The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

Al Bashir calls aid agencies subversive

Posted by vmsalama on March 30, 2009

Vivian Salama

March 30, 2009

DOHA // Confident and defiant in the face of an international warrant for his arrest, Omar al Bashir, the president of Sudan, addressed the 21st regular session of the Arab League in Qatar, defending his decision to expel non-governmental organisations from Sudan and his right to resist arrest.

Mr al Bashir accused aid organisations of providing sensitive information about Sudan to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, declaring it an effort to destabilise the Sudanese government. He claimed that the humanitarian problem in Darfur has been exaggerated, particularly with regard to claims of food and water shortages.

On March 4, the ICC issued a warrant for the arrest of the Sudanese president on charges of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur.

“These organisations were providing some support, but their costs were so high [and they] have started to work outside their mandate,” Mr al Bashir said. They “signed secret agreements with the ICC to provide ICC with some reports”.

The UN secretary general, Ban Ki- moon, condemned the Sudanese leader for his decision to expel key international non-profit organisations, saying it resulted in the suspension of life-sustaining services for more than one million people.

Despite the efforts of Sudanese governmental organisations, UN agencies and the remaining NGOs, Mr Ban said yesterday, “the gaps cannot be filled with existing capacities”.

A number of delegates gathered in Doha expressed concern over the ICC’s decision to arrest Mr al Bashir. Several pointed to the court’s failure to issue arrest warrants for alleged war crimes of Israeli leaders. The Arab League’s secretary general, Amr Moussa, called it a double standard.

The majority of the Arab League member states are not signatories to the Rome statute that created the ICC in 1998. 

Bashar Assad, the president of Syria and host of last year’s summit, called upon the Arab leadership to show solidarity with the embattled Sudanese leader. He predicted that Sudan would descend into chaos if Mr al Bashir were arrested.

“We are to extend our full support to Sudan in order to avoid to steps in the future that might lead to the division of Sudan,” Mr Assad said. “The pretext that Sudan has made some violations is something we can discuss.”

The issuance and reaction to the ICC warrant are among the latest events to dominate pressing issues facing the League of Arab Nations. Several leaders, including the summit’s host, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, chose to avoid the issue of Sudan all together, focusing instead on the region’s economic challenges.

Other shadows were cast this year by Libya’s president, Muammar Qadafi, who accused Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah of exercising US policies to solve Arab problems. This is not the first time an outburst by Mr Qadafi grabbed significant attention at the Arab summit. In 2003, he took a shot at King Abdullah over the US military presence in the region, calling Saudi Arabia’s ties with the United States “a pact with the devil”.

In 2004, he smoked cigars on the conference floor in a show of contempt and stormed out of the assembly after the delegation’s refusal to accept his proposed Arab-Israeli peace plan. The following year in Algeria, he returned, accusing Palestinians and Israelis of being “stupid”.

Although Mr Qadafi has lured the watchful eyes of the media, he was not the only one to offer a distraction from the summit. This year, the absence of Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, drew significant attention given the recent rivalry over approaches to the Palestinian crisis. Cairo continues to mediate talks aimed at Palestinian reconciliation and forging a sustainable ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Squabbles often mar the annual Arab summits and dominate coverage, with clashes growing increasingly sharp in recent years after a series of conflicts, including the second intifada, the US-led war in Iraq, political instability in Lebanon and Israeli military operations in Lebanon and Gaza. 

Many are growing increasingly sceptical of the ability of Arab leaders to find concrete solutions to the issues facing the region.

“People now look at the Arab summits as entertainment,” said Abdel Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of Al Quds Al Arabi, a pan-Arab newspaper published in London. “They aren’t looking at resolutions; they are looking at these sideshows: who is going to clash with who; who is going to boycott, who will come; who is cross with someone. It is like a soap opera.”

Last year’s summit in Damascus was held amid a boycott by Lebanese delegates and the humiliating low-level representation by some of the Arab world’s most powerful countries, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

“The Arab street increasingly sees itself as interconnected and they would like to see their leaders guide them to finding solutions, but they can’t even get together for a meeting,” said Hady Amr, director of the Brookings Doha Centre. 

“The Arab world has high hopes: they want jobs, dignity, increasing opportunities to participate in society and their governments are not delivering.”


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