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Nothing Irreconcilable in Ethiopian-Arab Cultures

Th following is a comment at the Awate Forum in reply to Semere Tesfai’s comment linked here.

1. There is nothing irreconcilable between the “cultures, faiths” of Ethiopia and the Middle East. True, they are a sea apart (geographically) but there is much shared history, not to mention faith (assuming the Islamic identity of Ethiopia is not superficial) between the two. Irreconcilable would be, for example, capitalism vs communism or theism vs atheism. Abbysinia is simply the core of Ethiopia and to define Ethiopia by reference to “Abyssinia” is akin to foreigners referring to the US as “yankees.”

2. The rapprochement between Eritrea and Ethiopia is a rapprochement of governments and their supporters. Even the much ballyhooed “people-to-people” Eritrean cultural troupe concert now underway in Ethiopia is that between government employees. Almost all the Eritrean musicians are. Almost all who interviewed them are state employees (Ethiopian state media.) They are welcomed by government officials and hosted at government-owned facilities where they can sing songs of people prevented from entering Eritrea (eg. they sang Osman Abdulrahim’s “quxri slki.”) or Yemane Barya’s song welcoming the Eritrean National Assembly (now non-existent); how we conducted Hjum on the Ethiopian enemy (Zemach) or how we are few but we always defeat our [Ethiopian] enemies (wedi Tkul.) Peace–the absence of war, the facilitation of people and goods–is a great thing. But it is happening now for the same reason it was denied before: it serves the interests of the governments. And as such, it is not deeply-rooted. Because the culture of telling casual lies (we have assembly; we treasure all our artists; we are done with war) continues unabated. And will do so for as long as the culture of Isaias Afwerki reigns.

3. I believe your characterization of Qey Bahrachn (“our Red Sea”) as emanating from Tigrayan and Amhara elites is characteristically Eritrean and also wrong. Our (Eritrean) problem is we think anyone who speaks Amharic is Amhara. But this is our ignorance of Ethiopia talking. Some of the most militant Qey Bahrachn are not Amhara or Tigrayan: they are Gurage, Oromo (Team Lemma), Gamo, Weliyta, Sidama, etc. Since we Eritreans have had a long history of miscalculation (resulting in 20 out of the last 28 years in some kind of war or sanction or both), perhaps it is time for us to humble ourselves and acknowledge we don’t know Ethiopia as much as we think we do. The most relevant part (to me) is that the so-called Team Lemma (whose reform in Ethiopia I greatly admire) has been very coy about the Red Sea and very blunt about its ambitions to have naval forces. If TPLF said half the things Abiy and Lemma say, we would be filing complaints with the UN about how our sovereignty is being threatened.

4. Your assessment of TPLF (descending) is not supported by the facts. We can talk about the need for Eritrea to be flexible (theory) but the TPLF practices it: just yesterday, it reconciled with itself: members who had been arrested or kicked out in previous power squabbles were welcomed. In contrast, Eritrea’s ruling party is on a constant path of “Tesfiya” (purification): in his last interview, PIA stated that those who advocate demarcation and those who say “let’s learn from our recent history and go slow” are wiseguys and know-nothings who should be challenged. The same dismissal of different opinion. One thing the TPLF politics has done is remove the taboo of ethnic identity in Ethiopia so now you have the Amhara embracing ethnic identity (they have media called Amhara Media; political party called Amhara, etc.) Many of them are One-Ethiopia guys who firmly believe that (a) they never lost the war in Eritrea; (b) Eritreans ARE Ethiopians and (c) they have legal, moral, historical claim to the Sea. What is our argument to them: “Eritrea is recognized by the UN, etc, etc?” That’s it? Sounds a lot like what Eritreans used to say when you used to talk to them about the threat of Weyane.

