Opposition arrested in Sudanese power struggle

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AllAfrica - Sudan, 22 February - In an ongoing power struggle among the Islamist rulers in Khartoum, President al-Bashir's formerly closest ally and ideologist, Hassan al-Turabi, yesterday was arrested, according to media reports. An estimated 30 opposition politicians of Turabi's Popular National Congress (PNC) have been detained after Turabi announced an agreement with southern rebels, SPLA. The government is "now detaining anyone who leaves my house," Turabi stated.

Hassan al-Turabi was suspended as secretary-general of Sudan's ruling National Congress Party in May 2000 after having been the main ideologue of the Islamist government and the mentor of President al-Bashir since he came to power in a coup in 1989. Turabi was seen as a Muslim fundamentalist and hardliner when in power. As a guarantor of the alliance between Islamists and the military, Turabi's position became too powerful for the president. Since the break between Turabi and al-Bashir, the president managed to become re-elected in December 2000 (in an undemocratic poll boycotted by country's main opposition groups) and to strengthen the presidential power.

Turabi has since formed the opposition party Popular National Congress (PNC), which was not allowed to participate in the December elections. He has been speaking out against President al-Bashir, threatening to expose government secrets and allegedly orchestrated student and other protests. Turabi's latest move was to sign a joint memorandum with the leader of the SPLA rebel group, John Garang, in Geneva on Wednesday, agreeing on "the escalation of popular resistance to force the government to depart from its totalitarian course and let the nation choose a patriotic government that achieves just peace and builds true democracy that preserves liberties and basic human rights." 

The memorandum also surprisingly acknowledged the right of Southern Sudanese to self-determination and called for a federal state. "The two sides have agreed to work jointly for putting an end to the Sudanese crisis and to establish a democratic system, just peace and a federal government in Sudan," the paper said. In power, Turabi had been seen as the key factor in the country's 18-year-old civil war between Khartoum and the SPLA. 

The Khartoum government reacted with outrage to Turabi's and Garang's joint memorandum. "It is a memo of understanding to target the government," the general secretary of the ruling National Congress party, Ibrahim Ahmed Omar, told PANA on Wednesday. "This memo does not serve the country's interests," Omar added. 

Turabi on Wednesday told the pan-Arab Asharq al-Awsat newspaper "I am expecting and preparing to be detained at any time" following the memorandum. "This state which claims that it is an Islamic state and uses Islam as its slogan, has narrowed people's freedoms and shoved the innocent in jail," Turabi told Asharq al-Awsat. Turabi was arrested shortly after giving the interview.

Since then more than 30 senior officials of Turabi's PNC party have been arrested in Khartoum and elsewhere in the country, PNC Information Secretary Mohammed al-Amin Khalifa told AFP. There has been no official statement on these new arrests. Armed police have deployed around the party headquarters. Also the Rai al-Shaab newspaper, attached to Turabi and the PNC, seems to have been closed down by the police. 

Although Turabi does not hold any official posts, his position in Sudan is still considered strong, especially within the clergy and the universities. There is a considerable risk of popular revolt in Khartoum after the power struggle between Sudan's two strongmen resulted in the arrest of Turabi.

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