Can't say no
In Khartoum for the Arab summit, Dina Ezzat
flips through the Sudanese papers
It must have been an unusual week for the readers of the Sudanese press. On the one hand, the daily papers were temporarily, partially released from the daily heavy dose of troubling news emanating from the many conflict spots in the east and west of the country and from news of political disputes across the north and south of the nation.
The front and opinion pages still carried news of very slow progress in the Abuja talks between representatives of the Sudanese government and the Darfur rebels. They carried stories about the inability of the government to confiscate illegal arms in the Sudanese capital. The papers gave typical prominence to statements by Sudanese officials criticising neighbouring countries for alleged military and political interference in internal Sudanese affairs.
However, as Arab officials started to arrive in the Sudanese capital for preparatory meetings leading to the summit, home front affairs kept losing space to news and photos of the key Arab meeting that has been mushrooming by the day.
By the eve of the summit, on Monday, Sudanese papers were almost exclusively consumed by large colour photos of the ministerial meetings, even bigger photos of Arab leaders, the majority of whom would miss the summit, and statements by Arab League Secretary- General Amr Moussa and Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akul who was repeatedly complimented by Sudanese commentators for his Arabic, something not typical of southern Sudanese.
On the opinion pages, which seem to constitute the bulk of most daily papers, was profound analysis of the Arab summit, its significance and potential outcome. And like the national papers of every Arab country that has hosted the regular convocation of the Arab summit for the past five years, commentaries offered a mix of pessimism and optimism, with the former having a bigger share.
With the shocking low level of representation at the summit -- which is becoming a bad but apparently comfortable habit -- pessimism was understandable. And with the quality of resolutions that have been progressively leaked to the press and which have failed to demonstrate any serious Arab ability to attack any of the crucial problems faced across the Arab world, pessimism was most becoming.
Many drew comparisons between this week's uneventful, low profile summit and the last Arab summit held in the Sudanese capital, in 1967, weeks following the dramatic Arab defeat to Israel on 5 June. Back then, the papers noted, particularly in front page editorials, the bitterness of the military defeat inspired Arab closeness and defines the attempts by Israel to impose its will, as a victorious military power on the Arab world. Today, the papers lamented, Arab countries seem to be running out of the spirit of defiance in the face of Israeli aggression and US hegemony in today's world.
"One should not expect much excitement out of the summit since this meeting does not intend to address any controversial issues. After all, hidden American hands will be working as usual behind the scenes to decide the fate of the issues," wrote Al-Nour Ahmed Al-Nour in Al-Sahafa on Friday.
And as Al-Zoheir Al-Seraj noted in Al-Sudani on Tuesday, the Arab summit is unable to attend either to the foreign affairs concerns of the Arab world or to the domestic demands in relation to development and democracy. "If the Arab summit really cared to make a difference it should [among other things] call on all Arab leaders who have been in office for more than eight years to retire and allow for free and fair elections that could bring successors with a limited four-year term in office," Al-Seraj wrote.
And recalling the famous three "Nos" that came out of the 1967 Khartoum summit (no surrender, no negotiations and no recognition), Sudanese commentators argued that with most Arab countries having covert and overt relationships with Israel and other aggressors, it was becoming nonsensical to try and reverse the tide of the times. "The maximum the summit could say now, if it can say anything at all, is no to poverty, no to illiteracy, no to illness," Mahgoub Erwa wrote in Al-Sudani of Tuesday. "We can only now turn to dealing with socio-economic and cultural matters... At least these are issues that we are not going to disagree on," he added.
Erwa and other commentators reflected concern over the inability to say no to anything, no matter how harmful to Sudan's strategic interests. They feared that unlike the 1967 Khartoum summit, the 2006 Khartoum summit will be a platform for Arab leaders to say yes to everything and anything.
But as Ahmed Shamouti noted on a high note of pessimism, in Al-Rai Al-Aam, the Arab summit is not in a position to say yes or no since the Arab world seems to be pursuing a pre- ordained destiny that it cannot do much to alter. "The best that could be expected of this summit is for it to decide to leave the viewers' bench and get engaged in the affairs of the Arab region. If it does so, it would have been a useful summit."