By Zecharias Etyopia
It was Thursday, November 7th 2013. Another day dawned, and to the world dawn turned to dusk without much ado. That is of course unless you are Ethiopian. Because for those of us belonging to the historical Horn of African state, war was declared on us. A wealthy oil rich military superpower declared war on us. No, an official declaration of war wasn’t sent to the UN 24 hours prior to the cavalry charge and again no, a border demarcation dispute wasn’t the factor this time that kicked off the war. No emergency UN Security council meeting was called and nobody not even Ethiopians noticed right away truth be told.
But on that date, over a month ago now, the first reports started to emerge out of Saudi Arabia of police, military and a vigilante population cooperating as one and aiding the other in the torturing, killing and raping of unarmed defenceless Ethiopian migrants. Thanks to social media and the widespread availability of camera phones, these reports were often accompanied by horrifying videos and pictures depicting the violence against Ethiopian men and women by what is usually mobs of Saudi civilians or police. The violence started increasing by the day and images of the brutality flooded the cyber world. Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia were now targetted and running for their lives across the kingdom. Those caught by the unruly mobs were attacked with machetes, hammers, axes and guns to name a few of the grisly incidents while those captured by authorities were mostly detained raped and beaten by rogue ill disciplined Saudi policemen. The detained languishing in Saudi prisons facing daily torture are still in the thousands.
Ethiopians at home and abroad reacted with anger, frustration and sadness. Saudi Arabia, like many countries in the Middle East, had always been known as a place of Ethiopian misery where women working as maids are abused physically and emotionally and frequently killed or driven to suicide. But never had we seen the people of a nation turn into a bloodthirsty marauding pack of vikings with anybody Ethiopian in their crosshairs. Immediately anti Saudi protests were organized everywhere. Saudi embassies across Europe, Asia and North America and the one in Addis Ababa were set up as rallying points for massive demonstrations denouncing Saudi Arabia’s state sponsored violence. Ethiopians used youtube, facebook and twitter to keep up to date with attrocities and human rights abuses against their kin and for the first time in nearly a year, the exploits of the Ethiopian national football team the Walyas, weren’t the hottest topic or trend amongst Ethiopian internet users.
But the setbacks have been tough to deal with. Firstly, the massive protest planned for Addis Ababa got underway as planned when all of a sudden baton swinging riot police beat, arrested people and dispersed the crowd in all directions and prevented thousands of angry demonstrators from converging on the Saudi embassy. It was a sad dose of reality for Ethiopians everywhere: even in the midst of horrendous abuses, our government was more interested in keeping diplomatic and business ties with Saudi Arabia, rather than letting the increasingly vocal Ethiopian anti Saudi voice be heard.
Second, and perhaps the most painful realisation of all which we would learn after about a week of the violence:
THE WORLD HAS DECIDED TO TURN A BLIND EYE.
Indeed. After all the bloodshed, the graphic images, the protests at Saudi embassies and consulates around the world, the cries of the victims pain and the fury of the demonstrators tweeted and shared at a mile a minute, not a single one of the major media outlets had ran a story on our plight. Nobody had heard our voice. Ethiopians had used all the powerful cyber tools this generation has used to overthrow regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen. But while all those movements garnered immediate global sympathy and a worldwide audience, weeks later our struggle and our pain still remains unheard of and the international uproar we were expecting hasn’t occured as of yet.
It was then that many of us realized that we were messing with the world order, the system in place. Our cries being heard, our dead being counted, our wounded telling their tales was not in sync with the agenda put in place by superpowers keen on keeping the earthly status quo. Our protests were futile, we would never be given the international coverage we were seeking.
But let’s focus on who we are firing at from the trenches here. After all, we are dealing with Saudi Arabia. A nation whose seemingly endless oil ressources have resulted in the gulf state being in cahoots with all the world’s major players. Particularly a certain United States of America. In terms of oil, the US has been kneeling on Saudi crutches for over 70 years. In 2013, with high fuel needs, the likes of Nigeria and Iraq unstable and barely standing as leaderships, overdependance on a political opponent like Venezuela being diplomatically suicidal and Iran under trade sanctions, Saudi Arabia is needed now more than ever by the United States as a strong stable longterm reliable source for oil.
