Isaias: A Cult Leader Surrenders

On December 20, 2011, reporting on the meeting of the Eritrean regime’s so-called Cabinet of Ministers, Asmelash, the mouthpiece of the regime recited (among many other personal declarations of Isaias) that the tyrant had given new directives to his servile cabinet ministers. This is what Asmelash reported:

…President Isaias continued, since it is an obligation and a right of every student to lean the Arabic language, and since in the previous years the methods that were applied to teach Arabic have been regressive and unproductive, a new system of teaching that should enable students to become proficient in Arabic should be implemented, if possible within one year and if not within two years, and [to that effect] President Isaias gave firm instruction to the ministry of education to set up a task force that would carry out this study and follow up its application and implementation…[1]

Never mind the long sentence, it is how it came in the usual PFDJ Tigrinya. Never mind the picture of the meeting which like always shows “ministers” taking notes as in a high school exam setting, and their leader giving them lessons like a teacher. But regardless of all that, the policy switch is significant for those of us who have been seriously struggling to expose the damaging policies of the PFDJ, the sole legal party in Eritrea. This change of policy could be related to a diplomatic maneuver being attempted by an Arab leader who is a close ally of Isaias. The Arab leader is said to have been advising Isaias to join the Arab League to supplement the loss of support that Gadaffi and Mubarek offered him in the past. It is very possible that Isaias is paving the way to formally apply membership to the Arab League—a league that would become more dysfunctional once the mentally disturbed Isaias is added to its ranks. For God’s sake, this is a league that couldn’t do anything tangible to alleviate the suffering of so many Arabs at the hands of tyrants. Look at Yemen and Syria for the obvious exhibit.

Finally, after two-decades of wreaking havoc, the Eritrean tyrant indirectly admitted guilt for the damage he inflicted on the Eritrean people with one of his many bigoted policies. Finally, he instructed his lieutenants in the rubber stamp Eritrean cabinet of ministers to adopt the policy that he mischievously evaded for decades. Finally, one night he dreamed of a policy and the next day he made it a law. Finally, it dawned on him that the issue will never evaporate into thin air.

Eritreans have enough experience with “Nsu” (Isaias) to be aware that his motive is neither genuine nor noble; he just hopes his moody policy will serve as a calming pill to those who oppose his policy, a policy that had a crippling effect on his regime. Finally, he seems to have recognized he cannot murder Arabic and live in peace— it is a foundation of Eritrea and it is deeply-rooted in the Eritrean psyche, more than his sick attitude, more than the roots of his insane self.

The following is what I have been saying in many words, in all my speeches and writing: “If the PFDJ had adopted a dual education language policy in 1993, today we will have all Eritreans, regardless of their region and religion, speaking fluent Arabic and Tigrinya.” Well, that was not meant to be. Unfortunately after long years of struggle and many sacrifices, Eritrea ended up with a sick man at the helm of power instead of a visionary leader.

Defining The Isaias Regime

So far, defining the Isaias regime has been controversial; and, over the last few months, I have been developing a rough theory that would hopefully help in defining the PFDJ cult regime—I will share my theory with my readers at a later stage. For now, let’s agree that the Isaias domain is nothing but the PFDJ cult. PFDJ, the sole legal party in Eritrea, is a cult, and Isaias Afwerki, its sole leader with super rights, is the cult leader.

In a cult, setting, “members’ adulation of charismatic leaders contribute[s] to the leaders becoming corrupted by power.”[2] Cults depend heavily on brainwashing their members who always get their marching orders from their leader; they never change their message or slogans until he does. When he does, they never think of what they have been parroting and switch to the new message with no feeling of guilt or shame. If the cult leader says the sky is red, they will argue to death that it is red. If the next day he says the sky is green, they will condescendingly argue it is green and “rebuff” anyone who argues otherwise. They totally ignore the fact that, until the previous day, they had claimed the sky was red—no apologies, no recognition of their past confusion, and certainly no humility at all.

