Ethiopian, Lebanese relations sour

By Dalila Mahdawi and Wassim Mroueh | The Daily Star

As investigations continue into the Ethiopian Airlines plane crash on Monday, relations between the Ethiopian and Lebanese communities seem to be under strain.

Ethiopian Airlines flight ET409 crashed into the Mediterranean Sea just minutes after taking off from Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport during a heavy thunderstorm early morning. Some 90 passengers were aboard, including 54 Lebanese and 30 Ethiopian nationals, seven of whom were crew members. No survivors have been found, though a number of bodies have been pulled from the water.

Officials from both countries have remained diplomatic in the face of the disaster, with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh paying their condolences at the Ethiopian Consulate. But not everyone has been so courteous.

After Lebanon’s Transport and Public Works Minister Ghazi Aridi suggested Tuesday pilot error could have caused the crash, several Lebanese media outlets carried stories inferring Ethiopia was to blame.

“The aviation discipline is such that when there is an accident, you don’t rush to conclusions, you have to wait for the investigation to be completed,” Ethiopian Airlines CEO Girma Wake told reporters on Tuesday following Aridi’s comments. “Rushing remarks, I don’t think … helps anybody.”

Message boards on Lebanese and Ethiopian websites have seen a flurry of activity, with tersely-worded accusations being hurled on either side. One commentator on the Al-Arabiya website said they believed “the Lebanese government is looking for a scapegoat” to cover up for poor airport safety.

On Monday night a regional broadcaster conducted a live interview outside the Rafik Hariri University Hospital, where bodies of the passengers are being taken. A bereaved Ethiopian who accidently walked into shot was quickly dragged out of view by the television crew.

At the hospital grounds Thursday, a group of Ethiopian women gathered to wait for news of their friends. They initially said they had been treated well by the Lebanese following the plane crash but later said they were being ignored. “There are too many problems here,” said one woman who wished to be identified as Kelile. “Many of our friends aren’t being allowed to come to the hospital. The employer of one of our friends didn’t even tell her that her sister had been onboard.”

There are around 20,000 Ethiopian migrant workers in Lebanon, mostly women who work as live-in house-keepers or nannies. According to many of those gathered outside the hospital, many of those who perished on Monday were workers who were returning home after finishing their contracts in Lebanon. Others were escaping abusive employers. “The friend I had on the plane was just released from prison,” one woman told The Daily Star, declining to identify herself or her friend. Her friend spent nine months in prison because her papers were not in order.

Pathologist Ahmad al-Muqdad told OTV the Lebanese would accept DNA samples from the Ethiopian Consulate in Beirut to help identify Ethiopian victims on board, but did not say whether genetic data would be sent to Ethiopia.

“I had friends on the plane,” said Ethiopian freelance worker Desta (not her real name). “They worked hard in Lebanon and some weren’t treated well by their employers. It makes me so sad to think how much they suffered here and then, on their way home, to have this happen.”

Desta said she’d heard from other members of her community that relatives of Ethiopian passengers were put in a separate waiting room at Beirut’s international airport following the crash. “It’s as if we’ll contaminate them [the Lebanese],” she said. “But everyone is suffering. Don’t the Ethiopian families deserve respect too?”

8 comments on “Ethiopian, Lebanese relations sour

  1. Ethiopian on

    I am only thankful that they have a bitter neighbor called Israel who punish them every single day, Arabs has never been good to us and will never be. They even ignored their prophet’s words to respect Ethiopians. No one with a sane mind can say they deserve it if there were no Ethiopians on-board but their actions tempt us to say so…..but at the end of the day God took the Ethiopian maids with the rich Arabs in the same accident; in his eyes, we are all equal. Time made those Arab goat herders to be wealthy while it made Ethiopia which was the first civilized and once one of the most powerful Kingdoms in the world to be taken for granted…..

  2. tezibt on

    Lets go to the Lebanese websites and tell them how we feel. We have to be polite and nice when we make our points. We dont need to make it worst for those who work and live there.

  3. EritreaEthiopia on

    Very heartbreaking what our sisters are enduring in Beirut and any other Middle east. Lets put our difference aside and be helpful to the family and friends of the victim of ET-409 and many other immigrants in the Middle East. As we know the treatment of our sisters are beyond their ability to handle. Arabs are the most backward, crule, racist people on earth. I always chear the Israels’ action towards Arabs. They deserve Israels’ punishment. We, Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Israel should support one another and show the Arabs that we are strong.

  4. Geru Balageru on

    Yes, we need to be careful when we make our points. In Lebanon there are very good people who have knowledge and realy respect Ethiopias. In 2008 i was in Lebanon and it took me only one week to explore the whole country. It is a very small country. I have witnessed an Ethiopian who lived with a kind elderly woman who treated her fairly. I have also heard that many other Ethiopians suffer in the hands of unkind people. Ignorance is the main problem in all part of the world. The continuous negative broadcasting has damaged our image. Our problem is the current enthnocetric regime that has no vision for our people. Once we solve this problem we have to develop the country and bring all the suffering people back to our paradise (Promised Land).

    Geru balageru

  5. well…balebet yakelelwen amole baleda ayqblewem.

    let’s all build our country…that is the only solution!!!

  6. Selam on

    I am just praying that the truth will come out. we all Ethiopians should make sure that we defend ourselves and country. Some people are trying to blame the pilot and make a story just to make us look bad. We have to becareful because we have many enemies around the world. I have no dout that God will let the truth come out. Let us support each other and be there for each other. God bless Ethiopia!!!!!

  7. Faisal Tajudin on

    I as a muslim Ethiopian, from my 26 years living in diffirent Arab counties expierence, 100% i believe that this is the Lebanes secret sobotage which has let the plane to crash. It is clear that Ethiopia is standing firm on anti-muslim extremists terror issue. Therefore, there is no doubt that the most Arabs are not happy with Ethiopia. Why they atomatically put the mistake on our pilot without any invastigation ? Do they believe that they are educated more than Ethiopians ? Our pilot is phyicist and chemist whose knowledge is not less than the phyicist and chemist Biritish Faraday Michael who has discovered the ” Faraday Cage” protection. Lebanese Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi said, that the pilot has ignored the order of Tower. This is unbelieveable. Mr. Ghazi Aridi knows some thing which he wants to hide. May be Hizbola or Hamas.

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