The United Kingdom itself is a big beneficiary of Saudi Arabia’s ressources and deep coffers. The two mostly deal in oil and military hardware. According to the Guardian, Saudi Arabia has over 60 billion pounds invested in the UK, and the UK has granted export licences for over 4 billion British pounds worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia since 2008 in exchange for oil. The Saudis are the biggest buyers of British guns and the full extent of their deal has never been admitted by either government.
Because of Saudi Arabia’s economic importance to the US, the UK and many other western states, the Gulf region kingdom has enjoyed a double standard status for example with regards to its conduct at home. In other words, they have been able to get away with doing anything they want. No matter how many reports exposing the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s notoriously poor human rights record come to light, very few media giants chose to run the story, Human Rights Watch tend to look past them, the UN barely bring up the issue and wouldn’t dare bring up talk of sanctioning the Saudis.
Saudi Arabia has one of the highest death penalty rates in the world, known for executing people convicted for adultery, sorcery, drug offences to name a few. Thiefs face amputation of limbs and the convicted almost never have access to lawyers. Public beheadings, and hangings are common place, and apparently even a crucifixion of a body took place last year as a deterrant to other criminals. Non nationals have virtually no rights in the country, and because of this status are always the target of abuse and torture by police or even employers. Reports of foreign nationals shot dead attempting to cross the border into the kingdom are frequent, as are summary executions by these same Saudi border patrol guards. Women are second class citizens, forbidden to drive or leave the home unless accompanied by a male relative. Being caught can result in public lashings and/or imprisonment. Political opponents are often detained and made to dissapear, with the country still being ruled by a despotic monarchy under King Abdullah right now. Religious freedoms are unconstitutional, completely non existant. Many of us remember the 35 Ethiopians arrested beaten and tortured by Saudi police a few years back, simply for congregating and praying in their home. Besides all this, Saudi Arabia has its hand financially in the creation, training, arming, and recruiting of members of nearly every Al Qaeda linked terrorist group from Al Qaeda itself, to Jemaah Islamiyah, Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al Shabab, Boko Haram and the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The government denies it directly funds terrorism stating that it can’t control what private individuals do with their money. However, considering that the same government believes it can control what religion private individuals must adhere to, their self defense argument is rendered bogus.
Had ANY other country on earth dared defile the human being and humanity in general to the extent I’ve detailed in the preceding paragraph, that nation would have been on every single black list, listed for arms embargoes, trade sanctions, no fly zones, with their leaders listed as wanted at the ICC war crimes tribunal and all their key leaders and ministers would have their Swiss bank accounts frozen.
But of course that country would have to be one that opposes western policy and doesn’t offer the west anything particularly attractive. Like Iran for example.
The screaming hypocrisy was revealed to me in December of 2011. Saudi Arabia had a woman on death row convicted of being a witch. Her name was Amina bin Salem Nasser. She was publicly beheaded. Amnesty International gave the Saudis one half hearted scolding, but that was it. The story barely got any media coverage.
But a few years earlier an Iranian woman by the name of Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani had also been sentenced to death this time for adultery. The court decision was headline news on BBC, CNN and other media networks with similar ideology. The international outcry was intense. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and even Hollywood celebrities comdemned the Iranians. Massive anti Iran protests took place in London and Washington DC with demonstrators wearing shirts bearing the image of the condemned Ashtiani. Countries threatened to pull their embassies out of Iran. In the end, pressured, Iran commuted the sentence and while Ashtiani is still detained, her life doesn’t seem to be at risk anymore.
So now one can understand the task Ethiopians are up against. If we expect the world to take a stand in our defense we are simply living in a dream world. If we are waiting for media conglomerates and international organisations who have proven time and time again that they only report what is in their political interests to get into the diplomatic mud for us and rescue us, we have no understanding of how the world works. There is more than meets the eye. There is money, power and ressources involved, and the players have very little if not no interest whatsoever in the safety and wellbeing of thousands of Ethiopian migrants.
