; As expected, the TPLF has won 98.2% of the popular vote and probably all the seats save one. If they could dare to win 100% in Addis, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they won 98.2% in their own backyard.

        • Abi

          Do you know “የጨረቃ ቤት”?
          ሌሊት በጨረቃ ብርሃን በህገወጥ መንገድ የተሰራ ቤት ማለት ነው::

        • Nitricc

          As expected, the TPLF has won 98.2% of the popular vote and probably all the seats save one

          Hi Conso: i am sorry it can’t be true, I refused they are to be that dumb. No-way. From my understanding I thought the results of the elections takes time because it is counted by hand. The thugs are playing with us. No-way 98.2% is true, can’t happen. They have learned from their 100% drama. unless like PMAA said their brain is frozen then this a proof. I hate the thugs and their paid agents.

          • Brhan

            Thank you Nitricc for sharing the info about the election results and I think you are the best Ethio news correspondent @
            98.2% voted to the TPLF? Now I understand that Tigrayans and TPLF are equal. I also know now your frustration of why Abi Ahmed can’t show his fist in Tigray but can show it in Oromia, Wolayta and Sidama? In addition I know now why you always talk about TPLF and Tigray because it seems that for you they are the only ones who are significant to talk about when it comes talking about Ethiopia.

          • Consolation

            Ya Brhan,

            First of all, it was I who brought the 98.2% news to this forum, Nitricc was only quoting me. So you have to give credit where it is due. Second, people are surprised that the TPLF got only 98.2%. There must be some counting error. I mean, they were announcing ,without blushing, that they won 100% in Addis where the TPLF=6%Ethiopia, but to get only 98.2% in Tigray=TPLF must be a total error!

          • Brhan

            Hi Consolation,
            Nitricc was my secondary source for the news. You are then the first , and thank you for sharing it.

          • Abi

            It is not an error. Tplf never make errors when it comes to elections. You see, in Tplf Tigray there is አንጋፋው Tplf and አጋር ( ተለጣፊ) ፖርቲዎች. Tplf won only 98.2 % of the votes and whatever left was equally distributed among the many ተለጣፊ ፓርቲዎች.

        • Aligaz G


          Another embarrassing meto be meto election by our friends who have no clue whatsoever about democracy. Even worse they publicized to the max. Really tone deaf.

          • Abi

            እንኳን ለአዲሱ ዓመት አደረሰህ::
            አዲስ ዓመት አሮጌ የወያኔ “ቁጭ በሉ”!
            Some things never change…

    • Teodros Alem

      aman h
      “Ye chireka bet” or “be chireka ye tesera” means in amharic illegal work .
      2, ethiopia and eritrea r not at the same league, not same level, get that in ur mind, they r two different countries playing in different league and level.
      3, 3A as a leader of ethiopia, he is a top diplomat of the country, he said we has bad history that killed over 100 thousand people with eritrea and it will not forgotten that easy in 1 or 2 years, we never had that kind of history with the rest of our neighbors, the main thing that we need from eritrea is just peace.

      • Nitricc

        Hi Teddy to defend the thugs he has to make things up. He knows exactly what it means because PMAA explained it but when you are paid to defend the thugs, you got to do everything, including lying.

        • Teodros Alem

          Selam Nitricc
          If u listen. What Saay did is nothing to do with this weird mind people trying to translate it. what Saay did is making fun of the word “chireka” by combining 3A, pia and jano band music .

          • Nitricc

            Hi Teddy; I have no idea what SAAY said or read. but what PMAA said was similar to making moonshine. People here in the USA were making Alcohol drinks illegally by night using moon light and that where the name come from. And chereka PMAA refering to chereka is the same thing.

          • Teodros Alem

            Selam Nitricc
            U can find the video clip in Saay Facebook page.

  • Haile S.

    Selamat SulTan and Awatawyan,

    The most important correction that need to be done for me is the Article number on language in the 1952 Eritrean constitution. I think, it should be Article 38, not Article 39. We are not talking about the Article TPLF is invoking at every interview these days?

