What got him into trouble was an interview with AFP in which he suggested that Sudan – where the Southern referendum is certain to end in secession, and with a president already wanted for war crimes – was ripe for a Tunisian-style revolution.
“This country has known popular uprisings before,” Turabi said, referring to revolts which toppled military regimes in 1964 and 1985.
“What happened in Tunisia is a reminder. This is likely to happen in Sudan,” he said, referring to the month-long deadly protests that prompted Ben Ali to take refuge in Saudi Arabia after 23 years of iron-fisted rule.
“If it doesn’t, then there will be a lot of bloodshed.”
Government security forces swooped hours later, claiming his party was planning protests. All trumped up of course. But one intriguing twist to this tale is the figure of Rachid Ghannouchi, exiled leader of Tunisia’s Islamist al Nahda party, who is watching events unfold from London as he considers returning to his homeland. Today he calls himself a moderate, progressive leader who has argued that women’s rights are central to modern Islam. Remind you of anyone?
Yes, Ghannouchi considers himself a student of Turabi, the man who plotted the rise of an Islamist government to power in Sudan and who invited the world’s most dangerous terrorists to Khartoum, including Osama bin Laden.
All of that is largely historical. Turabi is clearly not the threat he once was. But it’s just a reminder of how far his web extends – and what a fascinating character he remains.