Ethiopia has since the end of 2011 witnessed one of its most peaceful, sustainable, massive, innovative, and influential civil rights movement in its entire history. This time, it has been anchored on religious freedom and its torch-bearers have been Ethiopian Muslims. As related in many writings, it all began with the willful imposition of a religious creed by a totalitarian regime in flagrant breach of both the country’s constitution and the basic ideals of the secularist philosophy. But the frustration with the Ethiopian government did not start with the unfolding of its antisecularist policy. Among other things, the dispossession of the right to institutional autonomy by the government in the form of totally controlling the only nation-wide Muslim organization, the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council, has been a cause of simmering disappointment among Muslims until it finally got its outlet in the form of a series of nation-wide protests. The protests have been a landmark incident in terms of both their unique qualities and also the influence they have had or could have in the overall politics of the country and on the big ideas of history like freedom, justice, and equality.
Some of the themes already touched upon about the Muslim movement have attracted the attentions of many observers from diverse backgrounds. Intellectuals, researchers, journalists, and politicians have written and commented much on the nature, causes, (possible) outcomes, and broad implications of the civil rights movement. Some very insightful articles, for instance, have appeared in leading Ethiopian and international websites and news channels. The most significant value of these articles would be their role in helping us make sense of this movement in the grand scheme of things. Obviously, their informative relevance goes without saying.
But we believe that the scattered nature of the articles hampers one from fully reaping their overall benefits. First, it may not be that easy for some to know or get hold of many of the good articles for various reasons such as shortage of time, lack of awareness about the publishing sites, and problems associated with internet access. Second, it may appear challenging for some of us to make insightful connections and comparisons between the themes of the articles. Third, and in relation to the second point, their scattered appearance may pose a challenge in terms of drawing a comprehensive mental picture of the different aspects of the movement. Hence, we decided to select all the articles that we deem to be of relatively utmost analytical and informative value, organize them into specific themes and bring them out in a book format. We believe that a compiled version of the most important articles can be of paramount benefit for anyone who would like to gain a comprehensive and discerning understanding of this historic phenomenon in contemporary Ethiopia.
The book is organized into five sections. Section one, containing six articles, lays out the general context of the civil rights movement, giving specific attention to the relationship between the Ethiopian state and Ethiopian Muslims before and during the outbreak of the movement. Since its outbreak, the movement has employed multiple innovative techniques to counter the state violation of religious and institutional autonomy. Some of these techniques are dealt with in the three articles put under section two. The five articles under section three analyze the various tactics the government employed to denigrate and abort the civil rights movement and the problems with and the limitations of those tactics. In section four, the six articles help us to make sense of the whole movement in terms of its significance to overall national political and cultural development. The final section, which has two articles, extends the meaning of the movement by locating it in the broader African context.
We do realize that the categorization of articles followed in this book is just one way of organizing them, and hence we welcome any better suggestions towards the re-organization of the articles for future editions. We would also like to warn the readers of the possibility of some repetition of ideas in the articles both under a given section, and across sections since these articles were not contributed to this volume in the first place, but were found published independently in several websites.
It is important to mention that since none of the articles was first published by LEBMA vzw, we have attached the source of each article (i.e., where it was published for the first time). This is done for the sake of integrity, and not because some part of the article is missing in this book. We finally hope that by reading through all the pieces compiled herewith, one may gain all the insights and information released to date (Oct 28, 2013) by some of the most prominent writers on the civil rights movement.
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