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The Takfiri State

In this article we will try to understand and justify what might have happened to Eastern Bejastan but from a distance and in a way that I hope is more engaging. It is a bit weird to try to talk about something without talking about it. You shouldn’t take these things seriously anyway. What should excite you (scares me) is the fact that Eritrea is still open for business. Half a century after the explosion of the armed struggle for independence and a quarter of a century after its achievement, we are in the middle of debating the viability of the State of Eritrea. Let me guess! You have no idea that in almost every independent country on the planet, this is actually illegal. If you are caught doing it, every President has full constitutional rights to cook you for lunch, crush you with “sheHan fuul”, marinate you on barbeque or mix you for juice. You should be glad you are an Eritrean.

I admit this is one of the most boring articles. I don’t even know how I finished it. I know I have patched it with pieces from previous writings. If you have some time to waste, please read it for me or tell me what it says. Bate: you need some conceptual models for your armed struggle in the coffee shop and this is one of them and it is the last I will ever write. I promise!

The Baseline

Our whole argument for change is built around the claim that the armed struggle which under ideal conditions would (allegedly) have ended up with democratic rule, ended up the way it is because the PFDJ (you may also use President, Tigrigna, “tebeletsti”, “adHarHarti” etc. – no difference) stole the fruit of the revolution. Correct me if I am wrong, but if the “gedli” people had it their way, under ideal conditions, you would have ended up with a communist state, chairman for life, no constitution and Red Terror everywhere. Literally speaking, that’s what people died for if you want me to be blunt. But we take the false claim so seriously that “the illegitimate President” is a living-breathing reality. We believe these delusions, create our own demons and worship them.

It is not just us but even the UN and other international organizations, well known professors, and Wedi Tikabo’s “Sheikh-Qeshi” (forgive me O’ Lord!) actually take it for granted that the PFDJ came to power through some kind of coup d’état over democratic rule. Don’t laugh – but this imaginary state was so democratic that it actually had a constitution that the President refused to implement and it had scheduled elections, free press, and Lollipops that he swallowed for lunch. Of course you know that President Isaias overlaps the day before and the day after May 24th, 1991. He thought about doing a constitution and hired people to write it for him but then changed his mind. What is the big deal! He did not overthrow another President and he was always a dictator. Where is this idea, that the PFDJ stole democracy, coming from since the idea is also held by those who argue that the EPLF was a dictatorship from its inception? Is that a blunder? Of course it is!

I am not trying to ridicule the opposition here. I am trying to draw your attention to the power of the social construction of reality. The only actual reality, in case you didn’t know, is this moment of your life (by the way, if you are mad with someone, this is the moment to get him) because it is the only moment when you can touch things. Anything before is memory (even if you have video tapes of what happened) and anything afterwards is imagination (even with the best predictive technology), both of which are controversial virtual realities that you actively construct to make sense of this moment.

The only time that we can all agree on someone’s constructed reality is when we lose our minds. It is constructed (imagined by someone) but, when you go Koko, it becomes reality nevertheless. In Eritrea alone, 65,000 people died because the imagination was as real as this moment is to you. There is no way you can convince today’s lunatics that it is not actually how it happened. And if you do, you will have aborted that primary premise of the quest for a better tomorrow. For the sake of making sense of what follows, close your eyes and accept that the first day, Eritrea was a democracy with a constitution and the next day President Isaias, who was initially elected by the people decided to overstay his visa. Add spices such as celebrations when the “constitution was ratified” and demonstrations when the President cancelled the “scheduled elections”. And please do not forget Brother Negash’s stone age history of when it was all “Hade Libi – Hade Qelbi” as this will neutralize the scene from contaminants for the assumption of ‘other things being equal’ to hold. Imagine the actors as rational, well-meaning and decent agents exclusively motivated by self-interest not archeological grudges as our intellectuals tend to presume when they hear about highland-lowland politics.

Ideological Position

Let us be better than those for whom the story our stolen democracy ends with the President’s “betrayal” and are out to get him. Give it a spin by moving away from the lazy answers of personalizing the process of transformation from the virtual democracy to dictatorship. Let us assume that social systems have a mind of their own and respond to dynamics more powerful than the individual whims of dictators. The following is pure speculation on the framework within which such a transformation might occur. Now don’t come with your “this is not in the book” stuff. This is my book, so take it or leave.

We still need to agree on a few terms. ‘Opinions’ are products of one’s imagination based on subjective interpretation of some data. They are results-oriented and no matter what analytical tools you use, you will love the conclusions. Ideological positions are conclusions derived through the application of the theory of change on an objective interpretation of the data. They are process-oriented and may produce positions that you do not necessarily agree with but still accept as valid truth. Under best conditions, they express a philosophically qualified stand relevant for public policy. ‘Philosophical’ is any sustainable, consistent and morally justifiable point of view that makes sense. Ideologies construct collective reality – opinions retail the creature.

The Components

Here the individual is the smallest unit of political decision making. A bunch of individuals constitute the local community and a bunch of communities constitute the nation (or whatever). The community is the political space where individuals negotiate their interests without the need for power brokers. Anything above the community is brokered. All actors are rational.

The Test

Community politics communicates two processes. On the one hand, individual citizens engage in endless transactions exchanging goods for rewards. Reward, for our purpose, is currency that power brokers can use to influence people to vote this way or that. These trade transactions take place between equal citizens and the outcomes determine the individual winners and losers of political purchasing power. On the other hand, the community representing the collective will is automated to allocate political power to individuals based on their ability to pay. Imagine the community structure as a scaffolding of blank space-holders to be filled up by this moment’s winners in a dynamic process. As a rational entity, the community only accepts best achievers to mediate its affairs.

