News and comments on the recent warrant by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to arrest Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir, calling on him to appear before the court, filled the Egyptian press. According to the ICC, Bashir stands accused of complicity in war crimes and crimes against humanity in the region of Darfur. Most State-owned papers only mentioned the ICC decision and the Egyptian foreign minister’s comment.
The State-owned Al-Gomhouriya wrote that Egypt expressed deep concern regarding the decision to arrest the Sudanese president and warned of the repercussions of this decision on Sudan’s stability and sovereignty and on the implementation of the peacekeeping process. Ahmed Abul Gheit, Egypt’s Foreign Minister asked the Security Council (SC) in a press conference to assume its responsibility in maintaining Sudan’s peace and sovereignty. He called for an urgent SC meeting to postpone the ICC decision for 12 months. Al-Gomhouriya also reported on the demonstrations that filled Khartoum and the ‘fury of the Sudanese people’ following the declaration of the ICC arrest warrant. The paper ended with news about the support of Mohamed Abdel Wahed, leader of the Sudan People Liberation Movement, to the decision to arrest Bashir, who described the ICC decision as a great victory.
The same approach was adopted by the State-owned al-Ahram and al-Akhbar. Both focused on the details of the SC decision, dedicating a small space to Abul Gheit’s comment.
Crimes against humanity
The coverage by independent papers, however, stressed the stance adopted by human rights organisations on the warrant to arrest Bashir, a stance diametrically opposed to that of the State.
The independent daily al-Masry al-Youm had the story on its front page, complete with Abul Gheit’s comments. It cited the stance of two rights groups. “The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS),” the paper wrote, “confirmed that the court’s decision was based on evidence sufficient to charge Bashir and other Sudanese officials. The institute has called on the regime in Khartoum to obey the ICC, in order to put an end to the bloodshed in Darfur. It condemned the Arab governments’ attempt to protect war criminals who do harm to the Sudanese people.”
Many Arabs claimed the ICC was applying double standards by calling Bashir to justice and letting Israel’s war crimes go unchecked. But, the CIHRS declared, the court’s double standards should not imply rejecting its protocol or that the Arab governments should follow the same policy of double standards and help the war criminals in Darfur run free.
The Arab Centre for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession issued a statement, al-Masry al-Youm wrote, in which it said the decision to arrest a head of State while still in office served to put an end to the immunity exploited by officials to get away with crimes against humanity.
The international reaction to the ICC decision was highlighted by the independent daily al-Shorouq. The United States, France and Britain, the paper wrote, supported the arrest of Bashir, but Russia claimed the decision to arrest a head of state while in office was a very serious precedent. Amnesty International described the decision as a unique step towards implementing the International Criminal Law.
The independent daily al-Badeel highlighted the reactions of the different Egyptian political parties as well as human rights organisations. It said the liberal Wafd and Ghad political parties, as well as the leftist Tagammu and the Muslim Brothehood, all called for arresting Israeli war criminals as well. They warned that arresting Bashir would have a negative impact on the stability of Sudan.
According to al-Badeel, Human Rights Watch said the ICC decision was a warning to all those in power that they would henceforth be held accountable for crimes of murder, rape, and collective torture.
As for the independent weekly al-Fagr, its issue of last Monday carried a front-page picture of Bashir in a red shirt; red is the colour worn by prisoners awaiting execution. A caption read: “He deserves the death sentence.”