Syria and Ethiopia–two peas in a pod. By Yilma Bekele

August 27th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

Tahrir Square, Misrata, Darra, Homs are becoming a household name. They are home of the brave and the bold. History will show epic battles were fought in this locations and the people won. The battles were not against foreign aggressors but rather it was the people against one of their own.

Movies will be made, musicals will be composed and poetry written chronicling the taste of freedom and the average person’s sacrifice to keep it. They are locations we should all be proud of. They are places where the word ‘NO’ resonated to be heard all around the world. Some will say they are places of shame. No one likes to wash dirty linen in public. The people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria showed us sometimes it is necessary. It has to be done to cleanse the country from of years of accumulated spiritual dirt.

We in Ethiopia have a lot of cleaning to do. Our house is filled with dirt and grime. Sweeping the dirt under the rug did not work. Painting over the dirt only aggravated the existing illness. In our case reform is not such a good idea. It can be said that we introduced the concept of remodeling a crumbling house. We did not have a prototype to test our design. Our model failed twice. Fear no more. A final design is emerging in the Arab World. We have a successful prototype to adapt to our situation.

We thank our Arab neighbors for the heavy lifting. We envy their success while we are not ashamed to bask in their reflected glory. Our self-esteem is enhanced by their success. We are ready to learn and implement the final battle. The question is not if there is going to be a war but how best to prepare for it is our issue. What better teacher than our Arab friends can one ask for?

All three countries have their own story to tell. There is a common thread running thru out their story. All three were cursed with evil men in charge. Two have overcome and one is on the verge. We have watched all three closely and here is the lesson I have grasped from this unfolding event. As I write this Gadhafi and family are on the run but by the time you read it he could be in custody either in Tripoli, Benghazi or The Hague, even dead. A sorry ending to a sorry life.

Tunisia is the spoiler. Ben Ali is not a good prototype. He loved himself too much. He was able to see the writing on the wall. He bailed out the first instance of trouble. As a dictator he was not the pride of his club. Mrs. Leila Ben Ali did not fare any better. While the mob was outside the walls she was busy hauling gold from the National Bank. At least she got her priorities right. They took the last train out of town. We noticed Tunisians don’t have the stomach for violence. Compared to what came after, theirs is the quiet revolution. Even the name given to their uprising is so laidback. What do you expect from a ‘Jasmine Revolution’ other than love? The world will never forget Mohamed Bouazizi our hero that lit the fuse which is still burning.

Egypt is a different matter. Mubarak was a formidable foe. Unfortunate for him his opponents were more formidable and savvy. He had plenty of tricks in his bag and used them all. First he was belligerent. He dismissed the whole incident as another attempt by the feeble. Then he brought the old Moslem Brotherhood into the picture with al Qaeda thrown in to please the West. That did not get traction. It was time for good old cabinet shuffle. The people of Egypt went into collective yawn. It was time to bring out the tugs on camel back. Single handedly our Mubarak ignited Tahrir Square like never before. It was a matter of time before the dominos started to fall. The Generals grabbed the last parachute and bailed out. Egypt is too educated and advanced for us. The lesson for us is dictators are paper tigers.

Now Libya is very interesting. The resemblance to our Ethiopia is borderline freaky. They are not our twin but close. The Leader is someone existing in his own zone. Why not, he has been hallucinating for the last forty years. He had the nerve to scold the Tunisians for chasing Ben Ali and Leila. That requires balls made of titanium. Too bad the brain is a mush. Gadhafi thought he has all his ducks lined up. Nothing can go wrong in Libya. What – me worry he said. Delusion was his undoing. He has his elder son berating his people, his middle son with his own battalion rearing to burn and pillage and his only daughter screaming on National TV. Libya was a family affair.
Vain, selfish, spoiled and totally mad is a few of the adjectives used to explain this dysfunctional family. The oil money helped fuel their eccentric behavior. For forty years Libya was run like a family business. For forty years ‘The Leader’ was allowed to bully his people, bully his neighbors and entertain humanity. The West accommodated him when it suits their interest. The Libyan people suffered quietly. Today it is payback time.

