Addis Ababa - Reactions continue locally and abroad to the demolition of mosques in the Ethiopian region of Oromia last weekend, as the capital Addis Ababa witnessed protests organized by some mosques, and media solidarity campaigns emerged that official and popular circles in the country considered "tendentious campaigns behind which foreign parties stand."
On Friday, 3 people were killed and others injured in protests after Friday prayers near the Anwar mosque, and security forces said in a statement: "Conspiratorial groups want to destroy the regime by raising a religious flag. It caused riots by attacking the security forces."
Last week, similar clashes outside the Al Anwar mosque near the Mercato market in the centre of the capital killed two people, according to police, who also reported 56 injuries, including 52 policemen, and 114 arrested.
Ethiopian Islamic preacher Abubakar Ahmed denounced the security forces' targeting of protesters, saying on Facebook: "Firing mercilessly at innocent Muslims is an inhumane act." "Roads must be opened for ambulances so that our brothers who took refuge in the mosque and who were ruthlessly shot can be transported to the medical centre immediately," he said.
Worshippers denounced the demolition of mosques as part of an urban project. Muslim youths clash with police after Friday prayers in #إثيوبيا pic.twitter.com/iB7R59Y36w
— Al Jazeera (@AJArabic) June 2, 2023
Background of the crisis
Last year, Ethiopia launched the "Shigar City" project in the Oromia region, which includes the merger of 6 towns surrounding the capital, to create a modern city, and the authorities began campaigns to remove hundreds of buildings, homes and places of worship, claiming that they were illegal, which resulted in protests and rejection in Addis Ababa and its suburbs.
The authorities are criticized by the affected citizens, and the authorities also face charges of bias towards certain nationalities, which the responsible authorities deny.
On May 23, the protests developed after the Islamic Council of Oromia announced that 19 mosques in the city of Sheger had been demolished, urging the regional government to stop the demolitions and return to solving the problem through dialogue, before events took another turn.
According to unofficial reports, authorities in the city of Sheger have demolished nearly 200,19 houses, <> mosques, and Quran memorization centers.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a government commission, called the demolition a "forced eviction and violation of federal laws."
Demolition of mosques in Ethiopia. Two killed, wounded in demonstration rejecting religious 🕌 targeting #الجزيرة_مباشر | 🇪🇹 #إثيوبيا pic.twitter.com/5KAIRKriWY
— Al Jazeera Mubasher (@ajmubasher) May 27, 2023
Observers believe that the demolition of mosques was not intended for itself, but comes within the general removals within the framework of the updates taking place in the city of "Sheger" in the Oromia region.
"There is no special targeting of mosques, as some of those who have appeared in dozens of videos claim," Ethiopian writer and researcher Ali Omar said, denouncing the way the problem was spread on social media.
Omar told Al Jazeera Net that these speak in the language of brokenness, begging and grievance about what they described as the exposure of Muslims in Ethiopia to injustice and the demolition of their mosques, although the demolition came within the decision to remove a general included homes and shops.
Ethiopian Muslim activists launched media campaigns on social media platforms against the government, which they accuse of demolishing mosques, before Muslim activists from around the world joined the campaigns, in what official and popular circles in Ethiopia considered "tendentious campaigns behind foreign parties."
In this context, Omar criticized what he called "the path taken by the Muslim community in Ethiopia to the crisis through social networking sites with clips of grievances and crying," adding, "This large spread of these clips on the external level, is it a natural spread or is the game bigger? This heavy spread makes me suspect that there are invisible hands seeking to inflame and distract, and create a turbulent atmosphere."
He added that the demolitions are now presented as a grievance currently in the corridors of courts and judicial arenas, and that the Board of Grievances received about 100,<> complaints from citizens, whose homes were illegally demolished in the city of "Sheger". "But attention should have been paid to the sanctity of mosques and what they contain, so that the matter would not be understood in this way," he said.
Thousands of Muslims in the Ethiopian city of Harar protested the demolition of mosques.#اثيوبيا pic.twitter.com/2qLlEljehk
— Aidarouss Ahmed Hirsi (@aidaroussahmed) June 2, 2023
Calls for calm
For its part, the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs in Ethiopia called on Muslims in Addis Ababa to show restraint, condemning the moves of some groups that fuel conflicts, and expressed its rejection of the statement issued by the Oromia Regional Government, which he considered unacceptable.
The Council pointed to the formation of a committee of 9 figures from its leaders to follow up and hold consultations with officials in the region and the federal government, calling for waiting for the results of the committee.
Last Wednesday, the Oromia government warned against "being drawn into attempts to distort and sow discord carried out by extremist groups," stressing that the process of removing slums included all unlicensed buildings, and not for mosques and places of worship alone.
Preacher and social activist Abdul Rahman Saeed ruled out that the removal of mosques targeted Muslims.
Said said to Al Jazeera Net that the process of demolishing mosques was not intentional in itself, but within the process of comprehensive removal, continuing, "I do not think it is the result of hatred and targeting of Muslims as promoted."
On the role of Islamic institutions in confronting the problem, Saeed stressed that the solution to this problem and the preservation of the rights of Muslims must be through negotiations between the official authorities and the Islamic Council, which has become an audible and influential voice on the federal and regional government.
The activist added that the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs – at the federal and regional levels – is playing its role and has already begun to address the crisis through legal and constitutional means.