I paused reflect after reading Semere Tesfai’s article (Ali Salim’s Land Argument: A Mirage of Power Ambition (awate December 10, 2009), in which he challenges Ustaz Ali Salim who have been debating about the mother of all our issues and problems, with transparency and clarity that most Tigrigna intellectuals (the likes of Semere) are not used to. They went mad and published a lot of articles in an attempt to discredit the legitimacy of Ali Salim’s arguments with the intention of preventing those issues from being elevated to become a popular opinion, which wouldn’t help those who are all-willing to keep the status quo for their own interests at any case.
Firstly, the Semere Tesfai’s Article consists of fallacies, abuses and accusations against Muslims and it deserves a response and clarification. Secondly, as an acceptance and a response to the spirit of challenge that Semere Tesfai exhibited, I have opted to take part and share my views over the article. I would like to start with this quite long introduction, as to the landmarks and the features of the problems which led to a sectarian regime in our society. This being the first part of my article, the second part will discuss what Semere Tesfai’s article brought forth.
Sectarianism is a status of emotional feelings in which a certain component of a given society nurtures regardless of its ethnicity or religion, therefore, galvanizing it to behave aggressively against the other components of the society. The source of such an aggressive behavior is but an obsession of fear of the other, thus, a sectarian component seeks an absolute domination over the entire society, through legal and illegal means, grabs power and wealth and deprives the other components of their god-given, legitimate rights. Sectarianism justifies its aggressive behavior using empty excuses such as protecting the unity of the nation, tagging its opponents as traitors, sectarians, tribalists and so on. An opposite trait that confronts sectarianism is a benignant innate of affinity which compels human beings to defend their rights, their land and their honor without pursuing aggressive means towards others. On the other hand, sectarianism perceives this positive human characteristics as an enemy that would contest its power, its wealth and its total hegemony. Thus, it takes refuge in denial and intolerance for it sees its end embodied in defiance. In turn, sectarianism might switch to a morbidity of chauvinism which would mean annulling, marginalizing and excluding the others.
The conducts and practices of sectarianism may give birth to reactions equal in magnitude and opposite in direction from the other components; such experiences have been witnessed in Iraq, Rwanda, Kenya and Nigeria. While the awareness and wisdom of our Eritrean society represented a safety valve and protected us from sliding into sectarian conflicts, it is a common knowledge that injustices are debts that must be repaid sooner or later. Injustices are better repaid through sober-minded and wise men other than through the mobs when neighbors commence grabbing their respective rights and repay injustices against one another. Though one of those who keep betting on the ability of our national prudential Christian and Muslim leaders in saving the nation, I do understand the Eritrean people are not an exception from other peoples, circumstantially and in terms of temper. The situation might explode under the banner of “the initiator is a violator”, inflicting dire consequences in the entire society.
The status of fear and anxiety is what the regime and those who defend the gains of the sectarian project have in common. Fear of the others who might struggle to restore their legitimate shares of power and wealth, an anxiety which is not a nascent of the moment, but rather part and parcel of the psyche of the ruling ethnicity. The reasons behind the anxiety of this ethnicity could be traced back to its cultural recede, which couldn’t proceed beyond the Ethiopian Region of Tigray to the south and the margins of Asmara towards the north. In addition to being less in numbers, contrary to Eritrean Muslim society which spreads in a wide geographic area across the country, this triad constituted a source of concern and fear for the ethnic Tigrigna since ancient times.