Gadhafi felt he was safe why? Because he thought he did his homework that is why. He had all that is needed to run a police state. No independent Parties are allowed. Check. No independent media permitted. Check. No independent civic organizations tolerated. Check. Country divided among tribal lines. Check. Secret police let loose on the population. Check. Those that can be bribed, black mailed or exiled taken care of. Check. What in heaven went wrong? Sometimes it is not all about the belly. Mental and spiritual freedom is another necessary component. That is what is lacking in oil rich Libya. That is what Senor Gadhafi is finding out as he is hiding in a cold and wet underground bunker with no light and no TV to watch himself bully his people. Today he is the rebel and they are the State. Life has a way of catching up, you think? The Leader has a date to keep with International Court of Justice or a single bullet. He brought it on himself.
Syria is a different animal. Syria is our identical twin. Ato Meles meet Dr. Assad your long lost brother. Their resemblance is uncanny. Syria is our prototype. What Assad does Meles will do, you can be sure of that. What is being done to the Syrian people will be done to us, no question about that. Because the primitive nature of our society we get double dose. What exactly is Assad and company doing to their people is a good question.

Hafez al Assad the father of the current president died in 2000 after thirty years of brutal dictatorship. The Parliament amended the constitution reducing the mandatory minimum age of the President from 40 to 34 to allow his son to succeed him. In a referendum in which he ran unopposed he was able to ‘win’ 97.29%. You can say amending the constitution and rigging elections are a common trait shared by our brave leaders.

The Assad’s belong to the Alawi tribe. The Alawi are Arabic speaking ethno-religious community. According to Daniel Pipes writing in The Middle Eastern Studies ‘Alawis were the weakest, poorest, most rural, most despised, and most backward people of Syria. In recent years, however, they have transformed themselves into the ruling elite of Damascus. Today, Alawis dominate the government, hold key military positions, enjoy a disproportionate share of the educational resources, and are becoming wealthy.’

You see what I mean. Substitute Alawi with some people we know and you got a mirror image. The Alawi constitute 12% while ours account for 14%. Assad got Maher and Rifaat his two brother and other Alawi tribesmen in key positions controlling the Army and security while we got Smora Yunus, Tadese Worde and Gebre Dela. Where their allegiance lies is not difficult to guess. The Nation or the Tribal Leader is a hard choice to make. Sometimes but not today.

Here is where we and our Syrian cousins break ranks with Tunisia and Egypt. Ben Ali and Mubarak were measured in their response. The killing was a last resort. It was not a first response. An argument can be made for the two being a peaceful revolution or change thru non-violence. Without the population resorting to picking up arms. The regime of course killed but it was a half-hearted attempt. The nature of the Army made a big difference in the regimes psychology. Cairo and Tunis have a professional army loosely chained to the dictators while in Syria and Ethiopia the Army/State Security and the political leadership are peas in a pod. One cannot exist without the other. So what has Hafze’s son been up to? Nothing good at all!

His problem started when Tunisia erupted with Ben Ali fatigue. Bashir felt the heat all the way in Syria. It has been percolating ever since. All the standard responses have been tried. Nothing seems to work. He has tried sending tanks into neighborhoods, mass arrest, snipers on every tall building, concessionary speeches on TV, promises of coming election, lifting of draconian laws, setting up meetings with selected ‘opposition’ groups and encouraging inter-ethnic strife. None worked. There is no reason to think he is capable of meeting the demands of the people. The situation he has boxed himself does not allow compromise. The two thousand people his security has killed since the onset of the uprising have completely changed the situation.

Is there a formula that allows Assad to escape from this unfortunate situation? There is always a chance, isn’t that what Doctors tell you even when the diagnosis is terminal cancer? The truth is that there are not that many instances where serial criminals such as Assad or Gadhafi have negotiated a safe exit. A few have managed to negotiate a way out. Chile and South Africa are good examples. Assad’s Syria is a little different.

Both Augusto Pinochet and F.W de Klerk agreed to free and fair elections. They also received guarantees that the new regime will be measured in its dealings regarding the past. Their organizations and most of the upper class that benefited from the current order agreed ‘democracy with guarantees’ was a better way out. Is this possible in Syria?
The answer is a guarded no. There are factors that complicate the situation. How does the minority but highly visible Alawis react? They supplied the muscle to the regime wouldn’t a new situation complicate that? The resentful Sunni majority is not going to sit idle when they see a crack on the wall. Notice the role of the Mosques in this confrontation. How about the powder keg of the young and unemployed, what do they have to lose? Assad is between a hard place and a rock.

