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memri
August 31, 2009 No.
543

Solving the Darfur Crisis: The U.S. Prefers Qatar to Egypt As Mediator

By: R. Green*

Introduction

In recent months, Egypt and Qatar have been engaged in a power struggle over mediation of the Darfur crisis. In September 2008, at Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's suggestion, [1] the Arab League and the African Union appointed Qatar to sponsor negotiations between the Darfur rebels and the Sudanese government. [2] Qatar, however, was able to bring only one of the Sudanese rebel organizations to the negotiations table - the Justice and Equality Movement. Following the first round of negotiations, in Doha, the Sudanese government and the Justice and Equality Movement signed a goodwill agreement; [3] the agreement, however, was never implemented. The negotiations are slated to resume in August 2009.

Since Egypt sees itself as Sudan's patron, and stability in Sudan as its strategic interest, it is deeply involved in its foreign and domestic politics. Accordingly, Egypt also took steps to promote the peace process in Darfur, including an attempt to convene an international conference in Cairo, [4] a visit to Khartoum by Egypt's foreign and intelligence ministers, [5] and two visits to Cairo by Sudanese President 'Omar Al-Bashir, which received wide media coverage. [6]

Recently, Egypt has intensified its efforts, holding an assembly of several rebel organizations in Cairo in an attempt to unite them in the lead-up to the next round of negotiations, and proposing a road map for the settlement of the conflict. [7] These moves constituted an open challenge to Qatar as the leading force in promoting Arab-African peace initiative in Darfur.

It should be noted that the U.S. prefers Qatar over Egypt as a mediator, [8] and that it intends to play a key role in the Doha negotiations if and when they are resumed. [9]

Following are excerpts from the Qatari and Egyptian press on the issue:

Articles in the Qatari Press: "What Does Egypt Seek in Darfur?"

For Qatar, the mediation of the Darfur conflict is a means of gaining prestige and recognition as a key player in Middle East and international diplomacy. Thus, the Qatari government daily Al-Raya termed Qatar's mediation of the Darfur conflict a success, completely disregarding Egypt's initiatives: "Qatar has achieved a significant breakthrough, since all sides in Sudan responded to its earnest efforts to organize the next round of peace negotiations aimed at resolving the Darfur crisis - something that can be accomplished only by [the Sudanese themselves]… Qatar's efforts will definitely continue; they will not cease until [all] the sides in Sudan reach a comprehensive resolution of the Darfur crisis…" [10]

In another Al-Raya article, Qatar-based Sudanese columnist Hamed Ibrahim Hamed implied that Egypt's interference in the Darfur issue is driven by dubious motives: "A question arises that the Sudanese must answer before the Egyptians, namely, what does Egypt seek in Darfur? Does it really wish to resolve the crisis through their latest initiatives, whose object, it contends, is to unite Darfuri armed movements…? Or is it motivated by other [considerations], especially in light of the fact that Egypt's hosting of these factions coincided with [Sudanese] President Al-Bashir's visit to Cairo.

"It is clear that Cairo wants the talks on the Darfur crisis to follow a different course, unconnected to the one pursued in Doha - [although] the latter was agreed upon at the international level, as well as by the Arab [League] and the African [Union], and even by the Sudanese [themselves]. Why, then, doesn't Egypt coordinate [its moves] with Qatar… especially since [it] clearly understands that moving the negotiations along a new trajectory will not solve the crisis, but rather create an opening for a new and extended crisis.

"This is a course that Egypt must not take if it is genuinely interested in peace." [11]

Al-Raya columnist Ahmad Dhiban hinted that since Egypt is interested in Sudan's stability, it should refrain from undermining Qatar's status as mediator, since doing so would wreck the peace process in Sudan. Moreover, he taunted Egypt for failing to achieve any progress in the intra-Palestinian dialogue: "Egypt's mediation of the Palestinian issue… is laudable and should be encouraged. Despite the lapses plaguing the [intra-]Palestinian dialogue in Cairo, there are clear indications that a happy end is at hand.

"As for the initiative of uniting Darfur rebel organizations, however, it seems that it has been an unmistakable fiasco from the outset, and logic demands that Egypt's mediation efforts not expand over all Arab crises - just as one shouldn't cook several dishes simultaneously…

"That the Egyptian leadership's intentions are good is beyond doubt. But good intentions alone are not enough. The greatest effect will be achieved if, in order to attain a common goal, Cairo lends all its weight to supporting Qatar's mediation efforts, instead of giving skeptics a reason to think that the [two] sister [countries] are engaged in a rivalry that is bound to produce negative [results] - and thereby to prevent the [attainment of the] common goal…" [12]

Egyptian Papers: Qatari Mediation Has Failed

The Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram endorsed Egypt's involvement in mediating in the Darfur crisis, calling it the last opportunity to resolve it, and the only chance to save Sudanese President Al-Bashir from indictment by the International Criminal Court: "The task that Egypt has undertaken is not easy, and in order for it to succeed, all sides should cooperate - especially since Egypt's only motive is to achieve security and stability in Sudan.

