True to Sudanese custom and elite camaraderie the Secretary of the Communist Party, Mohamed Ibrahim Nugud, was amongst those who paid Hassan el-Turabi (79) a visit following his release from imprisonment on 2 May. Reportedly, Nugud asked Turabi with an outstretched hand “Why did they release you early this time”? Nugud I suppose was voicing the public suspicion that behind Turabi’s release lurks the (im)probable rapprochement between his Popular Congress Party (PCP) and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), the two fratricidal wings of the Sudanese Islamic Movement. Local initiatives to that end recently surfaced in River Nile state, where hundreds of party members from both camps reportedly met on more than one occasion and even drafted a joint statement calling upon the leaderships of the two parties to overcome their differences and join forces once again, a necessity they claimed considering the challenges facing the country post-secession. The initiative moved to Khartoum where it was picked up by relatively junior NCP politicians of PCP extraction. At the ‘social level’ as described by Khartoum’s press, Ghazi Salah Eldin, the NCP figurehead responsible for the Darfur portfolio and the speaker of the party’s bloc in the national assembly, flanked by Sabir Mohamed el-Hassan, the ex-governor of the Central Bank of Sudan, and Ibrahim Ghandoor, the secretary for political affairs, paid Turabi a visit upon his release. Ghandoor at least was very vocal in demanding Turabi’s release shortly before it took place, probably on the knowledge that a decision to free the aging sheikh had already been reached.
Naturally, the Khartoum press flocked to Turabi to probe the intentions of the Islamist master. In all of his interviews Turabi simply let his temper out. He seemed frustrated and angry, not the cunning strategist he once was. In one interview he even drifted into colloquial Sudanese Arabic surrendering the modern standard Arabic that he usually insists on, and helped to popularize. Turabi invoked the Quran once and again to blame the Sudanese for not doing away with President Bashir’s regime arguing in the line of ‘the government they deserve’. He blasted his brother in law, Sadiq al-Mahdi, for zigzagging between opposition and appeasement with the NCP. Of course, the Umma chief also paid a courtesy visit to Turabi, and notably to Salah Gosh, the recently dismissed security advisor to President Bashir. Towards Gosh, Turabi had only Schadenfreude to show. He claimed in the fashion of an all knowing headmaster that the former security chief had too high aspirations, way beyond his means.
On the eve of the 30 June 1989 coup Turabi reportedly asked Omer el-Bashir to go the palace as President while he, the designer of the plot, goes to prison an inmate. Turabi’s brief imprisonment together with Khartoum’s politicians was intended then to hide the political identity of the coup. The trick worked briefly, the Egyptian government announced its support for the military takeover, and thereby ensured regional recognition for the new government. Even the Americans expressed their cautious welcome; an analyst from the Heritage Foundation demanded from President Bush the resumption of assistance to Sudan. Michael Johns concluded his analysis with the statement “The Bush administration can best serve US interest in the Horn of Africa by offering the new Sudanese government support, while also giving it the hard advice it will need to bring democracy and economic relief to a country that sorely needs it”. During the events of 1998-1999, when Turabi was forced into opposition, this episode was quoted repeatedly to support the claim that the split in the Islamic Movement was yet another bluff engineered by the conniver of old. The myth surrounding the man continues to survive, and today many believe that he, singlehandedly, is in a position to plot himself back into power between the quarrelsome camps of the NCP.
One journalist asked him whether he intends to retire from politics anytime soon considering his age and his legacy. Turabi, surprised and annoyed, replied “not till I die”.