    • Sultan

      Hahaha Hailat:
      I saw it and said hmmm and twisted my mouth….

    • Kaddis

      Selam Haile –
      Haha – yes article 39 is so famous people think it only speaks about secession; it actually talks about self determination and cannot be suspended under state of emergency.
      Congrats is due to Tigray people; it gave Ethiopia another hopeful step in the right direction.
      Cheers for the new year and kidus yohannes for Eritreans

      • Haile S.

        ሰላም ለኣዲስ

        ኣመስግናለሁ። እኔም በበኩሌ፡ ለእርስዎ እና ለመላው የኢትዮጵያ ህዝብ መልካም፡ የሰላምና የብልጽግና ዓመት እመኛለሁ።

    • Amanuel Hidrat

      Selam Hailat,

      I don’t have any problem with Ariticle-39 (1) and Article-39 (2) of the 1952 constitution as stated in his article. There is no any resemblance of it with Article-39 of the Ethiopian constitution. But what does Article-38 in the1952 Eritrean constitution say, as it become your choice? Could you state it, they way it was reflected in the document, If you have easy access for it? Then we shall see if it accommodate their demand.


      • Haile S.

        Selam Emma,

        I will do later from home. I wasn’t saying there is a similarity between them, just could give rise to confusion. In addition we need to adhere to GPP (good political practice), like in GLP & GMP…

        • Amanuel Hidrat

          Selam Hailat,

          Don’t worry. I checked the article myself. I understood your comment now after I checked article-38. I put NB on the same comment.

          • Haile S.


            I just coined GPP. If you had remembered what GLP stands, you would have understood what I meant by GPP. Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) & Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) are the quintessential standards of quality management systems by which works of laboratories and research center (pharma etc) are conducted and regulated. GMP referes to the manufacturing phase of these or other materials that need licensing, from srwing needle to cars, planes what have you.
            When I say GPP, I meant we should not make mistakes when quoting constitution, article, law etc. We need to be serious!

          • Amanuel Hidrat

            Selam Hailat,

            Thank you for the clarification. I am clear now. I guess it, but I don’t want to be in trouble to say something by misunderstanding you. Thank you again.

  • Sultan

    Hi All ::

    (Dear Author/Editor,FYI:I see a minor typographic error under the item,”Observation”:

    “Intestinaly prob meant to read as: “Interestingly”.

    “kern” prob meant to read as:” Keren”).

    I enjoyed this excellent Article more after I read it the third time.

    I confess that,per my initial knee-jerk reaction,I said: “OMG,”The Arabic Language” business again!”.I had to delete my initial knee jerk reaction style comment.

    Granted,I have found it to be a perfect supplement and a conclusive piece to Ustaz SGJ’s superb and extensive article on this topic a while ago so as to put at /to rest the essence of Arabic being our Co-Official Working Language until the Constitutionally elected National Assembly debates and approves it.

    To me,this the least of Eritrea’s problems and I repeatedly clarified my stand on this and related issues :
    -Arabic and Tigrinya along with English to remain our Official Working Languages pending further approval by the future Constitutionally elected Assembly as The Working OFFICIAL Languages of Eritrea while nurturing and developing to the max the respective languages and cultures of all the other Eri Languages.

    I see this “Endorsement of the Arabic Language” thing beyond politics and religion as well as beyond the “appeasement” of our Muslims from socio-economic,geo-political and strategic significance point of view for Eritrea and Eritreans.
    -The huge market (more than 350 million in N Africa and Middle East)for Eritrea in general and for Eritreans in particular( I could add Swahili ,Affan Oromo (Oromigna) and Amaric as our Working languages as Semere Tesfai said it considering the role of the Eri Business Community in E Africa and beyond)

    -The educational value of the well developed Arabic Language and its Literature

    -Short and Long Term Strategic Importance(The diplomatic success with the Gulf and Cairo was the main game changer for Eritrea after Eritrea successfully beat up the TPLF diplomatically–a living example of that geo-political and strategic significance of endorsing the Arabic Language)

    -Grant the Eri Jeberti the “Nationhood” they are fighting for pending a debate and approval by the same constitutionally elected National Assembly.

