Controversy in the Arab World Over ICC Indictment of Sudan President Al-Bashir
On Monday, July 14, 2008, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo issued a bill of indictment against Sudanese President 'Omar Al-Bashir for war crimes perpetrated during the Darfur conflict. Ocampo also requested that an international arrest warrant be issued against Al-Bashir.
The announcement of the indictment caused an uproar in the Sudanese and Arab media. Senior Sudanese government officials harshly condemned the ICC and its prosecutor, threatening, directly and indirectly, that indictments against the regime's officials would worsen the situation in Darfur. A similar position was taken by Sudanese opposition leaders and popular organizations.
Reactions in the rest of the Arab world varied. The official reactions of the Arab League, Egypt, and Syria were supportive of the Sudanese government, depicting the indictment as an American conspiracy. Columnists in Saudi Arabia wrote that Sudan was the latest country chosen by the West as a target for attack. Conversely, columnists in the London-based Saudi papers contended that the charges against the Sudanese officials were the result of Sudan's own policy and of its failure to make serious efforts towards resolving the Darfur crisis. A similar position was taken by writers on reformist Arab websites, including the Saudi-owned website www.elaph.com. 
Following are excerpts from some of the reactions in the Arab media to Al-Bashir's indictment:
*DIFFERENT REACTIONS FROM SUDAN AND DARFUR
Sudanese Regime: The Situation in Darfur Will Deteriorate
The Sudanese regime condemned Ocampo and the decision to prosecute Al-Bashir, depicting it as a conspiracy. It called on the Arab world and on other countries, especially China and Russia, for support, and threatened that the prosecution would cause the situation in Darfur to deteriorate. Nafi' 'Ali Nafi', political advisor to the Sudanese president and second in command in the ruling National Congress Party, said that "the ICC prosecutor's moves are a link in the chain of conspiracies against [Sudan, aimed at] assaulting its unity, security and stability." He added, "Those steps would not only fail to contribute to stability in Darfur, but would bring about further upheavals in the region."  Similarly, Sudanese Information Minister Al-Zahawi Ibrahim Malik stated that "Sudan would oppose all foreign plots, and would use every necessary constitutional means and all reasonable discourse to expose these infamous conspiracies and to reveal the truth." 
Al-Bashir's media advisor Fadhl Badri reiterated the Sudanese government's position, which opposes the extradition of any Sudanese national to the ICC. He stressed, "If Sudan refused to extradite [even] Lieutenant 'Ali Kushayb, a former official in the Popular Defense Forces, it would definitely not extradite the country's president, Gen. 'Omar Al-Bashir." Badri called Ocampo a terrorist, saying: "We demand that he be put on trial on charges of terrorism, since he intended to hijack a passenger plane carrying one of the [Sudanese officials] wanted [for war crimes in Darfur]." 
State Minister for Foreign Affairs Al-Samani Al-Wasila warned that steps against Al-Bashir would disrupt the peace process in Sudan and sabotage the efforts of the peace-keeping troops in Darfur. 
Sudanese Ambassador to the U.N. 'Abd Al-Mahmoud 'Abd Al-Halim said that if the U.N. Security Council endorsed the bill of indictment against the Sudanese president, the international community - and particularly the U.S., Great Britain, and France - would be held accountable for the resulting deterioration in Darfur. The Sudanese daily Al-Ahdath reported, citing an official Sudanese government source, that if this happened the Sudanese government would sever diplomatic ties with the U.N. The source added that "if the U.N. Security Council's decision impinged on Sudan's sovereignty, Sudan would not allow the international [peacekeeping force] to continue its work in the country." He stated further: "Any decision against the president is a threat to [our] sovereignty. How can we work [in cooperation] with a body that is acting against [our] country?" 
It is noteworthy that Sudanese opposition parties supported the government's position. The spokesman of the leading opposition party Al-Umma said that "the [prosecution] would negatively affect the peace process in Darfur and Southern [Sudan]." Nevertheless, he called on the ruling party to "exercise restraint." Sudanese Communist party leader Muhammad Ibrahim Naqd said that the African Union decision forbidding extradition of heads of state for trial abroad must be observed. 