Although the community structure is automated, however, its effectiveness depends on two factors: (a) the data entry clerks must feed the machine with the list of winners and losers of all transactions in real time; (b) once an eviction notice is served, the losers must willingly relinquish their positions for the new winners to take over. If humans were robots who would be programmed to accept their destiny, we would have a stock market that produces a new mayor, new dignitaries and fat cats every morning without the need for ‘politics’ (the introduction of human mischief into automated systems).

In spite of the crazy fluctuations that you would expect, the stability of the community structure comes from the ability of an elite group of continuous achievers keeping the privileges for as long as they win. That is how the system works in real life except for the consequences of our sticky memory caused by lag time between when a dignitary loses his purchasing power and the time when we finally find out that we are dealing with “TrHu gerewigna”. To understand the function of “gerewigna” assume that, initially (being everyday winners) they manage to sustain a continuous domination of the community structure and earn a license to operate a brokerage for political power in the national stage. Being detached from support of the natural constituency from the bottom, they plug into the artificial constituency at the top. They declare themselves nationalist and peddle to the approval of the dominant coalition at the national level. They become retailers of mischief.

The Brokers

We have agreed that the elite (brokers) draw their legitimacy from their ability to impress through personal achievement a sufficient mass of rational individuals in their constituency such that the latter delegate upon them the power to negotiate their interests at the national stage on their behalf. The national stage is the arena where communities compete on splitting the cake. Communities form alliances and conspire against other communities engaging in all kinds of mischief for a bigger share of the cake. The will of the dominant coalition shapes the law of the land and its elites administer the system. Their actions perfectly legal as long as they are carried out in the spirit of free competition. Let us consider two scenarios in order to picture the elite in action.

(a) Convergence

Communities that are part of the dominant coalition support elites that are fully integrated into mainstream politics and empowered to perform their mandate in channeling benefits from the center to the local periphery. To be specific, the mandate covers: (a) imposing the citizen’s duty to serve; (b) ensuring the duty of the collective to serve; (c) blocking free-riders; and (d) maintaining access to backdoor channels to absorb deviations.

The convergence of the aspirations of the local community with mainstream goals of pushing for excellence provides the perfect environment for promoting the local elite as the “rational good citizen” for a role model. This is the prototype of the self-interested citizen whose contribution to collective wellbeing is maximized when the number of selfish citizens who rank their own community’s priorities at the top is maximized.

(b)   Divergence

Communities that that fall victim to predatory coalitions would have divergent priorities. In extreme cases the local community raises questions that threaten the stability of the larger (nation) system. The issues at stake would ideally fall within the national security priorities of the nation. Assuming a smoothly functioning democratic system (similar to our virtual democracy), those who rise to prominence in the local community are otherwise fringe elites who draw their political support from rebels against mainstream elites of the dominant coalition in national politics. Support for mainstream of national politics is stigmatized.

Resources allocated to boost political support for the national agenda (of the dominant coalition) in the local community attract entrepreneurs who offer to play the salesman role (remember “aboy gerewigna”?). The deal for such opportunists is to have access to backdoor politics and corrupt practices in exchange for marketing the stigmatized national agenda to create the minimum required legitimacy for the national coalition of predatory communities.

The issues under contention boil down to dramatic divergence between each party’s definitions of the “good citizen”. While local elites adhere to the rational good citizen as someone who ranks his own self-interest at the top, national elites promote the irrational good citizen who would sacrifice his own interests for the “common good” of the nation. Violating the key assumption of rationality of actors, makes the conceptual model we have developed here ungovernable.

The Takfiri State

Takfir in Islamic culture is the act of declaring an entity inherently corrupt and in-salvageable. Takfirism is the ideology behind extreme versions of Islamic fundamentalism whereby after exhausting all sensible avenues, the activists declare the whole community as nonredeemable and wage war to destroy it. Here Takfirism is narrowly defined to mean the act of declaring a sub-national component nonredeemable eventually leading the national government to resort to options that are not very different from those of the Takfiri lunatics.

As we have seen and in a manner that is not different from what happened to our virtual democratic state of Eritrea, a coalition of predatory communities (of land grabbers in our case) occupy government at the national level and break a critical feedback loop where politically empowered local decision makers process the needs of the community and maintain the rationality of the system. Deprived of the capacity to process information, local government adjusts by plugging into tyrannical political authority at the national level. At the climax of the tension, the national government treats the local community as failed state and therefore ungovernable through legitimate institutional processes. This realization gives the national government the moral authority to confiscate local decision-making.


Good morning! You may now wake up – we are done. I thought to leave the details of how President Isaias became the head of this Takfiri state of Eritrea acting on behalf of predatory communities for your kind consideration. My argument is that although the pain upon which our efforts are premised is real (our shared interpretation of data) there is nothing real about the claims of the struggle for change (i.e. what the interpretation entails). It was all imagined by someone and can be re-imagined by us to keep up with rational calculations on the ground. The link with the Bejastan series is the idea that it is the destiny of communities that fall prey to predatory coalitions that stubbornly dominate national politics must eventually resort to revere-Takfirism as a strategy.

My call to what we call “the elite” and to all those self-appointed power brokers (activists with a cause) is to act as rational agents because the irrational good citizen that you are imitating is an undercover spy for the PFDJ and has a zero approval rate. Politically relevant elites exclusively pimp for local communities. Except in a scam project, you cannot have elite individual or group that does not have a local constituency (or cause) or one that claims the whole nation as a single constituency. Do not try to outsmart the system. It has its own mind.

About Ali Salim

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  • Abraham H.

