Although this piece is full of half-truths and tired speculation it will serve as a suitable vehicle to discuss the sardonic allegations from Congressman Ed Royce from California.
As an initial cause for concern, the author (Ryan Mauro) uses a picture of the Eritrean President meeting with that of Iran, ((http://frontpagemag.com/2010/07/21/eritrea-springboard-for-terror/)) the much maligned middle eastern power. Of course the ire of the global community was brought to bear on the well-respected leader of Brazil, President Lula for hammering out a deal with the same country. Of course President Lula’s trip was to bring Iran back to talks with the global community over its nuclear intentions so why would this have drawn their ire? Of course there are numerous reasons but surely one was the way in which the traditional northern powers were marginalized. On the other hand the measure that President Lula was able to reach with Iran was less stern as the northern powers had been pressing for.
Similarly with some sort of South-to-South cooperation between Eritrea and Iran, does the world have something to fear? Surely not, after all for two decades since its independence Eritrea has been adamant and vocal that peaceful, legal means founded on consensus are the only ways to bring stability to the region. In this vein any cooperation with Iran and any other power that is not based on aggression, ought to be welcomed. Surely a healthy skepticism is warranted, but not outright denigration.
Further, although Mr. Mauro recognizes that Gulf News, in its extensive coverage found nothing warranting the sanctions that were placed on Eritrea, ((http://gulfnews.com/news/region/eritrea/eritrea-in-pursuit-of-the-truth-1.615302)) its pictures showed ramshackle facilities that seemed to not be maintained at all. It would be a small miracle for Eritrea (a proud, albeit not technological sophisticated country) to pull of such an ingenious ruse. It is said that a picture is a worth a thousand words and the pictures from Gulf News were enough to discredit even the most staunchly anti-Eritrea observers (save Ryan Mauro it would seem).
It is unsurprising that the author though has continued to prejudge Eritrea without a broad context, seeing the situation strictly from a neo-consertive lens aimed squarely at Iran. Only briefly does he recognize that Eritrea has its own interests, he then retreats to his position placing Eritrea and Iran as different faces of the same coin. What he has surely missed is that Eritrea has fought with Djibouti over the same borderlands as had their colonial powers. The issue with Djibouti is longstanding and Eritrea’s position was that it did not require outside influence (until of course Djibouti forced the issue). Ethiopia has played the part of regional spoiler by harboring antagonists of its neighbors, destabilizing itself by fomenting internal ethnic divisions and literally invading its mortal enemy.
These are all issues that not only Ryan Mauro seems to miss out on in his article (which is not surprising, after all very few commenting on Eritrea do a great deal of research on it to begin with, and even fewer come in knowing much at all) but Congressman Ed Royce does as well. ((http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iOXAsPsknC7GI5VMjR1OFSR5AtTA)) Ironically Eritrea has struggled with terrorism from the beginning, starting with cross-border attacks from the Sudan in the early 1990’s to cross-border attacks by Ethiopian terrorists last year, Eritrea has suffered nearly a dozen such attacks in twelve years. In fact the recent attacks by Al Shebab in Uganda took Eritrean lives.
Terrorism has hit Eritrea especially hard, it stems from a philosophy that is foreign to Eritreans, as a society of much diversity, living in peace for generations has rested on an idea of respect for those that are different. Extremists and terrorists are inherently opposed to this philosophy because they cannot see in anything but black and white, much less grey and greens. Suggesting that Eritrea harbors terrorists is not only beyond comprehension but puts a vile taste in the mouth. Shutting people out from dialog about their problems makes them prone to violence, and to that end Eritrea has always argued that an internal dialog is the best way to bring stability and lasting change for all our peoples’.
I hope Ryan Mauro and Ed Royce will understand that about Eritrea. If not, I am sure that any Eritrean would be happy to show them benefits of peaceful dialog and sticking to your word.
Update: In the meantime it seems the professional analysts at the the International Crisis Group have rejected the analysis of Congressman Ed Royce (and implicitly that of Ryan Mauro) here. ((http://www1.voanews.com/english/news/africa/-Analysts-say-Eritrea-is-Not-Supporting-al-Shabab–98924444.html))
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