The army general who took control of Sudan in a coup 10 years ago has reasserted his authority by dismissing his Islamic fundamentalist mentor as legislative leader and dismantling the parliament his former ally was using to challenge him.
Interviews with residents of the capital, Khartoum, indicate widespread public approval of Lt. Gen. Omar Hassan Bashir's abrupt moves this week against Hassan Turabi, an academic who was poised to strip Bashir of much of the power he holds as self-appointed president.
The two men are fighting to lead the governing National Islamic Front, also called the National Congress Party, which remains widely unpopular. But given the choice, most northern Sudanese are said to prefer the military man who has spent the past year talking up peace in a country that is politically isolated and deeply weary of a 16-year civil war with Christian and animist factions of southern Sudan.
"There is general contentment that there has finally been a divorce in the house, but as in any divorce there's concern about what's going to happen next," said one Khartoum resident, who asked not to be identified. "I would say that people are genuinely happy but apprehensive, because I don't think our friend [Turabi] will go away very easily."
The crisis was sparked by Bashir's announcement Sunday that he was imposing a state of emergency and disbanding parliament two days before the body was to vote on a bill introduced by pro-Turabi legislators to reduce Bashir's presidential powers. Bashir said he made the announcement because all reconciliation attempts with Turabi, who was parliament speaker, had failed.
"It is said that two captains sink the ship, and frankly we decided to take these decisions to stop all this chaos," Bashir said at a news conference Monday. "We will not institute any arbitrary measure against any quarter, God willing."
Residents said the streets of Khartoum appeared normal today, with none of the huge military presence seen earlier in the week. Local newspapers contained full accounts of the rift, including Turabi's denunciations of Bashir's actions, which he called a coup, and an assault on "the people's constitution." But several observers said the momentum appeared to be with Bashir, who has apparently cemented relationships with at least two prominent hard-liners formerly allied with Turabi.
"Turabi's room for maneuverability is quite limited," said one analyst in Khartoum.
Turabi had been the master strategist of the National Islamic Front, credited with keeping the government in power despite its unpopularity at home and sanctions imposed by the United States, which regards Sudan as a terrorist state. Independent observers said that even many in his party have wearied of the Machiavellian PhD once routinely described as "charming."
"People admired him for what they could," said one diplomat. "But he is an intellectual, and I don't know of any state except the Vatican where an intellectual is in power."
Opinions differed on what was at stake in the power struggle. A spokesman for the State Department, which has led the effort to isolate Sudan, worried aloud that it was more a battle of personalities than policies. Sudan is violently split between its ruling Arab and Muslim north, and a black African, animist and Christian south that is fighting Khartoum's enforcement of Islam as the only legal religion.
"What we're looking for is a change of policies in Sudan, policies that would promote reconciliation, an end to the civil war . . . an end to prosecuting people for their religious beliefs, an end to the practice of slavery, a policy of reconciliation with neighbors, an end to support for terrorist groups," spokesman James Foley said Monday.
An author of a book on the southern rebel movement agreed. "If you look at the whole thing, there is not much difference between Bashir and Turabi," said Peter Adwok Nyaba, a southern Sudanese who lives in Nairobi. "They have this joint project of Islamicization and Arabizing. It's just a question of who will do it better now."
Others, however, see Bashir as a more pragmatic figure less bound by ideology than Turabi. They pointed to Sudan's recently improved relations with Ethiopia and a peace deal with Uganda brokered last week by former U.S. president Jimmy Carter.
CAPTION: Sudanese President Omar Bashir announces closure of parliament.