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“May You Beget A Black Cat”

In 1986 a border conflict erupted between Qatar and Bahrain over the ownership of the Hawar Islands (Fisht AlDibal). Qatari forces arrested 29 workers sent by Bahrain on a construction job. Soon, Saudi Arabia succeeded in mediating and securing the release of the prisoners; in 1994, the case was resolved by the international court under the presiding judge, the late Sir Elihu Laurepacht (the same judge who presided over the 1998-2000 border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea).

Qatar had recruited Sudanese soldiers who flooded the Qatari embassy in Khartoum and when it registered enough, it stopped recruiting. A crowd who hoped to be recruited lingered at the embassy in disappointment. Then, an excited man came ringing the bell of his bicycle and shouted, “Bahrain is recruiting, go to the embassy.” The crowd raced towards the Bahraini embassy. Both countries recruited substantial number of Sudanese soldiers.

I lived in Bahrain at the time and found out that a childhood acquaintance was working for the Bahraini government. One Friday I and my wife went to visit him in his house and there we found a group of Sudanese soldiers spending the weekend. He was a generous host and no wonder the equally generous Sudanese liked him.

In a conversation with one of the soldiers I asked him, “how do you feel about finding Sudanese soldiers on the two sides of the conflict, a long distance away from your country?” He said, “Oh, I want the battles to start; my old captain in the Sudanese army is now on the Qatari side, I wish I will get my hands on him…he was mistreating me!”

The poor soldier had no stake in the conflict, it seems he was there for a vendetta! Do you see parallels here?

Some Diaspora Eritreans are vested in the inter-Ethiopian conflict for vengeance, ego, or just to settle personal scores.

Napoléon’s 1798 – 1801 invasion of Egypt 

The discovery of the Rosseta Stone in 1799 by a young engineering officer, Pierre-François-Xavier Bouchard, is a significant discovery made by Napoleon’s expedition. It contains a decree, a sort of a proclamation issued on behalf of King Ptolemy in Memphis, Egypt, about 200 years before CE. The stone is inscribed in hieroglyphs and other scripts–a sort of a multi-lingual proclamation of several articles: it mentions the time the king was enthroned, the gods of the time–Horus, Raa, and PtaH. And it describing the king as the ‘the brother-loving god, Ptolemy, His Majesty, the King of the South and North, the ever-living, the beloved of Ptaḥ, the god who maketh himself manifest.’

Incidentally, the famous language institute Rosetta Stone is named after it. The stone helped in deciphering ancient Egyptian and other scripts—probably one of the oldest multi-lingual engraved scripts. One wonders: what would the medieval clergy of the Horn of Africa region, who tip one ethnic group against the other and curse, “may they beget a black cat,” inscribe on the Rosseta Stone had one of them been Ptolemy!

Comparing Corporal Mokennen and Officer Pierre Bouchard

When Napoleon invaded Egypt, he didn’t bring marauding, illiterate militia forces; he brought along 167 scientists and scholars, deploying an intellectual powerhouse which “included, engineers and artists, geologists, mathematicians, chemists, physicists, naturalists, botanists– most of them very notable. However, it’s ironic that a French general invades Egypt with a mission to “civilize” a country that has known civilization thousands of years before Europe. But that is what happens when civilizations decay. The 5000-year-old wrongly called Pharonic civilization lasted until 30 BC and it decayed.

There is no Egyptian king known as a Pharoah except one and he is king Pharaoh who ruled during the exodus of Moses. His name was retroactively applied to all ancient Rgyptian kings who have names of their own. There were kings (some promoted to gods) like Ramses, Khufu, Amenhotep, Ankh Amun, Ptah, Osiris, Horus, etc. And the pyramids “were not graves, some kings have three or four pyramids—does it mean they are buried in all of them?” Such widely held general assumptions are being challenged by the likes of Dr. Waseem AlSisi whose books and lectures are very informative.

In the 18th century, Egypt had degenerated so much that a French general would come to civilize it. Egypt that stands on the land of the pyramids, was at the mercy of Western civilizers—it was Napoleon who introduced the printing press to Egypt. What a contrast. And just like Egyptians of today cannot claim to have a 5000-year-old uninterrupted civilization, as if they are still living in the ancient time, the Abyssinian should learn their 3000-year-old fables are not worth mentioning in politics. What the claimed 3000-year-old civilization has produced so far, or where it has ended to, is on display.

Napoleon did contribute to the development of Egypt starting with his original aim at helping, “the army by opening a Suez Canal, mapping out roads and building mills to supply food… founded the Institut d’Égypte with the aim of propagating Enlightenment values in Egypt.”

By contrast, when Haile Selassie occupied Eritrea, he brought illiterate soldiers and didn’t add any value to the state of Eritrea except death, dehumanization, poverty and displacement. Let’s take Corporal Mokonnen as a sample of what the occupation brought to Eritrea.

