In Solidarity With the Forces of Good
(Part 22 of 24)
By Yonas Araya
(First Published on Asmarino.com in July 2002)
It is almost impossible to talk about Eritrea’s foreign policy without touching on the Mid-East geopolitics. The foes in this geopolitics have a hardliner of either-you-are-with-me-or-against-me political position. But regardless of the convictions of the actors, one thing is clear: the US and the world’s major economic and political powers have always maintained a good friendship with all the major foes in the region ever since the region’s geopolitics came about.
The US and the world’s major political and economic powers have amicable relationships with the Jewish and prominent Arab nations. Therefore, in the foreseeable future, the safest foreign policy for the non-Arab weaker nations linked to the region should go along with the policies of all the major economic and political powers. It is safe and proven that it had worked well even for Emperor Haile Selassie (Haile Selassie maintained a wonderful friendship with both the Jewish nation and prominent Arab nations) long before Israel and Egypt established diplomacy; it works even better now as the Arabs and Palestinians are talking peace with Israel.
However, some Eritreans believe we should maintain a closer relationship with all Arab nations that stood with us during our time of need, regardless of how some of the world’s major economic and political powers view it.
But who are the Arab friends of Eritrea who stood with Eritrea during its time of need?
Fact: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the U.A.E., Kuwait, North Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Bahrain, and Qatar were always Ethiopia’s friends, and the positions of Oman, Lebanon, Mauritania, and Tunisia were hard to pinpoint.
Fact: Egypt made a token contribution to the Eritrean revolution until 1962 but abandoned it permanently in favor of Ethiopia.
Speculation: In 1978, Saudi Arabia and Egypt made a token of material support, by permission, maybe even by an order from the US (to curb the expansion of the Soviet influence in the region), to both EPLF and ELF, when at the time, both of them were overwhelmed by the Ethiopian military in association with the USSR.
Speculation: Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states might have provided the EPLF with material support in the late 1980s, but also, in that period, the same countries might have provided the Dergue with material support.
Fact: At one time, the EPLF (Issayas) accused all Arab nations of not providing even a quintal of grain to the starving Eritreans during the 1984 and 1985 famine in the region.
Fact: North Yemen always supported Ethiopia.
Fact: Marxist South Yemen, though sympathized briefly with the EPLF, it, too, made about-face when a pro-Soviet government took power in Ethiopia.
Fact: A South Yemeni pilot was captured in Eritrea while flying an Ethiopian aircraft and bombing an Eritrean town.
Fact: Ghaddafi, the leader of Libya, made a significant material contribution to the Revolution, mainly to EPLF (the forces of Osman Saleh Sabbe) when Haile Selassie was in power in Ethiopia, but he too made an about-face and stood against the Revolution when a pro-Soviet junta took power in Ethiopia.
Fact: The EPLF (Issayas) accused Ghaddafi of financing the largest ever Ethiopian military operation, which the Dergue named Red Operation, and the EPLF recognized as The 6th Invasion. (ሻድሻይ ወራር)
Fact: Iraq initially supported the ELF but later withdrew its support when it realized its Ba’ath philosophy had no chance of infiltrating the ELF. Iraq appeared to be interested only in expanding its Ba’ath ideology than in the liberation of Eritrea.
Fact: The Sudanese people stood with Eritreans through thick and thin, but only the government of Bashir made fully committed support. (The support of predecessors of Bashir to Eritrea was on and off, and the support was coming mainly from individual Sudanese government officials who sympathized with Eritreans.)
Fact: Many Palestinian organizations initially supported the Eritrean people until a pro-Soviet government took power in Ethiopia when many of them abandoned the Eritrean cause one after another in favor of Ethiopia.
Fact: Syria and its leader Hafiz al Assad stood with Eritreans through thick and thin.
Fact: Somalia, a member of the Arab League, committedly supported Eritrea until the beginning of its 1977 war with Ethiopia and intermittently after its 1977 war with Ethiopia. (The Somali people stood with Eritreans through thick and thin. Somalia and Somalians do not believe they are Arabs)
Fact: Israel stood with Ethiopia through thick and thin.
Speculation: There was a theory in the Eighties about whether the Saudis approved and financed the demise of the ELF by the EPLF and the Woyane. The assumption goes that after the leaders of the ELF had contacted the Soviets, the Saudis feared that the Soviets might broker peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea through some means that could be acceptable to all three – the Soviets, Ethiopians, and Eritrea (ELF) – thus the Saudis and the Americans feared that the Soviets might remain in the region permanently and become a threat to the interests of the US and the Saudis in the region.
Of all the Arab nations, the only real and unconditional support came from Syria, Bashir’s government, and Sudan’s people. Even so, one can conclude that no Arab nation supported Eritrea (again, except for the people of Sudan) out of genuine love for Eritreans.