The opposition is becoming bold and relentless. The foreigners are putting a squeeze on him by freezing his account and threatening a few of his accomplices. The economy is tanking due to the strife economic and isolation and the Arab League has turned left. His Army is stretched thin and money is running low. Inflation is here.

Due to his and his father’s iron rule there is no credible opposition he can negotiate with. The mob on the street is not going to listen to his chosen leaders of the legal opposition. Accepting free and fair election is out of the question. Why would his Alawi base accept that? What guarantee do they have the Sunni majority will be so forgiving for years of abuse? Why would the criminal elements in the Security and Army expose themselves to trial and punishment? How about those paper millionaires both Alawi and Sunni, would they sit and watch while their wealth crumbles?

As you can see the similarities between the two countries is very scary. It is clear Assad is cornered. It has not occurred to him that further resistance is futile. The least we can do in Ethiopia is watch and learn and devise ways of turning our coming disaster into a positive moment. It is no use to pretend things are hanky dory. They are not. When a single Banana costs $10 bir, a liter of cooking oil costs $130 or so a kilo of coffee costs $140 it is not all right. It is not going to be all right in the near future. We have to discuss ways of confronting the problem and have a solution ready. We buy insurance in case we have an accident. When it happens, if it happens we are ready. Let’s us look at our country the same way. In case it starts to implode from inside, like the last two times I believe it is better to anticipate situations and devise appropriate response. This knee jerk response based on hate and insufficient knowledge and expertise is not rational or winning strategy.

  1. worrid
    | #1

    Ato Yilma! It has been more than seven months since you and the like writing about arab like revolution in Ethiopia like a set theory in maths by associating Ethiopia vs Egypt, Ethiopia vs Tunisia, Ethiopia vs Syria, and Ethiopia vs Libya. Why do not u go to Ethiopia and fight the real fight like the other who fight the current government like the real intellectuals residing in Ethiopia and make themselves available to sacrifice for the people? To me, a blood bath is something u guys want to see to happen in Ethiopia and then you guys want to hold the power and do the same sh…. like the current government. Why do not you go to Ethiopia and fight the fight or stop the day dreaming to see a blood shade to our people. let the people decide what kind of revolution they want to have and when to do it.

  2. Sheger
    | #2

    I wish we have all the address’s to Ethiopian officials. Man we have some thing to tell them. We can start it that way
    And it might end then. Hopefully. Do you think they take time to read this things? I doute it. Who are they by the way
    I say many things but I am not sure that I know who they are for sure some time. Or may be we all do.

  3. Wondwossen Tadesse
    | #3

    Dear Yilma,

    Honestly I haven’t read all the script in details, but from what I grasped you are willing to use rational approach to the problem than many others around this site.

    I challenge you openly to really take a look at the situation by coming to Ethiopia and take time to understand what really is the root of the problem. Your country is in a lot better situation than the way you understood it.
    It is a lot better to the lower income bracket of the society, which is the majority, the wealth distribution and equity in Ethiopia is more, much more evenly distributed than many many countries, incomparably differnt from all the countries that you mentioned. Power is in the discentralized nations nationality regions, than the way authourity used to concentrate at comand centers of Addis in the yesteryears Ethiopia, or the current Arab nations. The tiller of the land, 90+% of our population is harvesting many times more than they used to, and they own the produce for real. Rural Ethiopia today is demanding better cell phone reception and TV coverage, not firearms to fight. I am not saying that we don’t have poverty, but for the first time in history Ethiopian government and people agreed that our enemy is no more any country, party or nation, but the one and only enemy is poverty.
    With your capacity, the moment you understand these and other exciting facts, I have no doubt you will join the fight to eradicate our only enemy. By the way, that is why we all are in foriegn lands, hope we will repartiate soon and contribute to the good cause while enjoying who we are in our own land.
    Ethiopia, your people and it’s leadership continues to extend such an invitation to all the prodigal sons and daughters with love.
    Long live Ethiopia and its people, and may God add more wisdom to the leadership that I appreciate dearly.

  4. Dawi
    | #4

    [[..A final design is emerging in the Arab World. We have a successful prototype to adapt to our situation...]]