    Selam Awatista,
    World at crossroads
    Is the world slowly but surely sliding towards its demise, is the much dreaded 3rd world war about to happen? There are indeed many worrisome signs humanity is moving towards dangerous territories; increasingly asserive and agressive Russia and China, and the rise of toxic populism accross the globe, the possible victory of Trump to the office of the US presidency in two days time are all indications that we are heading to our demise, once more.
    To all Eritrean/Ethiopian Americans: you could make a difference and help avert an increasingly hostile world by giving your vote to the cool-minded and predictable Hillary Clinton; when the stakes are so decissively high and the contest so close, every single vote counts. Remember the worst dictators in mankind’s history like Hitler were elected to the position through democratic process riding on populistic wave and hatred of the “others”.
    But mark my word, as we have witnessed in the UK after the Brexit vote, almost all those who might vote to bring Trump to be US president would regret their fatal vote in no time.

    • Simon Kaleab

      Selam Abraham H.,

      You said:

      “Remember the worst dictators in mankind’s history like Hitler were elected to the position through democratic process riding on populistic wave and hatred of the “others””.

      You are mistaken, Hitler was not elected to any position of power. He lost to Hindenburg, in two rounds of elections, for the position of president. It was the big industrialists and businessmen who persuaded/pressured Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as a Chancellor.

      For the traditional ruling elite it was a choice between the Nazis or the Communists; they chose the Nazis. The Communists also did not object to Hitler’s appointment. They thought he will soon be thrown out of office because of economic incompetence. Furthermore, fate conspired and when old man Hindenburg died, Hitler changed the law to combine the posts of Chancellor and President.

      On the other hand, crooked Hillary is the candidate of the ruling elites [Democratic and Republican], while Trump is the outsider. Wall Street, the Banks, big business and most of the media support Hillary despite her numerous crimes. Here is a sample:

      1) Failing to protect American embassy staff in Benghazi and lying about it
      2) Using insecure server for classified email
      3) Deleting thousands of emails while under FBI investigation
      4) Corruption and conflict of interests at the Clinton foundation
      5) Harassment of Women who were molested by Bill Clinton.

      Do you think Hillary cares about non-white Americans? She will take their votes and will tell them “see you in four years time”. What non-whites, in particular blacks, need is not the expansion of welfare dependency. They need housing, job protection, good schools for decent education, training programs for prevention of drug use and teenage pregnancy.

      • Abraham H.

        Selam Simon K.,
        Yes, the ascent of Hitler to power is quite controversial; but there is a fact and that is his Nazi Parti had won a largest number of the seats in the Reichstag elections that were held on July 1932 and November 1932. The Nazis didn’t win absolute majority in those elections but managed to form coalition with another far right party winning most seats in the Parliament, a position that gave Hitler to claim the position of the Chancellor. So, seen from this side, we could say Hitler indeed came to power through democratic processes; what followed after he eventually got the reins of power is another history.
        As to the what you listed as “crime” of “crooked” Hillary, i think the American system has done its extensive investigations, even upto yesterday, on the issues without rendering the “guilty” verdict on her. So the story ends there, either one has to support and believe in the US system or reject it totally and declare “war” on it. One cannot praise the FBI whenever they start investigations on Hillary, and reject them as rigged or corrupt whenever they reach their conclusions, that she is not to be held accountable. I think, one of the most serious issues that are comming from the Trump camp is the claim that the system is rigged; this is so dangerous that it could lead to people losing trust on the sytem and on democracy itself, which could potentially lead to rise of dictatorship.

  • Peace!

    Dear Awatawian,

    New York Marathon 2016: Congratulations to ERITREA and Ghermay Ghebreslassie for an extraordinarily Victory!!!!!!!


