Luis Moreno Ocampo, the International Criminal Court prosecutor general, last week issued an indictment against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. This made him an instant hero for civil rights activists, and the enemy of Arab opponents of "new imperialism."
"Western imperialism left the Islamic countries in the last century after it destroyed them and exploited their wealth through direct conquest, and came back to them via the window of conquest and destruction for its own ends, by means of the legal frameworks it set for itself such as the International Criminal Court, with the excuse of defending human rights and disseminating justice via Western, rather than international, criteria," wrote Saudi publicist Hamad al-Majid in the newspaper Asharq Alawsat.
Is this a Western effort to unseat Bashir and divide Sudan into three districts, so that the West can rule the country, or is this a genuine struggle against a person accused of genocide, mass murder and sponsoring - perhaps even planning - cruel mass rapes in Darfur? The terrible fate of the Darfur refugees is less interesting.
In Khartoum the answer is clear. The carnival Bashir organized for himself after the indictment was publicized was proof of it: Donkeys bearing the prosecutor's picture, dog puppets bearing Ocampo's name, and Bashir's dances to songs cursing the prosecutor and condemning his supporters. In his speech, he recommended they dissolve the paper in water and drink it, and declared "all supporters of the proposal can come in under my shoe."
Bashir seized power in Sudan in 1989, and runs a dictatorial regime of terror there. He does not plan to report to the International Criminal Court. The Sudanese parliament, which he controls, is planning to rule that Sudan may return by any means, even by force, any Sudanese citizen arrested by a foreign power or by an institution Sudan does not recognize. Washington got the hint: Last week, it ordered the reduction of its diplomatic staff in Khartoum.
American experts have been disseminating a proposal to take steps against Sudan similar to those taken against Iraq, and to forbid flights over the Darfur area in order to prevent Sudanese air attacks. The U.S. has sanctioned Sudan since the late 1990s, and forbade American companies from doing business there. Sudan's oilfields were quickly filled with Chinese firms.
Now Sudan is threatening counter-sanctions: to stop exporting gum arabic to the United States and any country that supports the arrest warrant against Bashir. Gum arabic, which is a resin made from the bark of the Senegalese acacia tree, is used in soft drinks. Sudan produces about 70 percent of the total world supply.
The arrest warrant aroused major controversy in Arab countries. They are once again perceived as incapable of preventing Western intervention into their affairs, and once again an Arab leader is in on trial internationally after the Arab League failed to impose its authority - as in the case of Iraq, Lebanon Palestine and Libya as well.
Since 2003, the Sudanese government's behavior was not condemned at a single Arab League summit meeting. This week, when Arab League leader Amr Moussa was asked his opinion of the Sudanese government's expulsion of 13 refugee assistance organizations from Darfur, he replied that there are enough aid organizations in Sudan and that "the Arab League will do everything possible to find a balance between the demands of justice and the need to maintain Sudan's stability and sovereignty."
In the absence of Arab League action, Egypt and Qatar are competing to mediate a solution to the tragedy in Darfur. Egypt is calling for a pan-Arab summit in order to settle Sudanese affairs. Qatar is organizing a "private" dialogue of its own, and has already been criticized by Egypt for daring to do things that should be left to bigger countries. At the end of the month, the annual summit will be held in Qatar, and then we will see who speaks out on behalf of Darfur's residents, and who fights for the upper hand in the leadership battle.
Severed ties with Mauritania
Ten years after establishing diplomatic relations, Mauritania decided to expel Israel's ambassador and recall its ambassador to Israel. Mauritania, which instructed its ambassador to Israel to meet with then-prime minister Ariel Sharon during the second intifada of all times, had been considered solid and dependable. Israel, for its part, compensated this poor country, which has an annual per capita income of less than $800, with agricultural assistance, a hospital and mainly with closer ties with the U.S.
After the military coup last August, when president Sidi Ould Cheikh Abdallahi was ousted by the commander of the presidential guard, Gen. Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the latter requested recognition from Washington. Washington, which had considered Abdallahi's presidency a victory for democratization in the Middle East - he was the first Mauritanian president to be elected in free elections - rejected him.
In January the new ruler threatened that if Washington did not recognize his government, he would sever the country's ties with Israel. Washington ignored the threat, and Abdel Aziz acted. In exchange, he will receive assistance from Iran and Libya.
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