    What is it the successful “prototype to adapt” ? We have done overthrowing a regime not once but three times since starting in the 1970′s. The “Arab Spring” did same now but no one knows where it is going for sure.

    The similarity of the “Arab Spring countries” are they are all middle income economies; Tunisia and Libya are even considered to be Upper-middle-income economies ($3,976 to $12,275).

    Ethiopia is a lower income economy ($1005 or less) with no similarity with the Arab Spring. In our situation to do a similar outcome you need the participation of the majority peasantry not unlike TPLF/EPLF coalition. In other words, we are repeating the same thing hoping a different outcome. If the present “political impasse” as Messay put it continues, G7 with OLF/ONLF will end up building that formidable coalition.

    Assad who is “Alawi constitute 12% while ours account for 14%.”

    Still talking of the Meles Dictatorshiop as a representative of one Ethnic group is being behnind times.Further more, we have documentations that show Meles is part Raya/Oromo, Kunama etc.

    Be that as it may, I have another question for you – How come it is a minority-led government in Rwanda, not a majority-led one in South Africa that has succeeded in implementing a life-changing programme for ordinary people? We can say same of India that scores high in standard freedom indicators of elections etc. in line with Norway & USA but, in access to health, education and clean water India scores same with failing state like Bangladish.

    [[...What is being done to the Syrian people will be done to us, no question about that. Because the primitive nature of our society we get double dose...]]

    Such underestimation of the society is uncalled for.

  5. gemoraw
    | #5

    Dawi,

    are you saying democracy is hampering india’s development and therefore reducing here to inescapable poverty and backwardness? try dictatorship in india and its more than 800 ethnic enclaves will plunge into a hellhole of destructive conflict and blood shade.

  6. Dawi
    | #6

    gemoraw said:

    “are you saying democracy is hampering india’s development and therefore reducing here to inescapable poverty and backwardness? try dictatorship”

    It is obvious dictatorships make needed decisions in a quick and timely fashion than democracies.

    China and India who are neighbors similar population size, China turned to one party system, India to “democracy”. China has better institutions and state services. India has better private sector however, developing a private sector is going to be easier for China (ex. industrial zones in Ethiopia) than India ever building a strong public sector. We are not not even talking about the present ugly social failings of India such as the “untouchables”, the hidden apartheid of India.

  7. gRAGN AHMED
    | #7

    SYRIA IS A GOOD EXAMPLE ALSO INTERMS OF THE MELES ASSAD RELIGIOUS PLOTE. SYRIAN ALAWITES ARE VERY CROOKED LIKE THEIR MELES COUNTERPARTS: USE RELIGION TO EXTEND THEIR RULE. ALAWITES ARE THE MOST DEVIANTS OF MIDDLE EASTERN RELIGIONS ; THEY BELIEVE IN TRINITY OF MOHAMMED, SAW, ALI AND SALMAN AL FARSI AS ALLAH. THEY PROMOTE DIFFERENT CULTS FOR POLITICAL GAIN SUCH AS AHBASH WHICH IS FOUNDED BY SYRIA WITH THE HELP OF ISRAEL BY THE ETHIOPIAN SHIEK ABDULAHI AL HARIRI. NOW ETHIOPIA MELES IS FORCING MUSLIM ETHIOPIANS AGAINST THE SAUDI SO CALLED WEHABISM. MELES KNOWS THAT ETHIOPIA IS CHANGING. WEHABIS WE DONOW WHO THEY ARE. BUT WE KNOW AHBASH IS, IT IS SUPPORTED BY ISRAEL AND MELES AS PRESCRIPTION DRUG TO ETHIOPIAN MUSLIMS TO SILENCE THEM. THE PROFESSOR EHRLICH HAGASH IS BEHIND THE SAME PLOT- THE ISRAELI PROFESSOR. DANIEL PIPES IS JEW HATER OF ISLAM AND I DON’T WHY THE AUTHOR WANTS TO WRITE BY QOUTING THE PERSON. THE ETHIOPIAN GOVERNMENT JUST FINISHED A TRAINING CONFERENCE LED BY DR SHIFERAW TO BAPTIZE ETHIOPIAN MUSLIMS LIKE YOHANNES DID. AH BASH IS A VIOLENT MOVEMENT AND HAS SUFFERED SET BACKS ALL OVER IT WENT TO PREACH. THEY CLAIM TO BE PEACEFUL WE KNOW AHBASH LEFT ADDIS TO JERUSALEM AFTER BEING KIKCED OUT BY HAILESELASSIE.

