Conflict Analysis of the current standoff between the Ethiopian government and the Muslim community

By T.,Staffer of De Birhan Media
July 23, 2012

De Birhan is collecting data to produce a long research material or in-depth reportorial on crisis between the government and Ethiopian Muslims. Over the course of the past two weeks alone, massive protests by Ethiopian Muslims rocked the capital, Addis Abeba. The regime consequently arrested scholars and activists that it said are “extremists and behind the protests”. This created a bigger standoff.   It will be a study that will broach the issue from historical, present dynamics, political aspects of the religion, and government’s role in the crisis, media, chat rooms, international (external) and other players. In the mean time, De Birhan suggests this short conflict analysis/mediator piece forward.  The analysis is done by using Christopher W. Moore’s (2003) book titled “The Meditation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict” as a conceptual framework.

Conflict Analysis

Is the synthesis and interpretation of data collected by mediator from interviews, direct observation, or examination of secondary sources. The mediator’s central task during this stage is to integrate and understand the elements of the dispute: people, dynamics, issues and interests.


  1. Data About people: names of potential and past interviewees and organizations associated with and involved in the conflictFrom the Ethiopian Muslims Arbitration Committee:  Abubeker Ahmed, head of an independent Islamic arbitration committee.
Ustaz Ahmedin Jebel, Ustaz Ahmed Mustefa, Ustaz Abubeker Ahmed,Ustaz Ahmedin Jebel, Ustaz Ahmed Mustefa, Alim Dr. Jedolani Hedir, Dr. Abdela and Dr. Kemal.From the Official Islamic Council, Sheikh Ahemedin Abdualhi.
Leadership of Al-habash both inside and outside of Ethiopia.
From the Government: Meles Zenawi, Redwan Hussien, Dr. Shiferaw Tekelemariam, Getachew Assefa, Yehdego, Werkneh Gebeyehu.
For the moment the people that are at the center of this act are those listed above. The people also represent their respective organizations.
1.1 The causes: The regime alleges the current tension and conflict that it is having is induced by few “extremists group” and that they don’t represent the critical mass. On the other hand, the Arbitration Committee that has the support of  the Muslim mass who often attend protests that it organizes says it is “airing the voices of the majority of Ethiopian Muslims”.
 According to , a pro Arbitration Committee Website  “Muslims are demanding rightful ownership of Islamic council (Majlis), an institution that supposed to represent them and their interest. The incumbent leaders of the Majlis are unknown to the Muslims, and they are considered illegitimate as they are not elected. No election was held since 1997 Ethiopian Calendar, and the Majlis is often accused of acting against the interest of the Muslims. Muslims want to win back the Majlis (Islamic council), and their constitutional right to elect their representatives respected.
2. Data about relationships and dynamics:   The following triangular figure shows the three top actors in the current standoff.
The relationship of the conflicting parties: the conflicting parties can be depicted in three dimensions however the polarization is bi meaning that there are two poplars in adversary. The regime and the Council/Ahbash on one side while the Arbitration Committee with millions of supporters and worshipers on the other.  The relationship between the former is of symbiotic and “political”. The government appoints the leaders and members of the The Ethiopian Islamic Council. Similarly,    Al-Ahbash also known as the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects although started by an Ethiopian scholar  Abdullah al-Harari, came into Ethiopia through “the invitation of the Ethiopian government and the Islamic Council.” 

The current Al-Ahbash teaching which is resented by the Arbitration Committee and its followers   is one major polarizing issue. On the opposite side of the continuum is the Arbitration Committee. The 17 member Committee, mostly composed of Muslim scholars has been established to find a solution to three main areas of conflict:  free and fair election of Islamic Council Members and Awolia School, ceasing of the “promotion and teaching of Al-Ahbash and complete stoppage of government interference in the religious affairs of Ethiopian Muslims”.                               