Until the era of Youtube, the PFDJ cult used to sell VHS tapes of all the meetings and festivals that they held. Every member was pressured and harassed to buy a copy to the extent that cult members memorized the number and the titles of the many tapes by heart. You might not find a shelf of books in the house of the cult members, but you most certainly will find a library of every tape the cult produced. Very few tapes were not distributed because they were found to be too embarrassing, or too telling of the nature of the cult and its leaders. That is when the cult lieutenants intervened and censored the tapes[3]. One such tape is the recording of a cult meeting that Isaias held in Washington DC in 1993.

The tape of that meeting was not distributed because the lieutenants decided to hide the embarrassing situation where the cult leader and his assistants appeared totally wasted in the pre-meeting function held in their honor.2 That day, Isaias appeared behind a table with his close associate Mahmoud Sheriffo (now “disappeared” and most likely dead) to his right, and Hagos Kisha (the party bag man, now on the UN watch list and soon to be on its list of forbidden travelers) to his left. The cult members in the crowd who packed the meeting hall were too excited to notice the drunk nature of their leader; and if they did, it was normal to them. Only a short clip of the recording of that meeting found its way to Youtube. In that clip, you can watch Isaias shamelessly vomiting his bigotry in public.[4]

Until well into the meeting, the cult had no idea that their leader will surprise them with statements that will massage their ego by making wild bigoted statements. When he did, they were ecstatic with joy, laughing and cheering wildly. In a language dripping with mockery and hatred, the cult leader insulted, and degraded a section of the Eritrean people in a manner reminiscent of what his predecessors, the bigoted kings of Ethiopia, had done. He poured his venom belittling two young Eritreans (a woman in Muslim garb speaking fluent Tigrinya and a man who doesn’t speak the language) when they asked about the situation of the dual official languages of Eritrea, reminding him that in a supposedly independent Eritrea, half the population should not be left behind for lack of a language of communication with the government.

In an idiotic remark, Isaias chastised the two citizens for asking questions in the question time of the meeting! He rudely remarked: “It is surprising to see Tigrinya speakers who do not want to speak their language but opt for Arabic!” He poured his bigoted wrath at a section of the Eritrean people; everyone knew his targeted group. No one challenged him for the lies and his misconstruing of facts. He knew and so did his listeners that there are no Tigrinya speakers who refuse to speak their language. Yet, he victimized the two citizens who respectfully asked him to maintain the Arabic and Tigrinya dual language arrangement for the sake of the Eritrean unity! Surely he remained in character: true to his cult beliefs, its destructive, exclusionary policies and practices. He replied in the only manner he know how: rude and chastising.

While all this was going on in the hall, the crowd had no reaction but to continue being entertained. Not many questioned the sanity of their leader; not many questioned if his pronouncements were becoming of a head of state; no one thought it was their compatriots being insulted in public by a leader who was supposed to be the president of all Eritreans. On the contrary, like any obedient cult members, they just registered what he said in their mind, internalized it, and kept repeating his bigotry for the last two decades, and still continue to do so. With their attitudes, they damaged what was left of the harmony among Eritreans and they kicked their marginalization and exclusion project with full force.

What possessed them to do so.  How do the cult view the cult leader?  Why is it taking them many decades to wake up? Are they now going to repeat what Asmelash recited on the regime-owned television on December 20? Time will tell!

The Cult Was Already Formed

In 1989, long before the euphoric years of the early nineties, and the above mentioned meeting of 1993, Isaias conducted a public meeting in Washington DC. By then the formation of the cult was well established.  An attendant of that meeting emotionally describes Isaias as follows: “After I heard him, I recognized that he was a blend of all freedom fighters, dead and alive, and of the convictions of all the Eritrean peoples: peasants, nomads, literate and illiterate. I heard the voice of wisdom in our land, of the peasantry and the indomitable spirit of all the Eritrean fighters”[5]

It is understandable that some might go out of their way in expressing their passionate love for Isaias in that euphoric time; but the bigoted Isaias never represented the spirit of Eritreans or their wisdom. His destructive actions and tactics were opposed and criticized by many since the early seventies. Unfortunately, even those who found out his real character too late are not willing to abandon the cult policies despite the chaos and damage they inflicted on Eritrea and its people. And that forces one to conclude that they are no different from their leader: bigoted, arrogant, insincere, racists and foul-mouthed.

