Rebels in Khartoum

All is earily quiet here in Khartoum this afternoon, following the Darfur rebel attack last night in Omdurman, just across from the Nile. Everyone seems pretty shocked that JEM managed to get so close, though they were far outnumbered by government forces and had no real chance of ‘taking the city’, as they claimed they had done. I have just spent some minutes trawling through the press coverage of this incident – which I was just far too busy to contribute to – when I see, once again, how so many outlets in the UK and America have missed the essence of the attack, by cobbling together snippets from news wire stories and pretending that the copy is their own.

So here, for what it’s worth, is my take on things.

Firstly, although I am rather astonished by the speed and logistical finesse of the attack (get out a map of Sudan to see the distances involved), I am not actually as shocked as many other people seem to be. For months, I have been writing that JEM is the only real threat to peace in Darfur, and now it looks as though they have validated my position. It is nice to feel smug.

So, what did JEM hope to achieve in their attack? Did they really think they could bring the government to their knees?

Far from it. What this attack represented was a warning strike against the government, a sort of cry that JEM should be taken seriously. I have it on good authority that the government have been holding long negotiations with the SLA rebel group in Darfur, and despite constant whinging and whining from Adbul Wahid, the rebel leader, were close to making quite an attractive deal. This was a very clear message to the government that it is not just the SLA they should worry about. It is JEM that represents the real threat. And at least, whatever you want to say about Dr Ibrahim Khalil (the JEM leader), at least he is in Sudan and not wining and dining in the Champs Elysee of Paris. Abudul Wahid still won’t grant me an interview – and after that snide comment, I’m not sure I favour my chances in the future.

And, yes, Chad probably did give some support to the rebels. How much is anybody’s guess, but it is well known that there are strong ties across the border.

The coverage about this attack has really irritated me, in general, and I don’t know if it is the journalists fault or the editors. The one thing that has not been made clear is the set up in Darfur. VERY briefly, there are numerous rebel factions in Darfur, all fighting for different reasons. Many of these have not converged, at the insistence of the UN, and can basically be boiled down to around five. The four that are prepared to play ball and JEM, who most definitely wants to be the one to score all the goals. The biggest groups are the SLA and JEM (though both can be sub-divided into smaller factions). The SLA was formed to call for more rights for Darfur, in the fear of encroaching Arabisation. JEM was formed in the late 1990s, when harliner Hassan al-Turabi and his cronies were thrown out of the government. In other words, JEM are pre-dominently Islamic – though you would wonder to see the news coverage today. Al-Turabi denies that he is pulling the strings behind JEM, but inner-circle speculation on this is rife. I daresay that this is where the suggestion of an attempted military coup comes from, as I saw in a few American papers. Personally, I have nothing that makes me think the attack was a coup – I just think it was JEM saying “I am here”.

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3 Responses to “Rebels in Khartoum”

  1. AK Says:

    Thanks for the analysis and good luck on your career progression to a rebel leader.

  2. western journalist Says:

    “The coverage about this attack has really irritated me, in general, and I don’t know if it is the journalists fault or the editors.”

    It’s probably a bit of both, although as a journalist I blame the editors. The rather anodyne story I wrote on Saturday night describing an attack on Omdurman had turned into a near-certain coup by the time it appeared in the next morning’s paper.
    I’ve lost count of the number of times editors have asked me to “get the stuff about genocide near the top”

  3. Khalil’s passing « Blake Evans-Pritchard’s Weblog Says:

    […] Movement (JEM) were marching on Khartoum. Parallels started to be drawn with May 2007, when rebels from the same movement launched an attack on the northern outskirts of Khartoum, in Omdurman. The attack ultimately failed to topple the government, but was of huge symbolic importance – […]

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