Jump to navigation

confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 10th January 2012

Sudan's man on a mission in Syria

Gill Lusk

Never has there been so much criticism of the Arab League by the international Arab media. Yet the League’s emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday only boosted the numbers in its mission to monitor abuses in Syria, refusing to accept United Nations observers (‘foreigners’) and ignoring a golden opportunity to replace the widely condemned team leader, the Sudanese former external security boss, General Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa el Dabi.

Yet Mohamed el Dabi is well known in the Arab world. He emerged on to the international stage in 1995 when he took over Sudan’s extremely active external security because Gen. Nafi’e Ali Nafi’e was moved sideways.  Nafi’e had been shifted at Egyptian insistence after Egypt and Ethiopia blamed the National Islamic Front regime for the attempt to assassinate President Hosni Mubarak at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa.  Nafi’e is now of course back as Presidential Assistant to Field Marshal Omer Hassan Ahmed el Beshir.

President Omer soon sent Mohamed el Dabi to Darfur, where his arrival in 1999 to oversee security is seen in the area as the beginning of the NIF’s ethnic cleansing campaign. Locals formed self-defence groups but it wasn’t until 2003 that the ‘rebellion’ formally began and the regime has made sure outsiders forget what led up to that.  ‘He brought 1,500 soldiers from Khartoum and began to burn the villages from Barey to Kudumuli,’ one fighter told Africa Confidential in 2009. UN and human rights bodies echo such accounts.

This is what the Arab media have targeted.  On New Year’s Day, Saudi Arabia’s Asharq al Awsat, which doesn’t usually publish much the royal family wouldn’t like to read, noted that he was ‘accused of being responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in his own country and against his own people’ and quoted the United States-based ‘Enough Project’ that ‘instead of heading a team entrusted with a probe of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by Syria, the general should be investigated by the ICC for evidence of similar crimes in Sudan.’ Mohamed el Dabi, it noted, had been chosen for the Syria team by President Omer el Beshir (who of course is himself wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Darfur).

Under the headline ‘The scandal of El Dabi’, the daily Al Hayat, too, slammed into ‘a soldier belonging to an army that practised crimes in Darfur more atrocious than the crimes practised by the Syrian regime today. This soldier is a man accused of committing war crimes, a man of whom Amnesty International has said Mohamed Ahmad el Dabi was responsible for "arbitrary arrests, detentions, violent disappearances, torture, and other forms of mistreatment of many people in Sudan." Moreover, El Dabi was one of the men of the coup d’état staged by Omer el Beshir. Therefore, how do we expect him to defend freedom?!’

The Arab Spring appears to be affecting even the conservative Arab media. However, it means different things to different people. The Muslim Brotherhood (which is doing very nicely out of Egypt’s revolution) joined the chorus of attacks on the League’s Syria team, again in the name of freedom and justice.  That just might make some people forget that the National Islamic Front (now National Congress Party), of which Mohamed Ahmed el Dabi has been such a staunch defender, itself grew out of Egypt’s Brotherhood in the years after the Second World War.