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by Martin Plaut

Yesterday I published a report by Human Rights Watch on this subject. Today there is another horrifying report - this time by Associated Press.

Ali Awad Habib, a businessman who was detained in the city of Aden, described how he was given electrical shocks on his neck, back, chin and “sensitive parts” of his body, after being imprisoned by the Security Belt, another Yemeni force created by the UAE. His father, arrested with him in April 2016, was sent to the Emirati base in the Eritrean port of Assab.

Multiple former detainees said their biggest terror was the Emirati interrogators — like the one known only as “the Doctor.”


Inside Yemen’s secret prisons: ‘We could hear the screams’

MUKALLA, Yemen (AP) — They call it the “grill”: The victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun furiously within a circle of fire. It is just one of the terrors inflicted by interrogators on detainees in Yemen who are routinely beaten with wires, kept in filthy shipping containers, and blindfolded for months — all by one of America’s closest counterterrorism allies.

Abuse and torture are routine in a network of secret prisons across southern Yemen where hundreds are detained in the hunt for al-Qaida militants, an Associated Press investigation has found. The network is run by the United Arab Emirates and by Yemeni forces it created, with at least 18 lock-ups hidden away in military bases, air and seaports, the basements of private villas and even a nightclub, according to accounts from former detainees, families of prisoners, civil rights lawyers and Yemeni military officials.

The United Arab Emirates and Yemeni forces run a secret network of prisons

American defense officials confirmed Wednesday that U.S. forces have interrogated some detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in or knowledge of human rights abuses. The American officials confirmed that the U.S. provides questions to the Emiratis and receives transcripts of their interrogations. A Yemeni witness of American interrogations also told the AP that no torture took place during those sessions where he was present.

Still, the American role raises potential concerns about violations of international law. Obtaining intelligence that may have been extracted by torture inflicted by another party would violate the International Convention Against Torture, which prohibits complicity, said Ryan Goodman, a law professor at New York University who served as special counsel to the Defense Department until last year.

Some prisoners have also been transported out of Yemen to a remote Emirati base across the Red Sea in Eritrea, according to Yemeni Interior Minister Hussein Arab and others.

Washington has long relied on allies to help it gain intelligence in the fight against al-Qaida, and Yemen is a main theater for that fight, even while the country is mired in a 2-year-old civil war. The UAE has been so critical that Defense Secretary James Mattis praised it as “Little Sparta” for its outsized role against the militants. The UAE government in a statement to the AP denied that any secret prisons exist or that torture takes place.

Yet at one main detention complex at Riyan airport in the southern Yemeni city of Mukalla, former inmates described being crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks on end. They said they were beaten, rotated on a spit and sexually assaulted, among other abuse. A member of the Hadramawt Elite, a Yemeni security force set up by the UAE, spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the workings at the base. He said American forces were at times only yards away.

“We could hear the screams,” said a former detainee held for six months at Riyan. “The entire place is gripped by fear. Almost everyone is sick, the rest are near death. Anyone who complains heads directly to the torture chamber.” He was flogged with wires regularly and said he was inside a metal shipping container when the guards lit a fire underneath to fill it with smoke.

One fellow inmate tried to slit his own throat; another tried to hang himself, he said. He was interviewed in person by the AP after his release from detention.

He and the other former detainees spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being arrested again. They said that when they were released, Emirati officers forced them to sign a document not to talk publicly about what they had endured.

“When I left the container, it was like escaping death,” he said.

The Associated Press interviewed 10 former prisoners, as well as a dozen officials in the Yemeni government, military and security services and nearly 20 relatives of detainees.

Ali Awad Habib, a businessman who was detained in the city of Aden, described how he was given electrical shocks on his neck, back, chin and “sensitive parts” of his body, after being imprisoned by the Security Belt, another Yemeni force created by the UAE. His father, arrested with him in April 2016, was sent to the Emirati base in the Eritrean port of Assab.

Multiple former detainees said their biggest terror was the Emirati interrogators — like the one known only as “the Doctor.”


The guards would bang on the metal doors of the shipping containers, shouting that “the Doctor” had arrived. The prisoners inside, blindfolded and bound, didn’t know his real name: They knew only his Emirati accent as he asked questions and inflicted pain.

One of his torments was to hang weights on an inmate’s genitals and pull. Another former detainee described being put on “the grill”: Blindfolded, he was tied to a horizontal pole inside a circle of flame. He said he was spun so fast that he vomited blood.

All six former inmates from Riyan, each interviewed separately by the AP, said they were beaten with wires, often by the Doctor himself. One detainee told of undergoing a fake execution where he was dressed in what he was told was an explosive suicide belt, then a sound grenade was set off near him.

This Yemeni man says his son was detained and has since disappeared.

Riyan was once Mukalla’s commercial airport but has been turned into a coalition base.

There, detainees were initially crammed by the dozens into a hangar and into 3-by-10 meter shipping containers, according to the six former inmates. The detainees were kept blindfolded, their legs and hands bound for months on end.

“Imagine having your eyes covered for 100 days, you feel like you’re the walking dead,” said the ex-inmate who was there for six months. He was allowed to care for his fellow detainees and came to know many.

Food was scarce, diarrhea was rife; access to toilets was limited and the containers reeked, he said. Emirati officers would hold their noses from the stench, he and other detainees said. Emirati officers interrogated the detainees at Riyan, while members of the Hadramawt Elite served as guards.

Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province, is a major focus in the fight against al-Qaida by the UAE and the Hadramawt Elite.

Overlooking the Arabian Sea, the city was overrun by al-Qaida in 2015. Militants dominated the city for around a year until they fled before a planned assault by the Hadramawt Elite. During the militant’s rule, many residents worked in service jobs for al-Qaida or otherwise had to deal with the group to get by — and that appears to have made some of them targets for arrest now.

For the past year, the Hadramawt Elite has arrested suspected al-Qaida members in Mukalla and surrounding areas. So far, more than 400 men have been rounded up, according to Sheikh Saleh al-Sharafi, a chief mediator between the Emiratis and the families of the detainees.

A Yemeni who served at Riyan said that men dressed in civilian clothes who his Emirati superiors said were Americans started showing up for the interrogations more than a year ago.

During those sessions, the detainees were not abused, he said. A team of three Americans in civilian clothes came to the base, sometimes multiple times a week, staying for up to three or four hours each time, he said. He asked to remain unnamed because he was not authorized to discuss his work.

The Yemeni said he used to bring detainees to the room where Americans were present. He watched interrogations and saw Emirati officials asking the questions and translating the answers to the Americans.

18 secret prisons in Yemen controlled by the United Arab Emirates

Several inmates said guards frequently threatened prisoners by saying they would “take them to the ships.”

Senior U.S. defense officials flatly denied the U.S. military conducts any interrogations of Yemenis on any ships.

“We have no comment on these specific claims,” added Jonathan Liu, a CIA spokesman.

But a Yemeni officer told AP he had worked on a vessel off the coast where he saw at least two detainees brought for questioning.

He said the detainees were taken below deck, where he was told American “polygraph experts” and “psychological experts” conducted interrogations. He did not have access to the lower decks and thus had no first-hand information about what happened there. But he said he saw other Americans in uniforms on the ship. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation for discussing the operations.

A second Yemeni officer said he was involved in moving detainees to a ship, where he said he saw foreigners though he didn’t know their nationality. “They say these are the important ones. Why are they important? I have no idea,” he said of the detainees.

A top official in Hadi’s Interior Ministry and a senior military official in the 1st Military District, based in Hadramawt, also contended that Americans were conducting interrogations at sea, as did a former senior security official in Hadramawt. The three men spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to share military information.

Yemeni Brig. Gen. Farag Salem al-Bahsani, commander of the Mukalla-based 2nd Military District, said reports of torture are “exaggerated.” He denied any detainees were “transferred to the Americans” but said the U.S. sent questions to interrogators and received reports on the results. They also gave coalition authorities a list of most wanted men, including many who were later arrested.

