Darfur’s ethnic nightmare returns to haunt Sudan’s civilian rulers

The violence in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, began on Jan. 16 in the form of a fistfight. (AFP/File)
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Updated 29 January 2021

Darfur’s ethnic nightmare returns to haunt Sudan’s civilian rulers

  • Fresh bloodletting in strife-torn and impoverished region poses major challenge for Khartoum government
  • Experts think end of UNAMID’s peacekeeping mission may have contributed indirectly to outbreak of violence

DUBAI: Just when the international community thought it had one less conflict to contend with, concerns were reignited earlier this month as news broke of tribal clashes in Sudan’s Darfur region. By the time the dust had settled, at least 250 lives had been lost, hundreds of people had suffered injuries and more than 100,000 Sudanese had been displaced in two different states.

Perhaps inevitably, fingers are being pointed at Sudan’s joint-military-civilian government, which last month took responsibility for security in Darfur from the UN and the African Union, whose hybrid UNAMID mission peacekeepers had kept violence somewhat under check in the area for the last 13 years.

Experts think the announcement following a UN Security Council resolution on Dec. 22, 2020, that the UNAMID was ending its mission, indirectly contributed to the latest outbreak of violence. On Dec. 31, the force formally ended its operations and announced plans for a phased withdrawal of its approximately 8,000 armed and civilian personnel within six months.




The war had erupted when Darfur’s ethnic minority rebels rose up against dictator Omar Bashir’s Islamist government. (AFP/File)

The violence in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, began on Jan. 16 in the form of a fistfight. Members of the powerful Arab Rizeigat tribe and the non-Arab Massalit tribe got embroiled in the clashes, which claimed the lives of scores of people, including children and members of the security forces, according to the Sudanese doctors’ union.

A flare-up two days later in South Darfur between the Rizeigat and the non-Arab Falata tribe over the killing of a shepherd caused dozens more deaths and another wave of displacement. The Falata are a cattle- and camel-herding people who trace their roots to the Fulani of western Africa.

FASTFACTS

• UNAMID officially ended operations in Darfur on Dec. 31, 2020.

• Sudan government took over responsibility for protection of civilians in the area.

• UNAMID announced phased withdrawal of 8,000 armed and civilian personnel within six month.

According to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency,  those fleeing the violence into eastern Chad’s Ouaddai province have been forced to seek shelter in remote places that lack basic services or public infrastructure.

In retrospect, warnings by civil society groups, local leaders and experts about the consequences of the UNAMID decision have proved right. Fearing renewed violence, Darfur residents too held protests in late December against the peacekeepers’ departure.

To them, it was not just the lack of experience of the Hamdok government that was a cause for concern. The calm that had prevailed since the arrival of UNAMID was hardly an indicator of the situation on the ground.

While the main conflict has subsided over the years, ethnic and tribal violence still erupts up periodically, mostly involving semi-nomadic Arab pastoralists and settled farmers.




Tribal clashes in Sudan’s Darfur region have killed at least 250 people. (AFP/File)

“The fighting wasn’t quiet as sudden as people thought; there had been some clashes in December for example,” Jonas Horner, senior analyst on Sudan at the International Crisis Group, told Arab News.

“Violence has been actually bubbling up in Darfur quiet consistently for some months, and this really undercuts the premise that security has improved (sufficiently) for UNAMID to leave. I think the auspiciousness of the moment for this violence really has much more to do with the end of the (UNAMID) mandate in Darfur. This matters of course because (the violence erupted) just two weeks after the mission wrapped up, taking into account the drawdown period.”

To be fair, the UN decision to withdraw the peacekeepers from Darfur was taken on the basis of the promises made by the Khartoum authorities. “I think that is also a thing to notice of course: The government didn’t pass its first test at providing security,” Horner said. “This was the period when they were supposed to take over from UNAMID the key responsibility for safety and security of Darfurians.”

The Sudan government’s confidence in its ability to take charge of Darfur’s security may have stemmed from a peace agreement that was signed in October in the capital of South Sudan, Juba, by most of the warring groups, which obliges them to lay down their weapons.




UN decision to withdraw the peacekeepers from Darfur was taken on the basis of the promises made by the Khartoum authorities. (AFP/File)

Two groups have refused to join the peace deal, including the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) faction led by Abdelwahid Nour, which is believed to have considerable support in Darfur.

Although the clashes in West Darfur and South Darfur appear not to involve any of the peace deal’s signatories, a combination of poverty, ethnic strife and violence has left the region awash in weapons and its people divided by rivalries over land and water.

Amani Al-Taweel, a researcher and expert on Sudanese affairs at the Cairo-based Al-Ahram Strategic and Political Studies Center, says the Khartoum authorities failed to deploy security forces in a timely manner to Darfur, despite the region’s history of skirmishes between tribes and ethnic groups with a potential for triggering off wider conflicts.




