This is an Eritrean perspective, but probably it reflects the views of all victims alike. And Eritrea is ruled by a ruthless tyrant and complacent neighbors. Now regional countries are conspiring against Eritreans. That is more than a double whammy, it’s quintet interest arrayed against the interest of Eritreans.
Isaias Afwerki, the Eritrean president, has been in power since 1977 when the EPLF, the precursor of the PFDJ, the current Eritrean ruling party, was a liberation organization. Using a multitude of Machiavellian tactics, he still dominates Eritrean politics, and rules the country with an iron fist, driving the youth out of their country to become refugees all over the world, and pushing the country further into the abyss. At this moment, Eritrea is at a crossroads, in a volatile situation, and is haphazardly heading towards the unknown.
Isaias Afwerki and His Gambles
Since 1991 when Eritrean territories were fully liberated, the ruling party adhered to the diplomacy of brinkmanship. It clashed with all its neighbors, planted seeds of discord among Eritrean social components, and immersed the country in an environment of mistrust never seen in its history.
Isaias has established a close friendship with Gadaffi of Libya until the latter was overthrown. He has ignited a devastating war with Ethiopia that cost the two sides over 100,00 lives, and severe instability that is still disrupting life in the country. In addition, he has clashed with Djibouti twice, once with Yemen, and twice with Sudan—under his leadership, the country has become like a powder keg.
In a less violent situation, he once heralded a war of words with the Saudi ruling family, when his newspapers called them “Turkish bastards”; he sponsored the Al-Shabab terrorist group making Eritrea a target of the world; he hosted armed groups to effect regime change in Ethiopia; he hosted and trained Sudanese rebel groups (from the South and North) to influence political developments in the region. He is still pursuing irresponsible regional diplomacy and security alliances.
Sadly, whatever Isaias did was never beneficial to Eritreans, on the contrary, it has exposed the country to ridicule, to losing face, to embarrassment in front of the world. Moreover, he invited UN sanctions regime to Eritrea. In short, he managed to reduce the resilient nation to poverty, destitution and to losing its pride, pride it acquired in the long and arduous journey of the struggle era, an exemplary struggle that earned Eritreans world admiration and acclaim.
Until he switched positions, Isaias used Qatari support to strengthen his grip on power for a long time, just like he used Sudan for the same end. In 2015, he allied himself with the Saudi led coalition against Yemen, before leaning towards the UAE for the same purpose, and began to tow the UAE line and became a protégé of Mohammed Bin Zaid of UAE to lengthen his stay in power. Now he has switched against Qatar and Sudan, on top of his feud with Ethiopia, still, he is at odds with Djibouti. He has blessed the cruel bombing of Yemen, whose people are facing unimaginable misery. They are being bombed by American fighter planes and ammunition that the Saudis and UAE are paying for lavishly. But what is happening to Yemen cannot be condoned, or explained, by anyone who has a basic sense of humanity. It’s just pure evil. However, Isais Afwerki believes that condoning such an evil campaign against Yemen can get him a new lease of life, and he hopes the petrodollar power of Saudi Arabia and mainly the UAE can equip him to wreak further havoc in the region, primarily on the lives of Eritreans.
But worse, since Isaias cannot get any mileage from his regional gambling, he has begun to play a risky internal game with the Eritrean segments. This time, he is certainly pushing for a religious conflict in Eritrea, a country that proudly survived the destructive influence of the Saudi led intolerant version of Islam: Wahabism. And since his patrons, the Saudis, and Emirates, are against Qatar, he is conspiring to hide the destruction unleashed by their intolerant version of Islam in the region and in the entire world. Funnily, given the fact that the new target is Qatar, it appears the claim is that Islamist extremism is the creation of Qatar. But it is an open secret, and documented, which country nurtured and promoted that strain of Islam.
