Some events come out of the blue, as surprising as thunderbolts. Others feel like confirmations of dour predictions, as grindingly inevitable as winter’s onset. The outbreak of heavy fighting between Eritrean and Ethiopian troops on their mutual border on June 12, which is reported to have left hundreds dead, falls into the latter category. No one should be surprised. And some mea culpas are in order.

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Calls for separating religion and politics in the Brotherhood are not new. Many Islamist figures, including Mohammed Salim El-Awa, Tariq El-Bishry and Abduallah Al-Nofaisy, urged the Brotherhood to leave politics and focus on da’wa (religious preaching) and tarbiyya (education). The prime reason behind the split of Al-Wasat Party from the Brotherhood in 1996 was to morph the movement into a political entity. As Abu Ela Madi, the chairman of Al-Wasat Party, put it in a recent interview, “The Brotherhood’s activity should be limited to da’wa.”

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An explanation is contained in the latest report of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry , published Wednesday, which found reasonable grounds to believe that “crimes against humanity” have been committed against the population. The report urged a referral to the International Criminal Court. The crimes include indefinite national service, arbitrary detention, torture, enforced disappearance, persecution on ethnic and religious grounds, rape and murder. They are a powerful indictment of the rule of President Isaias Afwerki, who has been in power since 1991.

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In the Arab world, there are many examples of the failure of democratic transitions where all the factors mentioned above are combined. Egypt, for example, has been subject to military rule since 1952, and its consecutive presidents have committed the worst forms of totalitarian practices and human rights abuses, from the late Gamal Abdel Nasser to today’s Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

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