Amani Al-Taweel says Khartoum authorities failed to deploy security forces in a timely manner to Darfur. (Supplied)

“Darfur’s long-simmering tensions have been compounded by the entry of new groups from West Africa, the lack of a comprehensive resolution, and the absence of the one of the most important militias from the list of the Juba agreement signatories,” Al-Taweel told Arab News. “The combination of all these factors makes the situation in Darfur highly combustible.”

Darfur became synonymous with ethnic cleansing and genocide since conflict erupted in 2003 and left roughly 300,000 people dead and 2.5 million displaced, according to the UN. The recent fighting in El-Geneina was centered around a camp for people who had been displaced by said conflict.

The war had erupted when Darfur’s ethnic minority rebels rose up against dictator Omar Bashir’s Islamist government, which responded by recruiting and arming a notorious Arab-dominated militia known as the Janjaweed.

Since the overthrow of Bashir in April 2019 following large-scale protests against his rule, Sudan has been undergoing a fragile transition. Justice for the people of Darfur was a key rallying cry for civilian groups who backed the removal of Bashir after nearly three decades in power.

The Transitional Military Council that replaced him transferred executive power in Sept. 2019 to a mixed civilian–military Sovereignty Council and a civilian prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok.

Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged genocide and war crimes, is currently in custody and on trial in Khartoum. But as the latest outbreak of violence in Darfur shows, the wounds of war will take time to heal.

“On paper, the Juba peace agreement is the main avenue for exit for this kind of violence,” Horner told Arab News, adding that there can be no military solution to a conflict whose roots lie in disputes over sharing of land, water and resources.

“The (Sudanese) government has dispatched a high-level delegation to El-Geneina and its surrounding areas, and that will primarily include the military. This is again a military solution that I don’t think this is a sustainable response to the problem.




Jonas Horner

“There is a need for utilization of local administration leaders, who will be very keen to put the violence back in the box. Admittedly, some recognized militia groups are involved in the latest fighting and they are much less likely to take orders from the local administrations leaders.”

Given the current abundance of goodwill toward Sudan, could foreign countries play a role in defusing the situation in Darfur? “From a security perspective, it is probably too late for the international community to come in,” said Horner.

“The Security Council has wrapped up the UNAMID mandate,” said Horner, adding that the new United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS) covers the entire country, not just Darfur.

“UNITAMS is under Chapter 6 mission at the UN level, which means it does not include an armed presence. There are some troops left from UNAMID who are supervising and protecting during the drawdown period, but I don’t anticipate they would be utilized to support in a peace keeping or peace-making venture in El-Geneina or South Darfur.”

Overall, the Hamdok government has won praise for taking bold steps to clear the way for Sudan’s political and economic recovery. The recent removal by the US of Sudan from its State Sponsors of Terrorism List will allow the country to have access to international funds and investment, including the International Monetary Fund.

However, festering problems and disputes of the kind that led to the fresh bloodbath in Darfur have the potential to undo many of the gains made since the ouster of Bashir.

Twitter: @jumanaaltamimi


Preparations in full swing for pope’s meeting with Ali Al-Sistani

Updated 04 March 2021

Preparations in full swing for pope’s meeting with Ali Al-Sistani

  • The Vatican’s hope was that Francis would sign a document with Al-Sistani pledging human fraternity

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, a preeminent Shiite figure, are to meet on Saturday for at most 40 minutes, part of the time alone except for interpreters, in the cleric’s modest home in Najaf. 

Al-Sistani is notoriously reclusive and has not left his Najaf home in years. He does not make public appearances and his sermons are delivered by representatives. He rarely receives foreign dignitaries.

The Vatican’s hope was that Francis would sign a document with Al-Sistani pledging human fraternity, just as he did with Sunni Islam’s influential grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb, based in Egypt.

The signature was among many elements the two sides negotiated over extensively. In the end, Shiite religious officials in Najaf told the AP a signing was not on the agenda, and Al-Sistani will issue a verbal statement instead.

The 84-year-old pontiff’s convoy will pull up along Najaf’s busy column-lined Rasool Street, which culminates at the Imam Ali Shrine, one of the most revered sites in the world for Shiites.

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To the side is an alleyway too narrow for cars. Here, Francis will walk the 30 meters to Al-Sistani’s modest home, which the cleric has rented for decades. Waiting to greet him at the entrance will be Al-Sistani’s influential son, Mohammed Ridha.

Inside, and some steps to the right, the pontiff will come face to face with the ayatollah.

Each will make a simple gesture of mutual respect.

Francis will remove his shoes before entering Al-Sistani’s room.