Former prisoners said the abuses in Riyan were constant.

Every night, the guards stormed the containers, forced everyone to lie on their bellies and beat them, all six detainees said. The ex-detainee who gave help to other prisoners recalled seeing one whose trousers were drenched in blood. Several told the ex-detainee that they had been sexually assaulted.

Others “lost their minds,” he said, adding he witnessed two suicide attempts. One tried to strangle himself with his own handcuffs. Another smashed a jelly jar and sliced his own throat. He said a detainee lost his sight because guards intentionally hit him in the face after he told them he’d had eye surgery before his arrest.

Another ex-detainee showed the AP how he was bound hand and foot and blindfolded. He said he was held at Riyan for nearly six months and subjected to constant beatings, though he was questioned only once, about a distant relative.

“I would die and go to hell rather than go back to this prison,” he said. “They wouldn’t treat animals this way. If it was bin Laden, they wouldn’t do this.”


The small but wealthy Gulf state of the Emirates, a longtime intelligence partner of the U.S., has muscled into a powerful role in Yemen.

The UAE is part of a Saudi-led, U.S.-backed coalition fighting in support of Yemen’s government against Shiite rebels known as Houthis, who overran the north of the country. The 2-year-old civil war has pushed the already impoverished nation into near famine in some areas.

The coalition is also fighting al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, one of the most dangerous extremist groups in the world, as well as Islamic State militants in Yemen. The Pentagon has said it sent a small contingent of U.S. forces in Mukalla last year, largely in an intelligence sharing role, and that forces move in and out routinely.

Under the Trump administration, the U.S. has escalated drone strikes to more than 80 this year, up from 21 in 2016, according to U.S. Central Command. At least two raids were ordered against al-Qaida, including one in which a Navy SEAL was killed along with 25 civilians. On Thursday, CENTCOM reported that three al-Qaida militants had been killed in a U.S. airstrike.

Over the course of the civil war, the UAE has effectively carved out its own state-within-a-state in southern Yemen. It has set up an extensive security apparatus, created its own Yemeni militias and runs military bases. The result has undermined the internationally recognized government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Ostensibly, UAE-trained forces like the Hadramawt Elite and Security Belt are under Hadi’s government, but Hadi’s officials often complain that those forces answer only to the Emiratis.

The network of Emirati prisons echoes the so-called “black sites,” secret detention facilities set up by the CIA to interrogate terrorism suspects in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In 2009, then-President Barack Obama disbanded the sites. The UAE network in war-torn Yemen was set up during the Obama administration and continues operating to this day.

Lists of people believed missing inside a secret Mukalla.

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said the Defense Department has “found no credible evidence to substantiate that the U.S. is participating in any abuse.”

“We always adhere to the highest standards of personal and professional conduct,” she said when presented with AP’s findings. “We would not turn a blind eye, because we are obligated to report any violations of human rights.”

However, several U.S. defense officials said senior military leaders are aware of the allegations of torture at the prisons in Yemen and have looked into them. In the end, they were satisfied that there has not been any abuse when U.S. forces are present, the officials said. They weren’t authorized to speak publicly about sensitive military operations and requested anonymity.

The officials said members of the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command or other military intelligence experts participate in interrogations of detainees at locations in Yemen. They said JSOC troops are trained to look for signs of abuses and are required to report it.

Legal experts said that in the light of alleged Emirati abuses, U.S. interrogations could constitute “complicity in torture,” which is banned in Article 4 of the U.N. Convention against Torture.

“It would therefore be unlawful for the U.S. to receive and/or rely on intelligence where the U.S. knows or should know that there was a real risk of the intelligence being obtained from torture,” said Amrit Singh, a senior legal officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative. “The U.S. has a positive obligation under international law to prevent torture instead of acquiescing in it.”


Families often gathered outside Riyan airport, trying to find news of detained loved ones.

One man in his 60s said his teenage son was seized in August and has not resurfaced since. He was told the teen was in Riyan but whenever he appealed for news from Yemeni officials, they told him, “This is in the hands of the Emiratis and the Americans.” He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals against himself or his son.

In a nearby town, Mohammed al-Saadi’s brother Hani vanished in January, when 20 masked gunmen descended on his butcher shop in the middle of the day. They grabbed Hani, still wearing his bloody apron and holding pieces of meat, and dragged him away in front of bystanders, Mohammed said — “like he’s a gangster or leader of al-Qaida.”

Mohammed thinks the arrest may be because al-Qaida fighters frequented Hani’s shop when they ran the area. He was told that Hani is at Riyan prison by former inmates, but officials won’t confirm it.

“I asked Yemeni officials. All I was told was, ‘We can do nothing to the Emiratis,’” he said. “As if we are not in a state.”

The wave of arrests is also taking place in Aden and other areas.

Looking out over part of Aden Central Prison, known as Mansoura

Sabri al-Shormani, an engineer, said he was arrested a year ago by the UAE-backed Security Belt from his hometown outside Aden. He was held incommunicado for weeks and interrogated by masked men with Emirati accents about his brother, who was suspected of al-Qaida links.

“We came to serve you,” he said the Emirati interrogators told him.

He was put blindfolded in solitary confinement for a week, and he said the stress caused his face to become partially paralyzed. Eventually, they freed him because of his faltering health.

The Security Belt then arrested another of his brothers, Ali. The family had no idea where he was for five months until he was suddenly released on April 3, appearing on the family doorstep. But shortly after he was welcomed home with tears and hugs, a force of gunmen arrived at the house, brought him outside and shot him to death, said their 60-year-old father, Mohammed Jaafar.

“We heard heavy gunfire. We didn’t know what was happening, there were armed men lined up,” Jaafar said. “I saw them, I started to scream.” Sabri said that there were bruises and other marks of torture on his brother’s body.

Huda al-Sarari, a rights lawyer in Aden who tracks detentions and torture, contended that many innocents are caught up in the arrests. But even al-Qaida suspects should be detained and questioned legally, she said.

“His family should know his whereabouts. He should be tried,” she said. “How long should detainees stay in detention centers where there is no electricity, no care, because they fall outside the authorities’ control?”

Ali Awad Habib, the businessman who was tortured with electric shocks, still doesn’t know why he was imprisoned for 6 months.

“Shock, shock, shock,” he said, pointing to the places where he said interrogators used the electrical prod on him. “I was tortured for no reason.”

He was detained on April 21, 2016, when masked gunmen from the Security Belt stormed into his office and one of his family businesses, a sponge factory in Aden, Yemen’s second largest city. They beat up and took away Habib, his brother, father, uncle and cousins along with several workers.

Habib and most of the others were taken to Aden’s official prison, known as Mansoura, where one section is under control of the Security Belt.

There, during interrogations, he said he was often beaten by heavy wires. The accusations against him varied each time. “One says I am an al-Qaida member, a second says I’m a drug dealer, and a third said I am an Iranian agent,” he said.

Habib was freed only to discover that his father was taken to the Emirati base in Assab, Eritrea, where there has been no word of him.

Naquib al-Yahri, the head of Mansoura prison, said Habib’s father was sent to Assab on suspicion of selling weapons to al-Qaida. He said the coalition was taking other prisoners out of Yemen, but did not provide figures.

He denied any torture or illegal detentions at Mansoura, saying that prosecutors are questioning those held or have ordered them kept in custody until courts in the war-torn country are back functioning. He gave the AP a tour of part of the facility, showing newly renovated cells and workshops for prisoners under 18 years old to learn a trade. In front of guards, the AP spoke to five teenaged prisoners who said they were doing well.

Aden’s security chief, Shalal al-Shaya, dismissed reports of illegal detentions, secret prisons or torture. He said all raids by his forces — which he said were trained by the U.S., Jordan and UAE — are carried out legally.

And he’s not worried about where the prisoners wind up.

