Democracy: Liberty, Security, & Prosperity

Archive for May, 2012

Meles’ recycled old tactics being rendered obsolete by a new and shrewd adversary

Posted by Jawar on May 25, 2012

Someone who knows Meles Zenawi  since childhood  once told me that  “Meles never concedes defeat. Neither does he compromise because he considers it a personal humiliation.  And he never keeps promise even to the most important people in his life.”

In his relentless fight  to  capture state power and   then  prolong his rein, Meles has played  numerous tricks, repeatedly,  on almost all segments of the society that by  now his subjects can see which card he has in his pocket before he pulls them out. Faced with a determined opposition from the Muslim community, Meles has apparently removed  the dreaded Mejlis leaders and promised to hold election in June. Here is the trick. He wants the new Mejlis leaders to be elected by delegates chosen by kebeles. Note that kebele is the lowest level of the state’s administrative structure. The ruling party’s organization further  divides the kebele into   ‘got’ and gare’ substructures  composed of few households that have been established to help the authoritarian system closely and directly  monitor and control each citizen. For instance during the 2010 election, these gare and got structures were utilized for the so called 1 for 5 strategy whereby one ruling party member was assigned for every   five voters. The one member was required to pursued  and empowered to   coerce  his assigned electorate and personally ensure that they vote, for the ruling party, on the election day. It was in this way that  Meles won a whopping 99.6%.

For the Muslim community the mosque is the lowest structural unit that should be electing delegates  that choose Mejlis  leaders at national level.  Meles prefer the kebele over the mosques because in that way the party structure at kebele level select loyalists who will ensure that the Mejlis is filled by a new set of puppets. That could not happen if the election takes place through the mosques  not only because sheiks  are less inclined to cheat in  Allah’s house, but also because, as I  noted before, mosques and their imams are organized in such way that makes it hard to control and manipulate their functions.

“Every mosque and religious leader functions as an autonomous entity and agency. Mosques are usually constructed by each community; imams are members of the local population – who volunteer their service and rarely draw salary. Muslim clerics are rarely centrally ordained or appointed. The religious teachers (who might not necessarily be the same person as the imams) attract students based on their intellectual fame, and their centers are sustained through local support. Therefore, there is minimal networking among mosques, little outside and top-down control over the content of what religious scholars teach, what imams preach or how a specific mosque functions.”

Therefore, Meles who is allergic to free and fair elections, knows that neither cooptation nor intimidation can get him  the kind of results he would like to see  if the elections take place at the mosques. By trying to organize the election by kebeles he is trying to get away with such obviously slanderous moves.  He has used similar tricks on national elections (delaying results, appointing party members as election chiefs, appointing the same person to lead the electoral board and also the Supreme Court—where decision of board should be appealed to etc).  Aside from the fact that he is attempting to deceive the protesters with such overused maneuvers, his current tricks are already detailed in the government’s  initial  strategy papers  1 & 2  that were leaked to the activists.For the regime’s  strategy  at lower level see the detailed implementation plan for East Hararghe zone. The protesters knew the regime’s strategic motives even before the concessions were floated, hence unanimously rejected them.

Meles Zenawi is a survivor. He has strategically outsmarted many with far superior credentials, both inside the TPLF, at the national political arena, and at the global level. However, this time he seems to have found his match in a group of Muslim activists who have called him out on his bluffs.  He had threatened severe action, to no avail. He has intimidated the activists by arresting their leaders.  This too did not work. His security forces conducted crackdowns meant to cow the populace into submission. This too failed to bear fruit and instead backfired by galvanizing the entire population in support of the core activists.  He attempted to label them as terrorist, but the activists debunked his  claim showing an unprecedented nonviolent discipline. He tried to divide them into Sufi’s and Salafi’s but the religious leaders responded by freezing their normal  theological disputes and rising up in unison. In the following picture are Dr Jaylan, the leading Salafi scholar in Ethiopia and Sheik   Ahmed Burri  one of the highest authority in the Sufi order and imam of Bilal Mosque. A according Aljazeera Arabic, directly responding to Meles allegation that activists are agitating for an Islamic state, Dr Jaylan told that only a mad person could dream of a religious political system in multi-faith country as Ethiopia. Also with them is Hassen Taju,  an intellectual who is known for  debunking extremist views whenever some tries to sneak it  into the Muslim community,and  for promoting  intra-Muslim and interfaith  tolerance and pluralism. According to Professor Terje Ostebo,

“with the appearance of the Takfir wal Hijrah group in 1994-95, it seemed that the Salafi movement would move  in a new  direction… distancing themselves Christians, they also severed connection with other Muslims, refusing to pray with them…a young scholar named Hassan Taju in 2002 published a book fiercely criticizing Takfir, the group lost much of its momentum” (Østebø, 2007, p. 9).

The leaders are holding hand and embracing each other in show of solidarity and unity at the conclusion of a joint conference. Similarly, members of the central coordinating  committee  of the protest, who are painted as  militant religious fanatics  by regime made fun of the propaganda by organizing a soccer match. In addition to the public conference, such pictures  are widely circulated within the social media, effectively countering the regimes campaigns  aimed at creating sectarian rift among the Muslims and misleading domestic and international stakeholders.

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Having exhausted his toolbox, Meles is resorting to putting his opponents into disarray by offering fake concessions. However  while  pretending to concede , the regime has intensified  the Habeshi indoctrination campaign nationwide–which is a reason why it refuses to publicly commit to the concessions.  Predictably having failed to bring the real imams and ulamma on board, as shown in this video, the regime has dressed up its own cadres ( some of whom I personally recognize)  to pretend as religious leaders and endorse the regimes campaigns. Unfortunately as they were gathered  in a rush in response to the rapidly growing protest , the cadres do not appear to have had sufficient   time to rehearse  religious style of speaking, let alone understand and combat the well-read  leaders leaders of the protest  in such complicated theological debate.

From what we observe so far, coordinators of the Muslim  protest have demonstrated commendable strategic capabilities.  However, their success , in part, could be attributed to a)  the the regime’s  ‘incumbency fatigue’ of   that  made it easier for them to predict and preempt  repressive and divisive tactics   b) the regime’s    lack of experience in dealing with religious based resistance which led  it to underestimate the new adversary and also take actions  that backfired increasing and spreading the protest. Yet  these factors cut both ways. 1) As new movement dealing with a delicate issue,  the possibility to make costly mistakes is significant. 2) Just as the protesters have learned from Meles’ past tactics, authoritarian regimes are also known for being quick learners and  adaptive to new circumstances . Therefore, the protests ability  to sustain its current momentum  depends on maintaining  discipline, strengthening cohesiveness and diversifying resistance tactics.

Regardless of  what the ultimate outcome of the current confrontation might be,  the protest  has brought Islam and Muslim affairs  to the forefront of our contemporary political discourse paving the way for open public dialog. By blowing the lid off the political taboo and desensitizing the subject, the protesters have created conducive environment for young scholars like Alemayehu Fantaw  to produce balanced and rigorous , albeit brief , analysis that challenges the  alarmist assumptions that have unnecessarily and dangerously  secularized the issue.


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