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Ethiopia: Muslims Take Campaign Online for Religious Independence

Signs of Ethiopian Muslims online activism are mounting as they protest against government’s meddling in their religious affairs.

Ethiopian Muslims both online and offline have been protesting for over three months against alleged government's interference in their religious affairs. The protests, however, have received very little attention from international media.

Daniel Berhane explained on Facebook why the protests have received less attention from international media:

I ask: Why did the foreign media and NGOs ignored the months long Awelia Muslim school protests/disturbances, while giving extensive coverage to minor events in the right-wing camp?

I answer: That is because, the westerners media & NGO involvement in Ethiopian affairs is tuned on specific ideological agenda.

Ethiopian Muslim women. Photo source: Boyznberry Flickr page (CC BY-NC 2.0)

However, for the past two weeks the protests have generated a significant amount of news on international media as the government made it clear that it will not tolerate any activities by subversive groups that have been using Islam as a disguise to create instability in the country.

The Ethiopian government has expelled two Arabs who flew in from the Middle East after they went to Grand Anwar Mosque and allegedly tried to incite violence in the country. Just a week prior to the deportation of the two Arabs, it was also reported that security forces arrested a Muslim religious leader in the Oromia regional state for calling for Jihad. A group of Muslims who tried to free him clashed with police. Four demonstrators were killed and 10 police were wounded.

Rumours were circulating on Facebook that the government has conceded to one of their demands. Jawar Mohammed, a respected political commentator, wrote:

Rumor has it that Meles has conceded to one of the demands put forward by Muslim activists – removing the current unelected leaders of Mejlis. But there is no official news yet. Two scenarios sound plausible: a) The government has not conceded but is spreading the rumor to create a debate and confusion among the activists. The confusion will distract them from planning and coordinating their actions and could also create division..

b) The government is making such fake gesture in order to prevent this Friday's protest, which is slated to be the biggest yet, because more than 700 foreigners will be gathering in the capital for the World Economic Forum. A large protest in the presence of foreign dignitaries will give the movement more visibility. A visibility that will not only hinder the government's ability to crack down on the protesters this Friday but could also make future such crackdowns backfire.

c) The government is actually removing the Mejlis leaders ( use and throw is Meles well known game) with the hope of sucking the momentum out of the protesters and eventually replacing the Mejlis with other set of puppets.

Following these events, Ethiopian Muslims have turned to Facebook and Twitter to make their voices heard. On one of the Facebook pages created in order to coordinate the protests says [amh]:

ጠቃሚ መሳሰቢያ!!! አንዳንድ ወንድሞች በነገዉ ጁምአ ተቃዉሞን በዝምታ መገለፅ አለበት የሚለዉን መልዕክት ወይም ማሳሰቢያ የግለሰቦች ሀሳብ እየመሰላቸዉ ተክቢራዉ መቀጠል አለበት ይላሉ:: ሁሉም ሰዉ በተክቢራ ተቃዉሞን መግለፁ ጠቃሚ እንደሆነ ይስማማል::ነገር ግን የነገዉን ጁምአ በተመለከተ በሁሉም መስጂዶች ሙስሊሙ በዝምታ ተቃዉሞዉን መግለፅ እንዳለበት ሹራ ተደርጎ እና ከብዙ አቅጣጫ ታይቶ የተወሰነ መሆኑን በመረዳት ይህንን መልዕክት በየመስጂዳችን ተግባራዊ እንድናደርገዉ እናሳስባለን …….አሁንም ይህን የተለመደዉን ታዛዥነታችንን በማስቀጠል በየመስጂዶቻችን በዝምታ ተቃዉሞአችንን እንድንገልፅ በአላህ ስም እናሳስባለን::

Important notice! In tomorrow’s Juma’a (Friday) our peaceful protest should continue in silence! Some brothers might consider this message as an idea of some individuals. They might insist we should persist our protest through “tekbira” (intone), though it is agreeable to protest through chanting it has been decided that across all mosques that tomorrow’s Juma’a (Friday) our peaceful protest should continue in silence! In the name of Allah we urge you to show your protest in silence tomorrow.

Another Facebook group advocating for their cause is Ethiopia Muslims:

The overall development, prosperity and democratization processes of a country can never be realized with a marginal participation of only a segment of its population. Having passed through centuries of systematic and unfair policies, the Ethiopian Muslim community has been struggling to ascertain its very existence.

Finally, there is Nur-Ethio:

The purpose of this group is to fully empower Ethiopian Muslims socially, economically, and politically based on the Ethiopian constitution and International law..

Islam, which arrived in Ethiopia in 615, is the second-most widely practised religion in Ethiopia after Christianity.

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