“They terrorized the world and I don’t care where they take them,” he said.


Associated Press writers Lolita Baldor and Desmond Butler in Washington and Ahmed al-Haj and Maad al-Zikry in Yemen contributed to this report.

Martin Plaut | 25/06/2017 at 8:49 am | Tags: Assab, Eritrea, Torture, UAE, Yemen | Categories: Africa, Eritrea, Horn of Africa, United Arab Emirates, Yemen | URL:

EPDP Information Office

At the conclusion of its 35th Session on 23 June, the UN Human Rights Council extended the mandate of Ms Sheila Keetharuth to continue monitoring the still continuing human rights abuses of the Eritrean regime which the UN body once more "condemns in the strongest terms the systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations and abuses that have been and are being committed by the Government of Eritrea in a climate of generalized impunity".

Sheila Keetharuth

This latest UN HR Council condemnation of the regime noted with grave concern "the continued use by the Government of Eritrea of arbitrary arrest and detention, including incommunicado detention in extremely harsh and life-threatening conditions" and asked the regime to end this brutalities against its own people by starting to implement at least some of the 92 recommendations the UN Council adopted a year ago.

The 35th Session of the UN Council also noted the identification by UN COI a year ago "of individual suspects and careful maintenance of relevant information that may assist future accountability efforts" and asked Ms Keetharuth "to continue and strengthen" her follow up of the grave human rights situation in Eritrea.

Hinting at the fact that the UN Security Council did not yet act on the Eritrean human rights file, UN HR Council requested  the UN General Assembly to submit the report and the oral updates of the commission of inquiry to all relevant organs of the UN "for consideration and appropriate action".  

Furthermore, the Council reiterated "its strongest encouragement" to the African Union to take action on the Eritrean case "by establishing an investigation" with the view of "examining and bringing to justice those responsible for crimes involving violations and abuses of human rights identified by he commission of Inquiry, including any that may amount to a crime against humanity".

The UN Human Rights Council decisions again this year clearly show that the legendary sword of Damocles is still hanging over the Eritrean president, Isaias Afeworki, and his small clique known as Africa's most repressive regime.

The writer of this article welcomes the call of EPDP and would like rewrite and post this paper regarding the call in 2014 presented at seminar held in Addis 2014. I hope the EPDP leadership read and compare the two calls

This is a paper presented at the seminar under the title, ” Saving the Eritren people and land from totalitarian system of destruction” that was held from 3-10 march 2014 in the capital city of Ethiopia- Addis- Ababa.

 Introduction: The Eritrean conflict is intra-state conflict originating from early statehood and now after liberation in state organization. The state formation and government organization proces was an exclusive not accommodating the Eritrean diversity. The internal Eritrean conflict is identity- based on differences of ethnics( religion,culture, language) and combined by unjust policies political, economic, social and cultural rights. Most conflicts of the world today are intra-state conflicts much less amenable to compormises. In this seminar I hope my paper will lead us to create tools for internal and external conflicts now at this time of struggle against dictatorship and post –dictatorship. This paper will try to  explore some tools for conflict management inside the opposition forces for democratic change. The Eritrean democratization process is still in its initial phase despite many initiativs since 1999 with building of coaltions of political organizations.

In the past 15 years and more  we have only seen waves of accusations and blames that led us to more disintegration and infighting in the camp of the Eritrean opposition forces for democratic change.

Conflicts are escalating between different personalities and clientelist politics both inside the political and civic organizations. The Eritrean forces for democratic change are in uncertain and conflict-prone unable to work within the current situation and prepare for the future.

How can we descalate these conflict –prone attitudes? How can the Eritrean forces for democratic change build trust by joining their efforts? This paper will argue on some approaches that can help us come together and reunite our efforts in the following fields:

- political approaches

- diplomatic relations

- popular mobilisation

- media

- economy

How can the opposition manage joint political affairs

The historical circumstances behind the renaissance of most of the Eritrean opposition organizations makes them closely related to their  respective old programs, and even a large number of the opposition leaders are historical leaders, to the extent that the spirit that influenced the political discourse and the leaders in the era of struggle against colonization still more or less reflected in the political performance of the Eritrea Government and the opposition alike, and this discourse undoubtedly instilled in the Eritrean people, particularly the  younger generation that has emerged in the beginnings of the 21st of the century, not to mention the  generation born after the independence of Eritrea at home who haven’t been acquainted with the opposition and its political discourse, consequently lacks the needed stimulus to participate and support the opposition, therefore the political  discourse of the opposition must undergo a radical change of mode or paradigm shift  through broader modernization in concepts and  terminologies, and that should be reflected in the practical performance of the political forces and civil rights’ organizations.

 The opposition today requires a political discourse that would combine the history with the present, highlighting that the values of democracy are fundamental rights that doesn’t allow compromise, founding its political discourse on the concepts of human rights, the political  discourse must attract the wishes of the  new generations to  encourage them participate in the bid to highlighting the benefits of the moral and material meaning of home, the opposition’s discourse must make use of the modern media communications which would surely attract our young generation, This discourse is based on: -

1- To stress the legitimate right of the Eritrean people to own their political decision and share the wealth of the country and to take their deserved part in ruling over their country, by the well-defined means of democracy methods and the right to enjoy justice by the virtues of the law that they established through their representatives in the parliament.

2-To focus on the concepts and values of democracy and human rights.

3- To pay much attention to the civil society, especially the associations of youth and women, and to involve them in the formulation of the political discourse so that they would be empowered enough, because they know how to conduct a successful dialogue to win over their peers.

How can the opposition gain the popular confidence?

 Joint Popular mobilization

Since the Eritrean  masses as stakeholders would directly benefit of the democratic change , then the opposition must mobilize the entire sectors of the Eritrean Public at home, as well as abroad in the process of change through the mobilization and raising public awareness, the political and civic organizations which are leading the endeavours  towards change  should recognize the differences in the political programs and coordinate a mechanisms and consolidate a unified political discourse to accelerate the project of democratic change in Eritrea

Today the Eritrean public needs a glimmer of hope that could encourage them to work for democratic change, they need a leadership that could convince them about the credibility of the struggle for change, alas the opposition leadership seemed to be dominated by the differences over secondary issues that dominate and hinder its unity on the key issues and consequently keeps the public away from any mass action, public mobilization must be based on the following:-

1- Build-up of credibility through positive attitudes and behaviour on the part of the political leadership interacting with the public.

2- Paying much attention to the suffering of the public and provide alternative solutions, especially the issues relating to the legal status of refugees and migrants, particularly with countries that have good relations with the opposition

3-Recruiting the public in the branch-offices of the opposition and mandating of leaders that can serve as role models to help the public come close up to the opposition, and not the kind of leaders that scare people away from the ranks of the opposition.

4- The establishment of service sectors, that could serve the public such as education and health services, wherever Eritrean communities exist, and to refrain from providing such public services according to one’s political or organizational affiliation.

5- Establishment of grass-roots associations such as youth, women, workers and other sectors and to give those institutions a real attention through professional understanding and practice.

6-Establishment of branches combined of members of collective umbrella of the Eritrean national council for Democratic change/ENCDC and EPDP to furnish information and programs for the public to ensure improving it beyond the organizational differences.

Joint diplomacy/international relations

Countries are no longer an islands isolated from each other in our era of intertwined interests, as the foreign policies of countries are driven by interests, therefore, it must be well-understood  that foreign counties would  have to take their respective positions towards Eritrea according to their political and economic interests, perhaps it is an ironic that the foreign policies of the Eritrean Regime had to play a  catalyst helpful role on the part of the opposition  to pursue a constructive productive and effective diplomacy in their struggle for change, but the Eritrean opposition ,despite the just and legitimate cause in the struggle to bring about democracy, but it has shown incapability to  win the sympathy and support of  foreign states, the opposition have to make use of the diplomacy based on the know-how of the modus operandi of international relations which had been administering the world today, the interests of countries with national sovereignty, and international organizations attends to the interests of international security, regional organizations that sponsor the security and interests of the countries in the region, as well as non-governmental organizations that has become of great influence in international politics and overseas companies with a significant impact on the process of political decision-making.