  • MS

    Ahlan Ali Salem, the mad scientist
    I will skip you reality orientation game, thanks though. I will also skip your revision of our REVOLUTIO (if an emphasis of the term could get you to lose your mind so that you will agree with me). That’s because, according to your postulate, one needs to lose his/her mind in order to come to reality; or, like Koko, one has to behave/act as a subject of a Mad Scientist. I skip it because you take social process as a commodity product. It has to be designed, run some testing, get a prototype, test it again, check out market prospects, come back to production, and the result will be similar to what you predicted. You miss the dynamics that a social process goes through. According to your judgement, if ELF/EPLF were radical leftists in the seventies, they could not evolve into moderate leftists in the eighties, or/and they could not embrace liberal ideas in the nineties. You treat them as how a controlled processing of a product would behave because a Mercedes model is the same ten/twenty years later. It will have the same components, the same behavior, and about the same class of people will have the taste for it. Just deduct the depreciation, other wise, it is predictable. Saleh Younis gave you a better reply on this, hence, I’m not going to detail the ideological shifts and dynamics EPLF went through. Right after independence, the talk of town was whether to dissolve the EPLF or restructure it in a way it becomes a competing partner. Very few will believe this unless you were there; or unless you followed, in good faith, the writings and interviews of top EPLF leaders who are now in the opposition, starting with Ambassador AdHanom G/Mariam, where he captures the debates that were taking place within the CC in his “wefri barnet”paper; others such as Ambassador Andebrhan, Mesfen Hagos, Ahmed AlQaysi have shaded light to the process. One needs to retrace the political and constitutional process and the internal wrangling that took place within the organization in order to understand this. Many founding leaders of EPLF worked tirelessly, and gave their lives, in order to ensure the fruition of that process in the years running up to the infamous rounding up of almost all top leaders of EPLF. Therefore, your self-righteous pronouncements, regarding this and other topics, are the product of angered mind.
    Coming to your attempt to lay a fat cushion for conditions that could lead Jemhuryet (The Republic of Bejastan), I have the following to say.
    There is no whole without parts and there are no parts without whole. There is no national “cake without local “cakes”; and there are no local “cakes without national cake, for locals are subsets of a Grand National Set. The strength of the local condition is the strength of the National condition and the strength of the national condition is the strength of the local. One thinks of representing the local community (constituency) not only to compete on splitting the national cake, but to behave and act in a way that contributes that the national cake becomes bigger so that the shares returning to the communities become even bigger.The representative of the local communities or representatives who hail from the underdog constituencies indeed form horizontal alliance in order to reduce or, if possible, eliminate the tendency of the dominant party, coalition, communities, etc. But they must always do it in a responsible way as they are not only a competing animals but representatives of their locals as well as, to some degree, the representatives of their national governments. It’s a matter of balance in order for the “whole” and “parts” to keep nourishing each other, therefore, ensure the continuity of the body. Your “convergence” and “divergence” is nothing but what modern politics is ought to be expressing itself. States, provinces, counties (weredas, awrajas,kilils…), or small opposition political parties form and dissolve alliance based on the convergence of their interests. Local communities re-elect a coalition or party whose policies converge with their priorities and fire ruling coalition or party whose policies diverge with what the locals see as their priorities. Your model misses an important point. Political scientists have long believed that unless there is a harness (constitutions and laws), societies would lose a binding/harmonizing, moderating and modulating mechanism, thus they have theorized ideal frameworks of governments and constitutions that cater to different societies. In societies with primitive political semblance, there are laws that govern the activities of the elites/brokers in order to observe the balance between the locale and the national structures, laws and ethical codes that govern officials, laws and regulations that distribute power and resources to different community levels, etc. You seem to imagine societies in the form of economic models where commodities and services are in continuous fluidity depending on the oscillation of supply and demand curve, where the free market goes through the bumps depending on the whims and tempers of traders. Models are good in predicting the outcome of certain computations in natural world (including markets) where the inputs of certain variables will determine certain output. Society and social process such as running a nation is a bit complex. A: it is a conscious process such that the act of conscious compromises are done in order to perfect the union; B: The variables are so boundless (you are talking of millions of brains, in a given moment, humming and buzzing, one local broker or leader can create a havoc at any moment. That’s what we observe in some areas of the world where warlords are born out of minor political disputes, where locales and tribes are butchering each other in the aftermath of election, etc. Once things take shape and the pattern sways towards disorder, it’s a matter of delicate handling, otherwise, it could quickly lead to chaos, civil war and disintegration.
    A word of wisdom: You are a terrific writer, but you write to satisfy your whims. The reason why I call you a mad scientist is this: Indeed you are a scientist. But you are so mad that your experiments might finally doom your lab (the country we call Eritrea), but it seems you care less about it. According to you, Eritrea is an aborted idea. In that sense, you may not be as mad as I thought. It could be why Gual Adem has finally found someone she falls in love with, after YG’s long absence.
    Great Mind, but I don’t know if it could not light up a kilometer cube. You could make it light up the whole nation. Just think about it.

  • saay7

    Selamat Ali Salim:

    You’ve invited your readers, if we have some time to waste, “to please read what I wrote or tell me what it says.” This, in a nutshell, has always been the appeal of Ali Salim. When you were causing, and particularly SGJ a massive migraine, people used to ask me, “and why do you publish him?” and the only thing I could say was a line from Pulp Fiction: what Mia Wallace tells Vincent Vega:

    MW: Did you think of something to say?
    VV: Actually I did. However, you seem like a nice person and I don’t want to offend you.
    MW: Ooooooh. This doesn’t sound like the usual mindless, boring, getting to know you chit-chat! This sounds like you actually have something to say.

    Now, then, what has Ali Salim brought to us this time? What is he saying (“tell me what it says”)? And why do I not agree with his interpretation or why, I think, it leaves out a massive other-side-of-the-story that renders incomplete? Well, strap in boys and girls: it is Saturday and I have some time to waste. Warning: this posting might end up being longer than your article.

    One of your gifts, Ali Salim, is coining phrases. They are memorable and you have a unique talent for coining phrases that are memorable and alienating/confusing including: land-grabbers, Takfiris, Nazis, Bejastan, Aboy Gereweina, Let’s begin in reverse order: I know you meant it generically but did you know that that is the name of an actual guy in Asmara and his grandkids are right this moment reading this? They are asking what does this guy have against grandpa. One of his sons is super-connected to Wediboy Afwerki. Also, Bejastan? Really, Ali Salim. Can’t we try Beja Midir or Ad Beja or something that has no “stan” as in pakistan, afghanistan and all those far away places with whom we have nothing in common? Nazis is an over-used adjective in the Internet. So let’s deal with your latest invention: Takfiris and let’s bring along the rest of our non-Muslim readers how it is practiced in Islam (or in its perverted variation) to see whether it applies to the State of Eritrea. (All you Muslims: skip the next paragraph; I will see you in para after.

    A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Islam was a tolerant religion and Islamic states dealt fairly with their citizens, including those who didn’t believe in Islam. Then (come on, this is the truncated version) the Saudis discovered oil right around the time a “reformer” named Abdulwahab (thus “Wahabi”, the pejorative to Selefi Islam) had consolidated his stranglehold on Islam in Saudi Arabia. The Saudis used this oil revenue to push their version of pleasure-starved, women-oppressing, progress-denying, death-embracing Islam. And this version kept getting more and more radicalized to the point that in contrast to Islam which believes that there are five pillars of faith and we are ok with you if you believe on only two (No god but God and Mohammed his Messenger) and if you don’t, it is your loss and you have to deal with the AfterLife, these Takfiri (ISIS, Alqaeda, Shabab, Boko Haram) guys came up with a long evolving list (only they know how long the ever-evolving list is, and they don’t even agree with each other with Boko Haram actually naming itself “Education Is A Sin”) and if you don’t believe, you are an enemy and if you are an enemy you must be killed, preferably brutally.