A grasp of historical events and trends that have led to the present  conflict:  The history of the current Ethiopian regime and Ethiopian Muslims has broadly speaking been cordial and positive. The current regime had allowed religious freedom “better than”   previous regimes. Many religious denominations and sects developed in    the nation.  Various sects and teachings of Islam have also bred.
The regime at various occasions claimed “an extreme sect of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism has penetrated Ethiopia” and it even alleges the burnings of Christian churches and current massive movements to “Wahhabists”. In fact, a Winileaks cable  filed on 2009-07-15 by the then U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia, Donald Yamamoto reports “Arab Wahabi missionaries, mainly from Saudi Arabia, continue to make inroads into the Ethiopian Muslim community, but are meeting increasing resistance in doing so”.
The sudden measures that the government   took in firing Awolia School teachers and taking over the school administration, introduction of Al-Habash teachings specifically lead to the current tension     and conflicts.    
     Development of conflict relationships: timeliness and case study  scenarios:

–  Late 2011/ 2012 – large scale protests by Ethiopian Muslims every Friday at Anwar Mosque, Addis Abeba
2010/11 Actions by the regime. Reorganizing Awolia School and reshuffling staff members. Beginning of the teaching of Al-Habash to Ethiopian Muslim clerics and mosques. 
-In 2009/10….Founding of a Discussion forum called “Ethio Muslims Interfaith Dialogue for Justice” and various media on Islamic issues: Bilal Communications and Badr Broadcasting Network and Africa TV.
– 1996 to present – sporadic cases and reports of the burning of mosques and churches.
– 1991 to present- Intensification and entrenchment of Islamic sects, teachings and scholarships in Ethiopia. Government has been cooperative all the way up until recently.
Case Study scenarios:
Ethio Muslims Interfaith Dialogue for Justice (EMIDJ) 
In 2009/10, an online discussion forum called “Ethio Muslims Interfaith Dialogue for Justice” was opened to discuss issues of concern of Ethiopian Muslims. This writer has been attending the discussions on and off since then. Participants at the start highly criticized previous regimes and kings of Ethiopia for “repressing and exterminating” the religion and worshipers in Ethiopia. They criticized and often spoke against certain behaviors that are “anti- Islam” in present day Ethiopia that are practiced by Ethiopian Christians than the regime. One famous religious leader advocated for “a change of culture in behavior and relationship” between the Ethiopian Muslims and Christians. They also advocated for more rights and equality of Muslims in present day Ethiopia. One of the major issues that they advocated was “the building of a Mosque” in Axum, Tigray. Then all of a sudden, the regime came with various moves, programs and plans including firing the “Teachers of Awolia School and introduction of a new teaching labeled “moderate” called Al-Habash. This broke their ‘love affair’ once and for all, says an observer. The discussion in the Forum also changed and became anti- regime. Now members of this discussion Room, mostly in the Diaspora, that often reach up to 500 at some point of the day openly support the Arbitration Committee in Addis Abeba and oppose the regime.
These timeline entries didn’t include: specific communities, failure to communicate, interviews, press release, public meetings, policy and economic changes. This is one shortcoming of this assessment

