El-Sisi: Ethiopia’s Friend in Need, Indeed! [Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam]

A friend in need is a friend in deed, indeed!

Egyptian leader defends Nile rights in Ethiopia's Parliament 1Last week, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi stunned the world by rescuing more than two dozen abducted  Ethiopians marked for beheadings in Libya by the ruthless self-styled terrorist group known as “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) (also known as “Islamic State of Iraq and (Syria) al-Sham (ISIS)”).

Ahram Online, Al-Ahram’s English-language website, announced, “The Egyptian army freed the Ethiopian workers who arrived at Cairo airport on Thursday morning, after they were kidnapped ‎in Libya. The Egyptian president, who personally received the 27 Ethiopians, all Christian, when they arrived at ‎the airport, did not explain how the army had rescued them.”

In mid-April 2015, that terrorist group released videos of beheadings of some 30 Ethiopians. In my April 26 commentary, I expressed my deepest grief for the victims and their families.  I also expressed my outrage at the so-called government in Ethiopia for sitting on its duff, twiddling  its thumbs, scratching its heads and doing nothing. I worried about the fate of the remaining Ethiopians in Libya.

I had plenty of reasons to be worried.

Following the first wave of beheadings, many Ethiopians in Libya, including those kidnapped by terrorists and rescued by President el-Sisi, were left to twist in the desert wind by the ruling Thugtatorship of the Tigrean Peoples Liberation Front (T-TPLF).  The surviving Ethiopian refugees were given official instructions to contact the diplomatic representatives  of the T-TPLF in Egypt. When the frightened refugees called to get assistance at the T-TPLF embassy in Egypt, they were “mocked” and given the run around. That is what several Ethiopians trapped in Libya told  the Voice of America, Amharic Service. “They pick up the phone and mock us. They don’t talk to us. They pick up the phone and let our telephone calling card run out of time.”

It was against this background of official depravity and wickedness by the T-TPLF that I saw the Youtube video of the rescued Ethiopians as they arrived at Cairo International Airport on an Al Masria, a private Egyptian airline service, jetliner.

I do not have the words to express my feelings of joy and jubilation to see the young Ethiopians rescued from the jaws of the terrorist butchers.  As the plane approached the gate, the captain proudly held out an Egyptian flag from the window in the cockpit. The message was unmistakable: Egypt did it!

It was an iconic moment for the Egyptian people, government and armed forces. It was a glorious moment for all Egyptians. It was a proud moment for President el-Sisi.

It was a historic moment of shame for the thugs that palm themselves off as a “government” in Ethiopia!

It was a bittersweet time of sadness and joy for all Ethiopians. They are joyful their brothers are rescued from certain death. They are heartbroken their “government” could not do a damn thing to help them.

When el-Sisi heard of the beheading of the Ethiopians, he came out and told the world Egypt was “pained by the gruesome beheading of innocent Ethiopians in Libya.”

President el-Sisi,  by acting courageously and swiftly to rescue the kidnapped Ethiopians in Libya, cemented the millennia old friendship and sisterhood between two of the world’s oldest civilizations.

I must confess I was envious. I was grateful, but envious that el-Sisi, as an Egyptian leader, could do so much for persecuted Ethiopians while the shiftless TPLF thugs stood on the sidelines looking all powerless and helpless.

As I watched the video of the arrival of the Al Masria flight carrying the Ethiopians in Cairo, for a moment, I took flight in my imagination.

I imagined an airliner emblazoned with words “ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES” arriving at Bole Airport in Addis Ababa. I imagined the Ethiopian captain taxing to the gate waving an Ethiopian flag (not the one with the pentagram). I imagined the plane parked at the terminal with a red carpet rolled out to receive the precious passengers.  I imagined real Ethiopian leaders waiting to receive the rescued young men.  I imagined their families waiting eagerly to hug them.