5. Your “Ethio-Eritrean close relation is inversely proportional to the distance between Asmara and the dominant Ethiopian ethnicity in Addis Ababa (Menelik Palace) – the further the better” sounds like a neat Mathematical formula. Now all you have to do is support it with facts. Some would say Ahmed Gragn came from a very, very far place and many of our people (in the Eritrean highlands) have terrible memories of him. Abiy Ahmed’s hero, “Abba Jafer,” is from Jimma, not exactly next door to Addis, and he was not exactly Mr. Modernity. How do you know someone from Somali region of Ethiopia or the Southern part of Ethiopia is not going to be terrible for Eritrea? Yet another example of our terrible miscalculation based on untested theories? How is it that those most opposed to viewing things ethnically in Eritrea are very, very comfortable doing it in Ethiopia? Shouldn’t we base the firmness of our relationship based on democratic values and not what ethnicity people belong to?

6. With all due respect, of all your points, the most disheartening is your last one. This “lets put pressure on our government to pressure Weyane” thing. It is comical at so many levels (A.) We have no pressure mechanism over the government of Eritrea: we don’t elect them and they don’t depend on our donation. Unless running a count-down clock, Meskerem-style, is “pressure”; (B.) Abiy sees Tigrayan people as HIS people (one of the many reasons I am a fan) and he is not going to do anything that disrupts, inconveniences them. At a public meeting (in the US), he has said that is a problem that he is going to low-prioritize for now because, he said, it is also a problem for Eritrea; (C) Isaias has said this is not a priority for him now; (D) there is nothing in the Algiers Agreement or the EEBC ruling that prevents both governments to come up with alternative solutions so long as both agree to them and you can bet they will.

Is it lack of legal political pluralism in Eritrea that gets people all worked up whenever they read what they consider inconsistent points? For example, Rush Limbaugh who used to rail against executive overreach when Obama was in charge now supports Trumps executive overreach. In the same manner, it doesn’t surprise me one bit when those who were railing “DEMARCATION NOW!” when Weyane was in charge say “it is not a priority” now; and when those who were saying “it is not a priority” are now saying “DEMARCATION NOW!” It is called politics and there is an art to it. Those who were casually accusing any dissident of being a traitor are now being called traitors. C’est la vie.

About Saleh Younis

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  • Teddy Alemu

    In this day and age, the world is coming together thru globalization and thru economic union to build safe and peaceful world. They got rid of their physical borders to have the free flow of people and goods for their benefit. We the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia (deny it or not) have a lot in common historically and thru blood ties than let say Greeks and Germans (who have built strong ties within the EU). Ethiopia and Eritrea can have a bright future as two brotherly countries living in peace together for generations to come. Governments come and go but the people will always be there.

  • Nitricc

    HI all; I read Hadas Eritrea whenever I get the time and when I read it, I read everything. First I print it out and read the entire section. I read the court’s announcements, job postings and even the dead announcements. And today I was shell shocked to read this….

    ቤት ፍርዲ ሸሪዓ ኣስመራ
    ከሳሲት ሲቲ ማሓመድ ዓሊ፡ ተኸሳሲ ጀማል ወሃብረብ ሰራጀ ክሲ ቀሪብልካ ስለ ዘሎ፣ ብኣካል ወይ ብወኪል፡ ን21/3/19 ኣብ ቤ/ፍ ቅረብ። እንተዘይቀሪብካ ጉዳይካ ኣብ ዘየለኻሉ ክረአን ክውሰንን ምዃኑ ነፍልጥ። ኢክራም ዑመር ያሲን፡ በዓል-ቤተይ ስዒድ ዓብደልቃድር ኣሕመድ ስለዝሞተ፡ ኣነ ምስ 3 ደቁን ወላዲቱን ወረስቲ ምዃንና ይረጋገጸልና ስለዝበለት፣ ዝቃወም እንተሎ፡ ን7/3/19 ኣብ ቤ/ፍ ይቕረብ።

    I have always read ” komawi Bet Frdi Asmara, Keren and all the rest but Never did I read
    ቤት ፍርዲ ሸሪዓ ኣስመራ!!!!!!! I remember SAAY mentioning that there is Sheri’a court in Eritrea but didn’t believe him. Well, Sorry SAAY; I stand corrected. If this is the case what was the problem with the Akria debacle? The more I think I knew the more I know jack.

