Tuesday, September 17, 2019

RLPB 520. Ethiopia: Church Protests -- Watershed Days

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 520 | 18 Sep 2019
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ETHIOPIA: CHURCH PROTESTS -- WATERSHED DAYS
-- plus update on Eritrea
by Elizabeth Kendal

Gondar protests, 15 Sept 2019
'Uptick in church burnings raises alarm in Ethiopia',
(Photo credit: Tewodrose Tirfe, Amhara Association of America)

On Sunday 15 September millions of members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church took to the streets in cities across Ethiopia's Amhara region to protest escalating violence against the Church. While marches were banned in Addis Ababa, massive marches went ahead peacefully and without incident in numerous cities including Dessie, Gondar, Debretabor, Meket, Kombolcha, Nefas Mewucha, Mekane Eyesus, Mekane Selam and Belesa. Communal ethno-religious violence has skyrocketed since Prime Minister Abiy Amhed commenced a series of bold reforms aimed at ending decades of repression. While PM Abiy is working hard to promote peace, facilitate reconciliation and draw people together in a prosperous, strong and united Ethiopia, vengeful and ambitious ethno-religious nationalists are dragging the nation in the opposite direction: into conflict and towards disintegration. It is in this context that more than 30 churches have been attacked.

Locations of church attacks
(click on map to enlarge)
Between 4-6 August 2018, ten Orthodox churches were burnt and nine evangelical churches were vandalised or looted while 15 priests were killed in the predominantly Muslim Jijiga zone in Ogaden region [RLPB 468 (15 Aug 2018)]. On 9 February 2019 at least 10 churches were burnt in the predominantly Muslim Alaba zone of Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region (SNNPR) [RLPB 492 (6 March 2019)]. On 18 July three churches were burnt in SNNPR's predominantly Christian Sidama Zone after Sidama ethno-nationalist youth groups -- known as Ejeto -- unilaterally declared Sidama a federal state and rioted, targeting non-ethnic Sidama, mostly Amhara, communities. Several church members who tried to protect their churches were killed and a priest was brutally murdered.

'For the sake of Allah',
a 3-minute video with Amharic subtitles.
(warning: graphic content)
In July Islamic State militants in neighbouring Somalia released a three-minute video in Amharic -- the most common language spoken in Ethiopia -- and promised to release jihadist materials in Amharic in the near future. [VIDEO available here; warning - graphic content.] Analysts surmise that Islamic State -- under pressure in Somalia from al-Qaeda affiliated al-Shabaab and Somali government forces -- is reaching out to Ethiopia's Muslim community. Along with seeking recruits, Islamic State is doubtless hoping to tap into the rising ethno-religious nationalist zeal amongst Ethiopia's Muslims to gain a foothold inside Africa's second most populous nation. On 11 September General Berhanu Jula of the Ethiopian Armed Forces confirmed that IS militants had been captured in Ethiopia.

From Chechnya and Kosovo to Mesopotamia and northern Mali, piggy-backing on ethnic-separatist and other political causes has long been a favourite tactic of transnational Islamic jihadist groups. In Ethiopia, the ground has been well prepared through decades of Saudi-funded and facilitated 'radicalisation' (or 'Wahhabisation'). The Oromo youth movement that ultimately forced the resignation of PM Hailemariam Desalegn in February 2018 -- Qeerroo -- is led by an Oromo Islamist and ethnic-nationalist named Jawar Mohamed (33). Having long led the clandestine movement from his home-in-exile in Minneapolis, USA -- principally through his Oromia Media Network and social media -- he now has an office in Addis Ababa. In the past he has openly called for the creation of an Islamic Omoria and for the beheading of resistant Christians. He recently asserted 'there are two governments in Ethiopia', one is that of the Qeerroo and the other that of PM Abiy Ahmed. It seems the group that paved the way for positive change in Ethiopia might yet prove to be its biggest threat. These are dangerous, watershed days for Ethiopia.


PLEASE PRAY THAT OUR ALMIGHTY GOD WILL

* awaken Ethiopian Muslims to the fact that fundamentalist, supremacist, Wahabbi Islam will bring them nothing but endless civil war and repression; may all efforts to recruit Muslims for Islamic terror or ethnic separatism be exposed as self-interested and costly; may Muslims be drawn to Prime Minister Abiy's vision of prosperity and strength through peace, reconciliation and unity.

* bring revival to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and indeed to all Ethiopia's churches; may they love one another across ethnic and denominational lines; may they co-operate to advance the Gospel even into hostile territories; may they come together in united humble prayer, recognising that a spiritual battle is underway -- a battle for Ethiopia's heart and soul.

'For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.' (2 Corinthians 10:4,5 ESV)

* complete the good work that he has begun in Ethiopia; may no plan of God's be thwarted. May the Lord bless PM Abiy Ahmed with wisdom and strength and keep him safe; may he always be humble, with 'eyes fixed on Jesus' (Hebrews 12:2).


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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WATERSHED DAYS IN ETHIOPIA AS THE CHURCH PROTESTS
On Sunday 15 September millions of members of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church staged peaceful marches in cities across Ethiopia's Amhara region to protest about escalating violence against the Church. Communal ethno-religious violence has skyrocketed since Prime Minister Abiy Amhed commenced his bold reforms aimed at ending decades of repression. While PM Abiy is working hard to promote peace, facilitate reconciliation and draw people together in a prosperous, strong and united Ethiopia, vengeful and ambitious ethno-religious nationalists are dragging the nation into conflict and towards disintegration. It is in this context that more than 30 churches have been attacked. Meanwhile, Islamic State in Somalia is actively working to recruit Ethiopian Muslims and gain a foothold in Africa's second most populous state. A spiritual battle for Ethiopia is under way. Please pray.

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ERITREA UPDATE: REGIME SEIZES CHURCH SCHOOLS

Uncertain future.
Children at The Mission of St Joseph's
Catholic school in Keren, Eritrea.
In early June the government of President Isaias Afwerki seized control of 22 medical clinics belonging to the Catholic Church [see RLPB 508 (26 June)]. On Tuesday 3 September Catholic, Protestant and Muslim groups were ordered to hand over the running of their schools to government agencies. Security agents were deployed to enforce the government order. Seven schools have been seized and nationalised so far (four of them Catholic), including the secondary Institute of the Most Holy Redeemer of the seminary of Asmara, founded in 1860. The expropriation relies on Regulation 73/1995, a law enacted in 1995 but only applied in recent years. This law prohibits religious groups from conducting 'development activities in areas of their choice as this is fraught with discrimination against non-adherents …'. This accusation is blatantly untrue because Church-run clinics and schools have always been open to all Eritreans. However, as Human Rights Watch noted in a report released on 8 August, 'Eritrea's secondary schools are at the heart of its repressive system of control over its population.' The regime is tightening its grip. Please pray for Eritrea and its Church.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com