Therefore any formulation of diplomatic action plan must be based the above mentioned backgrounds, it would be helpful to point out some important guideline here bellow:

1. A diplomatic action built on positive interaction, that is to say, there are parties in the world who have their respective stakes in Eritrea, who need to be convinced that the opposition can be faithful to their interests as long as not inconsistent with the national interests of Eritrea, therefore countries which their interests have been damaged by the Eritrean Regime will cooperate with the opposition, but first, the opposition must confirm its credibility and seriousness

2- A diplomatic action built on negative interaction, and we mean that there are parties in the world that Eritrean Regime constitutes a source of concern for their respective national security, whether serious or minimal concern, such forces would be more than happy to watch the Eritrean Regime disappearing, they have genuine interests in the disappearance of this Regime due to the keenness to their respective national security,  but these countries cannot risk to establish relations with the opposition unless ascertained in the seriousness of the opposition, for fear that the establishment of such a relationship might deteriorate the internal affairs of their respective countries, the Eritrean Regime is notorious in exploiting the internal contradictions of foreign countries, which constitute a threat to the security of those countries, the seriousness of the opposition would be associated with its political discourse and its mechanisms.

3- A diplomatic action built on bilateral policy and attitudes, where some countries are in harmony with opposition on their stance towards many issues, attitudes towards public issues is inconsistent with the positions of the Eritrean Regime, therefore compatibility with opposition or contradiction with the regime, is stimulus for diplomatic cooperation between the opposition and the foreign nations.

4- Diplomatic functioning based on lobbying through local communities, civic organizations and individual relationships, where every vote counts on the part of the Western countries in times of elections, the grouping of communities and activating civic organizations or take advantage of individual relationships can influence and stimulate the policies of Western states towards Eritrea.

5- Benefit from Non-governmental Organizations of certain areas of concern, such as human rights organizations, and organizations concerned with freedoms of religion or press, or transparency and those NGOs fighting corruption, and even the relief and health humanitarian organizations that the Eritrean Regime refused to give access to providing aid to the Eritrean people, all these factors could be valuable for the diplomatic advancement of the opposition if used properly.

The Eritrean opposition need to muster the factors that manipulate world politics through a specialized and skilful apparatus the make use of its political and administrative authority, and perhaps the most important aspect in this regard is appoint united-external-political unit composed of the ENCDC and EPDP.

The following points might be useful in this respect.

1- Formation of diplomatic apparatus for the Eritrean forces for democratic change to run the international relations with political and administrative competency and capabilities.

2-Consensus on the features of the external political discourse by all components of the opposition/ ENCDC and EPDP

3-Coordination of the foreign policies of the political organizations through a united committee consisted of the external relations officials of the ENCDC and EPDP organizations. With the task of making ENCDC- EPDP joint foreign policy a non-partisan policy through the evaluation of external policy functioning, exchange of information and proposal of plans, and benefiting from the relationships of organizations and individuals in this area.

4-Coordination with the civic organizations that support the overall objectives of the opposition, especially in Europe, America and Australia, and take advantage of their relations, and to mandate the civic organizations to implement and illuminate the foreign policy of the Eritrean opposition.

5-To draw a maximum benefit from the partnership’s presence in the capital of the African Diplomacy Addis Ababa, where the African Union Head Quarters is located, beside a high-ranking diplomatic missions of the most important powers, the ENCDC- EPDP joint diplomacy should approach these countries by taking advantage of the public events that these missions held as well as the occasional events held in the host country , Ethiopia, and to constantly send messages  in the occasion of public National Holidays of diplomatic missions.

6- Establishing a joint website so that it could be a reference to all the questions that may arise in the mind of any policy-maker or a diplomatic mission, as well as writing leaflets carefully prepared and in different languages.

Joint  Media development strategy

In today's world, which is dubbed as the “age of information evolution”, though the media of the Eritrean opposition is not commensurate with the magnitude of the cause it is raising and the challenge it is facing, despite the progress that opposition media has registered in general, but that is not enough to deliver the message of opposition, especially when the regime it is opposing has an information outlets that are considered the most prominent strengths of the regime.

even the improvements that opposition’s media outlets have shown are due to efforts without any coordination which is not enough to deliver the message of the opposition , most of the oppositions media outlets lack professionalism, most of the member opposition organizations have their own media outlets which lessen the effectiveness of the spirit needed for change, even the oppositions media outlets are often used to highlight the secondary political contradictions between the various organizations , we could point out the following points in this respect:

1-    Formulation an information policy with clear goals and instructions to convey a convincing message through all available information means.

2-    Tolerate secondary contradictions of political and civil forces, and focus on the overarching challenge of removing the dictatorial regime in Eritrea.

3-    Coordination of work between media organizations and the signing of the Code of Conduct for the media outlets, so that the media war between the organizations, degradation or questioning of the principles, personal attack would be perceived as a red-line.

4-    Development of the radio through the creation of an independent radio with working-hours for as long as possible pursuing a dynamic approaches in conveying the opposition’s message  to resist the Regime and to deliver opposition’s message in an intelligent way.

5-    Diligences in founding a TV-channel to convey the goals of the opposition and reflect the suffering of the Eritrean people, and work to highlight the abuse of the regime against our people.

6-    Establishing  opposition Satellite TV challenging the PFDJ’s ERITV.

7-    Develop opposition websites on the web and make it more professional and more easily viewed, and more substantive and meaningful.

8-    Pay much attention to the Internet to benefit from groups on facebook, Twitter and other tools that gains the attention of a large number of sympathizers.

9-    The importance of training and the adoption of assigning media work according to individual competency and not organizational affiliation.

10- Opening up communication with TV channels, news agencies, global and regional newspapers and magazines and all that can contribute to delivering the message of the opposition.

11- Use the universal language in the media, in terms of focus on the concepts of human rights, democracy, transparency and good governance.

12-Documentation of the regime’s Violations, and reporting the evidences in figures and images because it makes the message of the opposition more credible and acceptable to the recipient.

13- adoption of mechanisms and means to evaluate the feedback such as surveys, questionnaires and others to determine the effect of the message on the recipient

Joint Economic Development strategy

The biggest dilemma of the opposition is how to finance its activities, as it is known , that,  those who lack financial sources cannot  fully own their decisions, The people of Eritrea have had an honourable history in financing and supporting the Eritrean revolution, therefore the opposition need to explore extraordinary alternative plans to attract support and to discover funding sources, its economic plans must not depend only on funding sources, but in drying-up the support of the Regime, especially as  the Regime draws-in support from neutral places where the opposition exists.

We can refer to the following points in this respect:

1-    Authentication of the relationship between the opposition and the public, encouraging the people to bear the responsibility of regime change as the sole beneficiary of the change, this can be achieved only through a high degree of transparency and openness, and building bridges of trust between the opposition and the public.

2-    Establishing a constructive relationship with countries that can accumulate with the political positions of the Eritrean opposition, then to make use of these relations in opening economic cooperation to finance the activities of the opposition

3-    Presenting partnership projects with organizations that have relations with the Regime such as the European Union in order push them towards parallel treatment between the Regime and opposition, through pressure by voters in the European countries, and to benefit from these projects in financing the opposition in particular with regard to the entrenchment of the values that form the agenda fixed in the concerns of the European Union and organizations alike.

4-   Cooperation with NGOs on human rights, freedoms, gender, transparency etc., and enter into partnerships with them to serve the common goals of the organizations and the opposition alike.

5-   Search for investment projects, and not necessarily to be at the centre level, but can be done at the branch level, so that the opposition activities can be financed by its own projects.

The above points are relevant to improving the financial capabilities of the opposition; the following steps are to cut off the sources of financing of the Regime.


