The short-lived tumult carries deep implications for Iran’s desire to lock down the Middle East.
Dissident Eritrean soldiers seized the country’s Ministry of Information on Monday, and briefly took over Eritrea’s state-run television service in an apparent attempt to overthrow the government. Though the attempt ultimately failed, it indicates the instability permeating the small nation, and sheds light on Eritrea’s future direction.
The dissidents—around 200 soldiers backed by tanks—demanded the release of thousands of political prisoners, in a signal of the deepening rift between some elements of the military and the nation’s president, Isaias Afewerki.
In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Afewerki downplayed it, saying it was not actually an effort to overthrow his regime. But tensions between political groups and religions continue to intensify in the nation that is split almost 50-50 between Muslims and Christians. On Thursday, for example, government officials arrested the leaders of 10 Christian churches.
These rising tensions—added to the fact that Afewerki’s health is rapidly failing—mean that Eritrea will likely experience a transition of power in the near future.
This transition will present an opportunity for Iran to expand its power in the region, and, more specifically, its influence around the Red Sea. The Trumpet has long predicted that Iran-led radical Islam would come to dominate the entire Red Sea. With Egypt now firmly embedded in the radical Islamist camp, the Suez Canal portion of this control is already solidifying. In July of last year we explained what to watch for next: “Iran … already controls the Strait of Hormuz, and with the radicalization of Egypt now in full swing, you can be sure its sights are set on the Suez Canal as well. Throw in Eritrea and eventually Ethiopia, and Iran will have devoured the Red Sea. When that happens … Iran will then have the power and resources to lock down virtually the entire Middle East!”
In August, we wrote: “Pay attention to … Eritrea! Tehran will not resist the opportunity to exploit to its advantage the growing social and political uncertainty—as well as the Islamist dissatisfaction and potential uprising .…”
A number of factors contribute to this growing unrest in Eritrea:
- Almost half of the population lives below the poverty line.
- The majority of the nation’s working population wears a uniform (Eritrea has more soldiers per person than any nation except for North Korea).
- It is among the chief sponsors of the Islamist al-Shabaab militia.
- An increasingly youthful population is dissatisfied with shrinking job opportunities.
- Torture and summary executions are carried out routinely.
- Transparency International ranks Eritrea among the world’s most corrupt nations.
Eritrea is in Iran’s crosshairs because of its instability and because it occupies a strategic strip of terrain at the entrance to the Gulf of Aden, which is one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Monday’s attempted coup in Eritrea shows that social and political upheaval is on the rise in the nation, and, whether directly or through its influence over Egypt, Iran is sure to exploit this turmoil to obtain control over Eritrea and that vital shipping lane.