President Omar al-Bashir is a military dictator who rules Sudan with an iron fist. Yet even he cannot resist the temptation of making a magnanimous gesture for propaganda value as he announced the pardon of British teacher Gillian Gibbons

President Omar al-Bashir is a military dictator who rules Sudan with an iron fist. Yet even he cannot resist the temptation of making a magnanimous gesture for propaganda value as he announced the pardon of British teacher Gillian Gibbons 2

President Omar al-Bashir is a military dictator who rules Sudan with an iron fist. Yet even he cannot resist the temptation of making a magnanimous gesture for propaganda value.

His decision to pardon and free Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher who was locked up for allowing schoolchildren to name a teddy bear ”Mohammed”, was designed to show the reasonable, compassionate side of Sudan’s regime.

Yet the mediators who prodded Mr Bashir towards this decision had to be carefully chosen.

The Sudanese leader, who seized power in a military coup and gave Osama bin Laden refuge in Khartoum for four years in the 1990s, is waging a brutal war in Darfur in the teeth of international condemnation.

Mr Bashir was never going to back down over Mrs Gibbons in the face of direct pressure from Britain. Neither David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, nor Rosalind Marsden, the British Ambassador in Khartoum, stood a chance of persuading him to free the teacher.

Yet Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi, the two Muslim peers from the Labour and Conservative benches respectively, were ideally suited for this task.

Before his fellow Muslims, Mr Bashir could afford to be magnanimous and take the opportunity to show the compassionate side of Islam.

By releasing Mrs Gibbons, Mr Bashir has also managed to distract attention away from Darfur.

His regime is actively engaged in obstructing the deployment of peacekeeping troops in the war-torn region, risking more condemnation and the possible imposition of United Nations sanctions.

Instead of having to explain why he is allowing the killing in Darfur to continue, Mr Bashir can bask in the gratitude of Lord Ahmed and Lady Warsi and the relief expressed by Gordon Brown.

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