    ‘Opinions’ are products of one’s imagination based on subjective interpretation of some data. They are results-oriented and no matter what analytical tools you use, you will love the conclusions. Ideological positions are conclusions derived through the application of the theory of change on an objective interpretation of the data

    The Takfiris are the heirs of…Stalin. He was all about purging, based on real or assumed deviations from whatever the Revolution (i.e., himself) believed to be the True Path. So, to the extent we have a “Takfiri State” in Eritrea, it is only because it is a continuation of Ghedli because, remember, we only had 3 categories during the Revolution: “sewrawian”(revolutionaries), “tebelesti” (opportunists) and “xere gedli.” (counter-revolutionaries.) The transition from tebelaxai to xere gedhli was short (you get a letter warning you to shape up) and if the Revolution (i.e. whoever was in charge of Halewa Sewra) decides you are xere ghedli, your fate is “revolutionary justice” (assassination.)

    In the State of Eritrea, the distinction is still there. You are hagherawi (nationalist) a dues-paying, meeting-attending, flag-waving, mekhete-demonstrating Eritrean. Or you are guguy/meskin (a confused innocent). Or you are kedaE (traitor, quisling, regime-change advocate.) Incidentally, Eritrea is the only country in the world where peacefully demanding that the current government should resign makes you a “regime-change advocate”. The transition between guguy/meskin is simple: write an apology letter (straight from the novel 1984.) If you make the change from kedaE to Hagherawi, you are an instant superstar.

    I am losing you. You are saying get to the good part: Aslamay, krstyanay, wedi qola, dega. Right? Getting there. But first, if one more of you people sends me the Meles Zenawi-Paul Henze interview of 1990 to show how visionary Meles was, I am sending a skip-tracer on you. That Eritrea’s fissures were Aslamay/Krstayanay Wedi Qola/Dega (Muslim/Christian, highlander/lowlander) were known since 1890 when Italy had separate land policies for both (confiscating lowland lands.) So, Xelim please, don’t make it sound like the “brilliant” Meles Zenawi discovered this. The ELF’s decision to liquidate all lowlander dissidents (Obel, PLF1) and spare highlander dissidents (isaias Afwerki, PLF2) was based on this fissure.

    This is still the “usual mindless, boring, getting to know you chit-chat!” Tayyib.

    Half a century after the explosion of the armed struggle for independence and a quarter of a century after its achievement, we are in the middle of debating the viability of the State of Eritrea.

    But who are debating this? Isn’t it self-appointed spokespersons for Tigrinya/Kebessa and Muslim/metaHet? But we don’t know how to quantify you: are you like 1% of the population? I mean mekteb alebkum: muzaharat alebkum

    So let’s validate your view and your counterparts from kebesa/tigrinya who question the viability of Eritrea.

    Yours is: my land is taken, my culture is gentrified. I started the whole damn revolution and i can’t get back home.
    Theirs is: I bled for this country, disproportionately. And what did I get? Nothing. I am exiled, my pope is imprisoned. A long civilization I am proud of, I am being told to disown. And my so-called compatriots, have chosen their other identity–Muslim–with their arduAllah Wasie (God’s Land is Wide) and have no interest in fighting for their Eritrean identity. They are out there saying a home in Saudi Arabia or Sudan or wherever which is close to a Mosque is better than my ancestral land. They are out there embracing whatever crazy idea the Islamists, wahabists, selefists, Takfris espouse: I know becuause I see their damn postings on facebook.

    So, truth-teller Ali Salim: what do you have to say to them? Don’t you think you guys should get together and talk?

    Meanwhile, us Eritrea romantics believe this:

    * well, sure, you are absolutely right: the guy who was martyred in some merciless war, may have just attended some political seminar about the greatness of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But you know what? That was never his motivation to join the armed struggle. Putting an end to injustice was;
    * well sure. Both the ELF and EPLF were communist organizations where what they were striving for was, as you put it memorably, “under ideal conditions, you would have ended up with a communist state, chairman for life, no constitution and Red Terror everywhere.” But there would have been a party (like Chinas) and, furthermore, it was all rebooted after EPLF’s Second Congress where they pledged their allegiance to civil liberties. Don’t make me send you the programme.
    * well, no, those whose wrote the 1997 constitution were not “hire hands” because the constitution was debated and we were given ownership.
    * Many of the oppositon organizations don’t really believe in individual rights but community rights. What they want, Abu Ulwa, is to create their own mini-dictatorships in their own little regions. Until people believe that the individual is sovereign (not the “community”, however you define it), it is basically trading one dictatorship for another. This conversation actually occured with one of the Federalist orgs:

    Federalist: We just want to have the autonomy to administer our regions the way we see fit. They (you know who “they” is) can administer the way they see fit.
    interviewer: What will you do with the minorities in areas “they” control.
    Federalist: you know, Barka is a huge region. They can always relocate to Barka.

    The way I see it Abu Ulwa, going back to Nyrere, the best of African thinkers have never believe in making the “individual citizen” supreme. They use all sorts of Pan African, religious reasons to justify why, in Africa, the collective is more important than the individual. And until we have such transformation, African politics, Eritrean politics, will always be about trading one form of dictatorship for another.


    PS: its saturday so videos are welcome: here’s the scene from Pulp Fiction:

    • blink

      Dear Saay
      Thanks man .

