|the young Hassan al-Turabi|
Speaking on 16 November to the Voice of America Sudan’s veteran Islamist, Hassan al-Turabi, came very close to a mass blame of his fellow Sudanese for the ‘demise of the one Sudan. He said “This is not a country which has known dictatorship in history, but it is a little bit libertarian because it is in a continent where people are mostly rural and free”. Turabi’s statement echoes the hardcore prejudice of colonially reared Sudanese effendiya (singl. effendi), educated professionals and clerks, against the rural stock of the country, albeit in the twisted sense of an anthropological vice, namely libertarian tendencies and resistance to rule as such. Intending to grace democracy Turabi ‘cleverish’ ambiguity can easily count as a defence of central dictatorial rule as a safeguard against peripheral pulls.
Turabi added in scholarly tones that the Sudan’s failure to democratise is another reason for the country unravelling. He pointed out that the three military coups, 1958, 1969, 1989, have led to concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the central government which thus encouraged rebellions throughout Sudan, particularly in the South. For the sake of it, the same Turabi was a loyal bedfellow to the master of the second coup, Jaafar Numayri, and is the deposed sheikh of the third, Bashir’s 30th June 1989 coup.
To his credit Turabi, compared to many of his fellow effendiya, was able to see into the dialectics of Sudan’s colonial making. In a certain sense his Islamic Movement is inspired by the will for ‘de-colonisation’ and nourishes from its popular appeal. However his quest for a home-grown Sudan was a negation of the negation reverting back to a politically designed version of ‘Mohammedan Law’ extended to criminal offences and civil procedures, and to a fiasco decentralisation modelled after the British ‘indirect rule’ policy, whereby administrative borders reflect re-inscribed tribal spaces.
Sudan’s failure to democratise, in Turabi’s words, is but the name for the effendiya’s will to power, a colonially spoiled petit bourgeoisie that lived off the state. As the sole employer by and large of their professional services, and the guarantor of their wellbeing and privileges, Sudan’s effendiya class, military officers included, viewed themselves as the sole righteous heirs of the colonial master’s state. To them democratisation could only mean reversion to the ‘indigenous’ chaos of rural existence, to backwardness and stagnation.
In his supposed awakening to ‘democratic’ values Turabi cannot but preserve the patriarchal tones of the One who knows better. Already beyond his political peak he is trotting back to the effendiya old boys club that he had always feverishly discredited. Paradoxically, Bashir will probably count as ‘New Sudan’; he however is stubbornly ‘Old’.