CAIRO - A provocative documentary film aired by Ethiopia state-TV has infuriated the country's Muslims, accusing it of blurring the distinction between legitimate peaceful protests by the county's Muslims and violent terrorist groups in Africa.
The risks posed by violent religious radicalism in Ethiopia are not imaginary, Jon Abbink, senior researcher from the African studies center at Leiden University in the Netherlands, told Christian Science Monitor.
But the documentary is probably over-doing it; the susceptibility of Muslims in Ethiopia to Al Qaeda-like radicalization is slim, he says.
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Abbink added that the film would appear to delegitimize peaceful political disagreements by Muslims and set up the possibility of a backlash.
The program, Jihadawi Harekat (Holy War Movement), ran on state-TV at peak watching hours last week.
The provocative film associates local Muslim protesters now on trial with militant groups such as Nigeria's Boko Haram movement and Somalia's Al Shabab.
It starts with shots of Al Shabab fighters in Somalia and scenes of carnage following Boko Haram bomb attacks in Nigeria.
Then, inexplicably, clips of interviews with some of the 29 Muslims on trial and of speeches from the Awalia Muslim Mission school leaders followed.
Interviews with ordinary Ethiopian citizens appeared later, saying that the Muslim group's demands for more religious autonomy were bogus because there is ample religious freedom in Ethiopia.
The film was repeated later on consecutive days at peak-time after the news.
Muslims make up about 34 percent of Ethiopia's population, according to a government census in 2007.
Yet, other sources put Ethiopia Muslims at about 50% of the country's population.
Protesting the provocative film, tens of thousands of Muslims gathered around Grand Anwar, the largest mosque in Ethiopia.
The whole thing was coordinated by the government, says Kedir Mohammed, a taxi driver, expressing skepticism.
This is going to increase more and more until those people are released.
Gathering after Friday prayers last week, protests held signs proclaiming ETV is a liar and ETV. Made in False.
There's no fear but people became more angry with the government, says 17-year-old trader Abdulkarim Mohammed.
Angry comments were not limited to Ethiopia Muslims.
Opposition politicians were similarly outraged when ETV, the only Ethiopian broadcaster, screened a comparably skewed program, Akeldama [Field of Blood], when charismatic critics of the government Eskinder Nega and Andualem Arage were being prosecuted last year.
Dissidents view the latest broadcast as the natural act of a police state that is intolerant of dissent and dependent on divisive propaganda to focus public attention away from its misrule.
Keep on recording at least half of your crimes, that is part of our collective memory, exiled Addis Neger newspaper editor Mesfin Negash wrote in a statement addressed to Dear Oppressors on Facebook.
The only thing I like about your court drama is this aspect of recording your history of injustice and the crime you are committing in the name of justice.
Ethiopian Muslims have been protesting the government's interference in religious affairs since last year.
Protests have rocked Ethiopia over the past months over government interference in the religious affairs of the Muslim community.
Muslims accuse the government of spearheading a campaign in collaboration with the umbrella Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (Majlis) to indoctrinate their community with the ideology of a sect called Ahbash.
The Ethiopian government has put the Ahbash in charge of the religious affairs of Ethiopia's Muslims.
Muslims say the government move is in violation of the constitution, which prevents the government interference in religious affairs.
Protesters also accuse authorities of fixing elections for the Majlis, the community's main representative body, after jailing Muslim leaders who would have participated in the vote.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net