1-    On the official level, by persuading countries and organizations that sponsor projects in cooperation with the Regime until it stops financing of such projects, or at least could proceed funding the Regime’s projects but after imposing its own terms and conditions,  to prevent the Regime from using such funds in the oppression of our people.

2-    At the grassroots level to stop the tax imposed by the Regime on Eritrean nationals living in Diaspora, and projects that the Regime claims to support the families of martyrs and the disabled, especially since the Regime is using the means of blackmail and intimidation in the collection of such tax which contradicts the laws of the countries in which the Eritrean communities live.

In conclusion, I would like to urge the opposition forces –political, civic and independents to join their efforts to win the dictatorship and lay foundations on the future Eritrea after the fall of dictatorship. The process of national unity can only be achieved by boosting working relationship and activities but not rhetoric or attacking each other and let us be soft with each other and hard for problem solving.

by Martin Plaut

Eritrea is coming in from the cold. Could that spark a shooting war with Ethiopia?

By Tom Gardner

The Rehabilitation of Africa’s Most Isolated Dictatorship

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Two recent and seemingly incongruous events may one day be seen as symbolic turning points for Eritrea, an authoritarian, one-party state often referred to as Africa’s hermit kingdom. The first was a bloody clash on Eritrea’s border with Ethiopia in June 2016, which left hundreds of people dead and brought back memories of the devastating 1998-2000 war between the two archenemies. The second was an academic conference in the Eritrean capital of Asmara in July, the first of its kind in 15 years. Visiting academics were shocked by the relative freedom for debate — on everything from women’s rights to foreign policy — in the notoriously repressive state.

“It was as much a political event as an academic event,” said Harry Verhoeven, an assistant professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar who attended the conference. “It was remarkable — by regional standards and certainly by Eritrean standards.”

 These apparently contradictory episodes were in fact both subplots of the same story: Eritrea’s gradual emergence from more than a decade of international isolation and the uncertain attempts to come to terms with that shift by its rival neighbor, Ethiopia. The conference indicated that the Eritrean government is coming tentatively in from the cold; the border war showed that Ethiopia is worried that a rehabilitated Eritrea could threaten its regional dominance. Together, the two events demonstrated that the 17-year-old status quo of “no peace, no war” is coming undone.

In April, Ethiopia announced that it is working on a new policy toward its Red Sea neighbor. The details are still emerging, but one thing is clear: The government recognizes that its strategy of containment, imposed on Eritrea after the end of the border war in 2000 and ratcheted up with a U.N. arms embargo in 2009, has failed. For the first time in years, there is serious talk of a change of course in Addis Ababa.

The U.N. sanctions regime is dependent on support from the international community, which is gradually eroding. The sanctions were always controversial for singling out Eritrea as a uniquely bad actor in a region of bad actors. Now there is growing consensus at the United Nations that the main justification for the sanctions no longer applies: There is no evidence that Eritrea is still supporting al-Shabab militants in Somalia, and though it continues to support armed opposition groups in the region — notably in Ethiopia — its neighbors do as well.

Ethiopia may be able to stave off a softening — or lifting — of the sanctions until the end of 2018, when its term as a nonpermanent member of the U.N. Security Council is slated to end. Tensions between Eritrea and Djibouti, which have spiked in the past week following Qatar’s decision to remove its peacekeepers from the troubled border between the two countries, may well strengthen Ethiopia’s case in the short term. But in the long run it will struggle to persuade other members to continue the status quo without the backing of the United States, which now that President Barack Obama — and in particular his national security advisor, Susan Rice, who was seen as implacably hostile to the Eritrean regime — has departed may be less inclined to keep Asmara in the penalty box.

“They didn’t have an inch of space when she was there,” Bronwyn Bruton, the deputy director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., said of Rice. Now that Donald Trump is in office, “all the African strongmen are rejoicing,” she added.

Wider winds are blowing in Eritrea’s favor, too. The war in Yemen, which is less than 70 miles away across the Red Sea, has sparked a rush on Eritrean coastal real estate by Gulf states looking to base their troops there. For example, the United Arab Emirates has been leasing the port of Assab since 2015 and is reportedly building a military base there. Meanwhile, some 400 Eritrean troops are reportedly fighting as part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, in return for which Asmara has received fuel and finance.

“The Gulf countries have repositioned Eritrea in the geopolitical context of the Horn in quite a remarkable way,” said Kjetil Tronvoll, a senior partner at the International Law and Policy Institute in Norway.

Meanwhile, the migration crisis has spurred renewed engagement by the European Union, which is desperate to stem the flow of refugees and migrants across the Mediterranean. Eritrea was Africa’s largest single source of refugees to Europe from 2014 to 2016, a distinction that won President Isaias Afwerki, who has been in power since 1993, an additional source of income. In 2015, the EU approved a 200 million euro aid package for Eritrea, though it has yet to disburse all the funds. This came on top of promises of training for the judiciary and security services designed to combat trafficking.

Individual European countries and humanitarian agencies are also stepping up engagement. Germany has resumed technical assistance programs while Britain’s Department for International Development is planning to open an office in Asmara. U.S. State Department officials, who long avoided the country, have started visiting again. “

The wall that the Ethiopians had carefully erected has frankly crumbled

The wall that the Ethiopians had carefully erected has frankly crumbled,” said Martin Plaut, the author of Understanding Eritrea. “Everybody seems to be queuing up to love them.”

Most unnervingly from the Ethiopian perspective is Eritrea’s strengthening relationship with Egypt, Ethiopia’s historic rival and now the closest thing Eritrea has to a regional ally. Addis Ababa accuses Cairo of working with Eritrea to support armed groups that have attempted to sabotage the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the continent’s largest hydroelectric project, which Egypt regards as an existential threat because of its dependence on the Nile River’s downstream waters.

High-level exchanges between Asmara and Cairo have intensified in recent months. Afwerki traveled to Egypt in November to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Eritrea’s foreign minister held talks with his Egyptian counterpart in May. Multiple Egyptian delegations have descended on Asmara, fueling rumors of a potential Egyptian air base in Eritrea. Such a provocation is highly unlikely, analysts say, but not impossible: Egypt has not ruled out the possibility of airstrikes against the dam.

Meanwhile, Eritrea has made its own efforts to rid itself of pariah status. It has begun courting foreign investors, especially in the mining sector. Three new mines are expected to be operational by 2018, joining the majority-Canadian-owned Bisha gold, copper, and zinc mine, which opened in 2011 and generated nearly $2 billion in revenues in its first four years of operation. (The mine has been dogged by allegations of forced labor and dangerous working conditions.) The government also created a free trade zone in the port of Massawa in an effort to attract more investors.

This comes on top of small but symbolically significant measures by the government to improve its terrible reputation on human rights. According to the Atlantic Council, some 50 foreign journalists were permitted to enter and report on the country between May 2015 and May 2016, and the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was recently permitted to tour a prison.

Much of this is worrying to Ethiopia, which dislikes the prospect of Eritrea projecting its influence over the Red Sea littoral — a deep-seated anxiety tied to its own landlocked status. Addis Ababa also worries that Afwerki will use his growing financial resources to step up support for armed opposition in Ethiopia at a time when the country is already under a state of emergency following months of unrest. Above all, Ethiopia fears encirclement by hostile regimes.

But so far it has struggled to craft a coherent response to Eritrea’s rapidly changing circumstances. “Ethiopia was completely blindsided by what happened in Yemen,” said Cedric Barnes, the director of research and communications at the Rift Valley Institute. “They seem to have lost their way diplomatically.”

Unlike Eritrea, Ethiopia has only distant relations with the Gulf states, and its efforts to dissuade the UAE and Saudi Arabia from engaging with Asmara have apparently been unsuccessful. As a result, it has resorted to displays of military strength, including bombing the Bisha mine in 2015. In private, government officials in Asmara claim that scores of similar provocations have occurred in recent years.