    • MS

      MarHaben bek Ustaz Saleh
      Just back from a long trip, and I’m glad not to have missed this. One of SAAY’s memorable replies.

    • Ismail AA

      Hayak Allah saay,

      Robust feedback that can challenge Abu Ulwa to spend some time on. There is no doubt Ali is a very sharp-minded man whose contributions should be welcome and read with open and mercilessly critical mind like you have done. In my view, a counterpart on Ali”s level and erudition is also useful so that people who seek rationally appraised middle way could have two perspectives to in order to come up with unifying and practical conclusions.

    • Amanuel Hidrat

      Merhaba Saay,

      Your comment sounds like a political therapy to pull back our “Younis Hossein” aka “Ali Salim” from the extreme non ideological social construction to the center of Eritrean politics, which otherwise, some consider his writing as psychological shock therapy, intended to pull the political community to address the socio-political imbalance in the Eritrean politics. I hope Younis will lend his ears to your advise, and that there are many different approaches to address his grievances (which are real) and use his sharp mind for the common good. Younis is a great creative and provocative intellectual, if he could use his intellect, to bring alternative solutions to our current national predicament.

      On other note, you touched about “individual rights and community (group) rights,” what we, otherwise frame it as “individual right vs group rights”. One who does not believe on “group rights” does not believe on “individual right” as individuals have the right to organize in a group (community) for their common interest, in any democratic process. But let us leave the subject aside for another time, as the focus of your comment is intended to veer away Younis from extreme position to the center.

      Amanuel Hidrat

    • AliSalim

      Selam SAAY,

      Time well wasted! Thanks to all and the love is mutual. I guess the way people conceive things are different: some of us construct (guess) the whole from the details and some construct the details from the whole. Whatever anyone says I think is a compliment to what another has said from a different angle. We look like we are fighting but we are all trying to make sense of the whole and share what we see from where we stand.


      – Your MV & VV dialogue to say “iza birkuta imni alata” was fair. I did however mention the subject I was discussing without discussing at the beginning to be fair. Your counterargument as a whole is on the spot and I have nothing
      more to say but tip the hat.

      By way of clarifying:

      – My apologies to the family that found their daddy’s name given a character the article. I think there was another
      Gerewigna (adjective – not noun) above that you might have skipped and that one did not have kids the last time I checked.

      – You know the dynamics of where Takfirism as a concept derives a lot better than I do. Thanks for the tutorial.
      The concept (deducting all theological content from it) can be a useful coin as you said to describe the act of declaring a community an existential threat, giving up on any attempts to reclaim it and actively working at destroying it. Here I think you, MS and Emma and others seem to be reading too much into my intentions as implied from experience. Bejastan is only one of the cases that might find the coin useful. It can be applied by almost every group in Eritrea: the youth that are throwing themselves into death after giving up on the PFDJ are
      reverse-Takfirists in a way.

      – You mentioned a very important point alleging that the ones “debating the viability of the State of Eritrea” are the “self-appointed spokespersons for Tigrinya/Kebessa and Muslim/metaHet” and then you mention “we” in “we don’t know how to quantify you”. That I think is one of the key arguments I tried to make.

      Now don’t get me wrong and let us assume that the “we” does not contain you personally or anyone that we know in this forum so that they don’t get offended. According to the model (call it anything) the elites who are also the
      only legitimate power brokers come from local communities. I don’t mean their residential address is a community but they are the voices of local communities. The “false elite” who have no local cause or constituency they speak for are also useful as retailers of the “national agenda” if you know what I mean.

      What I think is a blunder in our politics (or applied polities as such) that we tend to overlook the impact mediating institutions that are located between the “supreme individual” and the state. Individuals do not sin in parliament. It is communities represented by brokers that speak for them who become MPs and negotiate the fate of individuals. Whose interest does the angel called “nationalist elite” represent if they do exist in real life? I can think of two places where they can exist: (a) in a hypothetical direct democracy where people do not vote other people to vote for representative but engage right with the issues; (b) in a totalitarian state where government declares the whole state as one constituency and eliminate mediating institutional representation.

      – You make a fair point that I might not have considered and that is the possibility that the EPLF (and ELF to be
      fair) had reformed from the “communist state with terror everywhere”. MS also makes the identical argument in a very appealing and nice read (is that Mahmoud by the way?).

      How about you guys consider one historical fact: all communist regimes (or at least a statistically significant number of them with the exception of one or two that we don’t know how they will end up in the future) were destroyed, dismantled and wiped out in order to give way for new thinking. This is different from individual communists who might have reformed and changed. This is to say that I agree with your point that the PFDJ’s Takfirism has its roots in that past. Correct me here but I think we are struggling to destroy it.

      My point is that totalitarian ideology (such as communism) eliminates the assumption that the state is an entity that is a negotiated (brokered) by valid communities. Community in totalitarianism is a retailer of the national agenda.

      If we get a little open, I think even the most nationalistic (“maqTuE min shajara”) has some local agenda. The
      only difference is that they think they can bypass the need for their communities to negotiate through elected representatives (direct brokers) and instead they as “elite” will do the job for them by bringing about democracy. The way to do this is easy: dismantle the local community into dispassionate individuals.

      Thanks for helping me waste some time.


