The latest manifestation is Addis Ababa Mayor’s remark on Meskel Square, whose legal ownership belongs to Ethiopian Orthodox Church
The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church continues to face what appears to be an orchestrated systemic pressure from Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Prosperity Party.
The latest pressure manifested itself in a rather melodramatic effort on the part of Addis Ababa city Administration with the aim to make the Ethiopian Orthodox Church appear irrational about its claims in the city and its relation with government authorities.
January (Tir in Amharic) is full of religious events which reveal the continuation of government provocation on the Ethiopian Church. Earlier in the month, the church followers were tear-gassed in St. Estifanos Church, which is adjacent to Meskel Square in the Capital, when Addis Ababa city administration ordered police to take forceful measures while the laity were practising worshipping.
Days later, Oromia region police fired and hosted three members of the church during a solemn epiphany procession when the replica of the Ark of the Covenant was on its way back to Woybela Mariam Church altar in the outskirts of Addis Ababa. Ten others were wounded. Oromia police authorities fired at the crowd on grounds that people were wearing cultural dresses with Ethiopian flag colours (rather sounds ludicrous, but the information is verified from multiple sources).
And then comes Adanech Abiebie’s, “elected” mayor of Addis Ababa, remark about Meskel Square over which the Ethiopian orthodox Church has ownership rights.
A protestant pastor, Zelalem, organised a fundraising party at Meskel Square under the guise of supporting people affected by the war. The Ethiopian Church was not consulted about it. Many say it could have been organised elsewhere if the issue was really about supporting those impacted by the war.
Worse, Adanech Abiebie appeared on stage at the fundraising party and made what appears to be, in fact it is clearly a politicised remark against Ethiopian church for many, provocative remarks that challenges Ethiopian Orthodox Church right’s over Meskel Square where the Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Meskel (a religious festival commemorating the finding of the true cross on the Lord Jesus Christ was crucified).
She said,to the applause of protestant crowds that showed up at Meskel Square for the event, that Meskel Square belongs to all Addis Ababans as it was renovated by taxpayers money, and it also belongs to all Ethiopians. There is an account that paints Meskel Square as a private property of a devout Ethiopian Orthodox Church follower who transferred it to the Church as inheritance. It was nationalised during the Ethiopian revolution in the 1970s, but the Ethiopian church recovered it (along many other confiscated church property in the city) after Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam’s government was overthrown in 1991.
Another Protestant pastor by the name Benyam opposed what he thought was unnecessarily antagonising the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, and criticised the pastor who organised the event and the Mayor’s office for allowing the event to happen at Meskel Square. He also gave testimonial that it belongs to Ethiopian Orthodox Church. But he was thrown in jail after his remark.
The stories above are just what happened this month. Concerned about the never ending pressure, the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church sent a letter to Addis Ababa mayor inviting her for a meeting at the patriarchate where the Holy Synod meets. The Mayor sent, according to a report on Adebabay Media which was aired on February 3 (It has discussed the issue in depth highlighting organised structural attacks), a messenger to the patriarchate saying that she is ready to meet with them but not at the patriarchate. She reportedly mentioned security concerns.
She wanted the meeting to be at the Sheraton Addis, but the Holy Synod meetings do take place only at the patriarchate for religious reasons. And that is where it gets melodramatic. The Mayor and her staff showed up at Sheraton without waiting for the response from the Holy Synod. Hours later, the Mayor’s office and Addis Ababa Prosperity Party shared on their social media pages saying that representatives of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church did not show up.
The development has become a talking point among Ethiopians on social media. And many tend to think that Adanech Abiebie was just a tool for a systematic and organised attack on the Ethiopian Church.
The Ethiopian Church has been targeted by ideologically motivated ethnic nationalists, including Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), as part of the effort to weaken it, and the country too.
While some give Abiy Ahmed’s government a credit for “uniting the two synods,” it is evident that the attack against the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has become more orchestrated and intensified. Dozens of the church followers had been killed in Oromia, Somali and Southern Ethiopia. Churches burned and properties of Ethiopian church followers burned.
The Church has not officially responded, but the increasing administrative, structural and politically motivated attack on the Ethiopian Orthodox church seems to have created disenchantment with Abiy Ahmed’s government.
Some fear that there could be external powers involved with the aim to impose “Prosperity Gospel” as a form of government favoured religion in Ethiopia.
What is evident is that the structural attack on the Ethiopian Orthodox church is real. The church is one of the most studied institutions in Ethiopia by researchers from the Western world.
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