  • Teddy

    Dear Eritreans,

    I agree with the point that Eritreans do not understand amharas, the same thing can be applied to oromos, southern ethiopian and even amharas themselves. due to the propaganda that was propagated since the student movements everyone is a victim of this propaganda. Just because someone speaks amharic does not make them amhara. this is the reason why amharas are organizing to reverse this propaganda. are there amharas that wants claim Asab as theirs of course, but its not more than any other tribes in Ethiopia. They are a minority compared to the population. Amahara people have shown that they care for Eritreans as much as any other Ethiopians. Even during the tough times they have sided with Eritreans, during the 98 war amharas protected them at their own risk to make sure they arrive safely to Eritrea. Even today amharas are the only one returning Eritreans property back to the owner, here is one of the many stories that was observed after the peace.

    As for ethnicity of past Ethiopian leaders, here is the breakdown.
    Abiy Ahmed—-Oromo/amhara
    Hailemariam Desalegn—Wolayta
    Meles Zenawi —-Tigrai
    Mengistu Haile Mariam—oromo/amhara
    Atse Haile Selassie—oromo/amhara/Gurage
    Lij Eyasu—-oromo
    Atse Minelik—-oromo/amhara
    Atse Yohanes—Tigrai
    Atse Tewodros—-Amhara

    For some reason we selectively choose amhara as the evil tribe of Ethiopia, even when evidence suggests otherwise.

    • Haile S.

      Selam Teddy,

      You forgot the only ruling queen Zewditu after Guditu. BTW, queens Sheba and ህንዳኬ (Candace) are claimed by others in the region; therefore not uniquely Ethiopian/Abyssinian.

      • Teddy


        You are absolutely right, I forgot about Zewditu, she is the daughter of Minelik, she is oromo and amhara mix as well. Thank you for the correction.

  • saay7

    Selamat all:

    Pardon a one-fits-all response.

    Nitricc: the comparison was set by Semere and it is between “the Abyssinian power with Western support and Arabian power supported by sympathetic Muslim countries.” Many of the countries you listed don’t apply, and one is not even “Arab” country even if it belongs to the Arab League(Djibouti.) Remember, Semere said “culture and faith”: on faith, they are majority Muslim but Ethiopia has more Muslim population than many of them combined. And consistently Ethiopia ranks in survey after survey as one of the most religious countries in the world. On culture, on many of the things that matter–paternalism, literacy rates, ancient cultures, values–there is a lot of overlap.

    Hayat: I sensed you would pick on that. In fairness to Semere, he is not talking about populations but the elite. Question is do the Ethiopian elite identify as themselves as Muslims the way most in Arab nations do? I would say it was SUPERFICIAL in the past but in the age of “Africa’s new talisman”* where the highest ranking ministers are Muslim women with head scarves. If that were to happen in Eritrea, all our “secular” friends here would have total meltdown.

    Hameed: I disagree:) You judge the character of an organization when it is at the zenith of its power. And at the zenith of its power, TPLF was as threatening to Eritrea’s sovereignty as you now think Abiy Ahmed is.

    Some of the other responses were in the other (Semere’s) thread and I now can’t remember them.


    * FT article where Abiy Ahmed lives up to every stereotype that TPLF defined him as:)

    • FishMilk

      Hi saay7. I am simply shocked! You are lowering yourself to stupificial religious levels of communication. No if, ands or buts! Thought that this was beyond you! Grave mistake in judgement!

    • Senay Zer

      Dear Saay — PMAA is very ambitious, swift and bold in the way he does things and (if not him) his team is very crafty. His personality and the way he talks may sound superficial, and that makes it easy to mock him. I have suspected, as many Eritreans did – and following his interview with FT, fairly convinced – that PMAA is determined to get sea access to his country. He will cajole PIA, may be even use force when opportune time comes, to achieve this goal. Nothing superficial or mocking material about that.