      • MS

        Selam AliSalim
        I must say that I’m among those who say “what a mind” and end it with እንታይ’ሞ ክኸውን/ካ ሚ እግል ልግዴ ቱ እሊ? The point: You have this amzing mind for constructing abstructs, and a language skill to express it in a way that raises goosebumps all over us. I’m just saying I wish you restrain yourself and use this sharp mind responsiblly and constructively (Ah, I’m using the language of the irrational citizens); but with all due respect, Sir, you could really help the periphery and the center or the “dominant coalition” and the “minorities/local communities” visualize a scenario or a model where each feel is a winner. Your curioussity and the ability to visualize sociao-political constructs and diagrams is amazing. However, here is the gliitch: you have so far blundered your skills (from the landgrabbers salvo to the latest predictions of Jamhuryet (republic)Bejastan. Why? Because I assume political writers write to influence, either through promoting their ideas or debunking the ideas of their opponents. Today, there is PFDJ and the opposition. You want to dismantle PFDJ, yet you discard the opposition. I would put some of the opposition organizations are established around the “local broker” proposition or vision. Couldn’t you find a harbor where you could rest for a while? I would also appreciate to elaborate on this: Normally the subject you are discussing take either of two paths: the path of dialogue and compromise or the path of rebelion. I understand from your previous writings (after you have made the famous U-TURN, that you were against rebelion and civil wars, etc. Now, remembering that apparent conviction, I assume you are against rebelion and civil strife. Therefore, the way the minorities and the majority could hammer out a compromised balance would be through dialogue. I would also assume you would not show a sign of threat to your dialogue. Perhaps you would come to the dialogue table/forum with less threatening mood, you would use language that the “other” would not interpret as an ultimatum. Well, I’m afraid the language you have been using create more problem that it would be able to solve. Your presentation assume that you are the only side that has demands; yours is the only side that could raise the bar, etc. You forget that the majority coalition (you mean it to be Tigrigna) also undergoes its own frictions. May be that coalition is not as solidly united as you seem to present it; may be it also has pockets of disgruntled communities which in a normal political process would be more inclining to have the same demands that some of the minority communities have, etc. At any rate, Hsebelu. I envy to posses your sharp mind, and the skills you display to express its thoughts. I hope to see calm down, and be more “irrational” or may be, half-hals (Nus-Nus).
        PS: Yes, MS is Mahmud.

      • saay7

        Hali AS:

        Awelen, the Pulp Fiction was reference was a compliment to you: your articles are never “the usual getting to know you chit-chat”: they are always readable and they always propose fresh ideas, whether they are written by AS Versions 1, 2 or 3. Even the fact that there versions are, to me anyway, a sign of a vibrant mind in search of the truth. It would be awesome if AS2 and AS 3 would debate, synthesize their views and present us the Roadmap.

        Some of what you are saying (your book) reminds me of other books from dead white men: the debate between the Rationalists and the Empiricists. The rationalists (Kant) believe you could reason your way to knowing reality and the empiricists (Hume) believed you have to see it, touch it, feel it. Perhaps the reason many of us gravitate towards Rationalism (irrationalism you call it) is because we are unable to see, touch, feel Eritrea and perhaps your search for knowledge has taken you to the borders of Eritrea where you feel we are describing an Eritrea that doesn’t exist? I would like to hear more from that on you because you conceded that those (unlike you, who visited but actually live there) don’t agree with your conclusions.

        The Takfris tutorial was not for you (or any other Muslim who knows too much and grieves too much for its arrival) but our Christian compatriots. I used such a truncated version I even condensed time to the point I made it sound like Abdulwahab and the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia were contemporaries when they lived more than a century apart. What I was trying to say that a Saudi without Wahabism but no oil is just some poor desert of exremists; a Saudi Arabia without Wahabism but oil is a land of playboys. Mix the two and you get the largest exporter of a warped ideology since Soviet Russia.

        Until there are elections, we are all self-appointed. The point I was making is that the self-appointed folks on the Eritrea Romantic side are willing to come out of the shadows and the self-appointed spokespersons for “Eritrea Teqolia” (you) and other suchlike claimants that it is “manufactured” or “zombie nation” never do.

        On the difference between making the individual supreme or some collective supreme (and this is also my answer to Amanuel): the argument that it is not and individual but a people who have rights is enshrined in the UN and the AU. What I am trying to say is when you make the individual supreme, then that individual has the right to choose the group (people) s/he belongs to. The individual may choose but the most important group that defines him/her is: ethnicity, region, religion, gender. When you make the group (region, religion, ethnicity) the most primary, then the individual is pigeonholed into whatever group the State finds it most convenient. For example, AS, what is the primary group (local), as you see it? Is it region (geography)? Is it ethnicity? Is it religion? And who decides?

        No disagreement on your assessment of the totalitarianism of communism: in fact, one of the points I used to make in my debate with Yosief Gebrehiwet was everything he describes as awful in Ghedli was directly tied to its embrace of communism, not its rejection of Ethiopia. We know this because at the same time, Ethiopia was going through the same awfulness of communism and it replicated (if not originated) all the awful things he blamed on Ghedli. But we also know since 1989 that a whole bunch of communists reformed themselves because the prime directive of a politician is power and if maintaining power required giving up faith, they would.


        • Ismail AA

          Hayak Allah saay,

          First my compliment for your broad readership in the field of humanities and the philosophical discourses that transformed the socio-political set up in the framework of modern heritage from which we, and others, benefit in tackling our societal problems.

          I was glad to read you’re skillful and succinct description the ruinous brand of Islam popularly known nowadays as Takfiri Wahabism. I think this phenomenon is likely to preoccupy expert endeavors for long time to come. And, geographical proximity and working and living opportunities of our citizens in the Saudi Kingdom make Eritreans dutifully eligible to take good note of this matter. Ambivalence could expose us as a nation to unimaginable cost. Ali Salem’s reference to it could appear to some of us rhetorical. But proper contemplation lends telling clues of how it can relate to our situation if we fail to tackle the problems the regime has been creating in proper and rational way.