As young adults, we had a corner store where we lingered most of the time. Mokonnen frequented the area and gradually he felt at ease to mingle and chat with us. Everytime he returned from one of the many military campaigns, he would tell us his escapades and how the Ethiopian forces decimated the liberation combatants: we killed 200, 300, etc.

Once a drunk Ethiopian soldiers joined us and we were chatting when Mokennen walked towards the corner store. He started to talk badly about him and we asked why he hated Mokonnen. He is a nobody, he said. But he is a soldier and is fighting the “bandits” like you. The drunk soldier said, “this guy, he never been in a battle; he is the personal servant of Captain Daniel—he washes his socks and makes him tea—he never fired a bullet in his life.” Maybe Mokonnen was overcompensating his weak role within the fighting forces!

One day Mokonnen wanted to illustrate how emperor Haile Selassie was invincible. He walked towards the wall and started to push it with all his might. He turned towards us and asked, ‘did the wall move?’ We said, no, it didn’t. Pointing at the wall he declared, ‘Haile Sellasie is just like that, no one can defeat him.’

The Napoleonic campaign in Egypt (1798–1801)

When Napoleon sailed to Egypt, he wrote a proclamation from aboard his ship to the Egyptians; he complained the Mameluke rulers has mistreated French traders. The “Georgian and Caucasian Slaves” the Memloukes, have brutalized Egypt and its people and that God, “has ordained that their empire shall end.” He said, don’t believe those who tell you we “come to destroy your religion,” And that he came to restore their rights, and he respects God, his prophet and the Quran more than the Mamluks. “we are true friends of Muslims. Wasn’t it us who destroyed the Knights of Malta? Wasn’t it us who destroyed the Pope who used to say that he had a duty to make war on Muslims? Wasn’t it us who have at all times been friends to the Great Lord and enemies to his enemies?”

He ended his message by stating, “Thrice happy are those who will be with us! They shall prosper in their fortune and in their rank. Happy are those who will be neutral! They will get to know us over time and join their ranks with ours. But unhappy, thrice unhappy, are those who shall … fight against us! There shall be no hope for them, they shall perish.” Then he told his soldiers to  remember that 40 centuries of history looking at them from the top of these pyramids, 40 centuries.

The Fable that became a cannon

Ethiopians boast that they have 3000 years of history behind them, that their first king is the son of Minelik and the Queen of Sheba a hoof legged woman, and many other fables. Yet, they cannot show anything for the 3000 year-history! They can only show dependence, bloodshed, atrocities, illiteracy, and disease., they develop something modest and destroy it every generation or so, just like they are doing now. In about eight months, they have already destroyed much of what they built over the last three decades. And it has been so since the so-called Solomonic dynasty came to power in the 13th century. It’s disappointing to see intellectuals as well as illiterate peasants all posing to spill each other’s blood for trivial reasons.

Twenty years ago I wrote, since at the end of the day you will sit and sign an end to the hostilities, why don’t you get over with it before spilling more blood. Sarcastically I urged them to do it and offered to donate a tablecloth for the desk on which they will sign the final agreement. That old offer they didn’t take twenty years ago, and instead chose to waste the lives of close to a hundred thousand lives, is still valid. This time I will offer a silk tablecloth. And my Eritrean compatriots, who are creative in finding reasons why they should take sides in the inter-Ethiopian civil war, I urge them to tell me what is the difference between the warring Ethiopian forces as far as Eritrean is concerned? Do you think Isaias Afwerki is involved in the war for the sake of Eritrean interest? Think again.

Those of you who cheered for the war in 1998-2000, are repeating the same mistake—but you are sure you will not lose anything in it. Just like the Sudanese soldiers in the Bahraini-Qatari conflict of 1986 that I told you above.

About Saleh "Gadi" Johar

Born and raised in Keren, Eritrea, now a US citizen residing in California, Mr. Saleh “Gadi” Johar is founder and publisher of awate.com. Author of Miriam was Here, Of Kings and Bandits, and Simply Echoes. Saleh is acclaimed for his wealth of experience and knowledge in the history and politics of the Horn of Africa. A prominent public speaker and a researcher specializing on the Horn of Africa, he has given many distinguished lectures and participated in numerous seminars and conferences around the world. Activism Awate.com was founded by Saleh “Gadi” Johar and is administered by the Awate Team and a group of volunteers who serve as the website’s advisory committee. The mission of awate.com is to provide Eritreans and friends of Eritrea with information that is hidden by the Eritrean regime and its surrogates; to provide a platform for information dissemination and opinion sharing; to inspire Eritreans, to embolden them into taking action, and finally, to lay the groundwork for reconciliation whose pillars are the truth. Miriam Was Here This book that was launched on August 16, 2013, is based on true stories; in writing it, Saleh has interviewed dozens of victims and eye-witnesses of Human trafficking, Eritrea, human rights, forced labor.and researched hundreds of pages of materials. The novel describes the ordeal of a nation, its youth, women and parents. It focuses on violation of human rights of the citizens and a country whose youth have become victims of slave labor, human trafficking, hostage taking, and human organ harvesting--all a result of bad governance. The main character of the story is Miriam, a young Eritrean woman; her father Zerom Bahta Hadgembes, a veteran of the struggle who resides in America and her childhood friend Senay who wanted to marry her but ended up being conscripted. Kings and Bandits Saleh “Gadi” Johar tells a powerful story that is never told: that many "child warriors" to whom we are asked to offer sympathies befitting helpless victims and hostages are actually premature adults who have made a conscious decision to stand up against brutality and oppression, and actually deserve our admiration. And that many of those whom we instinctively feel sympathetic towards, like the Ethiopian king Emperor Haile Sellassie, were actually world-class tyrants whose transgressions would normally be cases in the World Court. Simply Echoes A collection of romantic, political observations and travel poems; a reflection of the euphoric years that followed Eritrean Independence in 1991.

