JEM’s Failed Attempt at Regime Change

Picking up Alex’s question about the calculations of the JEM leadership, I believe this was a serious attempt at regime change—however over-ambitious or foolhardy it may now seem. JEM has said openly ever since it refused to sign the DPA that it has a new policy and that policy is regime change. In our new book—Darfur: A New History of a Long War, out this month—we quote someone who knows Khalil well as making the point that ‘Khalil strongly believes in a march to overthrow the regime from Darfur, Kordofan and South Sudan.’

All who know the JEM chairman well say he genuinely believes in an uprising of the marginalized masses, the disenfranchised of the Black Book that he helped write.

The trouble with the march on Omdurman is that it was uncoordinated. Khalil flew solo, and the attack collapsed before anyone could rise up (if they were inclined to, with JEM, rebellious child of the NIF, in the driving seat). The most successful blows the Darfur rebels have struck to date have been combined blows: the spectacular attack against El Fasher air base in April 2003 (SLA and JEM); the defeat of SAF in Um Sidir and Kariari in 2006 (G19, SLA Unity, JEM) etc. JEM acting alone failed. But not only JEM will pay the price. Three men—Khater Jali, Abdalla Abdelkarim Ateen and Mubarak Ahmad Jalilallah – were arrested in Khartoum yesterday for no better reason than they are Zaghawa and one of their neighbours, Suleiman Jamous, belongs to SLA Unity. That they are not SLA Unity, and that SLA Unity had no role in the attack on Omdurman, is irrelevant. They are Zaghawa, and they are the neighbours of a rebel.

Security sources within the regime admit privately that the Antonov bombardment of Shigeg Karo in North Darfur on 4 May was an attempt to catch JEM as it crossed the border from Chad with new vehicles and heavy weapons. JEM was gone by the time the Antonov struck. The dead and wounded were all civilians—many of them children.

The regime failed to catch JEM’s fighters as they set out. We can be sure it will try to catch them on the way back. There will be more Shigeg Karos. The failure of JEM is the failure of all the rebel movements. It is their disunity that makes peace, and war, impossible enterprises for the moment.

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One thought on “JEM’s Failed Attempt at Regime Change

  1. What happened in Khartoum will have severe implications on the Darfur peace process, where at best the Government has been dragging its feet. Now the Government has a perfect excuse to withdraw completely from the political process and increase its military campaign in Darfur. I personally believe that the Government has been exercising some form of restraint in Darfur, but that will no longer be the cause – I agree with you Ms. Flint we will be seeing many more Shigeg Karo’s before this is over. I sincerely hope there will be no return to the scorched earth campaigns of the early years of conflict.

    JEM’s decision to attack Khartoum, was not just badly planned, JEM obviously overestimated the amount of support it will receive from its ‘fifth column’ in the city and did not take into account the consequences of its actions on the everyday Darfurians and other Sudanese in the capital. The mass arrests of Zaghawa which Human Rights Watch has published and Ms. Flint alluded to, are the immediate consequence. More alarming would be the mounting distrust among other Northerners – Omdurmanians among others – who NOW feel personally threatened by the ‘Zaghawa’ uprising, which targeted their homes. Fighting always went to Khartoum, and has not in recent times touched Omdurman the oldest part of the city that has hosted everyone and anyone. What JEM did will play right into the Government’s hands who I suppose will now whip the public opinion in Sudan into a frenzy against JEM and the Zaghawa. There are many negative stereotypes about Zaghawas in particular within Northern Sudanese society, these will only feed into the angry sentiments on the streets today.

    JEM’s attack has placed the SPLM in a precarious situation, while attempting to broker unity among the movements and trying to bridge the gap between the Darfur movements and the NCP, this attack on Khartoum has clearly thrust the SPLM back full throttle towards the strategic partnership between the NCP and SPLM, of which the CPA and Khartoum are pillars remains untouchable (showing the naive who had assumed otherwise ). If the Darfur movements continue such escapades they could lose a valuable ally the SPLM, who despite their covert antics with the movements, understand that their partnership with the NCP on the security of Khartoum remains in the current context sacrosanct.

    The implications in terms of the international community’s role and position. Pressuring the government into a political negotiation is now more difficult than ever. This most recent attack will be milked by the government for all it’s worth to garner more international community support, and the fate of Chad remains in the realm of the unknown, if it wasn’t for the French support we might have seen an outright act of aggression from Sudan. I believe that Khartoum will retaliate, through increased support to the Chadian opposition groups.

    I conclude with some thoughts on the international community role again… UNAMID or UNMIS, Adada or Salim or Eliasson or Qazi? Who take the lead? A crisis in Khartoum but of obvious Darfurian proportions, which mission? And the peace envoys! My message to the international community is: we as the Sudanese have always understood that the joke is on us… Thank you for being part of the problem!

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