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memri
May 15, 2007 No.
351

Darfur in the Arab Press

By: Ofir Winter*

The ongoing massacre in Darfur, which has been raging since 2003, receives scant coverage in most of the Arab media. The few articles that appear on the subject generally minimize the importance of reports on the ethnic cleansing in the region,[1] and most of them characterize the international efforts to stop the bloodshed in Darfur as a Western, American, or Zionist plot aimed at seizing the country's natural resources.[2] Furthermore, the extensive coverage of Darfur in the Western media is portrayed in these articles as an attempt to divert the attention of international opinion from events in Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, and Somalia.

Nonetheless, on occasion some sharply critical articles are published which condemn the Arab media's indifference to the events in Darfur.[3] These articles urge the Arab countries to drop the conspiracy theories and support the international community's efforts to stop the bloodshed in the region.

A similar criticism of the Arab press was heard at a workshop headed "Covering the Darfur Crisis," held in Cairo on April 19, 2007 under the auspices of the International Crisis Group and the American University in Cairo. Academics, researchers, and Arab journalists who took part in the workshop claimed that the Arab media pays insufficient attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur, both in comparison with the Western media and in comparison with the amount of attention devoted by the Arab media to Iraq, the PA, and Lebanon. It was also claimed that there is no in-depth discussion in the Arab media of the political, economic, social, and historical dimensions of the subject, and that the Arab media merely presents superficial and inaccurate reports and describes the entire issue as a "Western conspiracy."[4]

This report reviews the different views on the Darfur crisis, as reflected in the Arab media:

A. In Defense of the Sudanese Actions in Darfur:

The Western Interest in Darfur is a Conspiracy; The Lobby to Save Darfur is the Israel Lobby; Only 200,000 Have Been Killed

Al-Gomhouriya: Darfur – Not a Humanitarian Tragedy, But a Cover for the Western Attempt to Redraw the Map of the Arab World to Suit Its Interests

An editorial in the official Egyptian newspaper Al-Gomhouriya stated that the description of events in Darfur as a humanitarian tragedy is aimed at cloaking the West's campaign to redraw the map of the Arab world in accordance with its own interests:

"Washington and London asked yesterday to convene the Security Council and to ratify sanctions on Sudan because of the Darfur crisis. American President George Bush threatened the President of Sudan, and accused him of failing to deliver on his promises to find a solution to the crisis.

"This took place at a time when, in Iraq, there are hundreds of Iraqis being killed every day under the nightmare of the American occupation, which has turned Baghdad into the capital of death. In addition, dozens of Somalis are being killed in Mogadishu under the Ethiopian occupation, which the Security Council did not dare to condemn...

"The issue of Darfur, which the West has described as a humanitarian tragedy, has become a cover for what is really being planned and carried out by the Western forces of hegemony and control in our Arab world. They aim to redraw the map [of the Arab world] in accordance with their interests and with the interests of Israel, without taking into account the true humanitarian crises that will be caused as a result."[5]

Al-Hayat Columnist: "The Lobby to Save Darfur" is Just a Nickname for the Israel Lobby

Jihad Al-Khazen, former editor and now columnist for the London daily Al-Hayat, claimed that the Israel lobby is exploiting the victims of Darfur in order to divert the world's attention from crimes being committed in Palestine and Iraq:

"In New York, Darfur is the most important issue in the world... In the subway tunnels and the streets, there are thousands of posters screaming 'genocide' and '400,000 people dead,' and there are ads in the newspapers and on television. The save-Darfur lobby claims that it includes 180 organizations representing 130 million Americans, and that its aim is to pressure Congress and the administration to stop this 'genocide' and punish the Khartoum government.

"Darfur is a terrible humanitarian disaster that should not be played down, and I myself am not doing so. However, the U.N. itself said that [only] 200,000 have been killed and that what has been done [in Darfur] was war crimes, not genocide.

"I choose to believe the U.N. rather than the save-Darfur lobby, because [the save-Darfur lobby] is just a nickname for the Israel lobby. [Its] goal is to divert attention from Israel's crimes, or from the disaster of the war in Iraq.

"The U.S. war in Iraq has killed, according to a medical estimate, 655,000 Iraqis. That is, more than three times the number of dead in Darfur, and perhaps five times, if we believe the higher estimate of nearly one million victims. Yet we do not see posters in New York for the Iraqi victims, nor read about 'genocide' or a [hear any] call to punish the war cabal on charges of genocide, or at the least for war crimes...

"In Darfur, the victims are Muslims. There are 200,000 Muslims killed by Muslims. This lobby, whether of Israel or Darfur, does not defend them. It uses them as a smokescreen to obscure the other crimes stretching from Palestine to Iraq. The Israel lobby has, after all, been very active in the pursuit of war and still [continues to] defend it – that is, it still supports the killing of young American [soldiers] in an unjustified war to protect Israel's security.

