Religious freedom and the political order: the Ethiopian ‘secular state’ and the containment of Muslim identity politics

G.J. Abbink

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The 2011-2014 controversies between the Ethiopian Government and Muslim communities on the role of Islam in Ethiopia have highlighted the precarious nature of religious relations in Ethiopia. Statements by public figures and religious leaders recently have drawn attention to the nature and scope of the Ethiopian secular state order. This paper describes the recent Muslim protest movement and the response to it by the government in the light of the secular state model. While the challenges to it also extend to the large Christian community in Ethiopia, the problems became prominent mainly in the case of the Muslims, who contest perceived 'government interference' in their community life and self-organization. I present an overview of key recent events and of factors inducing conflict between state and religion. The discussion makes reference to more general debates on the 'secular model' in Ethiopia and to the familiar though somewhat worn-out paradigm of 'identity politics'. State repression of Muslim civic protest in Ethiopia revealed insecurities of the state: rather than an instance of the process of 'othering' a religious community, we see a case of political crisis, and a search for new modes of governance of diversity and communal religiosity in Ethiopia. As a result of the contestations, however, the secular order of the country will not be threatened, but modified. © 2014 © 2014 Taylor & Francis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-365
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Eastern African Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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