10 November 2012

Ethiopia's 'Religious Abuse' May Cause Regional Destabilization

Photo: Nobert Allan/The Star
Young Muslim boy waits for a prayer session to commence (file photo).

Addis Ababa — A US religious freedom group has called on Ethiopian authorities to stop what it said was an emerging religious freedom violations against Muslim minorities in the Horn of Africa.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said that if Ethiopia continues to tighten its control against the Muslims, the ongoing mass protests in the east African nation could turn more violent and might lead to a larger destabilization in the already volatile region.

Ethiopia, which is seen as an important regional security ally of the US, has recently been a scene of Muslim protests who accuse government of interference in their religious affairs.

"Given Ethiopia's strategic importance in the Horn of Africa, it is vital that the Ethiopian government ends its religious freedom abuses and allow Muslims to practice peacefully their faith as they see fit", the Commission's Chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett said.

"Otherwise the government's current policies and practices will lead to greater destabilization of an already volatile region", she stressed, further calling on the US government to address the issue with the Ethiopia government.

According to USCIRF, escalating violations against religious communities in the name of countering extremism would lead to more extremism, greater instability, and possibly violence.

In recent months Ethiopian Muslims have further intensified their opposition against government's religious policies by staging protests every week following Friday prayers.

Protesters accuse the government of promoting an alien branch of Islam, the Al Ahbash sect, through Ethiopia's highest Muslim body, the Supreme Council on Islamic Affairs.

Ethiopia which fears a hard-line Islamist influence within the predominantly Christian nation, have repeatedly dismissed allegations over press freedom violations and accuse the protesters of attempts to incite Islamic militancy inspired by extremism.

Ethiopian Muslims are estimated to represent around 35 percent of the country's 81 million population.

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