Popular Sudanese organizations affiliated with the regime likewise objected to the steps taken against Al-Bashir, calling on the government to declare jihad. The student union at the Islamic University of Omdurman issued a flier calling on the government to proclaim jihad and to announce a general mobilization in response to the indictment, and declared that the students were prepared to defend their homeland and state symbols.  The Al-Hilal soccer club also urged the government to declare jihad, and announced that its members were prepared to defend the head of state. 
Darfur Rebels: Indictment a Victory for Humanity
The Darfur rebels welcomed the ICC announcement. The spokesman of the Sudan Liberation Movement-Unity, Mahjoub Hussein, stated that the ICC announcement was "a victory for humanity [achieved] in Darfur." The spokesman of the Justice and Equality Movement, Suleiman Sandal, commented: "We have long been waiting for this moment, and today we are celebrating in great joy."  Movement spokesman Ahmad Hussein harshly condemned the Arab League's decision to support the Sudanese government in the ICC prosecution affair, saying that this decision humiliated the victims in Darfur, especially considering the fact that the Arab League has long been silent on the genocide perpetrated in that region by Al-Bashir's government. Hussein stressed that the Arab League must take a clear stance against genocide, instead of taking the racist position of supporting the Sudanese regime. 
Sudanese Press Sides with Al-Bashir: "Justice Is Becoming a Tool [in the Hands] of the International Mafia"
The Sudanese press supported Al-Bashir. The editor of the daily Al-Ahdath, 'Adel Al-Baz, warned that the charges against Al-Bashir would cause the situation in Darfur to deteriorate. He harshly criticized Ocampo, accusing him of following the "laws of the mafia": "When justice becomes a tool of international [organized] crime, it becomes like the mafia laws, on which Ocampo was raised and nurtured. Mr. Ocampo and his nefarious friends are playing a dangerous game..."
Al-Baz added: "Those who believe that President Al-Bashir is the actual target [of the ICC prosecution] are mistaken. The primary target here is the entire homeland, its people, its lands, its nation, and its history. Mr. Ocampo and his clique know that Al-Bashir does not [only] represent the National Congress [Party], but stands for [all] Sudanese people - [including] those who opposed him, those who supported him, those who fought against him, and those who have made peace with him. Accordingly, whoever harms this symbol will incur the condemnation of the Sudanese masses... [However,] the very stupidity of this decision makes it innocuous. The threats that Ocampo is making in the name of his iniquitous justice will not cause either Al-Bashir or the Sudanese people to lose their wits.
"All sensible people throughout the world have [characterized] Ocampo's measures as meaningless. Nevertheless, his [policy] is designed to bring about catastrophe, and is a threat to the stability of the entire country. Is this what Ocampo is planning in the name of justice? The government's anticipated response is to abolish the peace keeping force. As a result, Darfur will once again be engulfed in war, more lethal and murderous than before. Do the people of Darfur want this? What kind of justice is it if it leads to more death and destruction?... In the atmosphere created by Ocampo's decision, will it be possible to negotiate and reach solutions for the Darfur crisis, or will the crisis intensify and spread, causing thousands of refugees to be crushed by the unendurable conditions?..." 
Sudanese Editor: This Is a Declaration of War; The Youth Must Join the Ranks of Jihad
The editor of the daily Al-Intibaha, Al-Tayyib Mustafa, called the charges brought against the Al-Bashir regime a plot hatched jointly by the West, the Darfur rebels, and residents of Southern Sudan with the aim of conquering Sudan, and expressed hope that fighters would come to Sudan's aid. He wrote: "The government must announce to America and to its nefarious agent Ocampo that its patience has run out and that the times of peaceful diplomacy are irreversibly gone - since it was proven that [such diplomacy] does not fit our times, when only the strong are honored... The government must warn the international community that marking President Al-Bashir and his government's senior officials as a target for [prosecution] will be viewed as a declaration of war. The government will be compelled to withdraw from the Nivasha Agreement  − and it must notify the Security Council of [this]...