  • Nitricc

    Nothing Irreconcilable in Ethiopian-Arab Cultures

    Hi All; I was intrigued by the title and I did some digging and the only similarity I found between Ethiopian and Arab culture is ” The Old Testament’s and Qur’an’s passages that advocate “an eye for an eye” dominate Arab culture. The Arabs will behead you and the Ethiopians will hang you upside down. Anything else, I don’t see anything in common.
    Arab countries are; “Algeria, Bahrain, the Comoros Islands, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. Iran and Turkey are not Arab countries.” please look at those countries and you tell me what you can reconcile out it

  • Hayat Adem

    Dear readers,
    I have reacted to this piece earlier before it was upgraded. I loved then and I am happy this is upgraded. To be honest, I was not impressed by Semere Tesfay’s piece. But I am glad, it provoked Saay to give us this one. I only have one point to bring to the attention of Saay.
    Saay you said : (assuming the Islamic identity of Ethiopia is not superficial). That phrase is flagging something. Do you doubt the genuineness of the Islamic Identity in Ethiopia? Or better said would be: why did you find it necessary to use that hiphenated assumption?
    Thanks in advance

  • Selam All,

    Can we say that any movement of people to another country (e.g as a refugee) is a sort of rapprochement, especially when in the case of ethiopia that country is said to be their enemy, through brain-washing for so-long by their elites and the regime in asmara? If so, this rapprochement of the people had been happening all through before governments woke up from their self-induced deep slumber.

    “We are few but we always defeat our [Ethiopian] enemies”, “against all odds” and many others expressions of bravado, were the drugs the elites fed the people, which culminated in the 1998-2000 miscalculated debacle. It seems that history is being repeated in tigray by tplf, when debretsion beats the drum of war (we are preparing our weapons, we will annihilate them if they come, tplf ethnic federals and tplf constitution are our red lines, and we would not allow anybody to meddle with them, etc.). Nobody knows if it is the manifestation of fear or bravery. The horn area continues to suffer from absence of rationality.

    The landlocked status of ethiopia is indeed a national issue that concerns every ethiopian who lives in that country, because it affects their security, their livlihood and their economy, and it is true that it is not about this or that ethnic groups, for or against. All ethiopians are against landlockedness. No ethiopian ethnic group except mz/tplf, voted with their words and deeds to landlock ethiopia. The referendum was the same, nevertheless, in this case, ethiopians i believe do not have a problem with eritrean independence, but the fact that it resulted in the landlocked status of 100mn people today, to become more than 180mn within the next generation around 2050, makes landlocked ethiopia unsustainable economically and geopolitically.

    About 150 yrs later, bolivia that was landlocked by chile after the war in the 19th century, still struggles for her rightful access to the outside world. Landlockedness and the bizarre borders were important issues when africa came out of colonialism and borders were created. Many african and world intellectuals had made an alarm call that it will create instability. Nevertheless, colonial masters for their own sinister reasons dumped the idea by saying that it was equivalent to opening the pandora’s box, even though they knew it was already open. It helped them to keep africa in continuous wars and underdeveloped, so that they will indirectly remain under their control to be exploited forever. Now, european leaders are scared that the mass exodus from africa and the middle east is going to swallow them, which will get worse due to climate change, drought and famine,

    Tplf making a reconciliation move, one should know, is out of necessity due to its precarious position. The other wing of tplf that was kicked out by mz, and eritreans are also being called to the tplf fold, forgetful of the destructive war + two decades of no-war-no-peace that more or less destroyed eritrea. For tplf, there is no limit, everything and everybody is to be used for its sinister plans. They do not know the adage “የወጋ ቢረሳ የተወጋ ኣይረሳም፣”. They have even called on OLF and the somali state to stand by their side hoodwinking them with the constitution and ethnic federalism, which they say Abiy is ready to erase, which would destroy everything oromo’s and somalis fought for. These people know that it was a lie, and therefore, olf is disarming itself and entering camps, and the vice-president of somali state told tplf, if i may paraphrase, “if you feel lonely and cold, manage it by yourselves. We are satisfied and stable where we are.”

    Yes indeed. Tplf has “removed the taboo of ethnic identity in Ethiopia”. Nevertheless, what it could not do was to unplug ethiopianism from the ethiopian psyche. Today, an oromo, a somali, afari, etc, every ethnic group for that matter, has no taboo in calling itself an ethiopian on top of their ethnic identity. Ethiopia and Ethiopianism were the things tplf came to destroy, and it failed miserable, and today tplf is trimmed to its natural size to wither away with time inits enclave, while ethiopia and ethiopianism will flourish to the disappointment of anti-ethiopianists. .

