A consensus has emerged in the Middle East to support Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, seen as a victim of Western malice, regardless of his innocence or guilt for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
From Iran to Saudi Arabia, the message is the same: the arrest warrant for Bashir issued this month by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity in the Darfur conflict is an affront to Sudan’s sovereignty.
Some echo Bashir’s line that The Hague-based ICC is a tool of imperialists who covet Sudan’s oil, gas and other resources, or voice concern that the indictment could cripple peace efforts in the Darfur region and further destabilize the country.
Others decry the perceived double standards in international justice where alleged war crimes by Israel against Lebanese or Palestinians, or by the United States in Iraq, go unpunished.
But hypocrisy cuts both ways.
Many of the Middle Eastern powers that cry foul over the indictment of Bashir have skeletons in their own human rights closets and fear the legal precedent set by the ICC.
"That’s why they are in solidarity with Bashir. They are acting in their own self-interest, for self-preservation," said Hisham Kassem, an Egyptian rights activist.
Similar responses, couched in stronger language, came from Saudi Arabia’s regional adversaries, Iran, Syria and Hezbollah.
Syria called the ICC action a "flagrant violation of Sudan’s sovereignty and blatant intervention in its internal affairs."
In Tehran, the English-language daily Iran News said it was "a ploy by Western nations set on grabbing Sudan’s oil."
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused the ICC of being part of a "new ring of conspiracy" aimed at Sudan.
"It is a big scandal for those who hide their eyes from the massacres in which hundreds of thousands of lives are lost in many Arab and Muslim countries, but chase a president with unproven accusations and unverified investigations," he said.
International experts say at least 200,000 people have been killed in Darfur since mostly non-Arab rebels took up arms in 2003. Sudan’s government puts the death toll at 10,000.
Many of Bashir’s defenders assume the evidence for war crimes is false or concocted by the West. Such charges by Arab leaders resonate in a region where hostility to outside meddling is ingrained, especially if it looks Western-inspired.
"The ruler benefits because he keeps his monopoly on his national affairs and the ruled imagine that they are free of imperialist intervention," said Hazem Saghiyeh, a Beirut-based columnist for the pan-Arab newspaper al-Hayat.
For Arab human rights activists, who admit they are a tiny minority, the anger at Western moral inconsistencies is justified, but no excuse for inaction over Arab abuses.
"Yes, there is selective justice," said Nadim Houry, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch in Lebanon. "But the answer is to go for more inclusive justice. There should be justice for Darfur and also for Gaza and other victims."
He said it was ironic that various Arab organizations were hoping to persuade the ICC to investigate possible Israeli war crimes in the 22-day Gaza conflict that ended last month.
"At the same time they accuse this institution of being completely politicized and out to get the Sudanese president," added Houry.
Many Arabs despair of getting redress from international justice, believing that Israel gets a free pass from the United States whatever it does, regardless of international law.
"When these international principles are selectively applied, they are seen as purely political maneuvers, the justice of the victors," said Karim Makdisi, who teaches international relations at the American University of Beirut.
"If there was a real movement to try Israeli leaders for decades of war crimes, stretching from the 1940s until the last war in Gaza, you would find a lot more support for trials of Bashir or any number of Arab leaders," Makdisi said.