CAIRO – Tapping into six months of continuous Muslim protests, analysts have criticized the government plans to dominate influential mosques as a mere trial to solidify western support for the country as a bulwark against terrorists.
"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," Ethiopian political analyst Jawar Mohammed, told Christian Science Monitor.
Since December, Ethiopia’s Muslims have taken to the streets in the past weeks to protest government’s interference in their religious affairs.
Muslims say the government is spearheading a campaign in collaboration with the Majlis to indoctrinate their community with the ideology of a sect called "Ahbash".
The government of Ethiopian Premier Meles Zenawi has put the Ahbash in charge of the religious affairs of Ethiopia's Muslims.
Muslims say the government move is in violation of the constitution, which prevents the government interference in religious affairs.
Founded by Ethiopian-Lebanese scholar Sheikh Abdullah al-Harari, Ahbash are seen by the West as a "friendly alternative" to Wahabi ideology, which the West sees as extreme and militant.
Muslims say Ahbash imams are being brought over from Lebanon to fill the Majlis and teach Ethiopians that “Wahabis” are non-Muslims.
"I think what aroused the Muslim population at large is al Ahbash's aggressive 'moderation' approach that emphasizes assimilation," analyst Jawar said.
"But let's say the sect is moderate as it claims – still it is not wise to drag its huge controversy into the country."
The Islamic council, which opponents say has been co-opted by the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front for almost two decades, has coerced 50,000 people to undergo a training campaign.
The campaign aims to incorporate teachings from Al Ahbash into religious schools across the nation and attacks all other doctrines as anti-Islamic.
Imams who rejected participation in the campaign have been sacked and many Muslim youths arrested for not participating in trainings.
Vowing to continue their protests, Ethiopian Muslims have accused the government of meddling in mosques, reiterating their complete rejection for unconstitutional government interference in their affairs.
"Let us be free," Ahmedin Jebel, spokesman for a committee that says it's elected by Muslims to represent the movement, told Christian Science Monitor.
"Let us have our own organization that is led by ourselves, not government cadres."
Ethiopian government policies against Muslims have further deteriorated the relation over the past months.
Last May, Ethiopian Muslim activists have reported torture and abuses by security forces.
Earlier in April, seven Muslims were killed by security forces in Assasa town in Arsi province of Oromiya regional.
Ahmedin noted that the government risks creating extremism where it doesn't exist with heavy-handed actions that many Muslims perceive as an attack on Islam.
"We are afraid that people will begin to fight back," if the indoctrination and smear campaigns continue, he says.
"There is a concern that they may create more extremism than they fear."
Ethiopian Muslims are estimated at 30 million, making up nearly 35 percent of the country’s 90 million population.