Re-aligned with the PFDJ but disappointed

After the downfall of the Derg regime in Ethiopia and the liberation of Eritrea in 1991, the Sudanese government curtailed the movement of Eritrean opposition organizations on its soil.

Denied the opportunity to operate from Sudan, most moved to Ethiopia and stayed there until Abiy Ahmed came to power in 2018.

Several Eritrean opposition organizations had failed to establish close relations with Ethiopia, except a few who maintained close ties with the regional government of Tigray.

All the connections with the Ethiopian government were overseen by the intelligence agencies.

In 2020, inter-Ethiopian relations had deteriorated so much that it escalated to a full-fledged war.

The war dealt a serious blow to the operations of the Eritrean opposition. Some stayed low-profile or went underground, while others tied their fates to the Tigray Defense Forces.

As the war spread, the Eritrean army moved deep inside Tigray and arrayed its forces alongside the Ethiopian federal government forces. As a result of the war, thousands of Tigrayans were displaced, many villages were destroyed, and the region was plagued with famine.

Senior Tigrayan officials and commanders blamed the Muslim elements in the Eritrean army for the atrocities and other damages inflicted on Tigray; the Tigrayan diaspora media echoed the same message.

Sectarian statements by Tigrayan elites, including TDF generals, exacerbated the situation. In a video interview, a TDF general coined the catchphrase, “TbaH-TbaH,” pointing to the tribal cheek scars of some Eritrean Muslim soldiers.

Historically, Eritrean Muslims have been suspicious of Tigray and consider it “the source of bigotry, sectarianism, linguistic, and ethnic agitation.”

In no time, the TbaH-Tbah phrase became popular after it was constantly repeated in discourses, private conversations, and social media. A considerable number of Eritreans, particularly Muslims, decided to realign themselves with the PFDJ regime to face the vilification.

A known critic of the Eritrean government until recently explained, “The Tigrayans are on a campaign of vilifying Muslims, and I will not sit silently knowing what Eritreans suffered for many decades.”

Similar anxiety caused by the threats made a few Eritreans return to Eritrea, some of them were vocal about their decision to re-align with the government.

In the last few months, many who made the emotional trip to Eritrea have returned with disappointment. One of them told Gedab News, “It’s sad to see the PFDJ unwilling to change its exclusionist policies, and I gave up.”

Though escaping from Eritrea has been going on for many years, lately the wave of escapees has increased drastically. Able Eritreans leave for Ethiopia on the pretext of medical treatment.

The informant added, “It’s sad our views regarding the PFDJ fluctuate based on its relationship with the TPLF and with Ethiopia—and it’s vague.”


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