Ethiopia: Governing the Faithful
The religion and religious tensions in Ethiopia, which are unique in many ways due to the millenia-long presence of both Christianity and Islam – reflect broader regional and global trends. The faith based revolutions have never before been experienced by the country. There was wars and violent extremism in neighbouring Sudan, Somalia and Kenya, but perceptions of discrimination and exclusion, as well as resistance to top-down government, have been constant drivers of past social revolutions and ethno-regional rebellions. The experiences of its neighbours have also meant that, until recently, the government has been particularly wary of regional external influences (sometimes fundamentalist) on its faith-based communities and their ideologies. It has tended, consequently, to focus its counter-radicalization efforts on guarding against unwanted external influence. In the last few years, however, its concerns have shifted to homegrown religious activism, particularly groups it perceives as having a partisan political agenda favouring certain opposition groups, as well as those it suspects are promoting violent extremism. While the government can claim to be even-handed, for example criticising the rise of the neo-conservative and Orthodox Mahibere Kidusan as well as action against specific incidents of Christian chauvinism, it has not attempted to exert the same theological influence on the EOTC synod as it did by promoting AlAhbash in the Mejlis. State intervention is routine in most aspects of public life, but the faithful have bridled against government interference in their religion with unusual vehemence, partly due to the reversals in religious freedoms experienced in the early 1990s. Circumstances have changed since then, due both to the growing extremist threat and the polarising 2005 elections.