"The government must declare a general mobilization, and transform its media into a war[time] media... The province governors must enlist the youth and students into jihad brigades and popular defense forces. Only in this way can we deal with [any] threat, however serious, on all fronts - from the North, South, East, West, or [with threats] to the capital...
"The people in Northern Sudan  must realize that they are the real target of the American conspiracy, and that Ocampo is but the claw and spokesman [of the U.S.]. The target is not President Al-Bashir or his government, but Sudan - its people and its lands... These people - who [in the past] have united their ranks in self-defense - must realize that today the situation is [even] worse. If they do not to unite, boost their national sentiment, and understand the true nature of the conspiracy, this time around will be different: They will lose their homeland, which will fall, and they will become slaves in the new state of Sudan, ruled by the U.S...
"The government must rely on the Arab and Islamic peoples and on the 'Muslims without Borders' organizations.  I hope that President Al-Bashir conveys a message to activists inside and outside the country, announcing to the Islamic world that Sudan is under a religious attack. Then he will witness a phenomenon that will make him happy: groups dedicated to combating the U.S. and Israel will come [to Sudan's aid]..." 
*CONTROVERSY WITHIN THE ARAB WORLD
The Arab League: Indictment Will Exacerbate the Darfur Crisis
At Sudan's request, on Saturday, July 19, 2008, the Arab League held an emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of the member states to discuss Al-Bashir's indictment. The foreign ministers fully backed Sudan and Al-Bashir, and rejected what they characterized as the "politization" of the ICC.
The ministers also discussed a proposal to make it impossible to revoke the immunity of heads of state.  Following the meeting, the Arab League began talks with the ICC in a bid to suspend the prosecution of Al-Bashir in return for efforts to reach a political settlement in Darfur. It also formulated a plan for responding to the ICC prosecution, under which those found responsible for war crimes in Darfur would be prosecuted under Sudanese law by Arab League and African Union attorneys. In addition, an international summit would be held to promote the peace process in Darfur by preparing a road map for resolving the conflict within a specified time frame. The plan was presented in Khartoum, at a meeting between Arab League Secretary General 'Amr Moussa and Al-Bashir. 
Egypt led the Arab campaign against the ICC indictment, enlisting its diplomatic corps and a team of Egyptian international law experts to handle the matter. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak visited Italy in order to discuss the affair with its prime-minister, and is scheduled to meet other heads of state for the same purpose. 
By and large, senior Arab leaders and officials adopted the line of the Sudanese government. Ambassador Samir Hosni, head of the Arab League Arab-African Cooperation Department, stated that "[the prosecution] would have a direct impact on the security and stability of Darfur, since it would encourage armed opposition organizations in the area to continue their rebellion, leading to further deterioration in the security situation."  Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit likewise warned about "the deterioration of the security situation and the threat to state security and political stability in Sudan." 
Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad characterized the ICC prosecution as "an attempt to blackmail Sudan and interfere in its internal affairs," and as "a blow to the efforts to [restore] stability in Sudan."  Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Mu'allem told the Sudanese ambassador in Damascus that Syria condemned the ICC prosecutor's decision, and that Syria's view was that he had overstepped his authority. Al-Mu'allem added that Ocampo's move was "a serious precedent which must not be permitted in international relations, and which was designed to undermine Sudan's stability and the attempts to bring peace to Darfur." 
Arab Columnists in Support of the Sudanese Regime
Egyptian Daily: The Prosecution - An International Conspiracy
An editorial in the Egyptian daily Al-Gomhouriya described the prosecution as part of a conspiracy against the Arab world: "This is the first [time] that international forces, hiding behind a so-called criminal court, are trying to arrest an Arab president. [Their aim is] to plunge Sudan into a severe crisis, which would give them an excuse to intervene militarily, violate Sudan's sovereignty, and carve up this [Arab] country into several states. [After all, they] succeeded in their previous conspiracy to carve up Iraq, assassinate its president, and enslave its people... Those were the very same imperialist forces... that are [now] shedding crocodile tears over the humanitarian situation in Darfur." 