It would be a joke if it was not sad that now, purportedly, Saudi Wahhabism is kosher but Islamic Brotherhood is toxic! Luckily, anyone with a basic intellect can trace the inspiring ideology of all the recent upheavals in the world–starting from the Taliban, to Al Qaida, to ISIS, to Boko Haram, and all the bloody gangs–to the Wahabi teachings that the clergy of Saudi Arabia has been spreading all over the world starting from the Seventies.
Isaias can do what he pleases, but Eritreans have an agenda of their own.
“Sahwa”: An Awakening that Turned Reactionary
Since 1979, the petrodollar financed destruction under the guise of “Sahwa”, Islamic Awakening, has wrought destruction all over the world. It has besmirched the tolerant coexistence among the people of many countries like Eritrea. It has victimized Muslims wherever they reside, being criminalized by extension, and are still bearing the brunt of the blame for the Saudi bred and inspired extremism. And that is in addition to the alien teaching that severed social bonds among Muslims, by widening inter-religious gaps, and immensely widening gender-relations. Muslims are suffocating due to the intolerant and archaic social norms that were heavily pushed on helpless Muslim societies by the teachings of Wahabism.
Suddenly, in 2017, the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, decided to reverse the course of his country’s history and reform the rigid culture that was promoted for years as the only acceptable religious culture. We wish him luck and indeed, he has the money and he controls the territory where world Muslim extremism was born. He is counting on the support of the Trump administration to pursue his agenda and he might succeed given the crowds of Saudis, especially women, who suddenly felt like they were let out of a large prison where they were born and grew up. Importantly, he has the money and controls the territory where world Muslim extremism was born. Moreover, he has the clergy who have no qualms about switching direction and disavowing the crippling teachings they preached for decades–they are under his payroll. Therefore, if the crown prince succeeds in eradicating the extremism espoused by the dogmatic Wahabi establishment, it would be a welcome change. But who rectifies the damages that were inflicted on Muslims for four-decades and how?
However, the top to down change a presented in the prince’s 2030 vision seems to lack mechanisms of accountability and transparency like the disastrous war he is waging in Yemen–the two are hardly based on a winning formula
In 1979, a rebel named Juhaiman Al Utaibi, a fanatical leader and a band of tribesman occupied the Kaaba to affect the downfall of the ruling family. The unprecedented incident shook the Saudi establishment to the core and immedi ately the Saudi government threw itself into the laps of the fanatic Wahabi establishment which started to aggressively preach its version of Islam. The Mecca incident coincided with the overthrow of the Iranian government of the Saudi Ally, Shah Reza Pahlavi, by Ayatollah Khomeini. The Saudis and other Arab countries became jittery and cried ‘the Shia are coming’. They pushed Iraq, the only Arab country with a formidable military power, to spearhead the fight against the new Iranian government and they waged a ten-year war to choke the Khomeini-led revolution. Of course, they easily resorted to the historical Sunni-Shia rivalry and framed the confrontation as such. Ten years of destruction passed before Saddam Hussein suspected he was a pawn in a war that the Saudis and the West instigated. After a million souls were lost in the war, Saddam Hussein realized the war that devastated Iraq by pitting it against Iran was fruitless. In what seemed like a revenge, in 1990 Saddam sent his forces to overrun Kuwait, which they did in less than a day and marched towards Saudi Arabia—determined to overthrow the Saudi royal family. Nothing would have stopped him if the USA didn’t come to the rescue and stopped Saddam Hussein and his forces by pushing it out of Kuwait, averting the risk that Saudi Arabia faced.
Now, four decades after Juhaiman Al Utaibi’s 1979 Mecca challenge, Bin Salman wants to reenact the same tactics by framing his policies against Iran—take two of the Saudi led war for which he is arming himself to the teeth—as a sectarian war, contemplating to pitch Sunni Muslims against Shia Muslims. Of course, he is counting on the Sunnis of the world to rally behind him. But why would Muslims become pawns in such never-ending adventures? Isn’t the fire and brimstone raining over Yemen enough?