Ethnic Tigrigna’s attitudes is but a breed of this fear and anxiety that draped them, they had fallen into the colonial lap of Ethiopia in the self-determination era of our nation, allied themselves with the Ethiopian Tigrayan Front of TPLF against the Eritrean Liberation Front ELF—bullying the West and its churches under the pretext that the ELF was a Muslim bloc backed by Arab regimes and sought Arabization and Islamization of Eritrea. It was Isaias Afwerki’s interpretation of ELF while he was still a student at Addis Ababa University, and these imagined problems caused an insomnia to the Tigrigna intellectuals who, therefore, pursued the notorious sectarian project in order to solve these problems. They have naturalized large numbers of people from the Tigrayan community as a remedy to their problem of being less in numbers, cementing the 50/50 ratio in the collective mind of the Eritrean people; they expanded across the country (at the expense of the Muslim communities) to solve the demographic abatement problem and blocked the returning of refugees from Sudan; sources of Muslim cultures were dried up, Arabic language was blocked and excluded to usher the expansion and dominance of Tigrigna. Thus, the cultural receding was dealt with and the Tigrignazation Project prevailed across the nation; what was a mere dream in the past has been realized for ethnic Tigrignas. It is not surprising that ethnic Tigrigna would defend the gains achieved for them, it is not surprising to see them claiming opposition while they are its enemies. For them, opposition must be a cosmetic procedure that does not affect the substance and essence of the ethnic regime even if change would take place, the land grabbing and settlement project which has been a reality of our time must remain a status quo whatever change might happen,
Isaias Afwerki’s regime and the Tigrigna intellectuals (oppositionists) are not different in their stance regarding the Eritrean Solidarity Front (Tadamun), the same accusations thrown on the ELF in the past is being applied to the Tadamun today. As if history is repeating itself, Tadamun is being accused of sectarianism, tribalism, Arab nationalism and Islamism. Moreover, pitting and soliciting Western countries’ support against the Tadamun to fight against what is falsely alleged as “Taliban”. Currently, the Eritrean opposition composes of two camps: peaceful change seeking camp and the resistance camp. The former unwilling to loose the already established sectarian interests, courting Isaias Afwerki’s regime or pursuing peaceful means of regime change and impeding the resistant which is perceived as a threat to those gains; the latter camp is opting for resistance to restore, rather, pluck out the sequestered rights. The oppressive and marginalizing behaviors and practices of the regime against the non-Tigrigna components are clear evidences for us to call it a sectarian regime. Add to that, the atrocities committed over the other communities, even though I understand the motivations behind some corners whose interests intersects with the regime and describing it one-man’s-dictatorship to throw the sectarianism stigma away from the Ethnic Tigrigna. But evidence-backed reality does not help the owners of this characterization.
Dictatorship is one of the descriptions of the regime which does not negate the conduct and practice of the sectarian behavior towards the other components, it is an inherent for nations to fight evildoers, resisting a sectarian regime doesn’t necessarily mean applying sectarian methods in confessional style and behavior; had the other communities practiced sectarian behaviors, Eritrea wouldn’t have been in the situation it is now. In other words, had the Tadamun opposed the Eritrean regimes sectarianism with the same token, a single church wouldn’t have been built in the Muslim Regions and ethnic Tigrigna families wouldn’t have tilled, harvested and settled peaceful-mindedly in the lands of other communities while those others are prevented from returning to their homes and their land. Hence, it was better for those who accuse the Tadamun and the resistance organizations of sectarianism, to appreciate the honorable positions of the leadership which did not fall into the trap of sectarianism as exercised by the regime. Tadamun and the other resistance organizations have opted for confronting the regime in justice seeking manners rather than sectarian confrontation in order to preserve the unity of the components of the Eritrean people. Those who do not see the Tadamun along with the other national organizations objectively would be the first to pay the price for that position if things go out of control and the country slipped into bloodshed.
It is much easier task for me now because many of the misconceptions and fallacies that Ustaz Semere Tesfai presented may have been answered in other articles. Why does the mentioning of the facts cause frustration and disappointment? Semere Tesfai declares his frustration and disappointment upon the articles of Ustaz Ali Salim and at the same time describes the articles as a chattering with little effect on Muslims, attributing his shock to the unfamiliar nature of the Ustaz Ali Salim’s articles. For the likes of Semere, the familiar are the silent Muslims who don’t articulate their grievances, those who keep calm when their legitimate rights are sequestered by the sectarian regime. Anyone who exposes and reveals the regime’s crimes would be out of Tigrigna familiarity, because they are accustomed to silent Muslims who are patient to injustices and oppressions; Muslims who are temperate to whatever the governor would offer—according to him anyone who spell his grievances is perceived customary nature of silence must be fought and shaped. That is what Semere Tesfai attempts to perpetuate; he never expected that one day someone would come to remind him of the facts of our time, the humiliating and shameful facts which resembles a black spot in their relationship with Muslims. Mr. Ali Salim highlighted the black spot to revealed the magnitude of the injustice and oppression suffered by Muslims at the hands of the ethnic Tigrigna rulers, who crushed the values of dignity, freedom, justice and equality among citizens under their sectarian project (we and our objectives).
Semere wonders: Why is the explicit expression of one’s problems feared? Why are these issues raised now and why are the lights being shed on these issues at this stage? I would say: it is the people’s right to address their problems and issues for discussions in the open. It is a healthy phenomenon that deepens awareness of a civilized approach in which the principles and ideas upon which the dictatorial regime was built is stripped naked and falling apart. Then, who is the beneficiary when the facts are not revealed and silence continues, other than the exclusionary opportunistic groups of ethnic Tigrigna? And since when was the silence of the people to injustices a cause for praise? People’s silence means surrender and submission to the evildoers.