Columnist Khaled Imam of the Egyptian government daily Al-Masa wrote in a similar vein: "America set the Middle East on fire in order to get its hands on the oil[-rich] regions of the Gulf and Iraq... Since the geological maps, surveys, and [test] drilling all indicate that Darfur is sitting on a lake of oil, the Americans decided to take control of it too... That is when [they began to] hurl one allegation after another against the Sudanese government, [accusing it of] war crimes and ethnic cleansing in Darfur." 
Columnist 'Omar Jaftli of the Syrian daily Teshreen called upon the Arab world to stand by the Sudanese regime: "Sudan is first of all the responsibility of the Arabs, and anything that weakens the unity and independence of this Arab country will undoubtedly have an adverse effect on all Arabs. Therefore, the Arabs must now wake up, on all levels, and thwart any [assault] on Sudan's sovereignty or on the future of its people." 
Syrian Columnist: The Hands of America and Israel Are Covered with the Blood of the Darfurians
'Izz Al-Din Al-Darwish, columnist for the Syrian government daily Teshreen, wrote that the prosecution against the Sudanese government is part of an overall assault on the Arabs: "What is happening in Sudan is part and parcel of the [attempts to] attack, pressure, besiege, and break up the Arab world. The formula is known, and the tools [used in this campaign] are mostly obvious - lately they include the ICC [and allegations of] war crimes and human rights [violations]. Anyone who follows the events and reads between the lines can see that American and Israeli hands are toying with Sudan and undermining its security, just as they previously toyed with Iraq. These hands are covered, directly or indirectly, with the blood of the people of Darfur, and there is plenty of evidence of this if one [examines] the background [of the crisis].
"The Sudanese government, like the Darfurians themselves, is a victim of the events in Darfur. Remember that it warned about the danger [presented by] the foreign interference in this region, and brought evidence that it was American and Israeli [intervention] that instigated the crisis and brought it to the present state.
"The Arabs must take matters into their own hands as soon as possible, and launch a diplomatic counterattack by rectifying the situation in Darfur and also helping the Sudanese government. This [should be done] out of awareness of the grave danger that faces not only Sudan but the Arabs at large. Sudan, like Iraq, is only one stage in the attack on the Arabs, and the next stage might be even worse." 
Saudi Daily: A New Arab Country Is Now in the Crosshairs
The Saudi daily Al-Watan criticized the ICC prosecution, stating that the international community had found a new Arab country to victimize: "It seems that the international community must [always] have some Arab country as a target for attack, and Sudan has obviously replaced Syria in this [role]. Yesterday Syria was [the target of] criticism and threats, mostly with regards to the Lebanese crisis, [but] after this crisis was defused, and [Syria] began peace talks with Israel, its international status improved... [Now] that the ICC prosecutor has announced his determination to arrest President 'Omar Al-Bashir, it is Sudan [that has become the new victim] in the regional political arena. The Darfur crisis is not new. Though the situation in this region is [indeed] tragic, to internationalize the problem in this manner is to neglect its humanitarian [aspect].
"[Darfur] desperately needs peace and stability. If Sudan has replaced Syria [as the target of international pressure], the lesson that everyone must learn is that the best way to solve problems is through dialogue and diplomacy, while threats and force lead only to stubbornness and bloodshed." 
Arab Columnists in Support of the ICC Indictment
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Editor: The Arabs Cannot Help the Sudanese Government
On the other hand, columnists in the London-based Saudi press believe that the Sudanese regime has brought the current calamity on itself, and, accordingly, tended to support the ICC's moves. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat editor Tareq Alhomayed wrote that the prosecution was a severe blow to Sudan and its people, but that the Arab countries could not help, since the Sudanese regime had brought this calamity upon itself: "[The prosecution of the Sudanese president] will cause a severe setback in Khartoum's efforts to bring stability and investments back to Sudan, and will drive the country into a diplomatic dead end. Charges like these brought against its head of state will plunge [Sudan] and its entire regime into a satanic whirlpool... [But] I do not know what the Arabs can do for the Sudanese government, after it neglected its domestic affairs for such a long time - especially the Darfur crisis, which has been continuing for five years with no practical solution [in sight] despite ever-increasing international pressure." 