Analysts are unsure what a new Ethiopian policy toward Eritrea might entail. Some suggest it will amount to little more than a rearticulation of its existing approach, setting firm red lines and spelling out exactly what sort of military action their breach might warrant. Others wonder if the government is considering secret bilateral talks, perhaps including the offer of withdrawal from the border town of Badme, which Ethiopian troops have occupied illegally for the past 15 years. But war — to bring about regime change in Asmara — is not out of the question either, though military overstretch and fear of full-blown state collapse north of the border make this unlikely.

The problem is that domestic politics in Ethiopia makes bold thinking difficult. The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front is deeply divided, and the prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, lacks the authority to make a bold move toward resetting relations with Eritrea. Whatever happens, hawks in the military and intelligence agencies will need to be brought onside, which will mean avoiding anything that looks like a humiliating climb down from the country’s aggressive stance.

Eritrea may have earned the title of Africa’s North Korea, but it has no patron like China that can force it to the table. Afwerki still benefits from the status quo, which justifies keeping the country on a permanent war footing. Reports that Eritrean troops have occupied disputed territory following the withdrawal of Qatari peacekeepers from the Djibouti border last week serve as reminder that Eritrea can still play the part of regional spoiler. And though it’s now less isolated, Asmara remains much weaker than Addis Ababa. In the end, movement must come from the Ethiopian side. “It’s a high-risk, high-reward situation,” Verhoeven said. “But I’m cautiously optimistic.”


African Union says it will send a 'fact-finding mission' to the countries as tensions between the neighbours mount.

17 Jun 2017 17:57 GMT


The African Union (AU) has urged Djibouti and Eritrea to show "restraint" as tensions over a disputed border territory intensified and threatened to revive a long-standing and at times violent dispute.

Djibouti on Friday accused Eritrean soldiersof occupying territory in the contested Doumeira region following the departure of Qatari peacekeepers from the location earlier this week.

Doumeira is situated northeast of Djibouti and east of Eritrea near the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, a strategic waterway at the foot of the Red Sea through which nearly four million barrels of oil are shipped daily to Europe, the United States and Asia.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, AU commission chairperson, said on Saturday that the union would send a "fact-finding mission to the Djibouti-Eritrea border".

The AU is "ready to assist Djibouti and Eritrea to normalise their relations and promote good neighbourliness within the framework of relevant AU instruments," he said.

Qatar announced that it was pulling its contingent out on June 14, days after the two East African countries sided with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and their allies in a major diplomatic standoff with Doha.

Qatar's foreign ministry did not give a reason for the move.

Djibouti's Foreign Minister Mahamoud Ali Youssef said on Friday that his country's army was "on alert" and accused Eritrea of "moving its forces" into the Doumeira region where Qatari peacekeepers had been stationed since 2010 as a buffer between the two nations' armies.

READ MORE: Djibouti accuses Eritrea of occupying disputed area

In a statement issued on Saturday, Eritrea did not address the allegations directly, saying it would not respond to "news - factual and speculative - churned out in the last few days".

"The government of Eritrea will make its views known when it obtains full information of the entire episode," said the statement issued by the information ministry in Asmara.

Djibouti, a close Western ally, has repeatedly clashed with Eritrea over the disputed territory, raising fears that the spat could engulf the entire region.

Clashes broke out between the Horn of Africa countries in June 2008, which triggered several days of fighting that killed a dozen Djiboutian troops.

Eritrea had initially denied making any incursions, accusing Djibouti of launching unprovoked attacks.

The UN Security Council then requested both sides withdraw from the area before the neighbours accepted a Qatari request to mediate and deploy peacekeepers.


by Martin Plaut

It appears that there are new efforts to 'engage' or 're-engage' with the Eritrean regime led by President Isaias Afwerki. Yet the international organisations attempting to do this appear to have learnt few lessons from the failure of previous attempts to mend fences with the Eritrean authorities.

As I indicate below, the lessons the United Nations learned when they sent troops to patrol the Ethiopia - Eritrea border, and the EU's later experience of attempting to provide aid, are particularly relevant.

Tough lessons learnt by the United Nations 

Soon after the border war that erupted between Ethiopia and Eritrea ended in mid 2000, the United Nations attempted to put a force of peacekeepers along the disputed frontier.

The United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia or UNMEE was established under the control of a Botswanan (Joseph Legwaila) and his British deputy, Ian Martin, while the troops were controlled by a Dutch officer, Major-General Patrick Camaert. Together they made up a powerful team, determined to try to use their 4,200 troops and 220 military observers to prevent a further eruption of conflict.

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Andebrhan Welde Giorgis, who was assigned by President Isaias to oversee the Commission for Co-ordination with UNMEE has now written about the frustrating time he faced while in the post.

Ethiopia was determined not to recognise the border demarcated between the two nations by an international boundary commission, and refused to remove its troops from the Temporary Security Zone all along the border. While this was a blow to UNMEE's work, Eritrea was also at fault.

As Andebrhan makes clear, President Isaias ordered that the UN's Status of Forces Agreement (a standard agreement regulating UN troops on foreign soil) should not be signed. Nor should the UNMEE forces be given freedom of movement to carry out their task.

"Having negotiated the final version and agreed on a date certain for the signing ceremony," writes Andebrhan, "the president told me that we would not sign the agreement. He gave me no reason when I asked him 'why not.'" This was just the start of an increasingly difficult relationship between the UN and the Eritrean government.

Attempts by the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to resolve the issues made no progress. While Ethiopia prevaricated over the border demarcation, President Isaias went out of his way to make life difficult for the UN peacekeepers. UNMEE peacekeepers found it increasingly hard to operate inside Eritrea, with mounting restrictions on what they could do and where they could travel to carry out their task of monitoring the border.

On 29 September 2006 the Security Council, running out of patience with Eritrea, passed a resolution (1710) demanding that "Eritrea reverse, without further delay or preconditions, all restrictions on UNMEE's movement and operations."

The UN might as well have saved their collective breath. Eritrea (and Ethiopia) refused to budge and in the end the operation was terminated. On 30 July 2008 UNMEE was officially disbanded by the UN.

The European Union's humiliation

The UN is not the only international body to have suffered at the hands of the Eritrean government.

Attempts to deal honestly with the Eritrean government and its agencies have ended in failure.  When a European Union diplomat attempted to raise the issue of the misuse of aid in 2006, he was expelled.

Nor was this the first failure. In 2001 when the European Union protested about the ruthless crackdown on students, journalists and senior politicians, their representative was also expelled from the country. The EU and European diplomats at first protested vigorously.

At first Europe demanded that Eritrea improve its human rights record before normal relations could be resumed. But President Afwerki did nothing of the sort, assuming that he could outlast the EU’s anger. He was right: it was the Europeans who buckledAs time passed the EU reassessed its relations with Asmara. Although there had been no sign of movement on human rights it was decided to try to have a “new beginning” with Eritrea.

In May 2007 the president was invited to visit Brussels and was warmly welcomed by the then EU development commissioner, Louis Michel.

By August 2009 Michel was sufficiently encouraged that progress could be made that he visited Asmara, after receiving assurances from an Eritrean diplomat that Dawit Isaak, a Swedish-Eritrean journalist imprisoned in 2001, would be released into his care. Having booked a ticket for Isaak to return with him to Europe, Michel flew to Asmara.

But once he arrived it became apparent that the president had no intention of allowing the journalist to go free. Michel was not even permitted to visit the prisoner and returned home humiliated.

Despite these setbacks, the EU remained wedded to attempting to improve its relationship with Eritrea.

In 2009, European and American diplomats discussed whether to strengthen military sanctions against the country. A US diplomatic cable, released via WikiLeaks, revealed that EU representatives called for engagement with Eritrea rather than isolation.