The reality was an Egyptian airliner victoriously taxing to the terminal. At the head of the reception line on the red carpet laid out for the rescued Ethiopians was President el-Sisi with his top officials. He stood there with an air of dignity and pride. He greeted each rescuee with a handshake and words of welcome. He put his palm on the faces of some of the young men as if to assure them that they are safe.

It is a priceless moment of freedom those young rescued Ethiopians will not forget. It is a moment I shall treasure forever.

Why did President el-Sisi charter a plane and order members of his military to go into harm’s way to rescue Ethiopians trapped in Libya facing certain beheadings?

“A man who is drowning does not care who tosses him a rope!” A man facing certain beheading does not care who rescues him!

President el-Sisi saved the lives of those young Ethiopians who left their country escaping political persecution and seeking opportunities to improve themselves and the lives of their families. He saved precious lives. That’s the only, only thing that matters.

The simple fact is the President el-Sisi ordered the rescue of the young Ethiopians because he wanted to; because he could; because he believed it is the right thing to do; because he believed in the brotherhood and sisterhood of the people of Egypt and Ethiopia; because he cared about Ethiopians Christians as Christians and as human beings who deserve to be treated with justice and dignity.

Simply stated, he rescued the Ethiopians because he cared for them as human beings!

That is in stark contrast to the reaction of the thugs ruling Ethiopia today.

Why didn’t the T-TPLF send a plane to Libya to bring the kidnapped Ethiopians? I don’t know. Could it be because the T-TPLF is itself a kidnapping organization?

When the T-TPLF kidnapped Andaragatchew Tsege, the General Secretary of the Ethiopian opposition group known as Ginbot 7 Movement for Justice, Freedom and Democracy, in Yemen in July 2014, I filed my objection in my commentary “Ethiopia: The Crime of Extraordinary Rendition.” Today, we see Yemen is a haven for terrorists. Did the T-TPLF make arrangements with terrorists to kidnap Andaragachew? I don’t know.

What I know for sure is that there is no legal distinction between abductions and kidnappings by ISIS/IL and the T-TPLF. A criminal act committed by a terrorist “state” is no less criminal than a crime committed by a terrorist organization.

It could be that the T-TPLF is too busy opening new routes to Los Angeles to fill their bottomless pockets.

Could the T-TPLF be waiting for their begging bowls to be filled by the donors so that they could charter their own planes to rescue the kidnapped Ethiopians.

It may be that the T-TPLF is powerless to do what el-Sisi did.  They can bare their teeth at their defenseless population and mow down innocent protesters. Could they stand up to the likes of ISIS/IL? They carry a big stick and talk loudly to their population, but on the international stage they are just pitiful midgets.

The T-TPLF’s handling of the whole affair of Ethiopian beheading victims and the remaining Ethiopian refugees in Libya is simply mind-boggling. Initially, the T-TPLF refused to acknowledge the terrorist beheading victims were Ethiopians. Redwan Hussein, “Ethiopia government spokesperson”, said while his “government” was not able to verify if those killed were Ethiopians, “the Ethiopian government condemns the atrocious act.” Presumably, it was also waiting to verify if the kidnapping victims were also Ethiopian.

It did not matter to the T-TPLF “government” that CNN had confirmed and reported the beheading victims were Ethiopians. It did not matter Al-Jazeera had confirmed and reported the victims were Ethiopians. It did not matter to the T-TPLF regime that Reuters, Agence France Press, BBC, VOA, the N.Y. Times, the Washington Post…. had all confirmed and  reported the victims of the terrorist massacres were Ethiopians.  Despite overwhelming evidence that the beheading victims were Ethiopians, the T-TPLF steadfastly refused to acknowledge the fact.