Al-Arabiya Director-General: Heads of State Must Be Held Accountable for Their Actions
'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, director-general of Al-Arabiya TV and former Al-Sharq Al-Awsat editor, wrote: "The [current] climate in the Arab [world] is full of hostility against the ICC, after its prosecutor general brought charges against Sudanese President 'Omar Al-Bashir. This is the usual official Arab [discourse] of condemnation... The court is accused of being against the Arabs and Muslims... [But] this prosecution rests on the issue of Darfur, and this [issue] must remain the focus of discussion. The [accused] must tell us: Are they innocent? [If they are,] let them prove their innocence to their people instead of hurling invective as the shortest way out of the severe crisis.
"Even if it yields little result, this prosecution will establish in the Arab world [the principle] that was already established in Liberia and Yugoslavia - namely, that heads of state must be held fully accountable when they misuse their power and commit grave crimes. The ICC is telling the leaders of the [Arab] region that their peoples are not sheep that can be led to the slaughter as [an act of] revenge, as deterrence [to others], or [in order for the rulers] to stay in power." 
In another article, Al-Rashed criticized the Arab League: "The Arab League is a union of Arab heads of state, and it is only natural that it should rally to the defense of the Sudanese president... [But] it should be mentioned that the Arab League has disregarded the extermination of 300,000 Sudanese in Darfur, and has even refused to observe a moment of silence in memory of [the villages] that were burned, and [people who were] exiled and murdered there. [It is the ICC] prosecution of the [Sudanese] president that [the Arab League] regards as a crime and [an act of] aggression."
About the claim that the prosecution was motivated by racism against Muslims and Arabs, Al-Rashed said: "The facts point to the opposite, since the victims in Darfur are [themselves] Sudanese Muslims." 
Al-Rashed's criticism of the Sudanese regime and the Arab League angered Sudanese journalists, who published harsh responses, including personal insults against Al-Rashed. 
Editor of Reformist Website: Good News for Lovers of Justice Everywhere
'Omran Salman, editor of the reformist website Aafaq, welcomed the decision to charge Al-Bashir: "This is good news for all defenders of human rights and lovers of justice worldwide. Even if Bashir is not arrested, bringing charges against him, placing him under siege and isolating him are the minimal steps that must be taken [in order] to bring justice to the victims in Darfur and other regions. It comes as no surprise that the Sudanese regime and its allies in the Arab media - especially the Al-Jazeera channel - have launched a media counterattack... questioning the ICC, its prosecutor and his motives... and turning the affair into a 'national' and 'Islamic' campaign. But all this will be to no avail, for the crimes of the [Sudanese] regime are as clear as day." 
Sudanese Reformist: The Sudanese Regime Must Be Removed Like the One in Afghanistan
Sudanese reformist 'Othman Hassan Babakr posted an open letter to the U.N. Security Council on the popular website Sudanese Online calling on the U.N. to remove the Sudanese regime by force and to prosecute Al-Bashir for war crimes: "After 19 years of being [ruled] by the extremist religious gangs and [champions] of ethnic discrimination... we address your [sense of] justice - [for justice] is one of the foundations of [the U.N.], which the Sudanese nation helped establish and in which it is a member...
"The crimes that have been perpetrated in Sudan were not committed by anonymous rebels... but by the regime and its institutions. This means that there is no hope for change, and no hope of a safe existence for those who fled the [threat of] extermination. The institutions of the international community, which the Sudanese people helped found, must defend [the Sudanese]. They must try the [heads of the Sudanese] regime under the supervision of the Security Council, and sentence them [according to their crimes]. The regime must remove itself from power, or else be removed by force. Sudan's membership in the U.N. does belong to the present regime, but to the entire Sudanese people. The U.N. member [states] must defend it, and restore to it the power which was usurped in a military coup. An interim national government must be established, as was done in Afghanistan after the Taliban regime was removed and as was done in Somalia. Know that any delay will cause grave harm to the Sudanese people. The regime wants to use the nation as a scapegoat and to [subject] it to further massacres. This makes it necessary to quickly find a solution and punish the war criminals - the symbols of extremism and terrorism." 
