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Muslims accuse Ethiopian government of meddling in mosques

Ethiopia's Muslims have been protesting 'state interference' in their affairs for the past six months. Could government accusations of Muslim extremism risk greater tension?

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Protests at mosques in religiously-diverse Ethiopia have stretched into their sixth month as Muslims object to what they see as unconstitutional government interference in their affairs.

Since December, worshipers at Friday prayers nationwide have been criticizing the state's alleged attempts to impose the al Ahbash, a moderate sect of Islam, on the community via an unrepresentative, politicized Islamic Supreme Affairs Council. Officials deny any interference.

The protest movement in most major cities among the nation's 30 to 40 million Muslims – about one-third of Ethiopia's population – has been largely peaceful and contained to mosque compounds.  

The government is trying to dominate influential mosques to gain wider political control of the country, says Ethiopian political analyst Jawar Mohammed.  To solidify Western support, it’s playing up an Islamist threat – Ethiopia is widely perceived by strategists as a bulwark against Al Qaeda-affiliated Islamic terrorists across the border in Somalia and in the Middle East and North Africa.  

"It is an unnecessary, unwise, and untimely intervention that will have severe repercussions both for the current regime as well as for the country in the long run, unless the government reverses its current approach," says Mr. Jawar.

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