Not just Isaias alone, but they too are the cause of our current predicament: a state of mistrust, disharmony and disarray. The cult members are those who flocked to see their cult leader by travelling thousands of miles, never questioning his damaging policies, his injustices and his brutality—his enablers flocked in their hundreds to New York last September to hear him speak. Only a few brave Eritrean souls demonstrated outside the meeting place to expose the tyrant and shame his enablers who endorse his brutality and lawlessness by sloganeering: He’s Us and We’re Him! Such lack of dignity and servitude, such dead conscience is really difficult to understand in this age unless one identifies the Eritrean regime as Isaias’ PFDJ cult. And ironically, the words that always comes out of the cult members’ mouth is “national unity!” In the language of the rascal Isaias, one would be tempted to say, “unity my foot.”

In an interview that the cult leader had in 1987, Isaias stated that he, “learned Arabic to be able to communicate with [his] brothers in the field.”[6]  But in 1993, he condescendingly humiliated the two citizens: “do you speak Arabic in your homes?” What he doesn’t know was that in fact one of them might. The issue here calls for scrutiny: why did Isaias need to learn Arabic to communicate with his “brothers” and then make fun of those who are his “brothers” and who can only communicate with him in Arabic? Why does he want to deny Eritreans to communicate with their “brothers” in the language they use to communicate with each other?

 The Surrender Of The Cult Leader

Now that the cult leader has surrendered and gave his directives to the ministry of education to teach Arabic, what are we supposed to do? Are we supposed to rejoice and say, ‘thank you papa Isaias, one concession, now continue to rule just like nothing happened?’ Hell no. He just can’t simply evade accountability for the decades of polarization he created; for the uprooting of people; for destroying the co-existence formula that Eritreans religiously kept; for causing the decay of the little education system that Eritrea had; for creating generations of illiterate youth; for denying Eritrea the resources of its children; for breaking the dream of our nation. Hell no. The damage that was done cannot be remedied by a policy switch that Isaias adopts in a hangover state after a wild liquor-drenched night.

The Arabs say, “Afa Allah An Ma Selef”…Let bygones be bygones, even God forgives the mistakes of the past. All right, let God forgive him, together with any repentant, it is not our business. Wronged people have a right to claim justice for the wrongdoing.

In 1993 when the Eritrean land was liberated, large numbers of the population were school age children. If not for Isaias’ bigoted policy, today every Eritrean under the age of 37 would have been fluent in both Arabic and Tigrinya languages. And anyone below the age of 44 would have proper conversational skill in two languages. Add to that the number of those who are already bilingual, well over 80 percent of Eritreans would have been bilingual. Of course, that assumes the educational standards, and illiteracy rates would have been far better than they are now—and if not for Isaias’ sick policies they would have been so.  But Isaias can only do what Isaias knows best: destruction and chaos.

Finally, can now we say that Isaias conceded, nay, we can say he surrendered and admitted that the bigoted policy he imposed on Eritrea was nothing less than destructive? Of course, he wouldn’t be Isaias if he openly admitted the damages he inflicted on the nation, but his switch of policy confirms just that: he surrendered to the view that all Eritreans (except the bigoted) hold. But whatever he does, one cannot hire a pickpocket for a position of a bank manager.

[1] (6:30 mark) accessed on December 24, 2011
[2] Benjamin Zablocki, a professor of Sociology at Rutgers University,
[3] A source knowledgeable of the event informed the author.
[4] (accessed on December 24, 2011
[5] Illen Gebrai, Eritrea, Miracleland, self-published in 1993, P7
[6] Ahmed Mohammed Nasser, Tahadyat Messiryah Imam AlMujtama’a Al Eritry, self published, P82

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