Al-Ahram Columnist: The Darfurians Have Found Not a Single Arab Leader to Call for Their Rescue
Columnist 'Abdullah 'Abd Al-Salam, of the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, harshly criticized the Sudanese regime and the Arab League for neglecting the Darfur crisis, and stated that the people of Darfur deserved the protection of the Arab League: "The Arab leaders have an obligation to reject the ICC arrest bid, but they also have an obligation to tell the Sudanese leadership the truth, namely that it is its own policies and actions that have brought Sudan to this dangerous and unprecedented situation.
"The 'Salvation Regime'  established policies and principles that transformed Sudan from a moderate and democratic country into a hotbed of extremism - [a country] where political dissidents face either prison or exile, where the only response to demands of justice is jihad, and where the only way to handle conflicts with neighboring countries is by undermining their stability and instigating terrorism within them. But the situation in Darfur, which is constantly worsening and deteriorating, is the greatest failure. The impudent Sudanese regime did not only try and handle the crisis [by fighting the Darfurians]. When [the crisis] broke out in 2003, the regime tried to make light of it by treating it as a conflict between tribes. Later, when the situation deteriorated, [they began] to call it a 'regional and Western conspiracy,' and finally 'a war on Islam and the Muslims.' Unfortunately, some educated Arabs and Muslim have presented this claim...
"While 'Darfur' has become synonymous with 'crimes against humanity,' Khartoum continues to claim that it is a target of Western interference... The goal [of the Sudanese regime and the Arab League] is to save the necks of those in charge, rather than put an end to the killing and deportation of hundreds of thousands of Darfurians. [The people of Darfur] have found not a single Arab leader to call for their rescue. Nobody wants Al-Bashir arrested... but that does not mean that those responsible [for the crimes] should go unpunished... Everyone - the participants of the Arab League meeting included  - should realize that Darfur is not an enemy state, and that its people deserve our protection and our public denunciation of their jailors." 
*R. Green is a research fellow at MEMRI.
 SUNA News Agency (Sudan), July 13, 2008.
 SUNA News Agency (Sudan), July 14, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 12, 2008. This refers to the ICC's plan to capture Ahmad Haroun, suspected of war crimes. The plan was to redirect a plane on which Haroun was scheduled to fly and thus to arrest him. Al-Hayat (London), June 8, 2008. See also http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSNO6455243.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 12, 2008.
 Al-Ahdath (Sudan), July 13, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 15, 2008.
 Al-Intibaha (Sudan), July 15, 2008.
 Al-Rai Al-'Am (Sudan), July 15, 2008.
 Al-Hayat (London), July 15, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 21, 2008.
 Al-Ahdath (Sudan), July 13, 2008.
 The Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the rebels of Southern Sudan and the Sudanese government, signed in Nivasha, Kenya, in 2005.
 i.e. the Arab population in the northern provinces of Sudan.
 This is a pun on the names of international human rights organization such as Doctors without Borders. The writer may be alluding to Al-Qaeda.
 Al-Intibaha (Sudan), July 13, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 20, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 21, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 23, 2008
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 15, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 16, 2008.
 Al-Thawra (Syria), July 23, 2008.
 Al-Thawra (Syria), July 17, 2008.
 Al-Gomhouriya (Egypt), July 16, 2008.
 Al-Masa (Egypt), July 15, 2008.
 Teshreen (Syria), July 14, 2008.
 Teshreen (Syria), July 21, 2008.
 Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), July 13, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 14, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 16, 2008.
 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 14, 2008.
 This was the name the given by the Islamists to their regime, which seized power in Sudan in a 1989 military coup.
 The article was published on the day of the emergency meeting of the Arab League foreign ministers on the ICC prosecution.
 Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 19, 2008.
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