Eritreans had passed the stages of submission and subordination which benefited the dictatorial regime. Ustaz Ali Salim is but a people’s arrow that shot at the exclusionists fatally, his articles poured down on them like thunderbolts and expose their secrets and disclosed their crimes, they have fallen prey to frustration, shock, anxiety and insomnia, afraid of what the future might carry for them. It is an abnormal feeling that is the nature of wrongdoers throughout the history of mankind. I would like to advice the likes of Semere Tesfai who suffers from a phobia of an honest open debate not to put challenge lest they expose themselves to more and more bouts of frustration and shock. Oh Semere, isn’t it a courageous act for someone to admits failure? Why the lamenting about “national unity” now? Where were those who are now asking to people to forgive and forget when the regime was destroying the basic rights of Muslims, be it land, culture or religion? And who would trust those who never have apologized for the people after escaping the regime?
There are no problems among Eritreans (Muslims-Christians), the problem exists only on the Tigrigna-Kebessa elite which is ruling the country, those who sparked the fires of sedition among Muslims and Christians. The problem of Eritreans is with the exclusionists and sectarians who ruled the country after excluding the others, what then was the result? Did unite the people? Did they establish justice and equality among citizens? Did they achieve peace and stability? Actually, they have realized none of what is mentioned above. In the contrary, they have separated and dispersed the people; they are not honest rulers; they betrayed their partners and comrades; they betrayed the martyrs and the disabled veterans of the struggle; they betrayed the pioneers of our struggle’s pioneers and the women; they packed prisons with free-men and women; they have looted and stolen people’s livelihood; and failure has marked their reign. Muslims were their first victims and still are. Why then is Semere Tasfai prosecuting every effort of Muslim resistant while sparing the dictatorial regime? Had Muslims become the rulers, the situations of the country would have been different. Ustaz Semere, you need a bit of courage to admit the utter failure of your ruling experience, and a little more courage to apologize for the people of Eritrea that you offended their struggle and national unity. You need a bit more courage to evaluate your reigning tenure, and you need more courage to hand over power to the people to choose their leadership.
Semere Tesfai says (what Ali Salim has brought forth of the aggressions are incitement against Christians, even though they have suffered equally to what the Muslims have suffered) considering what Ali Salim has argued as selective grievances and unpatriotic.
I am calling the Eritrean Regime, (a Tigrigna-Kebessa Regime) for the sake of accuracy and as a substitute to the Christian regime characterization and for the following reasons.
First: Kebessa Christians are different than the rest of Eritrean Christians.
Secondly: some Christian denominations have suffered aggressions and oppressed by the same token that Muslims suffered, some among them have been exposed to imprisonment, murder and restrictions pertaining their faith and the right to worship.
Thirdly: there are many Christian elites of non-Kebessa affiliations who are honored with clear patriotic stances against the sectarian-dictatorial regime.
Fourthly: a minority of the Kebessa-Tigrigna disagree with the regime in terms of variations within the ethnic Tigrigna norms of manipulating and ruling, this minority claims opposition to the regime but stands by the regimes side in words and in deeds.
The objective of this minority is to weaken the resistance and save the regime, or at least save the regime’s face, and reserve the gains of power, wealth and dominance that the regime have achieved for them. Perhaps, Semere Tesfai might be a member of this minority which plays the above mentioned roles.
The Arguments of Ali Salim are enlightening and stirs the effected populations. This doesn’t mean an incitement against Christians as Semere would claim, because Christians have their share of the injustices and oppressions under the dictatorial regime, therefore, what Ali Salim has been writing could stir the injured communities, Muslims or otherwise. The likes of Semere are those who incite and drive a wedge between Muslims and Christians, their roles resembles those of Isaias Afwerki and his sectarian group who incited the Christians against the Eritrean Liberation Front ELF, depicting it as the greatest danger that must be destroyed prior to fighting the Ethiopian occupation. The Isaias of our time (Semere Tesfai) has been inciting the Christians against the Tadamun, organization saying it is the greatest upcoming danger for the Christians. In his heart, Semere knows that the survival and continuation of the regime in power is dependent on the national disunity between Muslims and Christians that the regime has created.
Muslim-Christian leaders who are acquainted with the perils of the matter, would be required to spot and confront the elements of sectarianism, that offended the struggles and unity of the people in order to deny them the opportunity of damaging our unity.