The Italians described Eritrea as governed by a “brutal dictator” and noted that it had “not gotten results from its efforts at engagement”, while at the same time cautioning against “creating another Afghanistan” by imposing sanctions. The French said that while engagement was “useless”, they would continue on this track as there was no other option.

Europe's refusal to learn from the past

Despite these repeated setbacks, the EU is determined to engage in fresh attempts to mend fences. This is not driven by a desire to improve the position of Eritrean people, but rather (as EU officials privately admit) by a desire to reduce the exodus of refugees who leave the country, only to end up crossing the Mediterranean and arriving on European soil.

Funds worth E200 million have been allocated for aid projects.  The latest assessment by the EU representative in Eritrea is distinctly upbeat.

We have made good progress in the last couple of years: the implementation of the last programs of the 10th European Development Fund is ongoing; we signed last year the National Indicative Program under the 11th EDF and we have finalized a first package of projects and programs under this framework, amounting to almost 90 M€, for approval of EU member states; we hope that implementation of this program can start in the last quarter of this year.

How this work will be assessed and what kind of independent scrutiny of the aid will be undertaken is far from clear. Eritrea has routinely rejected any attempt to operate independently of government: the only civil society organisations that exist are controlled, operated and monitored by the regime and the ruling party - the PFDJ.

Learning from past failure

What is clear is that both the EU and the UN have repeatedly been pushed around by the Eritrean government. President Isaias is an autocrat who does not share power with his own people. He is certainly not going to allow any autonomy for outside organisations (no matter how well-meaning) to work in Eritrea.

There is little reason to believe that present-day attempts to 'reach out to' the Eritrean government by beginning a 'fresh engagement' will end any differently from previous initiatives.

As the old saying goes: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me."

These initiatives come despite there being no evidence of any improvement in human rights in the country.

As Sheila Keetharuth, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea explained to the UN Human Rights Council on 14 June, the situation in the country has not improved in any way. "Presenting her report to the Council, Ms. Keetharuth said that Eritrea had not made any effort to address the human rights concerns highlighted by the Commission of Inquiry, and had not shown willingness to tackle the impunity of the perpetrators of past and ongoing human rights violations.  Conditions in detention remained harsh, leading to irreparable damage to the health of prisoners, in some instances even causing death."

Nor has the situation of National Service changed. Despite promises from senior government officials that this would be reduced to 18 months, this has not taken place. Conscription is still enforced indefinitely - sometimes for over 20 years.

It is hard to see how the UN or EU engaging with the Eritrean regime will improve the lot of the country's people.



CAIRO Prominent Egyptian political parties on Thursday criticized President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's plan to transfer two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia and urged people to take to the streets in protest.

Parliament voted on Wednesday to back a treaty to hand over the two uninhabited islands of Tiran and Sanfir and Sisi is expected to ratify the decision soon.

The plan to cede the islands to Saudi Arabia, which has given Egypt billions of dollars of aid, was first announced last year and has since become mired in political protest and legal action.

The Social Democratic Party, along with several other parties and groups, called for protests on Friday.

Thousands of people backed a Facebook page named "Giving up land is treason," which urges people to protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square, birthplace of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. It shows a box full of Saudi cash, which it describes as the title deeds for the islands.

Opponents of the plan say Egypt's sovereignty over the islands dates back to 1906, before Saudi Arabia was founded.







Eritrea has become the latest African state to side with Saudi Arabia and its allies in the diplomatic crisis involving Qatar.

A group of Arab nations, led by Riyadh, cut diplomatic ties with the Gulf country last week, accusing Qatar of funding terrorist groups, including the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), and supporting Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main rival in the region.

Several African nations have followed suit. Senegal, Chad, Mauritania and Niger have all recalled their ambassadors from Qatar, while Egypt was one of the initial group that sparked the crisis.

Eritrea, a pariah state that has been dubbed Africa’s North Korea for its lack of free media, has few international partners but has until now had a relatively good relationship with Qatar.

Qatar Sheikh al-Thani Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani attends the 25th Arab Summit in Kuwait City, March 25, 2014. Qatar has been isolated by a number of Arab and African states for its alleged support of terrorism and Iran. Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters

But a statement from the Eritrean Information Ministry said Monday that the Saudi-led censure was “not confined to Qatar alone as the potential of Qatar is very limited” but was “one initiative among many in the right direction that envisages full realization of regional security and stability,” the AP reported.

Read more: “Eritrea is a mutant copy of North Korea:” a reporter speaks on the land of no journalists

In response, Qatar announced Wednesday that it had pulled some 450 troops from the border of Djibouti and Eritrea, two countries which have a long-running territorial dispute that the Gulf state helped mediate. Eritrea’s top official at the African Union, Araya Desta, said that his country did not want another confrontation with Djibouti. “We don’t want to take any of Djibouti’s land,” Desta told the AP.

Ethiopia, a neighboring state that has hostile relations with Eritrea, has not yet taken sides in the dispute. But both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have made overtures to the country: Saudi officials visited Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, over the weekend, while Qatari officials met with Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn on Monday.

The crisis shows little sign of abating. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates have banned flights to and from Qatar from using their airspace, while Qatar has slammed the blockade as part of a “policy of domination and control.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sided with Qatar, calling the blockade “un-Islamic” and demanding a solution be found by the end of the holy month of Ramadan.


On September 18, 2001, as the world reeled from the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York and international attention focused on the United States, the president of a tiny African country decided journalists were no longer needed in his country.

Isaias Afwerki, the president of Eritrea— which borders Ethiopia and lies 20 miles across a strategic shipping canal from Yemen—announced that all independent media organizations were to cease activity. Private presses were shuttered and broadcasters closed down; journalists were rounded up and put in prison.

The deplorable state of press freedom in the Horn of Africa country—Eritrea has been ranked bottom of Reporters Sans Frontieres’ (RSF) Press Freedom Index in eight out of the last nine years—has led to the country being dubbed Africa’s North Korea, in comparison with the East Asian totalitarian dictatorship.

But Fathi Osman, an ex-Eritrean diplomat who fled the country and now works for Paris-based Radio Erena, an Eritrean media outlet in exile, says that comparison doesn’t do the situation in his home country justice. The Eritrean capital Asmara, he says, is a less open place than Pyongyang.

Eritrean migrant An Eritrean migrant simulates what she says is a torture technique during a protest outside the European Union delegation in Israel, in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv on June 25, 2015. Eritrea, a repressive state with no free press, is one of the most closed countries in the world. Baz Ratner/Reuters

“This is not a catchphrase, this is a well-deserved description. When you have one newspaper, one radio, and people are not allowed to leave the country from aged nine to 57—imagine that,” Osman, 51, tells Newsweek . “So we are maybe the worst copy of North Korea, [like] when you have a genetic mutation...Eritrea is a deformed copy.”

Read more: Who is Isaias Afwerki, Eritrea’s enigmatic dictator?

Today, there are no independent media outlets in Eritrea, a country where around 10 percent of the population has fled abroad as refugees and asylum seekers. The number of newspapers, broadcasters and internet news agencies can be counted on two hands; all of these are state-run. Eritrea is, effectively, a land with no journalists.

“The country gives only one version of the truth, the government version of the truth,” says Osman. “Internet is very difficult to access and, even if it’s accessed, it’s one of the slowest in the world. It takes maybe two hours to see a very short video clip.”

Through Radio Erena, Osman and his colleagues are doing their bit to try and lift the information blackout in Eritrea. Founded in Paris 2009 with backing from RSF by Biniam Simon, an ex-government television presenter who fled Eritrea for France, Radio Erena—which means “Our Eritrea”—has a network of sources inside the repressive state and broadcasts in the middle of the day, when Eritreans workers can return home for lunch, shut the door, pull the blinds down and listen in the relative seclusion of their homes. This week, U.K. non-profit One World Media gave Radio Erena its special award for its role as the country’s sole independent source of information.

