Berhane Becomes the First Casualty of the Jeddah Agreement

This morning, former minister Berhane Abrehe, who authored two books and publicly challenged Isaias Afwerki,  warning him to avoid signing any national agreements before consulting the Eritrean parliament, was arrested in Asmara. His wife has been in jail for almost a year.

The arrest was expected since many observers thought it was imminent. His arrest was timed with the arrival of Isaias from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, after signing a yet-unknown agreement with the Ethiopian prime minister.

The signing ceremony was concluded under the auspices of King Salman Bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia.

Over the last three weeks, while many Eritreans hoped Berhane’s move would galvanize Eritreans, others saw it as a futile grandstanding in the face of Isaias’ expected wrath.

Abraham, Isaias’ son

Last week Isaias took his son Abraham to the border opening ceremony at Zalaambess, one of the bloodiest scenes during the last war between Ethiopia and Eritrea that ended in 2000. Abraham attended the ceremony in the company of the Eritrean delegation which included ministers and other senior officials. On Sunday, Abraham was also present at the Jeddah ceremony accompanying his father, though he has no formal position in the Eritrean government.

Eritrea and Ethiopia are neither members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (ICO) nor the Arab League (AL) and it’s not known in what capacity the Saudi monarch assumed the responsibility of hosting the signing of the agreement in which he invited António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General,  Moussa Faki, the Secretary of the African Union, and other dignitaries. Paul Kagame, the current chair of the African Union (AU) was not present at the signing ceremony.  In December 2000, when Eritrea signed the Algiers peace agreement in Algeria, Abdulaziz Bouteflika was the chair of the African Union.

Both Eritrea and Ethiopia belong to the African Union and Ethiopia is a founding member of Organization of African Union, the forerunner of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) which was founded in 1963

Historically, African countries pushed back any meddling in African affairs by other countries, and many diplomats are wondering why Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are meddling in inter-African affairs while the AU and the UN are limited to an observer role.

Saudi-Emirate Positioning

Meanwhile, the Saudi monarch had taken serious steps to limit the role of his son Mohammed Bin Salman, who almost made his father, the king, irrelevant. The push by prominent Saudis is believed to have come due to their disapproval of the regional politics in which Saudi Arabia is perceived as a junior partner to the United Arab Emirates, in the coalition that Saudi Arabia assembled to fight what it considers an Iranian influence in Yemen.

The Saudi establishment has convinced the monarch to curtail the activities of his son and assume full control of the kingdom’s affairs. His son, the Saudi Arabian heir apparent, is perceived to be playing a junior role in the affairs of the Gulf and Horn of Africa under Mohammed Bin Zayed, the UAE heir apparent. Many Saudis believe the perception undermines the Saudi leadership and prestige

Mohammed Bin Zaid, the UAE heir apparent, did not attend the Jeddah ceremony; his brother, Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the foreign minister, attended the ceremony representing the UAE.

In what seemed to be an assertion of leadership, On Sunday, the Saudi King awarded Isaias Afwerki and Abiy Ahmed with The Order of King Abdulaziz. Two months ago, Mohammed Bin Zaid had awarded Isaias and Abiy Ahmed with the Order of Zayed, the highest civil honor in the UAE.


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