Our leaders are required to move in unison in order to cut the threads of sectarianism which is lurking within the columns of the opposition, and knock down the sectarian monsters that destroyed the livelihoods of our people and tarnished the capabilities of the country by displacing communities and damaging the national unity.
When we compare the damages and injustices that Muslims endured to what happened to the ethnic Tigrigna precisely, we find a big difference. Tigrigna are the actual rulers, they monopolize the wealth and control the resources of the country, they are the influential power and the decision makers, they have grabbed and settled on the lands of Muslims, their culture and language are dominant. What is the share of Muslims then? The answer is none. Muslims excelled in other aspects, such as the number of prisoners, the murdered, the missing persons, the refugees and the oppressed, the poor, the sick and the ignorant.
I will mention briefly here the areas that Tigrigna rulers targeted pertaining the Muslim community. Multiple maneuvers had been pursued to target Islam as a faith, embargo on books about Islam, closing of Muslim teaching centers, kidnapping Muslim teachers, blocking any kind of assistance to the Muslim teaching centers, waging an open war on the language of Quran, fighting against the Arabic culture and its heritage, imposing the Tigrigna on Muslims, fighting our graceful values and systematically deforming the moral ethics and generally destroying the Muslim areas, social injustice reflected in the systematic blackout and development deprivation in the fields of healthcare, education and economy and inequality in civil rights. Members of the ruling ethnic Tigrigna have enjoyed the basic rights and privilege when Muslim citizens are destined to second-class citizenship. Discrimination exists among the army conscripts, long-leaves; higher wages, training and rehabilitation of the best are reserved for the closest. Moreover, the ruling ethnic group had monopolized the economic activities; while Muslims are being systematically impoverished and politically excluded in many ways.
Changing the demographic landscape was blueprinted in the “Nhnan Elamanan” document, creating obstacles to the return of refugees. Here I would to ask Semere, why has the regime given priority to the rehabilitating the Tigrigna families that are secure in their territories and at the same time ignoring the plight of the Muslim refugees in the Sudan? Doesn’t that relate to their religion, or what Mr Semere? Is not sectarianism and racism behind this act? The answer for this would be YES Mr. Semere. It was worthwhile for Kebessa rulers to give priority to the refugees, because they have more right to return and to resettlement (more than those who are stable and live on their own soil for centuries) back to the lands from which they fled, they are more needy to get access to proper services and assistance to possess basic means of productions to start a new life. But racism and sectarianism has wasted their legitimate rights, giving priority to transport entire villages from the highlands to the lowlands belonging to Muslims, an implementation of the settlement as mentioned in the sectarian project Nehnan Elamanan.
Recently, our ears have been familiar to the saying “Christians had suffered equal to the Muslim and even more.” These allegations are mostly heard from those who are in the opposition when they are its rivals. If proofs are required to confirm the theory of equal injustice among Muslims and Christians in general, and between the Muslims and the Kebessa Christians in particular, one needs a reliable proofs in the forms of statistics and numbers. Those who repeat such misinforming lies, are lifting and slogan of “repeat lies until the people believe you.” I challenge Mr, Semere Tesfai to prove the equal injustices in names and figures. Non-Tigrigna Christians have suffered more than the Kebessa Christians but less than the suffering of Muslims. I would refer to the Suwera Center’s report published in April 2007, I found 145 Muslims prisoners against 58 Christian prisoners, I couldn’t figure out the non-Tigrigna Christians from among the 58 prisoners, the reason behind the higher number of Muslim prisoners is obvious, the sectarian project of Nhnan Elamana had directly targeted Muslims and only Muslims since its publication. Non-Tigrigna Christians were targeted for their patriotic attitudes against the sectarian exclusionist project. Muslims highly appreciate such patriotic stance. The saying that Ali Salim is exercising selective grievances is true hundred percent. How true? Since the injustices befalling Muslims are selective, it is natural for grievances to be selective; Muslims have particular suffering and very special pain compared to the suffering of Christians.
Here I would refer anyone looking for the naked truth in this aspect to the statistics published along with “THE ERITREAN COVENANT: Towards Sustainable Justice And Peace,” by Mejlis Ibrahim Mukhtar, published on awate.com in English and Arabic, which provides strong evidences regarding the total dominance of ethnic-Tigrigna on the power and resources, as well as proving the marginalization and exclusion to the other sects of the Eritrean people, then Mr. Semere, how is it possible to combine contradicting aspects, injustice, suffering and oppression in one hand and dominance and exclusiveness of power and resources on the other? If the ruling ethnic group is suffering, then we must imagine the magnitude of the suffering of the ruled ethnicities.