"Thus, the U.S. press is not interested [in Darfur] because the victims are Arabs and Muslims; [rather], the lobby's [aim is] to prevent any in-depth discussion and to divert the attention from the crimes being committed every day in Palestine and Iraq."[6]

Senior Qatari Journalist: There is No Ethnic Cleansing in Darfur

Sudanese journalist Babker 'Issa, editor of the Qatari daily Al-Raya, also expressed suspicion over the U.S.'s motives in Darfur:

"The American public is showing extraordinary interest in the events in Darfur. The American administration shares this interest, as though the events [in Darfur] are meant to hide America's incompetence in Iraq, to divert attention away from Israel's actions in the occupied territories… or to disguise the daily massacres being committed in Somalia… We all know that the U.S. is pursuing its own interests in the world... and that there is no dimension of morality in American policy…

"The popular and official American interest in Darfur is exaggerated, especially as there is no ethnic cleansing being perpetrated [there, contra to] what is said in the American media and in official speeches. We acknowledge that great instability has taken hold in Darfur in the course of clashes between the Sudanese government, rebel movements and the Janjaweed – but this can not be described as ethnic cleansing or as mass annihilation of the African tribes...

"In addition, the steps taken by the American administration and the British government against Khartoum, while ignoring the rebel forces who refused [to sign] the Abuja agreement[7], are cause for wonder."[8]

B. An Appeal to the Arab and Muslim Conscience:

The Arabs Need Shock Therapy to Wake Up Their Conscience; Had It Not Been for the Efforts of the West and of the International Community, Many of Us Would Have Turned into Wild Beasts; The Tyranny and Despotism of the Sudanese Regime, Its Exclusion of the Other, and Its Defiled Thinking Are the Reasons for Sudan's Problems

Palestinian Intellectual Khaled Al-Kharoub: "Our Conscience Needs Shock Therapy Until It Wakes Up and Says: No to the Cheap Taking of Life in Darfur!"

In an article titled "The Arabs and the Racist Indifference towards the Tragedy in Darfur" in the UAE daily Al-Ittihad, Palestinian intellectual and researcher Khaled Al-Kharoub harshly condemned the indifference of the Arab media and intellectuals towards the events in Darfur: "Hardly any of us is innocent of the racist indifference towards the crimes against humanity that have been committed [in Darfur] in the last four years, in full view of the Arabs and the Muslims. This issue hardly receives any attention in [our] media... Our media, our writers, and our intellectuals (myself included) – whether in the satellite [TV channels] and the written press or at [various] conventions and academic conferences – devote minimal attention to Darfur, to the daily developments and [ongoing] crimes being committed there. Many are content to take a narrow and despicable [approach], shrilly repeating the old familiar [claim that the entire affair is] a Western plot against Sudan... If [the whole affair] is indeed a Western plot, and all of us (including the Sudanese government, of course) have 'exposed' it, then why is [the Sudanese government], up to this very moment, exacerbating [the crisis] and contributing to the perpetuation of the daily bloodbath?...

"What is happening in Darfur is an ongoing disaster. The body count [in Darfur] at the end of the day is sometimes higher than in Iraq, Palestine, and all the other Arab countries put together. The victims of Darfur are nameless statistics... How can we – not only as Arabs and Muslims but as human beings – take such a conciliatory [approach] towards this affair, with so many [people] being killed every day? [How can we] ignore the number of victims? Are not human dignity and human life the most sacred values by to every criterion, every holy book, and every faith on the face of the planet? Our conscience (and above all my own) needs shock therapy until it wakes up and says: No to the cheap taking of life in Darfur!

"Stopping the cycle of violence in Darfur is a goal of supreme [importance] that must be achieved quickly. Why has [human] life become so cheap and valueless? This goal must be achieved, through [intervention] of U.N., African or Western forces. The claim that the sovereignty [of Sudan] is sacred, and must be protected even at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, is a stupid and weak claim. A country and government that allows 200,000 of its citizens to be murdered on its own soil within four years – and even takes part in the chain of killing – must be held accountable.

"All of us who read, write and take part in the [shaping of] so-called Arab public opinion [must be considered] accomplices to the crime... We must hear the [cries of] anguish rising from Darfur and empathize with the [victims'] suffering. [We must] try to reach out and help, raise our voices in condemnation and demand that the governments in the region – which are even more complicit than we – undertake effective action. The respectable Arab League, which is quicker to defend the sovereignty of governments than the sovereignty of peoples, is also guilty... We must place the good of peoples before the good of governments, and prefer people to live instead of [letting them] die while we keep silent in the face of their murderers' [crimes]. Indeed, it may even be said that we are taking a hand in their murder."[9]

Kuwaiti Columnist Dr. Khaled Al-Janfawi: "How Have We Arabs and Muslims [Managed to] Deteriorate to Such a Degree that the Suffering and Distress of Others Pass Before Our Eyes as Though They Were Nothing?"