A couple Mondays back, I was in Toronto Canada to take part in the demonstration held there by the Ethiopian community. We had been told a couple hours prior by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) that they would send a team to cover our story at a specific time. An hour passed the time promised, so we marched down from Dundas Square towards the Toronto city hall where the country’s media had amassed to cover mayor Rob Ford’s never ending soap opera. There was a CBC van present, we sent a representative to speak on our behalf and demand why a CBC crew didn’t show up at the promised time. After discussing for about half an hour, our representative emerged and told us that the CBC team told her they had decided to cancel the coverage of our march as it might be “offensive to the Saudi community.” One would have to be naive to believe this ridiculous excuse. Offensive? This is a question of humanity! There are still thousands of people detained and tortured and you are worried about offending those responsable for heinous crimes? CBC you’ve offended the Ethiopian community!
One month later, this is our dilemma. Our plight is still only being discussed among Ethiopians. Al Jazeera produced an article written on what they called “clashes” between riot police and migrants, significantly downplaying the events. Canada’s CTV had taken the time to write a pathetic piece about an Ethiopian protest in Calgary over “poor working conditions” of Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia. The issue is way beyond working conditions. The BBC had started to give it some coverage but nothing with the venom necessary to expose the seriousness of the situation. As if to add insult to injury, three weeks ago Human Rights Watch released a 125 page report detailing abuse of Afghan illegal migrants by Iran. What about us? What about our abuse? Where’s our 125 page HRW report? The self serving HRW and co. have given us a clear response to this burning million dollar question:
SORRY, BUT SAUDI OIL IS WORTH MORE TO US THAN ETHIOPIAN BLOOD.
Hurts but let’s face reality, it’s the painful truth. But they aren’t the only ones in the blame here. It’s time to point our fingers back home.
At this point one will look back at the Ethiopian government. Had it not been for the exploits of foreign minister Dr. Tewodros Adhanom who actually got up and went to Saudi Arabia and searched for a solution, our government would have been the epitome of a sitting duck. No vocal voice of condemnation, nothing to show that the leadership and people are in tune with each other, 3 weeks into the crisis and our Prime Minister, the leader of the nation had said NOTHING. It’s as if the man was on vacation. Absolutely nothing. Not even any words of consolation. Zilch. Just as some of us were wondering if the man was actually still in power, he appeared on ETV assuring people he was doing what he could to get our people out and that he was working with the Saudi leadership to prevent future abuse of Ethiopians living legally in the kingdom. However PM Hailemariam has still specifically remained tight lipped on the weeks of carnage his countrymen faced. Government supporters say that the main priority is getting our citizens out. And I agree. In general, Ethiopians are happy that action on that front is finally being taken. However quietly getting our people out and closing the book on this ugly story is not sufficient. The longer those in the top echelons of the EPRDF leadership remain silent on this issue the more value chips our identity as Ethiopians will lose. The death of an American citizen anywhere in the world sparks headline news because the US government will publicly demand answers as to whose accountable for the loss of life. The death of an Israeli anywhere will launch the Mossad in action as they send a kill squad to avenge their people. Because of the actions of their governments, the value of an American or an Israeli life is very high.
But this silence by the Ethiopian government is showing others how cheap the Ethiopian identity is. This isn’t one person, these are thousands that are affected and these people don’t warrant a word of condemnation against the abusers from their own government? Don’t these people deserve a leadership that will speak up for them? Is there suffering not worthy of making it’s way to the Prime Minister’s desk? When Eritrean sponsored ARDUF rebels shot and killed five European tourists near the Ertale volcano in the Afar state last year our government issued its strongest condemnation possible. Why can’t it be as robust when its own citizens are attacked!? This is a shame, a disgrace. This is something out of a colonized mindset. This silence is rendering our identity useless! This same identity that so many of our ancestors fought and died to preserve from so many foes.
DONT DEVALUE MY ETYOPIAWINET!
This is why we are livid today. Yes, our people are arriving home, they are starting to be reunited with their families. But for the pain and suffering, no matter how loud we plead, scream and shout, it seems like Saudi Arabia will get away scot free, unless divine intervention plays a role. This travesty however, is due to a system which favours higher powers and tramples on the likes of poor migrants. As a human being, seeing this injustice infuriates me. And to those who are content to see this cruel, shambolic state of affairs in which our planet is controlled remain the status quo for ages to come, I have nothing more to say to you, except the slogan my frustrated, furious and livid brothers and sisters around the world have been chanting in unison ever since this catastrophe was made known to us:
“SHAME ON YOU!”
I’m Zecharias Etyopia
And may God bless Ethiopia.