Hassan al-Turabi, a regular guest of the security apparatus in Khartoum, was arrested again on 17 January; this time around, as in previous occasions, on the grounds of new evidence proving financial and organisational ties between Turabi’s Popular Congress Party (PCP) and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). The government forces had hit a major prize on 13 January in Western Darfur when they arrested leading figures in the JEM including Ibrahim al-Maz, the deputy of the Movement’s chairman Khalil Ibrahim. According to a statement published by the Sudan Media Centre, the media outlet of the security service, the captives had provided new proofs of the JEM-PCP link.
Significantly, the National Consensus Forces (NCF), the new brand name of the Khartoum coalition of opposition parties, had recently toned up their rhetoric against the NCP openly agitating for regime change Tunisian style. Turabi himself had stated just hours before his arrest that a popular uprising bringing about the overthrow of the NCP government is the only way to save Sudan from an imminent blood-bath. Now, why Turabi and not Sadiq al-Mahdi, the Umma Party chief and former prime minister, who, albeit in not so illustrative terms, had threatened the NCP with civil jihad, his code word for mass strike, as a possible course of action in case the government does not heed to his list of demands. And why not Farouq Abu Issa, the spokesperson of the NCF, who in a press conference on 16 January in the premises of the Communist Party in Khartoum had explicitly identified the overthrow of the NCP regime as the only exit from the political crisis in the country.
The NCP’s strategy seems to involve both appeasement of the mainstream opposition, namely the two sectarian parties, the Umma and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), and deterrence of the more recalcitrant anti-NCP elements, the PCP and the Communists - in case they show any teeth. In an editorial on 17 January, el-Tayeb Mustafa, the editor in chief of al-Intibaha, suggested a new government joining the NCP, the Umma Party, and the DUP, of course with President Bashir at the helm. Mustafa’s pronouncement, I claim, reflects the inner workings of the Bashir bloc inside the NCP. The same welcome to the DUP and the Umma was expressed by other NCP figures in government, namely the Information Minister, Kamal Obeid, and the Youth Minister, Haj Majid Siwar. The latter even claimed that contacts are underway with the two parties to bring them in Bashir’s proposed broad-based government.
One lesson of notice from Sudan’s previous revolutionary ruptures, the October 1964 revolution, and the 1985 Intifada, is that the sectarian parties, the Umma and the DUP, usually trail behind mass demands for regime change rather than lead them. Leadership of the mass protests as a rule falls in the hands of the petit bourgeoisie professionals, split between the Communist Party and the Islamic Movement.
So why check Turabi out? In the current arrangement of the opposition alliance he is more likely to generate the organisational matrix for a mass confrontation. On the other hand he is the least likely to transform into a freedom martyr in the making. His track record is simply too messy to allow him saltatory evolution into a libertarian Khomeini. The JEM connection in that sense works against him rather than for him. Turabi, for all practical purposes, is not the coming hit in the rump North Sudan.