Home | News    Friday 23 May 2008

FEATURE-Understanding the rebels’ attack in Omdurman

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May 22, 2008 (KHARTOUM) — The rebels of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM,) on 10 May, launched an assault on Omdurman, situated on the bank of the river Nile west of Khartoum. Sudan’s capital has been largely free of the violence that has killed at least 200,000 people and forced 2.5 million from their homes in Darfur. The rebels reached Khartoum after crossing about 1000 kilometers, including vast tracts of desert, in a short time with relatively little opposition from the government. As a result 200 people have died and hundreds were injured while the capital was paralyzed for three days.

Sudanese security forces display vehicles they claim were captured from rebels following the rebel attack last week, in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman, Sudan Thursday, May 15, 2008. (AP)

Lead by Khalil Ibrahim, the JEM is one of the biggest armed groups fighting government forces in Darfur. Their foundation can be traced back to the mid-1990s when a group of disillusioned Islamists, mainly from Darfur, started to make sense of the reality and true nature of the state in Sudan. In May and August 2000 this same group published, in two parts, the Black Book. The Black Book depends heavily on the government’s own statistical records and describes in detail the pattern of disproportionate political control by the people of northern Sudan and the marginalization of the rest of the country. In Alex Cobham’s paper titled “Causes of conflict in Sudan: Testing the Black Book”, he agreed that the Black Book data identified a pattern of political control by northern regions which has been unbroken during the post-independence period, encompassing a range of governments from military and Islamic dictatorships to democracy, with the northern bias being a constant factor. This is hardly a secret in Sudan but the JEM group broke a taboo that has, in the past, lead to any person who dared to raise the matter being declared a racist or regionalist

The clash in Omdurman between JEM and Sudanese government forces only lasted for three hours and could be seen as merely a one-second flash compared to the organized violence that has been visited on Darfur over the past five years. Of course the JEM might want to just drive home to the National Congress Party in Khartoum the message that war is a horrible and terrifying thing. It could also be a wake-up call for the oblivious residents of Khartoum who have for so long ignored the suffering in Darfur. Maybe those who were stranded in Khartoum and worried about the fate of their families and the agony of having their life threatened can now relate to the people of Darfur and the story of their never-ending nightmare.

The capital’s residents also witnessed the chaotic approach of a plethora of government forces that engaged in the battle of Omdurman – the Army, Police, Security forces, Special army, central reserve army, the popular police and the popular defense. No doubt to command and coordinate such a diverse group of units constitutes a major problem, but to have such a large array of security forces also indicates the level of insecurity the NCP feels. Given the government’s security obsession there is one nagging question in the minds of the people – how did the rebel forces enter Omdurman in the first place? The army commander’s justification was neither coherent nor honest. It reveals the very stark reality that with all the posturing and muscle they frequently display in front of unarmed civilians, they lack leadership and are plagued with a shocking level of incompetence. A multitude of forces wearing blue, light blue, green light green, brown, dark brown etc, posed in front of the bodies of young men to do some undignified gloating and falsely tried to impart a sense of victory.

Of course, one of the military commanders has said on public TV that “whoever we caught, we had him killed”. However, the myth that the government’s forces are invincible no longer exists. Another twist to the tale is the growing tension between the security forces and the army. While the security (with their tribal based special force being mostly from Jaaleen and Shigya) are loyal to the NCP, the majority of Sudan’s army rank and file are from Darfur, South Kordofan and Southern Sudan, and they clearly could not be trusted. This has created a somewhat chaotic reaction to the attack. Maybe, after all, the position of Khartoum’s regime is similar to the Qur’aning mythological tale wherein King Solomon had silently passed away, but, by God’s will, did not fall. He remained in this state for forty days and all this time the Jinns thought that he was still alive watching them work. But the termites were eating at the cane so that the body of King Solomon fell after forty days.

The UN, USA, European Community and most of Sudan’s neighboring countries (Egypt, Eretria, Libya) condemned the attack. But in the Sudan Tribune interview on 17 May, Khalil Ibrahim, head of JEM, accused the international community of impotence on the Darfur crisis and said, “We were waiting on the international community for two long years to put pressure on Khartoum to end the killing and oppression of the Darfuris”. Most Sudanese political parties, notable among them the Umma party, SPLM and Democratic Unionist Party, condemned the attack. The Communist party and other left-leaning parties such as Haq and the Sudan Liberal Party, had a more moderate and balanced response to the JEM’s attack on Omudrman. They issued statements calling for a broad national consensus on resolving the Darfur crisis and criticized labeling the rebel fighters as “Chadians”.

A number of civil society organizations and high profile Sudanese human right activists issued statements expressing their concern about the arbitrary arrests according to ethnicity, and warned against the rebel attack being used as a justification for a further crackdown on civil liberties that are already hugely restricted in Sudan. Al Haj warraq, a prominent journalist, remarked in his unpublished article titled “The Ingaz reap what they sew”, that the realties of the violence committed by the government in Darfur has reached Omdurman and that “we can not isolate Dafur from Omdurman if we want to understand why young men risk their life traveling more than 1000 km to Omdurman in almost a suicidal mission”.

Also, the rebel attack revealed the sinister and ugly face of racism that remains deeply imbedded in Sudanese society. The level of hatred spread on various online discussion forums, particularly racist insults such as “Abeid” and “mercenaries” directed towards people from western Sudan, while some people resorted to old divisions and words such as, “Gharaba” meaning westerners, a derogatory word in a Sudanese context used by river Nile tribes, and “Jalaba” which literary means exploitative merchants, used by people from western and southern Sudan.

