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Militancy Film Upsets Ethiopia Muslims

Published: 01/03/2013 09:18:12 PM GMT
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CAIRO - A film linking Muslim protests against a government campaign to indoctrinate their community with Ahbash ideology to militant groups is inviting the ire of Muslims in the east African country.“The whole thing was c (more)

CAIRO - A film linking Muslim protests against a government campaign to indoctrinate their community with Ahbash ideology to militant groups is inviting the ire of Muslims in the east African country.

“The whole thing was coordinated by the government," Kedir Mohammed, a Muslim taxi driver, told Christian Science MonitorThe film, titled Jihadawi Harekat (Holy War Movement), was aired on state-TV at peak watching hours last week.

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It starts with shots of fighters from the militant Somali group Al Shaabab and scenes of carnage following attacks by Boko Haram militants in Nigeria.

Then, inexplicably, clips of interviews with some of the 29 Muslims on trial for participating in anti-government protests.

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.

The documentary comes following weeks of Muslims protests against government interference in their religious affairs.

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.

Muslim Image

Analysts also opine that the documentary is an attempt by the government to tarnish the image of the Muslim community.

“The risks posed by violent religious radicalism in Ethiopia are not imaginary,” said Jon Abbink, senior researcher from the African studies center at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

“But the documentary is probably over-doing it; the susceptibility of Muslims in Ethiopia to Al Qaeda-like radicalization is slim,” he says.

Abbink thinks that the film would appear to “delegitimize” peaceful political disagreements by Muslims and set up the possibility of a “backlash.”

Gathering after Friday prayers last week, Muslim protestors held signs reading “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 Ethiopian Muslims.

Opposition politicians were similarly outraged when ETV, the only Ethiopian broadcaster, screened a comparably skewed program, Akeldama [Field of Blood], when 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.”

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.

Reproduced with permission from