    NOW ETHIOPIA IS GETTING READY TO BE LIKE LEBANON. MELES SAID HE IS READY TO SHOOT WITH AHBASH AS WEAPON. WE WILL SEE HOW LEBANON MODEL WORKS FOR ETHIOPIAN MUSLIMS. RELIGION CAME FROM SAUDI BUT LEBANON ONLY WE KNOW IS CONFLICT. SO HOW DOES MELES THE EVIL GET HIS HAND ON DR SAMIR QADI THE PERSON ACCUSED OF CRIMINAL CHARGES IN BOSTON FOR INCITING VIOLENCE IN MOSQUE COME TO ETHIOPIA TO PREACH MUSLIM RELIGION THROUGH ITS CULT AHBASH.

    MELES IS NOW APPROACHING THE FINAL DAYS OF HIS RULE AFTER INTERFERING WITH MUSLIMS AFFAIRS OF ETHIOPIA. PLEASE MUSLIMS AND CHRISTIANS RISE UP DURING EID CELEBRATION TUESDAY PEACEFULLY.

  8. Sam
    | #8

    I keep saying EPDRF is the most blessed party because the staunch opponents of the party, especially those in the diaspora,are the worst in understanding current Ethiopian politics. Here is an example. Yilma wrote ” Alawis are the weakest, poorest, most rural, most despised and most backward people of Syria … substitute Alawis with some people we know [the Tigres] and you got a mirror image.” Really? Are the Tigres were the most backward people of Ethiopia until Meles brought them to civilization? Or Ethiopia as a whole was the most backward nation in the world? Well, according to Yilma not Ethiopia, it is the Tigreans. Yilma is one of those souls who cry foul of EPDRF’s playing ethnic politics in order to divide and rule. Here comes Yilma to salvage Ethiopia from being splintered along ethnic lines by singling out the Tigres as the most “despised.” Are Tigres were the most despised ethnic group before Meles came to power? Well, if they were they had the most convincing reason to rebel. I do not think Yilma is such a stupid person. From time to time I read his articles but in no time I questioned his basic understanding of Ethiopian politics. What I quoted from Yilma article is the most bizzare statment I have ever quoted. Perhaps Yilma has no principle to begin with. He writes to get applause. Or to appease whom once you called your “clueless friends.” Whatever your motive Yilma, do not try to divide Ethiopians along ethnic lines. The democratic Ethiopia will be established when every ethnicity works toward that goal. Yilma the Tigres will be part of that struggle. Yilma your article might get some defender, no matter how that seems strange, in the diaspora. Believe me not in Ethiopia. The people whom I met in Addis who despise EPDRF, not despise Tigres, were much more informed than the crowd you are trying to appease here.

  9. Mark
    | #9

    Mr Wondwossen, you said in your comment, “It is a lot better to the lower income bracket of the society, which is the majority, the wealth distribution and equity in Ethiopia is more, much more evenly distributed than many many countries, incomparably differnt from all the countries that you mentioned….” Are you talking about some Scandinavian country or about our poverty stricken- Ethiopia? I bet you wrote your full name to show your boss that you are doing your job. But you’re a cheap banda. Bloomberg estimated that Tunisia had a per capita income of US $9,500 compared to Ethiopia at US$370. Majority of Ethiopians are living below poverty level. So Wonde, if Arabs uprised with this kind of economy, do you think Ethiopians are expected to enjoy while living in the hell. What about Skyrocketing food prices; Persistent hunger in rural areas that requires recurring international emergency food assistance that involves thousands of non-governmental agencies that have made it a source of their own livelihood; high youth unemployment and underemployment; gaping income inequality, corruption, and illicit outflow of funds estimated at between US$8.345 to US$11 billion over the last 20 years of TPLF/EPRDF rule. So are you telling us that the life in Ethiopia is getting better. I think you need a brain surgery, because the fat you eat completely closed your rationality. When the truth revealed, you will change your position like a chameleon. I know that for sure.