          But the reason why I decided to scribble this feedback is to suggest the role of the British in planting the roots of the Alliance between the Wahabi sect and the Al Saud Monarchy on the basis the factors you had rightly mentioned.

          Following the betrayal of the British of their promise to the Sharief Hussien of Mecca about nheriting the Turkish possessions in the large Arab region in return of his cooperation with them in mobilizing the Arab nationalism against the Axis powers in WW I, they (The British) did not want to hand over power to Sharief Hussein who had already established claim of legitimacy through the Hashimites and their linkage to the house of the Prophet (PBU). They were afraid that Arab nationalism shall unite the Arab region into strong nation-state, which did not suit their (and the French) agenda of
          dispersing the region into many states in accordance with Sykes-Picot plan of 1916 with the approval of the Russia.

          They, therefore, plotted to prop up one of the warlords in the Najd part of the Arabian Peninsula,
          called Abdulaziz bin Saud. They helped him to defeat his competitors and patched the three parts of the Peninsula, Najd, Hijaz (Mecca and Medina region) and the eastern part of today’s kingdom. But they Abdulaziz lacked source of legitimacy for succession to his throne. They were pprehensive from the challenge from the Hashimites. Thus, the British decided to empower the Wahabi sect and
          imposed an alliance between Abdulwahab’s puritanical sect and Abdulaziz al Saud’s reign. This alliance was based on the sharing of the oil revenues between the two. That is why the Wahabi establishment is wealthy beyond imagination. As to fate of the betrayed Sharief Hussein, the British banished his two sons from Mecca and enthroned them over the curved entities of Iraq and Jordan.

      • Ismail AA

        Hayak Allah Ali,

        “….. some of us construct (guess) the whole from the details and some construct the details from the whole. Whatever anyone says I think is a compliment to what another has said from a different angle. We look like we are fighting but we are all trying to make sense of the whole and share what we see from where we stand.”

        This is a brilliant way of defining what two sides in a dialogue means in a few words. If I am not making myself a laughing stock, I will risk stating that this is Ali Salem in real world. At the end of the day, Ali is not reckless intellectual adventurer. He can be a tough bargainer at a table of serious and purpose-oriented negotiating forum. His intellectual acumen and sharp language are enormous weapons to jolt his adversaries make move towards unveiling their agenda by appearing uninterested in solutions and refusing to show his cards. If what I am saying fits in what I said in my second sentence, my apology in advance.

        Incidentally, along with these few lines, here are some questions for Ali:

        Do you approve the ELL engaging in dialogue at some point down the road if similar negotiating partners from the Tigrigna would emerge in conditions where the balance tilts against the regime? Does the answer to this question in positive sense fit my understanding of the last party of the quote above?



  • Solomon

    Selamat Mr. Husein Younis,

    Your promise is one promise I wish broken. I too love you Ali Salim the anti Land Grabers.

    I am half way through your article here, and all I hear is the conductor’s swooshing of his Penguin’s suit. Thus far, even the acoustics of Carnegie Hall, can not affect which way to distribute and redistribute the sound waves emanating first from the frantic orchestra instruments.

    The Takfir in E, commences with only the percussion section boom bookings and clink clanking drink cranking… Valkyrie like built up.


    Well, I will scroll up and scroll back down and fo Sho let you know what it’s about as I will follow HA’s reasoning and tell you AS-HY that I too LOVE you.

    [Composition under consructio
    Hey nananhh hey Na, hey nananhh Na.. weyyuu guuuuud…. High nananhh Oh naaana Eritrea medri Bejamdrr Hagerreyyy viiabbble..]

    In a minute Bris.


  • Simon Kaleab

    Selam all,

    On the crux of the main problems that concern Eritrea, this article seems to be confused, and is beating about the bush needlessly.

    The facts are:

    Eritrea became independent through a Maoist guerilla movement. Furthermore, Eritrean society is made up of communities with conflicting, multiple cultural and religious narratives [admitting this is, of course, the biggest taboo]. At the same time, Eritrea is also declared to be indivisible, by nearly all political groupings – governing or opposing.

    The nominally Christian, but deeply Maoist, Eritrean leadership tried to circumvent the problems of their society, by trying to build a nation anew through the narratives of Ghedli at the expense of all old and previous modes of thought. Here, one needs not be distracted by the internal conflicts that arose within the ruling party. These conflicts are related more to the personality and wounded egos of the individuals involved rather than their ideology.

    The political situation of united Eritrea, broadly speaking, is binary in the sense that it has two sides, but the outcome will always be unary. Whichever road is chosen it will always lead to dictatorship.

  • Hayat Adem

    Hi Ali,
    You know what: you are crazy and I’m crazily in love with you. Contrary to your de-appetizer, this is in in fact a well considered piece. There is always a risk of of misreading you, but the take away message,me thinks,is that the political system has not only defined but also made the (our) society a failed state/society (reversed world of PFDJ) and catered a system of its own that fittingly functions in such a situation, whereas, the opposition are reticent not just because they are disorganized but even more so because they are organized in a fashion that makes them unfit for the very game- hence a total match unfitness!
    Look Ali, Freud once said: the first human who hurled an insult instead of a stone was the founder of civilization. Your out-of-the-box “insults” might help us graduate from the stone-age system, who knows what!. One must be wild and free. Thanks!

  • des



    I think the opposition will reach out the masses one day, may be the momentum is slow and the expectation is high.

    To argue they are kind of they do not have support is false, revolution only starts with few people, and not all the people line up to the cause at the same time.

    My argument would be how determined are they and how thy keep on doing and change their dynamics by reading the condition they operate on.