    -Making the Arabic Language as our Official Working Language has more benefits than disadvantages,if any(minus the myth and the misconception/perception by some and understandable fear as Ustaz Semere H. correctly said it and based on some historical facts including the sad status of the Egyptian Christians and the terrifying Lebanese issue).
    But I think Eritrea and Eritreans can easily handle and monitor this issue through a strong and formidable Constitution and Strong Institutions.The major challenge will be the external interference,which is unavoidable geo-politically speaking and due to geopolitical issues,which Eritrea and Eritreans should stay VIGILANTE for ever.

    My initial knee-jerk reaction was about doing our best to hold off such essential but non-urgent constitutional issues to avoid unnecessary real and perceived polarization among Eritreans during this crucial moment when we are trying our bets to come together as a ONE PEOPLE and as a ONE NATION so as to protect ourselves from intruders and thereby expedite the past due change we have longed for so long.

    I lamented badly and protested against in the strongest terms about such seemingly “Divisive Topics and Debates” when the following issues popped up during Eritrea’s DARKEST MOMENTS:

    -The Arabic Language Issue
    -The Jeberti Issue
    -The Lowland-vs Highland Issues(The ELL)
    -“The Crusaders vs Jihadists Issue”
    -“The Ali Salim Style of Civil War Declaration between the Lowland and Highland”Eritrea
    -“The Winter and Summer Projects”

    Sad and regrettable indeed,that these topics surfaced in a very polarizing and divisive way when Eritrea was in its/her LOWEST moments trying to survive /exist as a nation when our enemies had done/were doing their best capacity by all means possible under the sun to humiliate and destroy us and make us collapse overnight by isolating,containing,sabotaging and sanctioning us in all aspects besides using the deadly NO PEACE NO WAR Policy thereby forcing our Youth and the EDF to flee the struggling nation by creating a conducive environment through our old new enemies in the West when they created a seemingly perfect but a treacherous scenario and Heaven by encouraging and setting up conditions for our Youth to flee Eritrea including approving asylum for anyone claiming to be Eritrean form Ethiopia,the Sudan,Somalia and even from West Africa and Asia(brown Asians claimed asylum in the name of Eritrea!!)so as to deprive the poor and struggling nation form its productive forces.

    I am sure that this is not and cannot be the intention of Sheik Ismael Mukhtar but to clarify and straighten out the obvious,which I appreciate and admire.

  • Brhan

    Dear Sheikh Ismail.
    Thank you. This the best article that I have read on the issue of the status of Arabic in Eritrea.

  • መሃንድስ-ምዕባለ


    ኣይይይይይ… ዘገርም ‘ዩ ዘገርም
    ኤረይ ናትክስ ዘገርም ‘ዩ ዘገርም
    ዝብል ደርፊ ናይ ኣብራር
    ተሰሚዕና ‘ታይ ዝኸውን ምምሃር
    መሰረት ናይ ምሕባር
    ከም ሽግ ሆያ ሆየ
    ብሓንቲ ላኻ ምጥማር
    ‘ዩ ትመልሲ

    ቋንቋ ‘ኮነን ትጸገም
    ሕጽረት ምትእምማን ‘ዩ
    መሰረት ትሕማም
    ተተሪኺቡ ሓደ ለባም

    ኩሉ ክኣቱዩ ኣብ መስርዑ
    ኣብራር ንፕረሲደንተ ምባል
    ሰላምን ራህዋን ፍቕርን
    ከተተንፍሱ ክትሰትዩ ክትበልዑ
    ምቁር ናብራ ናይ መርዑ[ት]
    ቃጭል ተቓጪሉ

  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Selam Ismail I. Al-Muktar,

    The following statement quoted below is the core message of your piece. The rest explains its history and the antagonism created for political purposes. If it wasn’t politicking, Tigrigna and Arabic as official of Eritrean state was a settled issue. Second if half of the population wanted Arabic than their own native languages, it is quintessential to respect their desires. Third language does not have its own identity, it is always for communication and preserving the culture of society.