  10. Anonymous
    | #10

    what i do not understand is why do always we fight and do not accept positive riricisim…what kind of people are we…yilma simply wrote his point of view may be he is a jpurnalist or college professer or for all i care be a cabbie…why can’t you simply read and take heed rather than trying to be smarter than thou..jesus i’m tired of these people i think it is no more worth writing any thing any more…the observer..

  11. gemoraw
    | #11

    Dawi,

    i think you are playing down or shunning altogether the diversity issue in your argument. india and china on the same table is quite unthinkable. india is much more diverse and complex than china. the only challenge for Chinese rulers comes from the separatist tendencies in Tibet. by contrast indian unionists have to grapple with an endless train of religious, caste and ethnic tensions, which can only be defused through democratic, inclusive institutions. india is not china. addressing the numerous demands, needs, and interests of the diverse cultural communities requires that india adopts a system that peacefully accommodates these demands. the same applies to ethiopia. you cant have democracy and tplf dominance at the same time. they are mutually exclusive.

  12. gemoraw
    | #12

    Sam,

    it is not Yilma who divided ethiopia along ethnic lines. he is just describing an already divided ethiopia along ethnic lines. there is ethnic based decriminalization in our country. the tigre people control key military and government positions and run mega, billion-buck businesses that enjoy the long-arm protection of the very ethnic junta, which they finance and reinforce from their receipts and profits. people are forced to put their ethnic identity on their id cards. their id, not their merits or citizenship rights, is the qualification to start business, assume public offices or get education opportunities abroad. mr Yilma did not say tigre people are backward in nature. he only implied that they would be hated like the Alawis in Syria given the special treatment and privilege they are licking at the hands the agencies and companies operated under their ethnic brand. this is true beyond any reasonable doubt.

    go and tell this to the poor amara, oromo or gurage who is being sidelined in favour of the tigre fanatics and you will understand how badly it hurts. ethiopia is being ruled by a tiny minority tigre junta and this is visible and tangible to anyone who can see and sense. stop this nonsense about being ethnically neutral or impartial. the struggle is not even yet about freedom or democracy. it is first and foremost about removing the parasitic tplf.

  13. gemoraw
    | #13

    Sam,

    “Yilma the Tigres will be part of that struggle.”

    you pass for a good comedian. the tigre people will just decide to willingly end the once-in-a millennium privilege they are enjoying to make way for other oppressed nations and nationalities of ethiopia? Sam, please let us be serious. there is nothing fun about being exploited by an exclusive ethnic mafioso.

  14. gemoraw
    | #14

    Gragn Ahmed,

    would you please avoid using capital letters?

  15. Sheger
    | #15

    The difference between Ethiopia(Meles) and Siriya is a diffirens could be beet ween Israel and Ismael. Who are both Israelys according to gods word to Abereham. I don’t no why they what to call them selves some thing els other than Israel and why they don’t want Israel in Israel? May be we are dealing with a none israely people. But how ever
    We need change in Ethiopia wether we change Meles to our benefit or what ever kind of change. We need it.

    Being violent rebellion is not always the answer. But you can rebel with dignity and prospect. And may be things will go
    All right. Other wise we can are fully intilteld to what ever fight. No evel should ever ween. We march with God not the devil.

  16. wizomezoo
    | #16

    Ethiopians,the challange is ahead to remove the Zinawi’s suppressive and oppressive regime from the back of Ethiopians.We might have not noticed or felt it but Zinawi’s regime is falling off bit by bit because men and women from the top lower middle authority are deserting the system.

    Ethiopians,power on your energy,ientify Zinawi’s regime strengthes and weaknesses,and study and act on the weaknesses of the regime,and plan and act on measures to take.

  17. Dawi
    | #17

    gemoraw:

    What made China a power house in economic development is the radical reforms that cleared the way for economic development and non economic changes. The majority Chinese were able to get a good standard of living. This can not be done without a leadership that is authoritarian.

    Indian state has deteriorated over time. They can’t even provide a basic law and order or deliver public services. Being a multi-ethnic doesn’t stop a strong government from providing basic law and order. There is absolutely no excuse for a”hidden apartheid”.

  18. Enanu
    | #18

    gemoraw,

    Are you Yilma Bekele?

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