In an article in the daily Al-Siyassa, Kuwaiti columnist Dr. Khaled Al-Janfawi condemned the Arab world's lack of empathy towards the victims of Darfur, and commended the involvement of the international community:

"The suffering of the children, the elderly, the women, and the other innocent victims in Darfur is an ongoing human tragedy, and the truth about it is known to all: This is the anguish, the poverty, the pain and the spiritual and physical sickness suffered by people in the Arab and Muslim countries. The question we will attempt to answer [in this article] is how we Arab and Muslims [have managed to] deteriorate to such a degree that the suffering and distress of others can pass before our eyes though they were nothing. How did [so] many of us lose [their sense of] compassion and pity, so that their hearts hold not [even] a drop of empathy towards human [suffering] – neither [the suffering] of unfortunates who live here among us in the Arab and Muslim countries, nor that of [people] living in other countries.

"The tragedy in Darfur... and the Arab silence [in the face of this tragedy], raise questions as to what is happening in this wretched region, and demonstrate unequivocally that if it weren't for the efforts of the West and of the international community, many of us would have turned into wild animals that devour one another...

"The international community is now asking for more financial aid and greater diplomatic efforts on the part of the Arab and Muslim governments, as well as other countries, in order to alleviate the distress and the spreading famine... This request provides a last chance for us Arabs and Muslims to improve our image in the eyes of the international community."[10]

Moroccan Columnist: The Tyranny of the Sudanese Regime, Its Despotism, Its Exclusion of the Other, and Its Defiled Thinking Are the Reasons for Sudan's Problems

'Asasi Abd Al-Hamid, Moroccan Berber columnist for the reformist website www.rezgar.com, mocked the Sudanese foreign minister's declaration accusing the Jews of inventing the Darfur crisis:

"'It is the Jews who were behind the invention of the Darfur crisis,' claimed Sudanese Foreign minister Mustapha 'Othman Isma'il in a statement to the international press, publicly accusing the Jews of being behind the Darfur crisis. He added that he had solid proof of the truth of his words.

"Statements of this kind do not amaze, especially from a senior [figure] like the Sudanese foreign minister – indeed, we have already become accustomed to them. Whenever the fascist Arab regimes fail in developing their countries and in providing wellbeing and security for their citizens, they project their failures on those whom Allah condemned, and first of all the Jews. Whenever these regimes – which are haunted by a single specter and by perverted Salafist thought – are powerless to provide a life of dignity to their peoples, they blame their historic enemies – and who are these but the dastardly Jews...

"Sixteen million Jews are responsible for all the crises... – from Malaysia in the east to Casablanca in the west – which afflict the nation of the Merciful [Allah] numbering 1.5 billion. Is it logical that such a tiny number of Jews, comparable to a miniscule point in a broad lake, [can] hold such a [great] measure of craftiness, cunning, and evil that it can shock the security of the countries in the region?...

"[I tell you,] Mustapha 'Othman: Sudan's problems – particularly the Darfur crisis – are the consequence of the tyrannical regime that has risen to power in Khartoum time and again, [and are the consequence] of your [regime's] inability to formulate a serious plan for comprehensive development in which the citizen will be a partner, and of the failure to give the [various] regions of Sudan the possibility of conducting their own affairs under a regional government that respects the uniqueness of each region.

"Your [regime's] tyranny and despotism, [its] exclusion of the other, and [its] defiled thinking are the reasons [for Sudan's problems]. Therefore, it is no wonder that you state that the Jews are working to divide Sudan, are striving to spread AIDS amongst the youth, are planning to poison the Nile in order to destroy your [regime], and are engaged in conspiring against [it].[11]

*O. Winter is a research Fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] The Qatari daily Al-Raya is an exception in this regard and covers the Darfur conflict extensively.

[2] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 761, "Egyptian Government Papers: The American Intervention in Darfur Is a Plot to Control the Sudanese Oil," August 10, 2004, Egyptian Government Papers: The American Intervention in Darfur is a Plot to Control the Sudanese Oil.

[3] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 736, "Former Editor of Major Arab Daily on Arab Indifference to the Violence in Sudan," June 30, 2004, Former Editor of Major Arab Daily on Arab Indifference to the Violence in Sudan .

[4] www.alarabiya.net/articlep.aspx?p=33759, April 22, 2007.

[5] Al-Gomhouriya (Egypt), April 20, 2007.

[6] Al-Hayat (London), April 13, 2007.

[7] The Abuja agreement was signed on November 9, 2004, in an attempt to bring an end to the Darfur conflict.

[8] Al-Raya (Qatar), April 20, 2007.

[9] Al-Ittihad (UAE), April, 16, 2007.

[10] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), April 28, 2006.

[11] http://www.rezgar.com/debat/show.art.asp?aid=95233.