Al-Sistani, who normally remains seated for visitors, will stand to greet Francis at the door and walk him to an L-shaped blue sofa, inviting him to take a seat.

The pope will be offered tea. Gifts will be exchanged.

Francis will almost certainly present Al-Sistani with bound copies of his most important writings, top among them his latest encyclical “Brothers All.”

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Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders

Updated 03 March 2021

Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders

  • Nasser Al-Qudwa launched the Palestinian Democratic Forum, with 230 prominent Palestinians attending
  • Al-Qudwa is a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and runs the Yasser Arafat Foundation
AMMAN: Nasser Al-Qudwa, a member of the Fatah Central Committee announced on Tuesday that he has set up a separate electoral list for the upcoming legislative elections, in defiance of orders from the party’s leaders. Al-Qudwa could still support a Fatah-nominated government, however. Al Qudwa held an online meeting on Tuesday to announce the launch of the Palestinian Democratic Forum, with a number of key figures in attendance. The forum attendees included 230 prominent Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank, and the diaspora. Participants called on imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti to join them too. Committees dealing with media, legal affairs, management, and candidacies were formed and it was agreed that members of these committees should not be on the electoral list. It was also agreed that there would be strict guidelines regarding candidates’ donations. Hani Al-Masri director-general of Ramallah’s Masarat think-tank, told Arab News that Al-Qudwa’s move could be a game-changer. “Al-Qudwa combines clean hands, respected national presence, and popular support, it will be a game-changer if Barghouti supports the list,” he said. Al-Qudwa is a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and runs the Yasser Arafat Foundation. He resigned from the Fatah Central Committee in May 2018, but his colleagues in the committee soon convinced him to withdraw his resignation. He has never served time in an Israeli jail. The backing of Barghouti would strengthen his credentials in the eyes of many Palestinians. In a poll conducted in September by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, Barghouti received 61 percent of the vote versus 32 percent for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, although Haniyeh still defeated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by three points in that poll. In a subsequent December poll, Barghouti again beat the Hamas leader convincingly. Hamas is unlikely to challenge in the presidential race scheduled for July 30. Al-Qudwa stated in the meeting that he has no issue with rank members of the reform faction loyal to former Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan being involved in the Palestinian Democratic Forum, even though he has been critical of Dahlan. “The new group is intended only to be a forum and not a vehicle to solve Fatah’s many problems,” he said. “We are creating a list and our aim is not to cause a crisis.” Al-Qudwa provided a 22-point initial program for the forum and said that the new body “is open for engagement and discussion in the coming meeting scheduled for March 4.” In addition to laying out ideas about how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the program calls for unity between Gaza and the Wes Bank, the rebuilding of the PLO, and government efficiency, as well as addressing issues including democracy, the rule of law, fighting corruption, and gaining national independence for the Palestinian state using the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. The wide-ranging meeting also discussed negotiations, the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlements, how to protect and reclaim Palestinian land, women’s and children’s rights, and Palestinian martyrs and prisoners.

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Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed

Updated 03 March 2021

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed

  • The 78-year old, was first elected to lead the Cairo-based pan-regional body in 2016
  • Since its founding in 1945, the Cairo-based league has chosen an Egyptian diplomat as its chief, apart from 1979 to 1990

CAIRO: Egypt’s Ahmed Aboul Gheit was reappointed for a second term Wednesday as secretary general of the 22-member Arab League, a diplomatic source said.
The 78-year old, who served as Egyptian foreign minister between 2004 and 2011, was first elected to lead the Cairo-based pan-regional body in 2016.
“Arab foreign ministers unanimously decided to approve Egypt’s request to reappoint Arab League secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit for a new five-year term,” the source said.
Since its founding in 1945, the Cairo-based league has chosen an Egyptian diplomat as its chief, apart from 1979 to 1990, when a Tunisian was appointed and the headquarters moved to Tunis, after Egypt signed a peace deal with neighboring Israel.

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Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

Updated 03 March 2021

Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

  • In 2020, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees
  • A social media campaign encouraging both taking children home and financing them has also helped spark change