The nations in the geopolitics were all fighting for their interests: those that wanted Eritrea to become independent; those that wanted Eritrea to become independent and follow their ideology, whatever it was; those that wanted to make sure that Eritrea remained under Ethiopia; and, those that wanted to make sure that the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia remained active without one defeating the other. Egypt consistently took the last-mentioned position to weaken Ethiopia and prevent it from taking advantage of the Nile River.
The Arab League
Should Eritrea become a permanent member of the Arab League? I think not. Eritrea will lose more by joining this organization than it can possibly gain anything.
Unlike the E.U., which enforces some strict economic policies and standards and democratic institutions as a prerequisite to a would-be member, the requirement for membership of the League is a political one. Unlike the E.U., which adheres to raising the standard of living of the peoples of its member states, the League has no such thing. For example, one might find the poorest people in the world of one member state bordered by the wealthiest people in the world of another member state. Still, the wealthy state or the League is under no obligation to alleviate the poorer nation from economic crises or to help raise the living standard of the people of the poorer member nation.
Indeed, some poorer member states might have gained very little economic profit from the wealthier states. Still, there has never been a true wealth-sharing spirit or free trade policy by the more prosperous states or the League aimed at helping the poorer states grow their economies.
Moreover, unlike the E.U., which prides itself in promoting democratic systems and respect for human rights, the League is just a political organization whose primary purpose is fighting Israel and nothing else. There are no human rights or democratic governance standards that need to be followed by its members or put as a prerequisite to being a member. On the contrary, the members appear to have an unwritten law or a stated or implicit understanding among them to condone human rights violations by the leaders of the member states.
Therefore, by joining this organization, Eritrea will neither gain economic profit nor will it earn respect from any of the members of the League or the world. If anything, it can earn respect and thus gain the power to play a pivotal role as an honest broker in the volatile region only by staying neutral or keeping in touch with all the Arab states considered less controversial and with Israel.
My short question is, what’s in it for us? If Eritrea can gain any economic benefit or democracy by joining the League, then I would say, why not? But if it is only for being a member of an organization, then the O.A.U. is enough.
The above-described analysis is based only on my personal view; hence, these views cannot govern the Nation’s policies. Having said that, the decision to join or not to join might affect Eritrean citizens personally; thus, any decision to join or not to join should come from all Eritreans.
Let the People Have a Say
The decision to join the League should be less controversial, less divisive, and most of all, it should be something the opponents can leave with for life without resorting to a rebellion. Therefore the objective of the referendum should be to measure the strength of consensus among all Eritreans.
From my unofficial survey (I strongly believe in its merits), it is somewhat likely that the relative majority of the yes vote could come from Eritrean Moslems than it could come from Eritrean Christians; hence, if not handled properly, there could be an extreme case scenario (the Nation has to be fearful of extreme case scenarios. Decisions should not be based on present objective conditions. They have to consider all probable scenarios if the Nation is going to be stable for many generations to come) that the proposition could have the potential of fracturing the unity of Eritreans, hence even with the referendum, the vote to join or not to join the League should not be determined by a simple majority vote, instead, it should be based on a solid consensus, and a strong consensus can be said to have been reached if the proposition can receive a 50 percent plus one of a “yes” vote from the likely or probable opponents.
Again, the referendum should consider extreme case scenarios when building a consensus. For example, if the proposition was supported by 75% of the Moslems and 25% of the Christians, and if the proposition appears to pass by only 50 percent plus one vote, the verdict shows a weak consensus among all Eritreans of all religions. Most Christians might consider the ruling as being imposed upon them by their Muslim fellows. A strong consensus is when the probable opponents support the proposition by 50%, and the only way to ascertain that is when a 75% standard is used. When applying the 75% standard, the referendum counts the votes without identifying the voices as coming from a Muslim or a Christian voter. (The voters should not be identified as Moslems or Christians) In the 75% standard (if we believe 50 percent of Eritreans are Christians), a 50% vote from the Christians in favor of joining the League will unlikely make a ruling as imposed upon them.
My proposal is geared more toward appeasing the opponents than the proponents because it is only fair to reckon with the party that believes something new is introduced to it more than with the party that introduces something that has not existed. The party that believes something new is imposed upon it is more likely to rebel against the imposition than the party that failed to introduce something that had not existed.
In any case, whether one vote for or against the proposition, in the process or the end, the proponents have to respect the will of the opponents, and vice versa, regardless of how much one believes, whether religion, politics, or whatever reason influenced the other party to vote they it did. The issue should not overshadow other essential agendas of common interest to all Eritreans. Again, the referendum must find a clear and popular answer once and for all so that Eritreans can go on about their businesses and concentrate on the things that unite them most.
Next in part 23, I will present a concluding summary. Also will comment on why peace is around the corner for Eritrea and Eritreans, why Eritreans are closer to their promised land than ever before, and why Eritreans need to forgive one another, and the need of religions in our (Eritrean) lives.