Why did the T-TPLF initially refuse to acknowledge the beheading victims in Libya were Ethiopians?  Could it be because they knew they would be expected to act and rescue their citizens from certain beheadings? Were they concerned that they could mistakenly express outrage over the beheading of citizens of another country?  Would not any decent government anywhere in the world have simply accepted the international press reports of beheadings as  true on face value  and expressed its outrage and taken swift action!?  Would not a decent government receiving information on the beheadings of so many of its citizens and others facing imminent beheadings swing into gear, mobilize resources and try to do something to recover the bodies of the victims and evacuate the remaining citizens?  Of course, these are rhetorical questions. Decency and thuggery are polar opposites.

I don’t know. To me, the minds of thugs are as inscrutable as the face of the Sphinx (no pun intended).

The T-TPLF regime refused to acknowledge the beheading victims initially because it did not care, and still does not.

The T-TPLF regime did not attempt to rescue the Ethiopians in Libya because it does not care.

The T-TPLF regime does not give a damn about Ethiopians inside the country or Ethiopians outside the country facing persecution and execution. That is the raw truth!

El-Sisi has shown that he cares not only about Ethiopian Christians but also Egyptian Christians who have lived in Egypt for millennia.  He has a proven record.

In February, when nearly two dozen Egyptian Christians were slaughtered by the evil terrorist group that beheaded the 30 Ethiopians, el-Sisi did not wait around to verify if the victims were really Egyptians. He did not waffle and twiddle his thumbs to confirm if they are Egyptian citizens.  He went on television within hours of the occurrence of the beheadings and declared Egypt “reserves the right to respond in any way”.  He publicly expressed his “deep sorrow” and “offered his deepest condolences to the Egyptian people for their grave loss.”  He let the world know that he “mourns the Egyptian victims of an abhorrent act of terrorism in Libya” Within hours, el-Sisi conferred with his defense council and dispatched Egyptian bombers taking out targets  in the terrorist-held city of Derna in Libya. In honor of the 21 Egyptian Coptic victims, el-Sisi declared seven days of mourning!

Over the past few years Christians in Egypt have faced mob violence and persecution. Before el-Sisi became president, particularly in 2013, some 80 churches around the country were vandalized or burned down and dozens of Christians injured or killed in mob violence.

In January 2015, el-Sisi became the first Egyptian president ever to visit the St. Mark Cathedral during Coptic Christmas Eve Mass and offer his good wishes to the nation’s Christian minority. In his address President el-Sisi said:

Egypt has brought a humanistic and civilizing message to the world for millennia and we are here today to confirm that we are capable of doing so again. Yes, a humanistic and civilizing message should once more emanate from Egypt. This is why we must not call ourselves anything other than ‘Egyptians.’ This is what we must be — Egyptians, just Egyptians, Egyptians indeed! I just want to tell you that — Allah willing, Allah willing — we shall build our nation together, accommodate each other, make room for each other, and we shall like each other—love each other, love each other in earnest, so that people may see… So let me tell you once again, Happy New Year, Happy New Year to you all, Happy New Year to all Egyptians! (Emphasis added.)

In contrast, Ethiopia has a “government” that tells Ethiopians there is no such thing as Ethiopia; a “government” that practices the evil ideology of “kililism” (“ethnic federalism” ) which has created a modern system of apartheid in Ethiopia. In nearly 25 years, the T-TPLF has managed to segregate the Ethiopian people by ethno-tribal classification and corralled them like cattle into  grotesque regional political units called “kilils”, the equivalent of apartheid South Africa’s Bantustans.

I pray to God that one day Ethiopia will also have a leader who will stand up against hate and haters and simply declare, “We must not call ourselves anything other than ‘Ethiopians.’ This is what we must be – Ethiopians, just Ethiopians, Ethiopians indeed! I just want to tell you that — Allah willing, God willing — we shall build our nation together, accommodate each other, make room for each other, and we shall like each other—love each other, love each other in earnest, so that people may see…”

The T-TPLF, of course, has no problems rescuing one of its “own” from the long arms of the law. The puppet prime minister Hailemariam Desalegn and his boss, the malaria-researcher-turned-instant-foreign minister, Tedros Adhanom, pulled out all the stops in trying to rescue Uhuru Kenyatta, president of Kenya, from facing numerous charges of crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court (ICC) in connection with the 2007 election.  The duo did everything they could to orchestrate the mass repudiation of the Rome Statute authorizing the ICC to prosecute human rights violators by African countries.  Hailemariam, on numerous occasions hammered the ICC claiming that the ICC “has degenerated into some kind of race hunting.”