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  • Brhan

    Hello Saleh,
    Thanks …what an episode! I have to add this and want to know your view

    The Eritrean connection – to the French invasion to Egypt 1798 – 1801 or, in other words, what do France, Egypt and Eritrea have in common: The great Egyptian historian Abd al-Rahman al-Jabarti who is a descendant of an Eritrean family.
    His diaries about the French presence Tarikh muddat al-faransis bi-misr (The History of the Period of the French Occupation in Egypt), completed in late 1798, Mazhar al-taqdis bi-zawal dawlat al-faransis (Demonstration of Piety in the Demise of French Society), completed in December 1801,give detailed info about that period.

    • Saleh Johar

      Ahlan Brhan,
      Of course Abdulrahim AlJeberti is the supreme authority on the history of the period and he has written volumes. By the way, the origin of AlJeberti is traced to ZeilaeE. He has also written extensively about the Memlouki rule and AAzhar.

      • Brhan

        Ya Marhab Saleh,
        A lot can be said about Al Jeberti
        A campus / dormitory was named after him / Rwaq Al Jeberit to host students from East Africa in the oldest university of Africa, Al Azhar University.
        Before he death, he wrote a will that a portion of his wealth to be giving as a scholarship to East African students mainly, Eritreans and Ethiopians and this benefit continued to late 80s of the last century. I do not know if students are still benefiting from it.
        Last but not least he was criticized by both the Egyptians and French with regard to the French stay in Egypt. This shows that he tried t show the strong and weak sides of the the two.

        Question : J as G. The Egyptians as well as Yemnis pronounce it with the Egyptian J which G. In your analysis if ቱጃር ቱጋር results ትግራይ can ጀበርቲ ገበርቲ results ግብርና /ሕርሻ ሓረስቶት
        Al hadith Ha Yakoon Taweel …bas kifaya kida!

  • Haile S.

    Selam Saleh,

    Seriously, Tantarwa again (in your audio)! ድሓን’ዶ? ኣነ ከምዝመስለኒ ወልፊ Tantarwa ሒዙካ ኣሎ። ድገሙኒ ሰልሱኒ … ትብል ኣለኻ? 😁.

    Since you are not satisfied by my previous effort, let me take you somewhere else (ምንያ ኾለል), Tantura was a palestinian village near Haifa. It was a military depot for Napoleon. Not that interesting!

    There is another more interesting place (Taranto) in Italy, Tarantao is a small city in Italy’s heel where one of the famous Napoleon’s Generals Thomas Alexander Dumas was imprisoned. Dumas was born from a slave mother and a French Marquis (nobleman) in one of the french islands. Dumas (Dûma) is the mother’s last name. In Egypt General Dumas defied Napoleon and decided to go back to France. On the way he was obliged to stop in Italy (Taranto) where the Italian prince of the area imprisoned him. This brave General gave us the great author Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Count of Monte Cristo, one of early books to be translated to tigrigna or amharic.

    Leaving aside the Tarantas, there is one Ethiopian and one Eritrean connections to Napoleon or his Egyptian campaign.

    – The Ethiopian connection: This is a rarely or not at all mentioned history. Ethiopian slaves were massively bought from the Egyptian market and caravan and incorporated under General Kléber’s Army and fought in the General’s war against the turks at Heliopolis north of Cairo. Now, we are not sure if there were Abyssinians (Abyssinians were sold as slaves as well) among them or they were slaves that were hunted from the various peripheral lands.

    – The Eritrean (indirect) connection: Many historians wrote volumes of books on Napoleon and/or his expedition. One of the illustrious among them is Clément De La Jonquière who also happens to write a well documented history and one of the first books on Eritrea “Les Italiens en Érythrée” just before the turn of the 19th century.

    እዚኣ ዎ ድሓንካ!

    • Saleh Johar

      HaileS,
      It’s over. TemaHirka alekha:-)
      Now it’s conformed from several sources including from Ethiopian Agaw and Kerenite Blina. It meams a street in a city. I am done.