Waltzing around Bashir
While there has been much commotion in Sudan over recent months, there have been few indications as to what the country's future may hold, reports Dina Ezzat
A coalition of 100 organisations from some 20 different countries appealed to the Arab League this week to show leadership on Sudan. The call came in a letter sent prior to the Sirte Arab Summit, where Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir is scheduled to appear at least for the opening session.
"There is a window of opportunity to prevent the horrors of war from returning" to southern Sudan and Darfur, the appeal stated.
The appeal made special reference to the threat of violence returning to southern Sudan, which suffered from a 20-year civil war that only ended in 2005. The peace deal that ended the war also opened the door to the possibility of the south's seceding from the rest of the country in a referendum planned for January 2011.
Addressed to Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, this week's appeal referred to the volatile humanitarian situation in Darfur in western Sudan, where "at least 60 per cent of the population requires humanitarian assistance."
The recent deaths of 400 civilians in Darfur and displacement of an additional 40,000 people mean that the death toll in the region now totals at least 250,000 people, with some three million displaced.
Continuing deterioration in the situation in the south and west of Sudan, the appeal warned, does not just have high human costs, but also threatens to turn Sudan as a whole into a failed state.
Appealing for what it described as a constructive intervention on the part of the Arab League, of which Sudan is a member, the letter requested that efforts be made to ensure that the elections due to be held in Sudan on 11 April are fair and properly conducted and that the Sudanese authorities be encouraged to adhere fully with international law and international humanitarian law.
While there was no immediate reaction from the Arab League to the letter, counsellor Zeid Al-Sabban, advisor to the Arab League secretary-general on Sudan, said in statements to the press on Tuesday that the League was already working on sending some 40 observers to Sudan on 4 April to monitor the elections.
Al-Sabban added that the organisation was committed to supporting the peace between the north and the south and promoting peace in Darfur.
"In essence, the Arab world cannot just sit back while Bashir continues business as usual, violating the rights of people in Darfur, especially, but also those of people in the south and north of the country. The world's humanitarian organisations cannot be silent witnesses to this situation," said one international humanitarian worker speaking on condition of anonymity.
According to the aid worker, there is little faith that the Arab League, or any of its member states, will put serious pressure on Bashir to change his policies. "What we are seeing, and what I suspect we will see at the next Arab summit, is more support for the regime of Bashir and its choices," the worker added.
A further concern is that if Bashir wins next month's presidential elections, he is likely to shrug off calls to observe international humanitarian law.
Sudanese diplomatic sources speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly said this week that Bashir had been promised the Arab League's support by Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, who will take up the rotating presidency of the Arab summit for next year.
"The relevant resolution has already been drafted and passed by meetings preparing for the summit," one Sudanese diplomat said.
Meanwhile, the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Luis Morano-Ocampo, who was behind the ICC's decision to charge Bashir with war crimes in Darfur, said on Tuesday that watching the forthcoming Sudanese elections would be like watching "Hitler's election".
The head of the UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur said on Monday that he expected Sudan's elections to pass off smoothly, especially in the western region, despite fears of violence and calls for delay.
Next month's elections are the first multi-party elections to be held in Sudan for close to a quarter century. The vote will allow the Sudanese to cast their ballots for a national president, a southern president, local and national assemblies and regional governors.
"I am hopeful about the next elections. I hope they may bring in a new political atmosphere that should help set the situation straight and bring about peace in Darfur," commented Amany, a Sudanese national who spoke to the Weekly earlier in Darfur.
According to Amany, the elections will not be the only factor in deciding the fate of Darfur. Instead, the government will need to meet some of the rebel groups' demands regarding the sharing of power and economic resources, and the leaders of the rebel groups will also have to compromise on some of their demands with the government.
So far, Amany sees no sign of such compromises being reached.
For its part, the New York-based pressure group Human Rights Watch said on Monday that continuing insecurity in Darfur would be an obstacle to holding free and fair elections in the country, since large areas of Darfur remain inaccessible to election officials and candidates.
Individuals who spoke to the Weekly during a recent visit to Darfur did not show a great deal of awareness about the upcoming elections or the mechanisms for casting ballots.
In Juba, the capital of southern Sudan, individuals who spoke to the Weekly seemed to be more aware of plans for the upcoming elections.
"Of course we are going to vote for Yassir Erman," commented 16-year-old Flora, a high-school student. A southern Sudanese, Erman is running for president and calling for dramatic changes in the way the country is ruled in order that its wealth is more equitably shared.
For Flora, the unity of Sudan was less important than Erman's election, and in next January's referendum she intends to vote for the independence of the south. "The time has come for us to rule ourselves," she said. "We have always been treated as slaves by the regime of Bashir, and we have to gain our independence."
If elected president, Erman "would make the separation easy, but if Bashir is elected the separation will be problematic," she added.
Erman has been described in certain Sudanese and regional quarters as "Sudan's Barack Obama," a politician who does not presently have much capital in the eyes of the world, but who is capable of quickly garnering the support of his people.
Erman's election might offer answers to the situation in Darfur, commented the international humanitarian worker. Erman would be more likely to honour international law and international humanitarian law, even when faced with the harsh political reality in the capital Khartoum, she said.
In northern Sudanese circles, there is also hope that removing Bashir could mean a new beginning for the country and might even reduce the otherwise high chances of the south's seceding.
However, northern opposition figures have warned that in their view the elections are likely to be rigged and that Bashir will stay in office.