Osman leads the station’s Arabic news team, which broadcasts a 30-minute program three times a week. (Radio Erena also broadcasts in Tigrinya, the local language in Eritrea and northern Ethiopia.) He is reluctant to reveal how the station’s journalists contact sources in Eritrea—the government views Radio Erena as a public enemy, working on behalf of political opposition—but says that steps are taken to ensure their safety. “Numbers, whereabouts, things like that [we do not disclose], but we have our own confident and reliable sources inside the country. This gives Radio Erena an advantage.”

But Osman says that the station sometimes has to turn away potential sources and stories for the safety of those providing information. “We don’t encourage people to call us. There are some people that want to call us and comment in hotel rooms. We advise them not to do that,” he says.

Having worked within the Eritrean government for more than a decade, Osman knows from the inside how dangerous life can be inside the country. He started working for the Ministry of Information—which oversees state-run media—in the 1990s. Those were heady days in Eritrea: the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) had claimed victory in 1991 in a 30-year war against Ethiopian occupiers, and independence was sealed in a 1993 referendum.

Fathi Osman Fathi Osman collects an award on behalf of Radio Erena at the One World Media Awards in London on June 7. Radio Erena, based in Paris, is one of the only independent sources of information for people living in Eritrea. Kinga Kardynal/One World Media

But in 1996, things began to turn sour for Eritrea’s journalists. The government passed a law that required all journalists and publications to be licensed by the administration and for publications to be submitted for government approval before dissemination. Osman, who was working as an editor for a state-run Arabic language newspaper, lost his job in what he says was described by the government as a “downsizing” of the media industry. He then worked in the foreign ministry for several years before being posted as a diplomat, first to Pakistan in 2003, then to Saudi Arabia in 2004.

After eight years in Riyadh, Osman defected in 2012—a year after the government rounded up independent journalists. He is reluctant to explain why, but says he was subjected to “threats” and had disagreements with his colleagues over the government’s increasingly authoritarian policy. “You cannot defend the policies of a government that you don’t believe, that you don’t have faith in,” he says.

Many of the journalists arrested in Eritrea in 2001 remain in prison, and the country is the biggest jailer of reporters in sub-Saharan Africa, with at least 17 journalists in jail as of December 1, 2016, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The climate does not seem to be improving, according to Jennifer Dunham, research director at Freedom House, a pro-democracy U.S.-based NGO that works on press freedom. “[The climate] has led to either extreme self-censorship in the country and a climate of fear for any remaining journalists and the general population,” says Dunham. “Even the [journalists] working for state-run outlets are under threat.”

Osman says that Radio Erena has dedicated its award to the journalists currently imprisoned in Eritrea. And while he is not optimistic about the future of press freedom in Eritrea, he says it is important to keep supplying the Eritrean people with some degree of news.

“There is not a hint or a tip that [the government] may release these people, so it’s dark at the moment, but one believes in change and one should work for this change,” says Osman. “We did not coin the North Korea [comparison] but we are confirming it and telling the truth about the situation in Eritrea and give the facts and give people the chance to judge for themselves.”


The Washington Post

The decision by five Arab states to sever ties with Qatar marks another chapter in a multiyear saga of turbulent relations between Qatar and its neighbors. A split between Doha and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) was brewing for years. At the heart of the problem lies an irreconcilable difference between the Persian Gulf countries about how to interpret the events of the 2011 Arab Spring and, more important, how to react to them.

In contrast to its GCC neighbors, Qatar actively promoted regime change across the Arab world. The Qataris mobilized finances and offered favorable media coverage to many Islamist actors, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas in Gaza, the Ennahda party in Tunisia and myriad militias in Libya and Syria.

In response, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia worked forcefully to block Qatar’s interests in the region, helping to depose Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, funding rival opposition factions in Syria and supporting the government of Gen. Khalifa Hifter in Libya.

Although the Saudis and Emiratis began to resist Qatar’s regional activities, Qatar’s rulers were no pushover. The emir, Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani, and his cousin, Prime Minister Hamad Bin Jasim al-Thani, were seasoned operators on the international stage. For 20 years, they built “Brand Qatar” by forming a crosscutting swathe of alliances across the region, stretching from Mauritania to Afghanistan. And so the decision by Hamad to hand power to his son Tamim in August 2013 presented an opportunity for the Saudis and Emiratis to put pressure on the young monarch to force him into line.

In an environment increasingly hostile to Qatari foreign policy, Tamim lacked the experience of his father and uncle to handle the challenges. Al Jazeera was hemorrhaging viewers regionally, and Qatari foreign policy increasingly struggled in Libya, Syria and Egypt in the face of GCC pressure.

Sensing their opportunity, the Emiratis, Saudis and Bahrainis urged Tamim to scale back Qatar’s regional activities. Following six months of failed negotiations, the three countries pulled their ambassadors from Doha in protest in early 2014.

With the help of Kuwait’s emir, Qatar agreed to acquiesce to each of the three countries in a series of bilateral negotiations, leading to a repair in relations by the GCC summit in December 2014. But it was not until December 2016, when Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul Aziz came to Doha, that the rift was publicly mended.

But for all the goodwill that was shown, the core problem that underlay the split had never healed. While the Qataris had toned down Al Jazeera and evicted a few Muslim Brotherhood members from Doha, their ambition to be a regional actor remained, as did their myriad of friendships with a host of political Islamists across the region — friendships that the UAE in particular found hard to accept.

In recent months, Qatar has once again drifted outside the GCC consensus. Particularly galling for the UAE and Saudi Arabia has been Qatar’s interaction with Islamist groups linked closely to the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda. Worse still to them are its business dealings with Iranian regional affiliates. In April, Qatar was involved in communications with the al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al Sham organization to guarantee population transfers in the country. Qatar appeared to have brokered the deal by communicating with Iran, which in return managed to secure the release of 26 Qataris royals kidnapped in Iraq in return for a princely sum to be paid to Iranian client militia Kataib Hezbollah.

Qatar also helped Hamas publicly rebrand itself— and the group launched its new policy objectives at a Doha hotel in May. Islamist rebranding has been a favored tactic Qatar uses with Syrian opposition groups, particularly the Islamist Ahrar al Sham, and, unsuccessfully, with the leader of the now defunct al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. This attempt to legitimize Islamist groups is an issue the Emiratis in particular find difficult to accept.

The United States has served as a key actor from which the Saudis can take their lead. As Riyadh has moved closer to the United States in recent days, helped with a promise of purchasing more American arms during President Trump’s visit in May, there is little doubt the Saudis felt emboldened to ratchet up the pressure against the Qataris.

The Emiratis also have found themselves in favor with the new Washington administration, whose strong dislike for both Iran and Sunni Islamists fits well with UAE policy priorities. Accordingly, there is a newfound confidence in Saudi Arabia and the UAE that strong measures to force the Qataris back into their box will find support in Washington.

Qatar’s support for Hamas seems to have been a card the gulf states have played effectively to curry favor with U.S. decision-makers amid the warming relations between the gulf and the Israelis. The UAE and Saudi Arabia appear to be preempting U.S. policy by sounding notes that will find favor with pro-Israel, anti-Iran, and anti-Islamist legislators in Congress, albeit for reasons much more applicable to intra-GCC politics than the regional strategic goals of the United States.

Given that diplomatic attempts to isolate Qatar in 2014 seem to have had no long-term effect on Doha’s behavior, it is not surprising that the Saudis have decided to dramatically up the stakes this time around by closing off Qatar’s only land border and— along with the UAE and Egypt— blocking all air travel to the emirate, with Egypt denying Qatar Airways the use of its airspace.

The closure of land borders and the disruption to air traffic will have serious consequences for the Qatari economy and its society that will quickly prove prohibitively expensive, even for a rich state like Qatar. And so, serious concessions will have to be made if relations in the GCC are to normalize to the usual levels of mutually suspicious friendship.

Michael Stephens is a research fellow in the Middle East Department and head of the Qatar operations of the British-based Royal United Services Institute for Defense and Security Studies.