April 18, 2005

The Darfur Puzzle's Missing Piece

How much do Arabs know about the Arab genocide in Darfur?

After I posted a few days ago on Egypt's role -- or more accurately its failure to play a role -- in bringing the mass homicide in western Sudan to an end, Les Brunswick posted a comment asking how Darfur was being covered in the Arab media. It was a good question, one a non-Arab speaker like myself is poorly equipped to answer. It is possible that the English-language Arab press is an inadequate guide to the news most Arabs get about this subject. It is, unhappily, also possible that it is only in the English language Arab press that Darfur is covered at all. Perhaps one of the Arab speakers lurking out there in cyberspace can provide some insight on what is being written and broadcast on Darfur in Arabic.

For what it is worth, I did some searches for stories about Darfur in the online Khaleej Times (Dubai), Lebanon's Daily Star, and al Jazeera. If there is not quite silence about Darfur, there is no more than a very soft whisper on any of these sites. There is no reporting from the scene that I could find, only reports on official government statements, usually reprints from Reuters, Agence France Presse and other wire services (including -- and I don't really know what to make of this -- Xinhua). There is a collection of international media stories about Darfur on the site of the Sudan Tribune, but on closer inspection this turns out to be a production of a non-profit organization based in France.

If there is near-silence about Darfur in Arab media, there is also silence about that near-silence in Western media. I don't mean to pick on the NYT's Nicholas Kristof, who has done some of the best reporting on Darfur, but I far as I can tell his last column, which included American consultation with Egypt as one of a somewhat lengthy list of things the Bush administration ought to be doing about this, was the first time he has mentioned Egypt at all in connection with Darfur. An editorialist for another large American paper that has spoken out about Darfur, when I asked why a long editorial on that subject had included no reference to Egypt or the other Arab countries, suggested that the idea just hadn't come up. I'd hate to think that the only commentary in cyberspace about the Arab media's coverage of genocide being committed by Arabs is the one you are reading now -- God knows I'd be happy to defer to someone who knows more about this than I do -- but that may in fact be the case.

This entire situation is nuts. It is nuts on multiple levels: on the logistical level, from the standpoint of sanctions enforcement, with respect to the greater moral influence Arab, Muslim voices might have in Arab, Muslim Khartoum, and in connection with humanitarian aid for Darfur -- which has to be paid for somehow, and which oil-rich Arab states could finance out of petty cash. It is even nuts in the context of the Bush administration's efforts to transform the Arab Mideast politically.

Now, I'll admit to being skeptical about these efforts: skeptical about their chances for success and skeptical about their place in our list of priorities. I'd be glad if my skepticism proves unjustified. Really, though, how far toward any conception of a civilized society have people come who will not only do nothing about genocide happening right next door, by and against people of their own religion, but will not even talk about it? Those are the Arabs today, especially in Egypt.

Henry Stimson used to say that the only way to find out whether a man is trustworthy is to trust him. In the same way we will only find out whether Egypt and the other Arab countries can grow into partners able to share the responsibilities of human civilization instead of remaining a problem for human civilization if we place those responsibilities squarely before them, to take up or to shun. If we don't -- if we continue to try to stop the genocide in Darfur with no help from Egypt or the other Arab countries -- thousands and perhaps tens of thousands more people will die in Darfur this year, even in the best case of cooperation from Western and West African governments.

I see no way to complete the puzzle of stopping genocide in Darfur without the Arab piece. It is a wonder that no one seems able even to acknowledge that this piece is missing.

Posted by at April 18, 2005 11:12 PM | TrackBack (11)

It makes some degree of sense; Northern Sudan, was Egypt's responsibility going back through the
time of British colonialism; re Gordon's Khatroum,
Abou Clea; referred in Kipling & AE Mason's Four
Feather's and Omdurman. More to the point, the
late great British explorer, Wilfred Thesiger, was
Darfur's governor in the mid 30s. Egypt is better
able to be a staging area, for an intervention
force, than Chad; of course, Chad doesn't have
the jihadi Wahhabi-Salafi problem, that Egypt

Posted by: narciso at April 19, 2005 02:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Surely Greg you are familiar with the Arab League's solidarity with Sudan as regarding sanctions, and pushing the UN to NOT classify what is happening in Darfur as Genocide? Sudan is an honored member of the Arab League, and the killings in Darfur are not condemned at all, rather, when they are mentioned, justified.

Why does this take place? Largely because the Arab world is devoid of any consensual government, perhaps with the future exception of Iraq. There isn't anything of the diversity of voices seen in the West. It's the strongman and nothing else.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at April 19, 2005 02:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jim: You're responding to Joseph Britt, Greg's guest-blogger, not Greg himself.

