Hassan al-Turabi descended lately upon Egypt with his accustomed vigour. Over the past few days the veteran Islamist occupied the media with a stream of lengthy interview performances and public appearances where he effectively reinvented himself to the ‘revolutionary’ Egyptian scene. The sheikh was barred for more than twenty years from entering the country under Mubarak on the grounds of his alleged involvement in the 1995 attempt on the life of the former Egyptian head of state in Addis Ababa. Over and over again he pleaded innocent claiming that the whole episode was the making of his deputy, Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, and the chief of the Sudanese security organs at the time, Nafie Ali Nafie. As is his habit, Turabi refrained from explicitly naming the two gentlemen and only referred to the posts they occupied. He categorically denied any knowledge of the plot adding that even President Bashir was in the dark about the official Sudanese involvement in the incident.
Judging by his television performances Turabi in Cairo appeared fresh and engaged. He enjoyed the publicity and overwhelmed his interlocutors with his passionate rants and his neologisms. ‘The sheikh of freedoms’ as he is described by his followers in the Popular Congress Party (PCP) presented his new liberal self in the language of Islamic reform. He criticized the standard doctrines of the Islamic movements, the jihadists as well as the reformers in the fashion of the Egyptian Moslem Brotherhood, arguing that they lack the necessary figh (Islamic jurisprudence) to address the challenges of the current age, in particular the questions of governance and economic management. The liberal Turabi went to great lengths to root his rediscovered passion for parliamentary rule in the early phases of Islam claiming that the Prophet Mohamed never adjudicated against popular consent, and that the first Caliphs were actually elected by a sort of popular vote where even women took part. According to the sheikh, from that moment of primordial democracy, a Moslem ‘let a hundred flowers blossom’ if you like, the entire political history of Moslem societies is but a tale of relentless degeneration. In the same vein Turabi argued that the Medina of the Prophet united Moslems, Jews, Christians as well as disbelievers in what would be today termed a tolerant multi-cultural polity governed by a written arrangement, the Medina Document, a proto-constitution in Turabi’s assessment.
The same Turabi had in the early 1990s claimed with equal conviction that the Moslem umma was in no need for political parties, and that partisan divides only served the interests of the umma’s Western enemies. He described the Westminster model of democracy as defunct arguing that the distinction between left and right had lost its relevance with the collapse of the socialist bloc. Turabi then chewed on Huntington and Fukuyama to pronounce Islamic liberation as the next game in town, the mirror claim of Huntington’s prophecy of an imminent clash between the Western and the Islamic civilisations.
When asked why his own attempt at forging an Islamic political order in Sudan did not meet his aspirations Turabi laid the blame squarely on the military and secondarily on the corrupting influence of power on his own disciples, the cadres of the National Islamic Front (NIF). He added however that the Islamists in power failed to generate the required figh to run a state along Islamic principles, a matter he stated that Islamic scholars had largely ignored throughout the history of Moslem societies. Turabi’s contribution to this political figh is to be found in a rather confused text he published in 2004, al-Siyasa wa al-Hukm (Politics and Government), in essence a polemic against the ‘dictatorial’ diversion of the National Congress Party (NCP) regime under President Bashir where he wrote “The organised group that plotted the military takeover in Sudan failed to open up to pious common Muslims or to follower who achieved enlightenment through the evolving motion of revolution. Instead, the military leaders succumbed to the vices of apparent revolutionary success and the lust for power. They even reneged against the guiding thinkers of the revolution, since the revolution relied on the effective power of the military not on the enlightening virtues of its direction, and on the bureaucratic obedience of soldiers rather than the response of the masses, who were to be rallied with or against their will.”
In response to the Islamic Movement’s campaign for an Islamic constitution in the 1960s the late Secretary of the Communist Party, Abd al-Khalig Mahjoub, published a pamphlet where he argued that the Moslem Brothers had no concrete project to offer in terms of political, economic and social reform, apart from the sloganeering with Islamic values. He recognized then what an attraction the reference to the egalitarian principles of early Islam would represent to the Moslem masses and advocated the counter-notion that ‘socialism is the Islam of the 2o’s century’. Separately, Abd al-Khalig criticized his own party for failing to comprehend the class origins and social configuration of President Abboud’s military government (1958-1964). He wrote that the party opposed the regime solely on the grounds of its dictatorial nature but did not develop the requisite knowledge to grasp its articulation in the struggle of social forces in the country. The same could be said about Turabi’s recent infatuation with parliamentary rule. It is but another instance of his ‘sloganeering’ in the face of a regime that represents the real of his political project. The ‘sheikh of freedoms’ has no other intellectual trick to play than to project his Islamised liberalism back to an invented Medina proto-democracy where the Moslems of the seventh century supposedly established the germs of constitutional government long before the European evolution of similar principles.