    Finally, ST’s theory of “Ethio-Eritrean close relation is inversely proportional to the distance between Asmara and the dominant Ethiopian ethnicity in Addis Ababa”: the way i understand it is that these ethnic groups have nothing to share with eritreans, as much as history, social life, and geo-politics are concerned, and therefore they do not have an axe to grind with eritrea. Nevertheless, this could also be apathy, absence of interest, and not the presence of love. It is not possible to say that the future will always be the same as saay insinuates, because, simply because they never had a close contact with eritreans. They may not have anything to demand, but they will have nothing to give. If they come to power at the center. they will be forced to follow the policy of the national interest of the country, which may come in conflict with that of eritrea. Therefore, what matters most is not the person at the helm, but the policy each country follows towards each other,

    • FishMilk

      Hi Horizon. I understand your concerns with Ethiopia being a landlocked country with a large and rapidly growing population. Small landlocked European countries such as Switzerland with a small and constant population have done quite well but obviously Ethiopia being the most populated landlocked country in the world is quite different. I will also admit that this concern was something that I thought about before and after May 24, 1991. I personally believe that the only viable long-term solution is to afford Ethiopia preferential (not custodial control) use of Assab through a long-term renewable lease arrangement (i.e. 50 years).

      • sara

        dear fishmilk–
        since you sound very generous , why dont you advise the Djibouti to lease their port to ethiopia for 100 years , instead of eritrea giving Asab to ethiopia for 50 years. at least the Djibouti are already in good terms with ethiopia..
        so that we dont see any blood any more.

    • Selamat Horizon,

      You say:
      “Can we say that any movement of people to another country (e.g as a refugee) is a sort of rapprochement, especially when in the case of ethiopia that country is said to be their enemy, through brain-washing for so-long by their elites and the regime in asmara? If so, this rapprochement of the people had been happening all through before governments woke up from their self-induced deep slumber.”

      It is not so. It cannot be considered a rapprochement of sorts because it was part of the overall strategy we know as “no war no peace” policy. It was a value bet by the TPLF to capitalize from the crisis of Eritrean refugees the strangulation strategy created. The kind good acts would gain it good public relations, favorable outlook towards it by Eritreans, and further defections weakening its enemy. It was not rapprochement in that there is an absence of the reciprocal from the other side. Barring those who joined and actively opposed the Eritrean regime with encouragement and support from the TPLF, most refugees simply viewed the favorable treatments as a means to an end and a transit to elsewhere in the world. There was no propaganda and hate for Ethiopia propaganda that caused the refugees to view Ethiopia as an enemy. The prolonging of the war specifically the “no war no peace” policy that was the cause of all their misery was sufficient.


    • Hameed Al-Arabi

      Hi Horizon,

      I would like to draw your attention that Eritreans flee to Ethiopia even during Haile Selassie and Mengistu. This doesn’t mean they loved Ethiopia. All Eritreans who were living in Ethiopia voted for independence of Eritrea. Do you know why your government deported Eritreans during the war in 1998-2000? The answer is simple, they are not loyal to Ethiopia, but they are loyal to their homeland Eritrea. Those who are crossing to Ethiopia at present doesn’t explain that they hate Eritrea and love Ethiopia. Do you want Eritreans to love you by force, …?

      Ethiopia could use Eritrean ports without possessing them. The ports and sea possessors are Eritreans only. Ethiopians should respect Eritrea’s sovereignty to utilize her ports. If Ethiopia insisted to put her hands on Eritrea again, a concrete wall will be inevitable. The concrete wall will be built first inside the hearts of Eritreans before on actual ground; Ethiopia will remain Eritreans enemy to doomsday. Ethiopian elites don’t want to take lessons from near history.