Muslims had gained nothing (and will gain nothing) from the futile Arab sectarian wars that have been raging for centuries: either self-initiated inter-Arab wars or between Arabs and Persians. Muslims have nothing to gain by becoming fuel for reckless wars and mayhem that would cripple the already immobile societies. Unfortunately, Eritrea’s Isaias is foolishly diving in.
Last week the Eritrean regime implicated Mohammed Jumaa, a private citizen, as a leader of a Qatari supported armed group being organized in Eastern Sudan. As laughable as it is, one cannot help but be amazed at the foolishness of the Eritrean regime. Mohammed Jumaa is an Eritrean who arrived in the UK as a refugee, a man known for his humbleness and tolerance. True, he is not fond of the Eritrean regime as most Eritreans, and he a Muslim believer, who promotes religious tolerance and coexistence. However, given that, since if you throw such allegations at any Muslim, some of it might stick given the bigotry that surrounds us all over the world—and the Eritrean ruling party wants that tool to stay alive, and is using his name. Hundreds of Muslims have paid dearly for the Saudi brigandage, and for Wahabi intolerance and violence, unleashed by gangs that sprung in intolerant communities, which have made Eritrean Muslims a target even by the most fanatical religious zealots.
It is of paramount importance that the world steps back and examines the political developments in the Red Sea and the Arabian Peninsula–it is a serious matter. It is also futile and unluckily for Eritreans that the government they have is irresponsible and doesn’t realize the gravity of the situation. Unfortunately, the behavior of the Eritrean regime illustrates where it is heading to, blindly.
Playing with Fire
In November of last year, some students in Asmara the capital marched in protest of the closure of their school and the arrest of the board director, Hajji Musa, the 93 years old man who died in a PFDJ prison where he was kept for over four months. At his funeral, a record number of mourners turned out and repeated “Allahu Akbar”, which translates to “God is greatest”, the same way Muslims did since 14 centuries ago. But the PFDJ government depicted them as extremists who shouted “divisive and sectarian” slogans. That, Muslims find beyond proof of malice and playing with fire.
There is no Eritrean who doesn’t know that Muslims invoke the name of Allah in almost all their utterance. Allahu Akbar is a phrase that Muslims repeat tens of times every single day privately, and in unison during the five mandatory prayers, every day. If that is considered sectarianism, then the government might think of forcefully converting all Muslims to other religions that do not require them to invoke the name of Allah.
The PFDJ ignores the fact that oppressed people can be tolerant, patient, and cool-headed, though for a time. But then they snap—it is unnatural to be under bondage forever and not resist. Resisting oppression is a universally recognized right of human beings. Forget the poor Mohammed Jumaa whom the Eritrean government chose as a poster boy for its sinister motives; it should remember the entire Eritrean people is poised to face them to stop their oppressor measures. Is the PFDJ that inept, that reckless, not to be able to read the political situation? Do they think they can monopolize guns alone, forever?
Finally, it is worth noting that responsible Eritreans have been avoiding becoming accomplices in the scenario that the ruling party has been dying to create for the last twenty-eight years. For an avid reader of the situation, it is obvious that the patience has run out. And that could be the reason why the PFDJ is trying to play the religious card as a last resort to stay in power. And it is amazing to what length the Isaias regime can go, and how low it can go, just to stay in power at the cost of the nation!
It’s an established fact in history books that all tyrants read the same playbook. They always resort to igniting sectarian and regional conflicts to weaken the nation so that they can stay in power unchallenged. Therefore, there is no surprise that Isaias will massage raw nerves to pit Eritreans against each other to continue riding on their backs. What Eritreans and the world need to remember is, if unrest or violence breaks up in Eritrea, it is instigated, caused, and led by the PFDJ’s destructive and oppressive regime. No one else.
If what happened to Somalia and Yemen is any indication, the Saudi and UAE care less about what happens to post-Isaias Eritrea. The matter is critical, therefore, the supporters of the Isaias regime need to ponder about the situation when Isaias decides to switch his—he went from Libya to Qatar, and now to Saudi & UAE—a gamble that might leave Eritrea with more death and destruction.