3.Data about substantive issues: This relates to issues, interests, positions and potential settlement options chart. This chart plots the disputants stated issues and positions in an organized manner and then identify the underlying interests behind those positions. It identifies potential settlement options.
Potential Settlement options
Awolia School
Government/Islamic Council
Should be under regime’s/public control/Mejlis
Making it semi public/religious school. Or agree to offer religious courses having it as a secular school.
Arbitration committee
The protesters do not want the college to be under the despised Mejlis.
Islamic council (Majlis)
Government/Islamic Council
Agrees can be led by elected members but election should be held in gov’t’s district offices. Regime looks unwilling to lose hand over the Majilis.
Agreeing to hold elections of Majilis members at an “uncontested” place
Arbitration committee
Should be independent and elections in Mosques or other places.
Government/Islamic Council
Want to ‘promote and allow it to be taught”
Regime should immediately stop forced promotion of Al-Habash on worshipers. Muslim activists should know that worshipers do always follow any group that teaches ‘truth and justice’. 
Arbitration committee
Detest its ‘promotion and teachings in Islamic venues and for a”
Government/Islamic Council
Discourage it and accuses them of demanding to form “Islamic state, implement of Sharia
Both parties discourage and vow to fight extremism and this should be promoted.
Government/Islamic Council
Discourage it
Data Interpretation
Unrealistic causes of conflict 
  • Strong emotions that are not based in objective reality are exhibited on the government’s side propaganda and miscalculated policy actions.
  • Misinterpretations about motivations of the Arbitration Committee. There are many causes and reasons the Arbitration Committee has been advocating and seeking, the overarching motive being freedom from “government interference”, all but few have been interpreted/broadcast correctly by the government. 
  • Stereotypes – mainstream created stereotypes about the religion have also been propagated by regime owned and run media. 
  •  Miscommunication: there exists perceived miscommunication between the regime and the Committee, the public and State media, State Media and Committee’s media.  
  • Attempts to force an agreement: there exists little flexibility between both sides. Both attempt to force their own agendas to be agreed than reach a win-win or compromise.
Genuine causes of conflict
  •  Actual competing substantive procedural or psychological interests: these are the main problems and issues listed in the above table.
  •  Structural constraints: competing roles, unequal power/authority: there is a grand competition between all parties to win the support of the mass and be in leadership position and lead. A win-lose battle. 
  •  Destructive behavior, patterns caused by external parties such as environment or time: the Arab Spring, geopolitical interests and competition between the West and the Arab world.  At this day and age, when religion has become political instrument and when Arab spring has reached all countries within its spheres of influence.
Assessment and Conclusion
 Present effects:  The effect of the current protests and confrontation between the regime and Ethiopian Muslim communities is multifaceted. It has historical, political, social , international, geopolitical and rights origins. The crisis has reportedly caused a division and disagreement within the top leadership of the ruling party too. Redwan Hussien , the ruling EPRDF’s Public mobilization and Participation Advisor Minister to the Prime Minister and Muktar Kedir, Head of the Office of the Prime Minister and also Minister of Cabinet Affairs and General Samora Younis, Chief of Staff of the Ethiopian National Defence Forcess are all Muslims who have reportedly grumbled their opposition to the current crackdown on Muslim protesters.  The event causes an endless political rift within the ruling party and national political discourse further fragmenting the political stakes of the country into religion. Economically, the Muslim community in Ethiopia is the back bone of the business sector, hence boycott and protest actions by this section of the population and the economy, is capable of crippling the ailing economy and making the life of citizens difficult.  The age old social and cultural intermingling and cohesion of Ethiopian Muslims and Christians might through time be also affected due to “miscommunication and misinterpretation of the real causes of the conflict” done regime owned media and propagandists.  
Importantly, the inability of the regime to solve the debacle over the roundtable and the stubbornness of some representatives of the Arbitration Committee has majorly led to the current level of crisis.   Some of the causes of the conflict that we listed in the above data interpretation stage could have been solved at an earlier stage or can even be solved now before the standoff gets out of control and reaches a “violent” stage.
From the outset, the representatives of the Arbitration Committee vowed that they are all peaceful and would only use peaceful ways of protest to achieve their goals.  Since the start of massive protests in Addis Abeba “no” violence was seen or recorded on the side of Muslim protesters.  However, there is no guarantee this will continue to the end. Two major causes that are likely to proliferate extremism and radicalization in Ethiopia are the actions of the regime and few “radical Muslim scholars/preachers”.  Unless, the regime becomes wise, calculative and intelligent in solving the conflict by applying traditional and modern conflict resolution methods, and the more it resorts to using force as a means and an end,  “violence and radicalization” from the other side are inevitable (see the case of Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia”.  The recent mass arrests and absence of breathing space as in the opposition politics and media cases, are steps leading towards that. 

Secondly, there are ‘few’ Muslim activists and scholars who ‘teach and advocate intolerance and radical and politicized Islam” in Ethiopia. Innocent worshipers are apt to be lured and used by them. They are as dangerous as the actions of the regime in radicalizing the peaceful worshipers and protesters. The rarest but undeniable possibility is that, Ethiopian Muslims might resort to “forming a political party and movement” to solve their issues at the policy level, this creates politicization of religion. Extremism and radicalization could possibly be the most horrible outcomes of the current standoff.
Patience, wisdom, intelligence on the side of the government in solving the crisis
As Article 11 of the current Constitution stipulates Government shouldn’t interfere in any religious affair as until and only if religion becomes a threat to “national peace and security”
International organizations, donors and governments can take a ‘supportive and cooperative’ role in kick starting a “meditation plan”.
-Flexibility and openness for compromise and coming “halfway’’ to reach an agreement
Forming a committee that is represented by all political parties to address Muslim community’s issues
-Getting all the people listed in number one on board to do sit around and be part of the meditation process. 
Applying traditional and indigenous conflict resolution methods  

Love Wins!!! 

Derese Tariku contributed to this story from Addis Abeba to De Brihan Media.