Your Weekly Digest on What Muslim Women Are Talking About

Eritrea – The North Korea of Africa

by in World on 8th November, 2017

The past week has seen a number of demonstrations in cities all over the world, with people of the Eritrean diaspora united in their wish to see freedom from a dictatorship that has been ongoing for 26 years.

What sparked the recent protests?

The arrest of an elderly man named Hajj Musa Mohammed Nur, chairman of the Al Diyaa Islamic School in the capital city of Asmara, which caters for 2800 students. The Al Diyaa School received an order from the Ministry of Education on behalf of President Isaias Afwerki which demanded that the school comply with the following changes:

  1. To operate on a Friday (on which day the school is normally closed to comply with the religious significance of Friday for Muslims) and comply with the national weekend holiday of Saturday and Sunday for all students.
  2. For all female students to remove their headscarves.
  3. To allow the female and male students at the high school level to learn in mixed classrooms.
  4. To stop teaching Religion / Quran as part of the curriculum.

Hajj Mohammed, gathered fellow members of the board, students of the school and parents to firmly oppose these orders. Regarding the female students,  he said: “These girls who are coming to school veiled: they are Muslims; they are our daughters; it is their religion: and nobody will touch them.” He emphasises that the school was built brick by brick by the community themselves, with no government funding and thus should have the right to leave this legacy for their children, to educate the Muslim community in accordance with their faith.

Hajj Musa spoke out publicly in a country where even the slightest expression of disagreement with the government is severely restricted and often results in detention and torture.  A UN human Rights Enquiry on Eritrea described this as a  ‘pervasive control system’. Eritrea is commonly referred to as the ‘North Korea of Africa’.

Hajj Musa was detained shortly after this speech which sparked the first protest of it’s kind in Asmara, in over 26 years. There are some reports that the police opened fire on the crowd of protesters, killing 28 people, and injuring 100 others. However the Eritrean Government deny these allegations as ‘false’, and claim that nothing has happened. With no official independent media source in Eritrea, and all media outlets coming from a government source, The ministry of information – all media and news is controlled by the government, making it difficult to decipher the truth in the governments claims.

The frustrations of the Eritrean people have heightened after these events, and the need to raise awareness among wider non- Eritrean communities is even greater. In a country where free press and journalism is virtually nonexistent, freedom of expression and  freedom to practice your religion freely (for both the majority Muslim and Christian population) should be unrestricted.

Eritrea: The Facts

  • Eritrea is a small country located in the Horn of Africa, bordered by Sudan, Ethiopia, Djbouti, and the Red Sea to the north and north east.
  •  It’s Population is currently 48 % Muslim and 50% Christian.
  • The President, Isaias Afwerki has ruled for 26 years with no democratic elections held.
  • Eritrea has no constitutional law guaranteeing the rights of Eritrean citizens, including the right to freedom of expression.
  • Eritrea has mandatory military conscription, forcing young men to join against their will as soon as they leave school, with little pay. Those who don’t comply are often arrested and tortured, and sent back to military service.
  • Eritrea has one of the largest migrant populations alongside Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis that flee to Europe in search of safety, often in dangerous conditions across the Mediterranean where many have lost their lives.
  • The Eritrean government simply denies allegations made by the UN Human Rights Commission that state the Eritrean government’s violations against human rights and crimes against humanity.

What can you do to help?

Join the march which will be held on Friday 10th November at the Eritrean embassy (More details to follow soon) to stand in solidarity with the Eritrean people. Together we can amplify the voices of those who have struggled throughout this period of dictatorial rule.

Eman Yusuf

Eman Yusuf

Eman is an English Literature graduate and primary school teacher living in London who is passionate about education through real experiences, creativity and a growth mindset. When she isn't teaching, Eman is always keen to embark on new pursuits, whether it be wandering around a new city, learning a language (currently British Sign) or looking after bees! Her current favourite quote is 'there is no force equal to a woman determined to rise' by W.E.B Du Bois