  • Brhan

    Merhaba Saleh
    As usual you are engaging us into good discussions
    #1) I believe religion and culture role in uniting one people against other people are diminishing in the middle east or horn of Africa . Recently we saw the elite in Tigray say that Sudanese are close to their heart than the Amhara: They ( Orthodox Christina and Abyssinian see their interest with the Sudan ( Muslin and Arab) is more important than with Amhara ( Orthodox and Abyssinian). The ,Saudi ( the custodians of Mecaa and Medina ) are dealing with Isays and they know he even arrested Islamic school children simply because they demonstrated peacefully. The Saudis see their interest is with Isayas than with the motto they claim. It is all about political interest and gone are the days of christian island , Oruuba, Sahwa Islamiya. The politicians love religion and culture for one reason : it can serve their interest.
    #2) I like your analysis on the music tour but Music is universal. Asmarino Eritreans during the Derg, loved Ephrem Tamuru, Melkamu Tebeje, Ali Bira…why because of the love songs and the lyrics. Even Tilahun was beloved by some despite of his song ” wedefit belulet yleylet…..I do not know what a difference will make for an Ethiopian ( non-tigrayan) if he listens to the Gulya of Wedi Tukhul or Abebe Araya…bother are Kuda
    Mengistu and Numeri went to stage and sang Ikhwan Ikhwan but never became Ikhwan
    If there is no healthy political will in both sides ..songs will go like water vapor..and they will because the whole rapprochement is based on denial of Eritrea’s real problems…absence of rule of law, freedom of speech and democracy
    3. Let us all hear about team Somali, Afar, Debub, Gambela, Ben Shangul ….team lema + team Godu can not decide about the other teams ,if they insist , then they can have a new map which can be a nightmare for their supporters….Team Lemma is doing like our Egyptian friends say ” Istihlak Mahali” for local consumption
    4) TPLF three points a) TPLF is Tigray people and the vice versa …it is an elephant in the room…people has to deal with it instead of saying the two are different ….2) they have the ability to quickly build military power and with many veterans 3) Isays and Abiy know #1 and #2 like they know the palms of their hands….Ye Tegna Anbesa At qesqsu ylu neber Janhoy……God for bid if Abiy , tried to taste them by force , it will be catastrophic for both sides ….The issue will be not who will start the fight but who can stay longer in the fight
    5) I can not agree with that a someone from Somali region will be terrible to Ethiopia…It never happened …To the contrary Somali have always historical solidarity with Eritreans
    Amhara were terrible, Tigrayns Terrible ( with the expetion of TPLF during our armed struggle) , Amharized Oromos Terrible but not Somali…give one example , one Moto Aleka Somali then I will salute
    6) I agree with you

    at the end Shukran ya Salih Pasha!!

    • Teodros Alem

      Selam brhan
      u said religion and culture don’t have a role uniting people in the horn of africa, but interest?
      my question is what will be sudan or eritrea or amara interest towards tigrai? what kind of interest will make sudan to say the same thing to tigrai?

      • Brhan

        Selam Teodros,
        The elite in Tigray said that …that is what I said ….now ask them , they are Orthodox and Abyssinans ..why do they say that …they preferred the Arab and Muslims than the Orthodox and Abyssinans Amhara…plus the same question was asked Godu….and he said I prefer my Tigray people from the Sudanese…..what do the Sudanese say to this ….may be they are busy with the demonstrations …but do not forget ,,,,they helped TPLF from A TO Z … it is politics …. you go after your interest …if you are pious person then may be the only good place for your will be Gedam

        • Teodros Alem

          Selam brhan
          but my question wasn’t about tigrai say that , sudan say that. u believe religion and culture don’t have a role, but interest? so what will be sudan interest towards tigrai that is morethan amara or eritrea?

          • Brhan

            Well Teodros
            In politics you can have interest with this and that .Sudan can have with all you mentioned interests….political, economy, security , social .big bigger biggest but at the end there is an interest of some kind….the US has interest in Switzerland and Swaziland and that is why it has relationships…can you see my point ….

          • Teodros Alem

            Selam brhan
            No i don’t see ur point . it depends on the level of interest but US have economical, culture and geopolitical interest in almost all countries of the world.
            can we say same thing about sudan have interest towards tigrai morethan amara or eritrea?
            The reason why sudan supported tplf in the past was mainly because of tplf was a sidekick of eplf and because of thier connection with eritrea specially lowlanders(culture and religion).