    “Arabic language contention is a symptom of a bigger problem that undermines effective resolutions of contentious issues. Agitated, fear-driven, conspiracy-ridden, partisan-spirited, segment-based approaches only prolongs the tension and entrenches factionalism.“

  • Sultan

    Hello All:
    Done with off duty week.Back to my duties and I don’t have time to flood the forum with “ logorrhea”!
    I am on record expressing my opinion and stand clearly that:
    -Arabic and Tigrinya among English to be Eritrea’s Working Languages pending approval by the future Constitutionally ejected Assembly

    -The Eritrean Jeberti to be provided with their requested” Nationhood” status pending the Debate and Decision by our constitutionally elected

    -To have a Secular and DEMOCRATIC Govt with the CRYSTAL clear Separation of Religion and State with where the STATE Laws supersede and overrides any other laws including “ The Religious and Tribal Laws“!

    But I just did a cursory reading/ review of the well written and articulated Article of our respected Ustaz Ishmael Mukhtar.

    My opinion and my take on this:

    While I “beyond respect” this kind of an Intellectual and Community Leader as well as his well framed and educational articles, I RESPECTFULLY disagree with the timing of bringing up same topics with the unnecessary and nonessential redundancy of these Constitutional matters, not to mention that these topics being the ones we have extensively addressed and exhausted debating on.

    I just don’t understand the logic and the rationale behind it, in my opinion.

    Please help me out to understand the logic behind bringing again this topic at this cry it all moment.

    I just hope that no sane people shall bring up again at the following topics and issues at this critical and crucial moment, when we are trying to bring together all Eritreans of all walks of life and background:

    -The Jeberti issue

    -Tigrinya vs Arabic Language use business “

    -“The Islam vs Christianity “ dirty and obsolete religious politics

    -“The Jihadists vs Crusaders”

    -The Ali Salim style declaration of a “ Civil War” between Lowlanders vs Highlanders “

    -“The Winter vs The Summer Projects” businesses
    Now, am hoping that the sole logic of bringing up this issue now is to clarify the keidi-albo cyber-war in the social media .

    In my opinion, it is only fair and reasonable to hold off these ESSENTIAL but NON-URGENT and Constituional matters for the constitutionally ejected Assembly, or even for a National People’s Referendum” if needed.

    I lamented the same way to avoid these “fair and reasonable topics” but untimely and non-urgent issues when these same topics popped up including THE ELL business when Eritrea was between “a life and death” situation struggling for its survival and even existence as a nation when the TPLF did everything possible evil act under the sun to make Eritrea collapse overnight by isolating , containing , sabotaging and worse ,SANCTIONING Eritrea and Eritreans in all aspects besides applying the deadliest policy of No War No Peace status leading to the biblical scale of Youth Exodus to deprive Eritrea from its productive force, fully supported and backed up by our new old enemies when they volunteered and works hard to escort top young intellectuals and athletes and approve for asylum to/ for any one, who claims to be Eritrean no matter without a minimum vetting process where not only the Ethiopians but also the West Africans, the Sudanese, the Somalis and some brown Asians !
    Please help me understand this better if am off topic and off logic.
    I stand corrected if I messed up.
    With respect .
    The following “fact and bitter truth”by Semere Habtemariam caught my undivided attention!

    “Christian Abyssinians, whether in Eritrea or Ethiopia, don’t have any problem with Islam, but they are not comfortable with the importation and promotion of a language and culture that would give their cherished heritage a run for its money. Arabic language is perceived as a fundamental threat by most Christian Abyssinians”. Page 266.“
    It is a historical fact where Egyptian Christians among others have been treated as second. Kass citizens besides being part secured and even massacred for just being Christians!

    The sad and endless civil war in Lebanon is but a curse no Eritrean and Ethiopian would like to see let alone to experience ….

    This is NOT to mention the allegedly and presumably “well accepted” culture and perception among many or even the majority of Muslims that Islam precedes over any statehood or nationhood…. and that Arabic is the only and exclusive godly language to be used in prayers and other religious activities all over the world.