My first question about Darfur is "How many armed men does China have in Sudan right now?" I recall the UK Telegraph once publishing the laughable number of 700,000, but even a tiny fraction of this amount would make them the 800 lb gorilla no one will talk about. The Washington Times recently published a report of 4000 troops to protect one of their oil pipelines, which I think is more than the AU was allowed to bring in as 'observers' in Darfur.

My second question hinges on the answer to the first: What if what's going on in Sudan is that China will support the current regime no matter what they want to do, including genocide in Darfur, in exchange for access to Sudanese oil? Why would Egypt step on China's toes by threatening their cozy relationship?

Posted by: MattJ at April 19, 2005 05:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Consider querying the weekly online chat of Washington Post reporter Jefferson Morley regarding any discussion in the Arab press of the Darfur problems. Morley's politics are probably at odds with most BD readers, but he's quite forthcoming about what's in the world's newspapers, whether or not it agrees with him.


Posted by: Tom T. at April 19, 2005 06:49 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As for Chinese troops, there are supposedly a lot of them there. China has invested over $15 billion in Sudanese oil projects in recent years. Along with that has come a hell of a lot of weapons, advisors, and troops to protect those wells.

Posted by: Dundare at April 19, 2005 01:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You don't seriously expect the Chinese to do something about genocide? Get real.

Arabs will not do anything about it either, unless it can somehow be shown that the perpetrators are Jewish, or that they themselves are threatened by it. Neither case applies here, so I would not expect Sudan's neighbors to do anything about this.

Posted by: Joel at April 19, 2005 03:38 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It does seem the English-language Arab press has played down the story. Google Arabic search does reveal some coverage in the major Arabic outlets: http://www.google.com/search?hl=ar&safe=off&q=%D8%AF%D8%A7%D8%B1%D9%81%D9%88%D8%B1&btnG=%D8%A7%D8%A8%D8%AD%D8%AB&lr=

Posted by: Josh at April 19, 2005 05:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Question: if those on the dying side of the genocide were of a different religion, would that change the extent to which it has been covered in the Arab/Muslim world? I think so. But then again, after their essential non-commital and brush-asidedness about the South Asian tsunami and the deaths of over 100,000 Indonesians, it remains plausible. My guess is they have other things to worry about that are closer to home, and it is the job of the state to act in its own best interests, which don't necessarily coincide with those of humanity and such.

Posted by: Neil at April 19, 2005 07:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You raise an interesting issue, Neil. The Arab world has certainly exerted itself to garner support in other Muslim countries for its causes, mostly those having to do with Israel and the Palestinians. Is this a two-way street?

Off the media coverage I've seen it doesn't look that way. But the media coverage could be misleading; we don't know, or at least I don't, that Arab Muslims have blown off, for example, the enormous disaster suffered by non-Arab Muslims in the tsunami and its aftermath. Have they sent large amounts of aid, or have they tried to send it and been stymied by the same difficulties with the Indonesian army and government that Western donors have, or have they said a prayer, shrugged their shoulders and forgotten about it because the victims weren't Arab?

Darfur, of course, is different because it is Arabs committing the genocide and because it is an ongoing disaster we can't bring to an end without any Arab, especially Egyptian, help at all. But some of the same issues of the Arab place in what we think of as civilization are involved in the question you ask.

Posted by: JEB at April 19, 2005 08:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The coverage in Al-Ahram (the principal Egyptian government daily) has been pretty paltry. Usually some pablum straight from the foreign ministry about Abul-Gheit receiving so and so, and discussing the Darfur issue or the Darfur situation. Even with the volume of Sudanese refugees here in Cairo, most people are fairly ignorant here about the scope of the problem in Darfur - in large measure because the state media here hasn't really covered it at all. To be fair, I haven't read much about it in any of the opposition press either.

Posted by: Patrick at April 20, 2005 02:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The American coverage of this issue seems spotty at best.

US media that I have seen (NPR/Time/Newsweek) seem to try to present a sense of "balance" on the issue of genocide. So, while painting a picture of a very bad Janjaweed, they also point out that there are some violent anti-govt factions as well.

Blogs thankfully provide more real analysis and what seems to be a clearer picture of a repressive but nervous government and thousands of very innocent victims. (I can see our modern MSM covering the persecution of Jews in the 1930s - they would have listened while Hitler explained that the Poles (and their Jews) were real threats to Germany)

As for the Arab world, Sudan may actually be helpful to the rulers, as having Saddam was, in keeping the focus off of their own repressive ways.

Posted by: paul at April 20, 2005 09:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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