"Egypt's efforts are the last opportunity [to resolve the conflict]. Time is not on Sudan's side, since the ICC is determined to bring President 'Omar Al-Bashir to justice… Egypt knows that in order for the Security Council to take steps to defer Bashir's indictment, there must be real change inside Sudan. This is what Egypt is trying to achieve in its talks with all sides, before the last opportunity is lost." [13]

Editor of the Egyptian government daily Al-Gomhouriyya Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim harshly criticized Qatar, contending that it is bribing the rebels to participate in the negotiations. Ibrahim claimed that Egypt had taken charge of the Darfur issue after Qatar's failure as a mediator. He further asserted that Al-Bashir's July 2009 visit to Egypt suggested that Sudan is distancing itself from the Iran-Qatar axis and moving closer to Egypt: "Egypt and Qatar have more common [denominators] than differences. It is true that in the past, the Sudanese president had close relations with Iran and Qatar, countries that have political disagreements with Egypt… However, Bashir's visit to Cairo reflects many issues, the most important of which, I believe, is the close relations between Egypt and Sudan…

"The [concept of] of Nile Valley unity is too deep to be harmed by disagreements. At times, the normally clear skies are obscured by a mist. Devious [elements] may try to interfere in order to drive a wedge between the two countries. Some elements may offer money to some opposition circles in order to silence them, as happened to the Justice and Equality Movement in Doha, while others may offer money to other Darfur rebels.

"However, recently, President Al-Bashir realized that all previous attempts to solve Sudan's problems by relying on external powers or money have failed, since they relied on the strategy of enticement rather than on the force of logic… Negotiations with the help of money are good for exchanging prisoners, freeing hostages, and other simple matters. But they are never appropriate when dealing with complicated political issues whose solution depends on diplomatic capabilities, international status, regional importance, and ties with superpowers, rooted in interests - rather than on [staging] a media 'show.'

"Sudan has clearly realized that the Doha talks… have reached an impasse, despite support on the part of Egypt and the entire region. Accordingly, Cairo must concentrate its political and diplomatic efforts on ending the Darfur crisis in a way that will ensure Sudan's sovereignty and stability and at the same time uphold Al-Bashir's presidency…" [14]

*R. Green is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] Al-Sudani (Sudan), September 5, 2008; Al-Hayat (London), September 7, 2008.

[2] Al-Hayat (London), September 10, 2008.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 18, 2009.

[4] While Assad proposed that the Darfur negotiations be held in Doha, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit suggested that an international conference on the Darfur conflict be held in Cairo under the auspices of the U.N. and the African Union. Egypt's initiative, however, was not followed up. Al-Hayat (London), September 4, 2008.

[5] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt); Al-Rai Al-'Am (Sudan), February 15, 2009.

[6] Al-Bashir's first visit, which took place a short time after the issue of an international arrest warrant against him, was interpreted as an act of defiance against the ICC. Bashir's second visit took place on the periphery of the Non-Allied Countries' summit, held in Sharm Al-Sheikh July 15-16, 2009. During this visit, which lasted an entire week, from July 12 until July 18, Al-Bashir received royal treatment. Al-Rai Al-'Am (Sudan), March 26, 2009; Al-Rai Al-'Am (Sudan), July 19, 2009.

[7] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 13, 2009; Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 18, 2009.

[8] http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2009/02/117478.htm ; Great Britain and France likewise supported the Arab-Qatari initiative. Sudan Tribune (Sudan), September 14, 2008; November 4, 2008.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 8, 2009.

[10] Al-Raya (Qatar), July 11, 2009.

[11] Al-Raya (Qatar), July 13, 2009.

[12] Al-Raya (Qatar), July 15, 2009.

[13] Al-Ahram (Egypt), July 12, 2009.

[14] Al-Gomhouriyya (Egypt), July 15, 2009. See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 2184, "Editor of the Egyptian Government Daily Al-Gumhouriyya: Hamas, Syria, Iran - The New Axis of Evil," January 12, 2009, Editor of the Egyptian Government Daily Al-Gumhouriyya: Hamas, Syria, Iran – The New Axis of Evil ; MEMRI Special Dispatch series No. 2368, "Editor of Egyptian Government Daily Attacks Qatari Emir and His Wife," May 22, 2009, Editor of Egyptian Government Daily Attacks Qatari Emir and His Wife ; MEMRI Special Dispatch series No. 2258, "Egyptian Press Attacks Qatar," February 24, 2009, Egyptian Press Attacks Qatar ; MEMRI Special Dispatch series No. 2096, "Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim, Egyptian MP and Editor of Government Newspaper: Syria is a Vassal of Iran and Qatar," October 28, 2008, Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim, Egyptian MP and Editor of Government Newspaper: Syria is a Vassal of Iran and Qatar ; and MEMRI Special Dispatch series No. 1996, "Editor of Egyptian Daily: Qatar Is a Trojan Horse that Harms Arab Interests," July 22, 2008, Editor of Egyptian Daily: Qatar Is a Trojan Horse that Harms Arab Interests.