Machiavelli once advised his prince that moderate punishment of his enemies would enable them to take revenge, but severe punishment would render them incapable. Many observers argue that Bashir and his government cannot afford to look weak on their own doorstep, especially as they face hostility from many groups. The authorities in Khartoum have started to round up suspects based on their ethnicity. USA Today reported that soldiers dragged the suspects across the asphalt in front of a crowd of onlookers, some of whom cheered, “Allahu Akbar!” or "God is great”. Many human rights organizations have expressed their concerns about the summary executions and arbitrary arrests of the Darfuri in Khartoum.

Following the chaotic scenes the world witnessed after the attack in Omdurman, Sudan needs true wisdom of an historic magnitude geared towards genuine democratic transformation and real justice, to save the country from the abyss. However, the ultimate question is, where will this wisdom come from? Sudan lacks unifying national symbols, or anchoring points of reference in history that could unite the whole nation. The country’s “hypothetical political status” that was carved by the hand of history and colonial powers has predetermined its current fate. How we arrived at this state of affairs is a tangled tale and in a perfect world, of course, we could have been an oasis for peace, justice and security if only we had had the right vision back then.

Indeed the Omdurman incident has already focused more attention on Darfur and the government is obviously shaken and humiliated by the attack. As well as being unpopular across Sudan, where just about every region outside Khartoum complains of being oppressed and neglected, Bashir has to struggle to maintain political alliances within his inner circle, and keep a balance between his over-confident security force cabal and the disgruntled army ranks. Undoubtedly he will try to secure more domestic and regional political alliances to help him find a solution for the Darfur crisis, because what else could he possibly do.

Given the current unprecedented economic boom in Khartoum, the attack has some direct economic implications when for almost three days after the attack there was a huge disruption to economic activities. Most governmental and private business virtually stopped. The Parliamentary Economic Committee requested the government to compensate for the losses during the attack. The Ministry of Finance has indicated that insurance companies will cover the cost, and for those who are not insured the government will cover their losses. However, various sources state that the cost of the 10 May attack by JEM could exceed $500 million US dollars.

Dr Adel Abdel Aziz, the Director of the information centre at the Ministry of Finance, has expressed his concerns that the events of 10 May could have an impact on the influx of foreign investment which needs a more secure environment, and that might lead to an increase in the cost of foreign investment in Sudan. The State Minister in the Ministry of Investment has been more optimistic, he emphasized that Sudan has become a magnet for foreign investment and what happened will have limited impact on the economy. The Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Ali Mahgoub told a local newspaper that tourism hasn’t been affected by the events in Omdurman.

According to many observers the events in Omdurman have affected the manufacturing, commercial transport services, and banking system for only a few days, and the Businessmen’s Trade Union has emphasized that the attack will have very limited impact on investment in Sudan in the long term.

Whatever predictions are being made about the effects of the Omdurman attacks it is obvious that they have only highlighted again the deep divisions in Sudan society. There is desperate need now for clear and meaningful plan by the government to improve the situation for all Sudanese people.

(ST)

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  • 23 May 2008 09:16, by Samani

    Good article, thanks.

  • 23 May 2008 11:20, by sudanson

    Who gave Arab league the right to decide who will attend peace talks and who will not? Arab league is an irrelevent organisation that has failed for years to solve their own Arabs problems in palestine, Irag, lebanon and others,Arabs needs to focus on fighting terrorism that is infecting the world from their countries. Let them stay away from the Darfur issue if they want real peace. There will be no real peace in Darfur and North Sudan without JEM involvement,JEM is now the major rebel group in Darfur, they have Islamic ties but so do the NCP of el bahir. Any stupid move to exclude JEM by Arabs will be opposed by African Union. Also Arab league need to condemn the killing of Africans by the Sudan Arab government, Arab league need to condemn the detention and torture or Darfur citizens in Sudan capital Khartoum which is ruled by Arab racism. It has to condemn both sides not just one side, this is Arab hypocrisy. Arab league is already dead organization but still walking.

    • 23 May 2008 16:15, by Sihs

      JEM so far inflicted heavy loss of manpower and weaponary , it needs longtime t gather it is amputated extremities , specially with its leader who is not showing up on TV up to now ????????????????????
      it was a wrong move.and the cost is both political and ground fall.
      But Darfur Crisis is the foremost priority for Sudan to go forward or otherwise demise and partition of the whole country.

      • 24 May 2008 01:05, by alex taban

        Can someone stop this stupid sins who claim him self to be the horn of sudan before he get his ass kick by the JEM strongest and fearless guys? becouse i am telling you that they are two minuts away from were you are just watching you bitcing around.

  • 23 May 2008 15:18, by Thomas A. Valter

    Samani,

    you are really a pure Arab and behaving like a colonist of african by your usual ugly opinion towards african people.

    But your time is very very near.

  • 25 May 2008 09:49, by Idris

    That is very good article straight to the reality and the truth which is deniable by the Government and covering the citizens to admit it. But every person has his end and the Government will not last forever..whatsoever good or bad they have done change has to happen for better of Sudanese as unite or else let us split the country to 4.

    It has to be suicide bomber and sophisticated sniper to make the rulers behave and govern the country in justice.



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