“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.


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