This is the unfortunate end result of the past history of the military atheist state interfering in the affairs of the Church.
I actually participated in one of these ‘protests’ at Lideta Mariam Church when I was in Ethiopia at this time last year. That was when the decision was still being made in the secular courts as was referred to in the article. What this ‘protest’ consisted of was everyone fasting and congregating at the church for a full day of spiritual songs (mezmur) and prayer. There was no incident.
A few background facts to be aware of:
1) September 1974 the Ethiopian Revolution becomes a military coup by junior officers led by Colonel Mengistu Halie-Maryam. Church and State relations end and atheism is proclaimed.
2) February 17, 1976 the Ethiopian Patriarch His Holiness Abuna Theophilos is removed by the state from his office and placed in jail.
3) July 18, 1976 the government orders a non-canonical ‘general assembly’ to name a monk as Patriarch of the Church, this was Abuna Tekle-Hymanot. World Orthodoxy, particularly the Coptic Church, refuse to recognize this obvious injustice.
4) On July 14, 1979 the government executes the former Patriarch who was still in jail (he is now a martyr of the Church).
5) 1988 Abuna Tekle-Hymanot dies and is succeeded by Abuna Merkorios.
6) 1991 the northern based guerrilla insurgency, the TPLF, successfully overthrows the military dictatorship.
7) In September 1991, under pressure, Abuna Merkorios resigned his duties as Patriarch. On July 5, 1992, the Holy Synod elected Abune Paulos (an exiled bishop who was living in Los Angeles and who served seven years in prison under the military regime) as Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
It should be remembered that during the duration of the rule by the military clique the Church de-centralized itself just as a precaution in the event that the military moved against it. It was thought that by not having power centralized anywhere the state would not be able to ‘kill’ the church in the event that they tried.
This was successful but the people are now used to having their multiplicity of small traditions and local autonomy that when the new Patriarch is organizing things the way they should be there is a natural resistance. Not to mention that the Patriarch is seen by many as the puppet of the ruling government (which of course he is not even though there are things to be desired).
The Patriarch, for whatever unclear reason, decided to remove the clerical administration at Miriam Lideta. They were not corrupt; in fact it was the opposite they had actually cleaned up and removed corruption and restored accountability. The cleric was very popular with the parishioners and they bitterly opposed him being arbitrarily removed. He actually refused to budge which is why it went to the secular courts; the courts decided in favor of the Patriarch.
I supported the sitting clerics because that is what their parishioners wanted and that is why I participated in the early demonstrations. Where I part company from them is when they go beyond criticizing specific doings of the Patriarch and politicize the issues and oppose the Patriarch all together. Lideta Maryam even announced late last year (before the protests) that they were no longer part of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. They were willing to break communion in order to keep their priest. While I do not endorse the actions of the state, internal dissent has an acceptable limitation, what they did was outright rebellion and is unacceptable.