KHARTOUM: Sudanese security forces arrested Sudan’s top Islamist opposition leader overnight after he called for a Tunisia-style uprising in the country, family members said Tuesday.
Hassan Turabi and his bodyguard were taken into custody around midnight Monday, according to Turabi’s wife, Wessal Al-Mahdi.
She said the bodyguard, who was released early Tuesday, had bruises on his face, and claimed he had been beaten while in custody. Turabi, meanwhile, remains in detention.
Turabi’s son, Siddiq, said around eight other members of Turabi’s Islamic Popular Congress Party also were arrested.
The elder Turabi recently has spoken out against President Omar Al-Bashir’s government and has called for a popular revolt similar to the one in Tunisia that toppled the country’s authoritarian president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
Echoing her husband’s position, Turabi’s wife said the PCP is "against the government and we want to bring it down by any means."
"They will use violence and we will use rallies and slogans. This is what all the opposition forces in Sudan will do," she said.
A recent hike in the price of oil and basic commodities has sparked protests by university students and calls for the resignation of local officials.
Turabi’s challenge to Al-Bashir’s government comes at a tumultuous time for Sudan. Voters in the country’s south on Saturday wrapped up a weeklong referendum on independence that is widely expected to see southern Sudan split off into a new country.
Al-Bashir, who is wanted on an international indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the western region of Darfur, also faces rebellions in the west and east, as well as internal political opposition.
Turabi was the driving force behind 1989 military coup that brought Al-Bashir to power before. The two set up an Islamist-style government, until they fell out in 1999, and Turabi set up his own party.
He was the only Sudanese politician who has dared say Al-Bashir should surrender to an international court.
Turabi has been arrested several times in the past, most recently in May when he was held for seven weeks. His son Siddiq said the most recent arrest is a warning to the rest of the opposition.
"This is a message to the rest of the political opposition forces to shut up," he said.
A key figure in the regime of President Omar Al-Bashir for a decade after his 1989 coup, Turabi has become one of its fiercest critics and has led the opposition in urging a Tunisia-style uprising.
The authorities have long accused him of having links with the most heavily armed of the rebel groups in the war-torn western region of Darfur — the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) — and a news agency close to the security services said his latest arrest followed new evidence of their collaboration.
Turabi was last detained in May 2010, a month after Sudan’s first competitive polls since 1986, which he had denounced as fraudulent.
Bashir’s former ally was the only Sudanese politician to support a warrant issued for the president’s arrest by the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide over the regime’s conduct of the eight-year-old conflict in Darfur.
He was arrested in January 2009 two days after he urged Bashir to surrender to the world court.
A year earlier, Turabi was arrested after an unprecedented assault on Khartoum by the JEM, which saw the Islamist rebels reach the capital’s twin city of Omdurman, just across the Nile from the presidential palace, before being repulsed with heavy losses.
An ideologue with influence beyond Sudan’s borders, Turabi was one of the driving forces behind the introduction of Islamic sharia law in Sudan in 1983, which sparked a devastating 22-year civil war with the mainly Christian, African south that cost an estimated two million lives.
Since the 2005 peace deal which led to last week’s landmark vote on independence for the region, Turabi has repeatedly warned of the wider disintegration of the largest nation in Africa and the Arab world.
The Western-educated Turabi holds a master’s degree in law from London and has a doctorate from Sorbonne University in Paris.
He speaks English, French and German fluently as well as Arabic, and his language skills have helped him gain access to foreign news media through which he has issued repeated calls for an international Islamic revolution.
Born in the eastern town of Kassala in 1932 to moderately religious parents, Turabi had his first Koranic lessons from his grandfather, the head of a Sufi order of Muslim mystics.
Wooed by the Islamists after returning from his studies abroad, he became secretary of the Charter Front, a forerunner of the Muslim Brotherhood in Sudan.
Arrested three times in the 1970s under president Gaafar Nimeiri, he made up with the regime to became attorney general in 1979 and was a driving force behind Nimeiri’s fateful decision to impose sharia in 1983.
After the Nimeiri dictatorship fell in 1986, Turabi formed the National Islamic Front and ran unsuccessfully in presidential polls.
In 1989, he rallied behind Bashir, then an obscure military man who had just been promoted to general, to overthrow the democratically elected government of his brother-in-law, Sadeq Al-Mahdi.
As senior statesman, he became what many considered to be the real power in a country that he directed towards rigorous Islamic practices.
Sudan became a welcoming refuge for militant Islamists, including for a time Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, resulting in the regime being accused of sponsoring terrorism and its subsequent blacklisting by governments from the United States to Egypt.
Under Turabi’s influence, the regime used Islam as a rallying cry to recruit ideological shock troops for its war with southern rebels during the civil war.
But in 1999 Turabi spearheaded moves to limit Bashir’s powers in the culmination of a protracted power struggle, prompting the president to dissolve parliament and declare a state of emergency.
The following year he opposed Bashir’s bid for re-election and broke away from the president’s National Congress Party to form his own Popular Congress Party in opposition.
In February 2001, Turabi was arrested along with many of his followers after his new party signed a memorandum of understanding with the southern rebels.
He was released from house arrest in October 2003 and detained again in March 2004 after an alleged military coup in Khartoum.