Ethiopian migrants pushed to the edge?
This attack comes following an operation by Saudi officials to expel all illegal immigrants from the oil rich nation. Since the operation began early in November, there are reports that about 3 Ethiopian nationals have been killed and many others gravely abused. Ethiopians across the world have held protests in the past two weeks, rebuking the Saudi government’s clamp down. The Ethiopian government is reportedly in the process of repatriating over 23,000 of its citizens who are in Saudi Arabia illegally.
According to the report of the incident, the suspected Ethiopian attackers confronted the Saudi Arabian man, who was driving around Casablanca, Al Ha-da area, knocking him unconscious before carving a cross on his chest with a metal object. The suspects fled the scene before the police arrived, but the authorities are reported to have been able to apprehend a number of suspects of Ethiopian origin in the area with the aid of locals.
Following reports of this attack, there have been speculations that the Ethiopian nationals behind the attack may be retaliating the perceived wrong wrought on their kinsmen by Saudi officials during the ongoing mass repatriation exercise. But neither Saudi Arabia nor Ethiopia have so far issued a statement to validate or dispute this claim.
This is not the first incident that highlights an underground religious conflict in the Muslim kingdom. Although no public churches operate in Saudi Arabia, Christians are reported to exist in the country—holding their meetings in individual houses and other locations. Several people reported to be Christians have been arrested by Saudi Arabia’s “religious police”, the Mutaween (or Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice) in the past for practicing their faith in public or attempting to proselytize to Muslims. Last year, about 36 Christians who had been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia were released after much criticism from governments and human right groups.
Pundits say Saudi official are dedicated to ensuring the kingdom retains its characteristic Islamic roots. Last year, Fox News quoted the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz ibn Abdullah Al al-Sheikh saying it is “necessary to destroy all the churches in the Arabian Peninsula.” But Saudi officials insist Christians are only arrested when they attempt to convert Muslims to their faith–by practicing in public. In Saudi Arabia, converting from Islam to Christianity is punishable by death.
Ethiopia is a traditionally orthodox christian state, the faith is reported to have been practiced in the state at least since the 4th century. Naturally, the thousands of Ethiopian migrants who are reported to travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia yearly attempt to practice their religion— but with great difficulty. While Christians face persecution in Saudi Arabia, Muslims also face persecution in Ethiopia. In the past few years, the Ethiopian government is reported to have increased surveillance of its relatively small Muslim population, with several clashes and arrests recorded.
In a Wikileaks report, Sheikh Elias Redman, a notable figure in the Ethiopian Muslim community noted that fundamentalist Wahhabist influence is spreading among Ethiopian Muslims, threatening the existence of Ethiopia’s Sufi version of Islam which promotes religious tolerance and co-existence with Christians. The Sheikh also revealed that these attempts are being supported by Saudi Arabia, allegedly to influence Ethiopia’s moderate Muslims with the Kingdom’s more traditional version of the religion.
Photo: Migrants wait to be transported to deportation centres in Riyadh. [AFP/Fayez Nureldine]