They managed to rescue Kenyatta from the jaws of the ICC prosecutor.

They did not rescue the kidnapped Ethiopians in Libya from the jaws of that evil terrorist group. El-Sisi did that job!

In fairness, the T-TPLF was not alone in doing nothing.

The African Union did not do much either except give the usual obligatory lip service. African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma shed crocodile tears condemning the beheadings as “barbaric and cowardly act”.

The Obama Administration was dry-eyed and straight-faced when it called the beheadings “brutal mass murder”.

The European Union casually described the beheadings as a “criminal” effort to create religious divisions.

El-Sisi rolled up his sleeves, tanked up his plane and ordered his military to air lift the kidnapped Ethiopians to safety in Egypt. In doing so, he proved the timeless truth of the old saying, “One timely deed is worth ten thousand words!”

I am sure there are cynics who will try to ascribe political motives to el-Sisi’s actions. They will say he rescued the kidnapped Ethiopians as a propaganda effort to strengthen his hand in his negotiations over the so-called Nile dam. They will say he did it for personal glory. They will say he did it to raise his international and regional stature. They can say whatever they want. Who cares about what they say! El-Sisi is a man of action, not talk. He proved it!

The fact is el-Sisi acted and through his actions saved the lives of dozens of Ethiopians facing certain beheadings. I have nothing but praise for his courage, compassion and leadership.

What el-Sisi has done in rescuing the Ethiopians has nudged me to ask questions about the kind of leader he really is.

I have followed el-Sisi in the media over the past several years. I have written a few commentaries on the “Arab Spring” in Egypt. I had dismissed him as a Mubarak clone. After Mohammed Morsi appointed him as army chief and defense minister in 2012, I did not expect much from him.

Over the past couple of years, el-Sisi has shown himself to be his own man. He has shown a steady hand in crises- and uncertainty-ridden times in Egypt.

El-Sisi impresses me as a thoughtful and decisive leader since he came to power. He appears to effectively integrate his leadership team in decision making. He has certainly emerged as a “new breed” of Middle Eastern leader who is not only smart but also determined to deal with terrorism at the military and ideological level.

On the issue of terrorism, he has not been the kind of leader  who “pulls the trigger” and run. He has stayed engaged and actively pursued terrorists and those who support them.

El-Sisi has also shown open-mindedness and uncommon courage. In January 2015, he gave a speech at Egypt’s premier Al-Azhar University. What he said in that speech was not only unprecedented but mind-blowing. El-Sisi declared an ambitious plan for a “revolution” in Islam!

… I am referring here to the religious clerics.   We have to think hard about what we are facing—and I have, in fact, addressed this topic a couple of times before.  It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire umma [Islamic world] to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.  Impossible!

That thinking—I am not saying “religion” but “thinking”—that corpus of texts and ideas that we have sacralized over the centuries, to the point that departing from them has become almost impossible, is antagonizing the entire world.  It’s antagonizing the entire world!

Is it possible that 1.6 billion people [Muslims] should want to kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants—that is 7 billion—so that they themselves may live? Impossible! …

I say and repeat again that we are in need of a religious revolution. You, imams, are responsible before Allah. The entire world, I say it again, the entire world is waiting for your next move… because this umma is being torn, it is being destroyed, it is being lost—and it is being lost by our own hands.