CAIRO: Yasmina Al-Habbal always wanted to take in an orphan but only did so last year after Egypt’s government eased regulations over who could do so and campaigned to change public attitudes, enabling her to take home baby Ghalya.
Formal adoption — where people permanently adopt a child, give them their surname and make them their legal heir, is not accepted in Islam due to the importance of respecting lineage, and not practiced in Egypt, although people are encouraged to sponsor children or foster them.
Complexities around Islam and adoption prevented some people from fostering and instead people chose to support children who remained in the full-time care of orphanages.
In January 2020 however, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees, and reduced the minimum level of education required, hoping that by increasing the pool of prospective foster parents it could make fostering more widespread and socially accepted.
A social media campaign “Yala Kafala” (Let’s sponsor a child) encouraging both taking children home and financing them, started by an Egyptian woman, has also helped spark change.
Habbal, 40 and unmarried, had always dreamt of having a daughter and said she faced social pressure when choosing to care for now seven-month-old Ghalya.
“My friends said to me: ‘how will you face society? What are you going to tell people? Are you going to tell Ghalya that she isn’t your child? Are you going to tell everyone else?’.”
Habbal assured her friends she would respond by telling people their prejudiced views were wrong, and she would tell Ghalya it didn’t matter where she came from.
“I’m going to tell Ghalya... ‘what is important is the positive change you’ve made to so many people’s lives’.”
She added she has a seen a change in attitudes to fostering, and her experience is encouraging others to apply.
“In this past year, the number of families who have applied to sponsor orphans shows just how much people have accepted it. People used to be afraid of it, but now, Egypt’s highest religious authority Al-Azhar, civil society organizations and the ministry of social solidarity are all trying to make the idea more widespread,” she said.
Reem Amin, a member of Egypt’s social solidarity ministry’s alternative families committee said its main goal was to remove the need for orphanages by 2025.
“An orphanage’s main goal is as a stopover point before the child moves to a foster home,” she said.
The ministry’s legal adviser Mohamed Omar said around 11,600 families have taken in orphans since January 2020 and another 11,000 orphans needed homes.
In the second half of 2020 as restrictions due to the pandemic began to ease, the ministry received 1000 requests from families wanting to sponsor orphans.
Cairo couple Mohamed Abdallah and his wife had initially failed to conceive a child of their own and decided to take in an orphan instead.
Months later, Abdallah’s wife Merna became pregnant and now they are raising their biological son Soliman and Dawood, their foster child. “I have a dream that they will be an example for a normal society — two brothers who love each other, even though they are not related by blood,” said Abdallah.


Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib

Updated 04 March 2021

Yemen’s army launches offensive in Taiz to relieve pressure on Marib

  • During the early hours of the offensive, the army troops liberated a number of villages

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Army has launched a new offensive in the southern city of Taiz to break a six-year-long siege by the Iran-backed Houthis and ease military pressure on government forces in the central province of Marib, a Yemeni army spokesperson in Taiz told Arab News on Wednesday. 

Abdul Basit Al-Baher said that hundreds of army troops on Tuesday night attacked Houthi-controlled locations on the western and eastern edges of the city, triggering clashes with the rebels. 

During the early hours of the offensive, the army troops liberated a number of villages and mountainous locations and killed at least 12 Houthis and destroyed military equipment. 

“The national army activated four battlefields in Taiz and managed to push Houthi militia from different locations,” Al-Baher said, adding that the army is pushing to break the Houthi siege on Taiz and open a strategic road that links Taiz with the Red Sea areas. If the government forces seize control of Al-Bareh, the epicenter of the fighting, government forces will be able to partially end the Houthi siege on Taiz and funnel fighters and military equipment from the western regions.

About the timing of the offensive, local Yemeni commanders say that the Houthis in Taiz have been weakened since they sent their elite forces and heavy equipment to participate in the movement’s offensive on the central city of Marib. 

“The Yemeni Army offensive partly aims to ease military pressure on Marib,” Al-Baher said. 

On Wednesday afternoon, artillery shells fired by the Houthis landed in areas close to Al-Thawra hospital in the eastern part of the city, residents said. No one was reportedly hurt in the shelling. 

The Houthis have imposed a siege on the city of Taiz, Yemen’s third-largest city, since early 2015, after failing to seize control of the city due to strong resistance from army troops and resistance fighters. 

The Houthi siege has stifled the densely populated city, pushing tens of thousands of people to the brink of famine and triggering condemnation from local and international rights groups.

Houthis earlier this month renewed a major offensive to recapture the central city of Marib, the Yemeni government’s last stronghold in the northern half of Yemen. 

In the western province of Hodeidah, a civilian was killed and his brother was wounded when an artillery shell fired by the Houthis exploded inside their house on Tuesday night in the town of Hays, south of Hodeidah city, local media said. 

The Joint Forces, an umbrella term for three major military units in the country’s western coast, said that Houthi sporadically shelled civilian areas in Hays, causing panic among residents. 

A truce imposed under the Stockholm Agreement in 2018 has largely failed to bring peace to contested areas in Hodeidah as local rights organizations say that hundreds of civilians have been killed in shelling and by land mines planted by the Houthis during the last three years.

Yemen’s government has hailed US sanctions on two Houthi military leaders for orchestrating terrorist strikes inside and outside Yemen. 

Yemeni Minister of Information Muammar Al-Eryani described the US decision as a “right step” on the path to punishing the Houthi group for rejecting peace ideas and launching deadly attacks on civilians across Yemen and in Saudi Arabia.

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