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Business as Usual for the Arab League

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The Arab League is whitewashing mass murder in Syria. But for the man leading its team of observers, what is happening on the streets of Syria is merely business as usual.

Mohammed Ahmed Dabi, a Sudanese general, has declared that the Syrian government is making significant progress toward the Arab League goal of restoring peace to Syria. Yet, the killing continues in plain sight: snipers target unarmed civilians, and dissidents are reportedly packed into shipping containers and tipped into the sea to drown. Even the ever-cautious United Nations estimates that 5,000 have died in the uprising.

Opposition activists are incredulous, saying that the Arab League observers are either blind or on the side of the Bashar Assad's regime.

Events in Syria bring to mind an illuminating exchange in that most profoundly political of books, Through the Looking Glass:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that's all."

So it is for the Arab League's General Dabi: "Significant progress" could mean anything at all. A brief glance at his career resume provides the necessary context. Dabi has been in the frontline of Sudan's campaign of ethnic cleansing against its own civilians, stretching over decades and claiming well over two million lives. In recently-independent South Sudan, in Darfur, and now in the Nuba Mountains, Abyei and Blue Nile areas, the Sudanese armed forces are hunting unarmed civilians like animals, indiscriminately bombing residential neighborhoods

What Dabi and his team are witnessing in Syria is truly business as usual in Sudan. Freedom House ranks the totalitarian regime of President Bashir of Sudan as among the 10 least free nations in the world. Despite all the international treaties Sudan has signed, there is no media freedom, no freedom of speech or association, no right to a fair trial. Security services are used to intimidate anyone with a more inclusive and democratic vision of society.

When students tried to ignite the Arab Spring in Sudan they were crushed with unhesitating cruelty and brutality. Dissent is not tolerated, and a corrupt elite in the capital, Khartoum, grasp the reigns of all economic, social and political power and influence. As in Syria, it is the system, not just the president, that is rotten to the core.

Over the years Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others have cataloged the merciless elimination of all ethnic groups who do not embrace Khartoum's miserable vision of an intolerant and repressive all Arab, all Muslim society. The Sudanese general sent to Syria by the Arab League is a fitting representative of his unhappy and dysfunctional nation. It is hardly surprising that he finds nothing too concerning about the slaughter in Syria.

Yet, the Arab League General Secretary Nabi Elaraby declares that Dabi is "a capable military man with a clean reputation." That tells us a great deal about the Arab League's standards.

Yes, we in the West are appallingly hypocritical, invading countries when it suits our geopolitical or economic interests, and turning a blind eye to massive human rights abuses and genocide when intervention would be inconvenient or unprofitable.

But that does not mean that we should remain silent when regional bodies like the Arab League or the African Union display equally profound cynicism. In the case of Syria, the Arab League volunteered to send a mission, professing concern for the loss of life and initially condemning the attacks on unarmed civilians. It makes is doubly disappointing when it emerges that the mission will merely rubber stamp Assad's repression and brutality.

We are used to the Arab League and African Union condemning Western imperialism while ignoring the suffering endured by its citizens at the hands of some of its own crooks and thugs. Too many of its leaders speak for no one but their own cosseted ruling class. They are selective in their concern for human rights, just as we in the West are.

No regional body represented by Sudan's general Dabi can or should be taken seriously. Just as no Middle East peace envoy should be given a seat at the table when his name is Tony Blair. Humpty Dumpty indeed.