Egypt today faces enormous economic, social, political and security  problems. As a career military man, there are questions about el-Sisi’s ability to address the long-standing structural problems in Egyptian society. A 2013 study, for instance, indicated that “subsidies to consumer goods, including fuels and food, account for almost one third of Egypt’s public spending.” Reform of subsidy programs are likely to pose the greatest challenges to el-Sisi; and he has not articulated how he intends to deal with that problem.

El-Sisi has been criticized for the repressive measures he implemented against the Muslim Brotherhood, the press and civil society organizations.  He has been praised by many for taking effective counterterrorism measures against terrorist cells in the Sinai and for demolishing hundreds of tunnels used for smuggling and gunrunning for terrorists.

El-Sisi’s leadership appears to revolve around a core team of trusted handpicked officers. He has integrated younger officers into the leadership which seems to have increased his popularity and generate support and loyalty. He has reconciled competing ministries and law enforcement agencies to work more effectively with the military.

In January 2014, el-Sisi  told senior military and police officials that “The police and military are the real guarantors of Egypt’s security and stability…The existing challenges are no doubt immense…and we [military] are right next to you [police] to protect our country…Together, we are capable of delivering even though there are many threats.”

El-Sisi presents a complex analysis of democratization issues on a broader level in the Middle East. In a17-page theses he completed at the U.S. Army War College in 2006, El-Sisi raised some serious questions: “Is transitioning to democracy in the best interest of United States or is it in the interest of the Middle Eastern countries?” He warned, “Democracy development in the Middle East will not easily emerge if it’s perceived as a move by the United States to further her own self-interest.”

El-Sisi seems to have strong support in the Egyptian military and among the middle class. He has his team of  technocrats, including lawyers, military officers, engineers, economists, judges and others working on the critical issues facing Egyptians. Some say the technocrats are non-ideological. Others argue they are formidable forces maintaining the status quo. But his challenge will be to cultivate support among the masses of the poor. Regardless, El-Sisi and his technocrats must find ways to meet the challenges that sparked the “Arab Spring” or risk sparking another one.

El-Sisi maintains good relations with leaders of the Persian Gulf governments. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates each has pledged $4 billion of investments and loans to Egypt. The U.S. has also resumed its military and economic aid after the overthrow of the Morsi government in 2013. Egypt is the second-largest recipient of US foreign military financing, behind Israel.

There is of course the Nile Dam construction issue. For several years, Egypt has raised objections to the construction of the so-called Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in Ethiopia claiming it will negatively affect its share of Nile waters.

In June 2013, Mohammed Morsi, the man el-Sisi deposed,  in a broadcast speech said, “The lives of the Egyptians are connected around [the Nile]… If it diminishes by one drop then our blood is the alternative,” he said in a broadcast speech at the time.  I have commented extensively on the issue as recently as last month.

In March of this year, Ethiopia, Egypt and the Sudan signed a Declaration on the Nile dam construction.  At the time, the Egyptian foreign minister ruled out any military confrontation on Nile water issues. “Egypt contributed in the founding of African countries; it won’t be an aggressor, not at any time.”

That sounds to me, “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”  I believe it was Sun Tzu who counselled, “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”  It is wise for bush generals not to test the mettle or resolve of real generals.

El-Sisi struck like a thunderbolt when he extracted the kidnapped Ethiopians out of Libya. I believe all Ethiopians owe el-Sisi and the Egyptian people an enormous debt of gratitude for swiftly acting to save the young Ethiopians from certain beheading.

“Action is eloquence,” wrote Shakespeare. By rescuing Ethiopians targeted for beheading in Libya, el-Sisi spoke with eloquence and compassion.

It is now up to Ethiopians to appreciate el-Sisi’s courage, audacity and grit and express gratitude for saving their children from certain beheading. El-Sisi did what the thugs in Ethiopia were loathe to do!

THANK YOU, President el-Sisi and the People of Egypt!!! THANK YOU for a job well done!

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to go the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, London, Paris… and say, ‘THANK YOU!!!”

It is true that a friend in need is a friend indeed!

Filed in: Articles & Opinions