    If the above premises/“Allegations and perceptions” are real and true, then Semere H. has a point and the concern of the non-Muslim Eritreans and Christians sound to be serious and “ legit” based on “facts and the history of experience”of other nations and peoples.

    The big and the most difficult dilemma :

    How can we balance things?
    Not very easy but more difficult !
    Good luck .
    “I wish Religion didn’t exist “, per Gen Nittric and Field Marshal Blink!
    N. B.
    Without going into details, I regret to disclose it that I have had very challenging,unpleasant and disturbing PERSONAL experience about this sensitive and challenging issue/business.

  • Sem Habtemariam

    Selam haw Ismael,

    Thank you for writing an article that fairly, and more importantly, accurately depicts the pros and cons of the “language question” in Eritrea. You’ve taken out the unnecessary emotional baggage and posed the arguments to stand on their own merit. This helps in crystallizing what are the core issues and why we, as people, have not been able to come to terms with it, and for that you deserve our gratitude. The substance of your article was only matched by your style and fairness. Kudos to that.

    Just a minor point on the quote from my book: I was making a general observation based on my reading of history, anecdotal evidence, current debates and it is not a personal feeling or opinion. I would appreciate if you can change it to something like: Habtemariam’s observation of the Christian Abyssinian fear is understandable, or something to that effect, because the statement as you have it does not reflect me or my love of the Arabic language.

    Whether you make the change or not, let me assure you how much I enjoyed reading your article and all I have is respect and gratitude. Your cool and level-headed approached is something to be jealous about.

    Semere T Habtemariam

  • sara

    selam amna mukhtar,
    good to remind us from time to time the necessity of Arabic language for Eritreans , and rest assured it is well accepted and is freely used in every day life at home and every where ,
    except by few who try to politicize it for their narrow interests.
    few days ago i was talking with a friend from west africa who works with an NGO affiliated with WML, and she told me that we Africans are strange … by giving me an example of the conflict in Cameroon because of language issues…. the strange part is… its between those who want english language or french language to be official or not….even-though the people
    there have their own languages… but for luck of a common language they are now divided
    between fernch /english and the country.
    eritreans are FINE — thanks for the duel languages freely spoken and all our other beautiful languages too.
    shookran towell al omur– mukhtar.

  • Ismail AA

    Selam all,

    Sheikh Ismael Ibraheem Al-Mukhtar has graced us as usual with an elegantly written article on the recurring debate on the language issue. Especially the younger generation of Eritreans can find a lot of benefit because he has coherently simplified the the issue in its past and present contexts. He has provided the reader succinct review of what had been said and written eversince the issue had emerged on the stage of Eritrea’s national affairs. Beyond the emotional interest that complicate the matter, Sheikh Ismael has raised the debate to historically and psychologically informed analysis that require objectivitive mind set to appreciate how central the matter is to national harmony.

    As it is widely known from existing background information right from the initial period of the debate, eventhough views proved polarizingly contentious, protagonists on both sides had realized at the end of the day that the taking the issue from the perspective of the stakeholders made it incumbent on the nation to understand the matter in the framework of national unity.

    This meant that had the Tigrigna language been the subject of the contentious debate, it would have had occured to the proponents of Arabic that refusing to endorse Tigrigna meant rejecting one of crucial fabrics that tied the nation together. Briefly stated, therefore, what a keen reader of Sheikh Ismael’s article would understand, as I did, is that the resolution of the language issue in the ways that favourably respond to needs of concerned stakeholders will be a factor that is going to inform how the continuity of the nation will fare. In fact, the proponents of the ongoing struggle to rid the country of the one-man despotism, would make post regime task of the nation easier if they would take in to consideration the damage the regime had done to nationally harmony by attempting to undermine the role of the Arabic language. In this endeavor, historical precedent Sheikh Isamel had eloquently related is a good supportive matter to understand the cruciality of the matter. Actually, the matter is an already done deal that some from time to time try to undo.