eritrea islam

OPINION: Did the Eritrean Regime Embrace Wahabism?

The State of Qatar, until recently one of the main financiers and patron of the Isaias Afwerki regime, is now its enemy together with Iran and Turkey, the triad that the Eritrean regime alleges it promotes the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In March 2015, a Saudi led coalition in which the United Arab Emirate is a major partner, declared war on Yemen over the Houthi resistance, a rebellion that has been simmering for many years. That must have been a boon for the Eritrean regime.

Since it came to power in 1991 after defeating the Ethiopian Derg regime, the Eritrean rebel group has been pursuing a struggle to become a major actor in the geopolitics of the volatile region that includes Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Djibouti, Yemen, and the Congo. Its overly ambitious pursuit of relevance has costed Eritrea greatly, and immersed it in endless wars that resulted in appalling destitution, egregious governance, and lack of basic freedoms.

As anticipated, in June 2017 the relations between the Arab Gulf countries deteriorated as the war against Yemen lingered on. Unsurprisingly, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates imposed a comprehensive trade and diplomatic blockade on Qatar. Soon, the Eritrean ruling party (PFDJ) made a sudden shift in its relationship with Qatar and openly allied itself with the Saudi led coalition.

Consequently, Isaias Afwerki, the Eritrean tyrant, entangled himself in the latest cycle of the region’s quagmire: on one hand, he plunged himself in the rivalry of the Muslim Brotherhood and Wahabis, and on the other, into the Sunni-Shia conflict that has been ravaging the region for many decades. No doubt the current misadventure must have offered Isaias Afwerki a tiny window of opportunity to satiate his desperation that was caused by his endless search for relevance in the regional politics.

Crystallizing the New Position

The PFDJ’s new position began to be crystallized in September 7, 2017 when Fasil Gebresellasie, the regime’s ambassador to Egypt, was interviewed by an Egyptian website. The ambassador attempted to widen the dimensions of the Gulf crisis by tickling the Egyptian sensitivity regarding the Nile water and the Dam that Ethiopia is about to finish building, by alleging that “Some Western and [Arab] Gulf countries stand behind Ethiopia and support the construction of the Renaissance Dam.”

Given the context of the fomenting crisis in the region, and his government’s position, by “some Western and [Arab] Gulf countries…”  the ambassador meant Qatar and the USA. According to him, both countries are supporting Ethiopia in building the Renaissance Dam to choke Egypt of the Nile waters. Certainly, that cheap pandering by the ambassador doesn’t benefit Eritrea; its only value is simply reiterating his government’s loyalty to the Saudi led alliance, in addition to appeasing the ultra-nationalists among his Egyptian hosts. In addition, it is a continuation of the PFDJ’s relentless attempts to pit Ethiopia and Egypt against each other.

In October 7, 2017, Osman Saleh, Eritrea’s foreign minister took the ambassador’s statements one level up when he said, “Eritrea is opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood and we do not allow them to come and preach in ERITREA.” He further spiced it up and stated, “Turkey and Qatar support the MUSLIM BROTERHOOD [while] Egypt is fighting them.” He didn’t forget to preempt the reaction of his Middle Eastern audience by adding Israel to the lot and stated, “we are not eager to see countries such as Turkey, Israel, Iran and others to be involved in the region.”

In addition, Osman Saleh affirmed his regime’s position, stating that, “Eritrea is on a solid path as it relates to her relations with the region. we feel we have good relations with Sudan but they [the detractors] are basing their approach by relating it [our position] with our relations with Egypt.”

PFDJ’S New Guise

It is understandable why the Eritrean regime targets the MB, it must kowtow the new policies of its new patrons. Ironically, the Saudi led coalition has targeted what is considers an Eritrean franchise of the MB. But the world knows that Saudi Arabia is the womb that carried and birthed the Wahabi sect, and its main sponsor. However, the Eritrean regime, true to its reckless nature, would never miss the opportunity to get entangled in such sectarian conflicts that doesn’t benefit Eritrea. It is shortsighted led it to portray the MB as a terrorist group while tacitly supporting an alliance led by the mother of Wahabism. And that unprincipled position was illustrated by its latest attempt to confiscate Al Diaa, a Muslim community private school in Asmara.

Incidentally, recently the Saudi crown prince declared his plans to “finish-off” the extremists who have wreaked havoc all over the world though he didn’t name Wahabis or MB specifically. At this moment, it is premature to make a judgement on how he will pursue his plans or what the reaction of the entrenched ultra conservative Wahabi sect will be. But there will be more to say on that very soon.

Throughout the 1990s, under the guise of fighting Jihadis, the Eritrean regime arrested many Muslims and made them disappear. It has started its latest bout by targeting Muslim institutions with the guise of fighting the Muslim Brotherhood.

Disregard of Religious Freedoms

Such has been the manner with which the PFDJ treated all religious institutions since it started to rule Eritrea with impunity. The Jehovah witness, the Pentecostals and the traditional Muslims were its first targets who were arrested and forgotten in the maze of prisons scattered all over Eritrea. It had already laid its hands on all the Awaqaf properties that belonged to the Muslim institutions. Finally, it went to the Orthodox church and arrested its patriarch Abune Antonios who has been under house arrest for over a decade. Having completed a full circle of arrests and intimidation, it has started a new cycle by targeting a private Muslim school in Asmara for confiscation.



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