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Fame, fortune and a social conscience

If you were passing by the American University in Cairo yesterday afternoon, you might have been forgiven for thinking there was rock concert held at its gates. The air trembled with full-throated, bloodcurdling screams. If the Arabs had pulled off a few of those back in Andalucia, the Spaniards would still be speaking Arabic. The …


If you were passing by the American University in Cairo yesterday afternoon, you might have been forgiven for thinking there was rock concert held at its gates.

The air trembled with full-throated, bloodcurdling screams.

If the Arabs had pulled off a few of those back in Andalucia, the Spaniards would still be speaking Arabic.

The reason for the aural fireworks? Actor George Clooney was at the university.

Actually, he was there with a few other equally impressive people; Don Cheadle, an actor of enormous versatility and vibrancy, Joseph Cheek, a speed skater with enough Olympic medals to tip over a small rowing boat and Tegla Loroupe, a long distance runner of remarkable grace and resilience.

Mostly, though, people screamed at Clooney; he has that effect on people, apparently.

This small group of individuals, all noteworthy in their own way, had chosen to address students from AUC on a subject they felt was worth being bounced all over the world for; the ever-escalating humanitarian crisis in Darfur, Sudan.

The situation in Darfur currently stands at an estimated 400,000 people killed – according to the Coalition for International Justice – and another 2.5 million people displaced and homeless. People have been dying since the summer of 2003.

It’s unlike the previous Sudanese civil war, which was fought mostly between the largely Muslim North and the largely Christian and Animist South. In Darfur, much of the carnage has been attributed to the Janjaweed, herding tribes of Arab decent, who have attacked and driven off various ethnic tribes of the non-Baggara, who are mostly farmers.

Although the Sudanese government has maintained that it is not supporting the Janjaweed, this claim holds water only with those credulous enough to believe that the Tooth Fairy is actually in business and that George W. Bush won the presidential elections fair and square the first time around.

It took around 400,000 deaths for the United Nations to finally get around to passing a resolution (1706) on sending just over 17,000 peace-keeping troops to the area to help out the 7,000 African Union troops busy trying to dodge bullets there. The Sudanese government said that it would consider such a move a foreign invasion and promptly launched a military offensive against the region.

There has been much talk, most of it derisory, against celebrities who feel they need to speak up on various subjects, be it genocides or foreign policies. One supposes that much of this derision comes from people who have never raised a finger, or a voice in support of anything that does not benefit them directly.

Celebrities are people and as such, they are hardly homogenous. There are bright ones, not so bright ones, sincere ones, those who have their own political agendas and those who’ve had a little too much plastic surgery, perhaps, to make too much sense.

However, I fail to see why someone who goes out of their way to take a concern in someone else’s suffering should be taken to task.

In this case, it’s Darfur.

The governments of the Middle East have thus far failed to have any impact on the Sudanese government. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that to the people of the Middle East, the Darfur doesn’t rate very highly on their ‘things to be concerned about’ list. Most of us live in countries where we have quite enough national worries and injustices to worry about other those in other countries. And if we think international injustice, we seem to have exhausted ourselves worrying about Palestine (possibly because that gives us an excuse to rant at Israel.)

Sudan is part of the Arab League. As far as Egyptians are concerned, it’s our neighbor- we share borders. How can we not worry about what’s happening in Darfur? At which point did we decide that our own problems had to obliterate any sense of any other injustice. How can we rant at the West for its attack on the Muslim world when we can simply allow Muslims to be slaughtered on our doorstep and not raise an eyebrow?

To give credit where credit is due, the Egyptian government has shuttled tirelessly back and forth, mediating on this crisis with the Sudanese government. A peace plan brokered some months ago has since broken down and the crisis continues.

This is currently one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. We cannot stand by and content ourselves with simply making all the right, morally aggrieved, sounds.

Celebrities who use their fame to put across a point are to be commended for refusing to lapse into ease and apathy. As Don Cheadle astutely put it, “You have to use whatever soap-box you can. You just get on there and hope you get your point across.

AUC is a fitting place for this group to have chosen to appear at; the university has long been a platform for liberal thought and socially responsible ethics.

It’s sad that it took a group of famous actors and athletes to get us to think about a crisis on our doorstep, But hey, if it works, don’t knock it.

Mirette F. Mabrouk is the publisher of The Daily Star Egypt.

Topics: Investment

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