Al-Ahram Weekly Online   12 - 18 August 2004
Issue No. 703
Press review
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

From Baghdad to Darfur

The predicament the Sudanese regime is facing sounded too familiar to some Arab commentators this week, writes Rasha Saad

Click to view caption
Palestinians stranded at the Rafah border crossing and an American missile in Baghdad, by Abdel-Hady Al-Shamaa, in the Saudi newspaper, Al-Watan

The extraordinary Arab League meeting rallying around Sudan in its bid to avoid possible UN sanctions over the crisis in Darfur was the focus of many Arab commentators this week. For most writers the present Sudanese scenario and conflict with the UN and US bring to mind the developments in Iraq prior to the invasion.

In his commentary in the London- based Lebanese daily Al-Hayat on Monday Erfan Nezameddin asked if Sudan's turn had come, so soon after Iraq.

The writer drew attention to several similarities between the Sudanese scenario and the scenario of the invasion of Iraq. Most significantly, the invasion of Iraq was argued on the claim that Baghdad possessed weapons of mass destruction and that its regime has committed war crimes against its own citizens. The same allegations are now resurfacing against Sudan especially as the media campaign focusses on images of genocide, killing and rape in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands of refugees risk dying of famine.

Secondly, according to Nezameddin, the claim that Darfur harbours terrorists is waiting in the wings for the Sudanese government -- just as Iraq was accused with ties to Al-Qaeda and of hosting some of its terrorist members.

"The motives behind waging war against both Iraq and Sudan are the same," wrote Nezameddin. "The war on Iraq was concerned with controlling the oil, among other motives. They have the same motives against Sudan which enjoys a fortune of oil, natural gas as well as natural and mineral wealth," he explained.

Nezameddin highlighted other points of resemblance. Iraq, he pointed out, is the Arab gate to Muslim and non- Muslim Asian countries while Sudan, on the other hand, is the historical Arab gate to Muslim and non-Muslim African countries and has been a bridge of dialogue between the Arabs and the Africans -- a role which foreign powers, most notably Israel, combat. "Israel, which is seeking to spread its economic, political and financial control in Africa is obviously fighting such dialogue," he argued.

Nezameddin echoes a widely-held Arab view when he argues that the Sudanese regime holds the greater part of the responsibility for the tragedies of Sudan in general and the Darfur region in particular. "With the dictatorship that caused the fall of state institutions and the destruction of human and economic infrastructure, the Sudanese regime is responsible for what happened," he stressed. He compared the Sudanese government to that of Saddam Hussein "who was responsible for Iraq's destruction due to his dictatorship, corruption, the wars he waged and lost against his neighbouring countries and his failure to protect his country against foreign aggression; leaving it open to the occupation, misery, chaos and destruction it is witnessing these days."

In a column entitled "Darfur: a recurrence of the tragedy in Iraq" published on Sunday in the London-based Saudi daily Asharq Al-Awsat, the Arab diplomat Abu Ahmed Mustafa opened fire on the Arab League and on "the Arab mentality" which, according to him, supports Arab rulers, be they right or wrong. "They did this with the Iraqis while they were suffering from hard times during Saddam Hussein's rule and they are doing the same with some extremists in the Sudanese government who trained, armed, financed and backed the gangs who committed atrocities against the Sudanese people in Darfur." In an obvious reference to Arab League members, the writer was critical of "those who are calling for granting the Sudanese government a chance to carry out its ethical duties towards its citizens in a way that will only enable the armed militias to use such a grace period to accomplish its mission of getting rid of the rest of the vulnerable people of Darfur."

Mustafa plainly criticised the Arab League for its silence since the development of the tragedy in Darfur: "We have not heard one word from the League that reflects its concern or even its knowledge of what is inflicted on these Sudanese people at the hands of wanton militias."

Sarcastically, the writer asked when the Arab League had intervened in the Iraqi crisis: "The League did not take action when Saddam attacked Iraqis in the south with gas, or when he buried children, men and women alive. The League only moved when it had to present the shameful Arab viewpoint on the Iraqi issue to Europe and the US."

This article being published on the same day the Arab League emergency meeting was taking place, the writer advised his readers in advance not to expect the League to have an effective move or the Arab leaders to call on the Sudanese government to stand up to its responsibilities or punish the killers. "In the Arab tradition this is considered an internal affair, the same way they dealt with the atrocities of Saddam the Great," he reasoned.

Other commentators while welcoming the Arab League's involvement believe it came somewhat late. They believe the Sudanese conflict is a test for the League itself.

In its Monday editorial, the Jordanian daily Addostour argued that the ability of the Arab League itself to intervene and solve even one issue within an Arab framework is under scrutiny. "The Arab League should at this point prove its ability to intervene otherwise it will harm Sudan more than it will benefit it. The League should start taking practical steps to implement the resolutions it adopted at Sunday's meeting. A fading of the League's role after the emergency meeting might imply that Sudan is not responding even to the Arab states whom it is supposed to trust."

In the same issue of Addostour, Abu Yazan joined many writers who recommended the formation of an Arab peace-keeping force in Darfur to help establish security, protect Arab and African civilians, monitor the disarming of the rebels and guarantee the delivery of humanitarian aid to the plagued region.

This force could also expand to include African countries: "We should refrain from ignoring the black continent which supported our national causes since the dawn of Arab independence until now. The African Union has always adopted balanced stances towards the conflicts in Sudan," he argued.

"There is a need for an Arab African eye to get a first-hand idea of matters on the ground. It is needed to fill a vacuum many Western countries are ready to fill and to re-establish confidence in the Arab League and prove it is capable of handling national conflicts," Abu Yazan added.

Abdel-Wahab Badrakhan also blamed the Sudanese government for the present dilemma. Writing on Sunday in the Emirati newspaper Al-Ittihad he reasoned that the reluctance of the Sudanese government throughout the previous months to address the Darfur crisis made foreign intervention inevitable. "Khartoum shouldn't have left the mess in Darfur to reach the level of ethnic cleansing that appears to many to be intentional and planned. Such reluctance allowed the US Congress to describe what happened there as genocide," he argued. Badrakhan however welcomed the Sudanese government's "determination" to solve the problem but recommended that "it should accelerate its pace to prevent any foreign intervention to re-surface as an alternative option."

Badrakhan recalled that the Darfur crisis started nearly 20 months ago, at which time the Americans along with the British and the international community turned the other way, focussing instead on negotiations between Khartoum and the southern Sudanese. Interest in Darfur, Badrakhan stressed, did not begin until these negotiations had ended. However, he predicted that the escalation of the Darfur crisis has changed calculations "and might push the negotiating parties to reconsider the terms of their agreement."

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