Michael Abraha

Dear Seyoum Tesfaye:  I read your response (01/27/11) to Yosief Ghebrehiwet’s moving analysis at asmarino.com (01/26/11) on his proposition for an Ethiopian intervention to speed up the removal of the Eritrean dictatorship. Your bold counter proposal for a home-grown Eritrean solution through non-violent resistance is praise worthy.

My own view is that at the political level, it will be very hard to call for non-violence or dialogue with a regime that is known for imprisoning, starving, disappearing and murdering peaceful people because they demanded their right to life and liberty. We haven’t seen any evidence over the years whether the dictator is interested in engaging in peaceful dialogue with the people. Peaceable, non-violent concepts are unacceptable to an eccentric, delusional dictator – be it Isaias, Pol Pot or Gaddafi. If by non-violent opposition is meant the Gandhi or Egyptian type of uncompromising civil disobedience including peaceful uprising to oust a tyrant, then the Eritrean people are of course for it.

I also disagree with Yosief’s Ethiopia card although I understand his impatience over the lack of progress in realizing regime change. The idea of Ethiopia removing the Isaias regime on behalf of the Eritrean people is counterproductive. This will divide our people and it will play into the hands of the Eritrean dictator who has used the “Ethiopia threat” tactic the way Mubarak had exploited the non-existent Moslem Brotherhood threat. History is our best teacher. The Tanzanian invasion of Uganda in the late 70s removed Dictator Idi Amin but also deepened ethnic conflict and later produced another dictatorship under Yoweri Museveni who is an expert in waging fake elections. Similarly, American invasion of Iraq in 2003 has not produced a united, peaceful country. The US should have waited until the Iraqi people themselves dealt with Dictator Saddam Hussein.  

Eritreans also prefer to make their own revolution and build their own democracy. With popular uprisings sweeping over North African and Middle East countries, it is very likely that these movements will spread to Sub Saharan Africa, and Eritrea will be one of the first in the region to face the people’s rage. After the ouster of Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, the upheavals have engulfed Eritrea’s neighbors, Djibouti and Yemen. Isaias’s close ally, Muammar Gaddafi is hastening his downfall by committing genocide against his people.

I am not convinced that a popular uprising is impossible in Eritrea’s urban centers simply because the regime has relegated the youth (up to 400-thousand) to the countryside as underscored by Yosief. There are enough passionate, enraged people in Asmara (with a population of over half a million) as well as other cities and towns where people can take to the streets demanding an end to the emergency laws – main tools of torture and intimidation. Every uprising is unique and it could be ignited at any moment at Sawa, Nakfa, Asmara, Adi Kayih, Assab, or inside the dictator’s Grand Palaces.  

Isaias will declare every man, woman and child participating in peaceful protests as traitors for challenging his regime alleging that the country was at a “war footing with Ethiopia”. The protesters will defy orders believing that no external threat, real or alleged, is good enough reason to justify internal barbarism. Since treason is punishable with death, Isaias and his partners will order his security forces to open fire on demonstrators. The regime will also try to turn the uprising into an ethnic and religious conflict or highland-lowland friction. Its hypocrisy will strengthen the resolve of the protesters who will move forward until the 20-year old dictatorship crumbles down.   

The Isaias regime is a pariah state by choice. Isaias’s allies are reclusive tyrants in the likes of the tyrannical Mullahs in Iran, the waning, egomaniacal Gaddafi and the UN wanted terrorist Sheik Aweye of Al Qaeda linked Al Shabab. No foreign power has any leverage over the Eritrean regime. If Isaias refuses to stop his violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, UN sanctions will surely extend to such foreign companies as the Canadian Nevsun and other major Western gold mining entities operating in Eritrea. 

Isaias is now without allies. The regime’s current desperate, socialist and anti-colonialist rhetoric (see shabait.com) in reaction to the Middle East Revolutions won’t impress Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez or any other left-wing leaders. Nor is Isaias expected to receive sympathy from his Qatari friend, Emir Bin Khalifa, who has condemned violence against peaceful demonstrators in the Middle East. Meanwhile, our colleagues at Qatar-based Aljazeera will without a doubt cover Eritrean events and lend a voice to Eritrean reformers and revolutionaries. The channel has in the past repeatedly exposed Isaias’s inept and ruthless methods.

Meanwhile, the civic and political opposition in the Diaspora will play a key supporting role especially in keeping a good flow of news and information into and from Eritrea. We know information is power and it will be crucial for the success of the popular uprising. Since the internet, mobile and phone connections will be cut off right away, shortwave and satellite radio and satellite TV may become the main source of news for the Eritrean people as the revolution unfolds.

The crackdown is bound to continue until a point is reached when the military and police will begin siding with the protesters. It is expected that a group of junior and senior officers along with some civilians will assume an interim state authority and will, I am convinced, serve as guarantors of the revolution while a representative government is formed.