AL TOURABI, Hassan

Born in 1932 in Kassala (eastern Sudan)  to a Sufi Muslim Sheikh, Hassan Al Tourabi received an Islamic education and later graduated from Khartoum, Oxford (UK) and the Sorbonne (France). He describes himself as an intellectual, a « thinker » of Islam. In fact, he has been present in the political arena from 1970s onwards and still plays an important role in Sudanese poltics today.

He was a founding member of the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood Movement and became one of its leaders during the popular uprising of October 1964 against President Ibrahim Abbud. For the next five years, Al Turabi was the Secretary General of the Islamic Charter Front (political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood) that advocated an Islamic constitution and opposed communism. However, when general Gaafar Numeiri took power in 1969, Turabi’s party was dissolved and its members arrested. Turabi himself spent six years in custody, after which he escaped to exile in Libya.

After a reconciliation between the President Numeirihe and the Islamist leader in 1979, Turabi’s was appointed in turn Minister of Justice – and thus had the opportunity to promote the Sharia in Sudan – and head of the diplomacy under Gaafar Numeiri (1979). After a short detention in 1985, being suspected of fostering a plot in favour of Iran, he dissolved the Islamic Charter Front and founded the Islamic National Front (INF).

He then elaborated his chart of Sudan, National unity and diversity, a legislative instrument that rejected the neutral solution of secular right. According to Tourabi the Sharia should be adapted to the various regions and customs in order to protect the minorities, a pious wish that did not really match the reality in Sudan.

In 1988 he took part in the government formed by Sadeq al-Mahdi, this time as vice-Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. His party did not participate in the new government formed on the 25th of March 1989 and overthrown the same year by Gen. Ahmed El Bashir. The General’s led coup, instigated and supported by the INF, was officially intended “to save the country from rotten political parties”. The coup was also aimed at setting up an Islamic system of government and at preventing the signature of a peace agreement with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).

Although Turabi’s  political party ws forbidden, like all the others, his friends and supporters were numerous both in the government and in the army. Turabi himself was considered to be the power behind the scene during the nineties, first as head of the NIF and from 1996 onwards as President of the Parliamentary Assembly. From the 25th to the 28th of April 1991, Tourabi organized a Popular Arab Islamic Conference in Khartum attended by delegates coming from 45 States with a Muslim majority or important muslim minorities. the conference intended to promote the Sudanese capital as a major centre in the Islamic world. A second Arab-Islamic conference, with Tourabi being re-elected as its Secretary-General, was organized from the 2nd to the 4th of December 1993 and attended by 500 delegates, representing various Islamic groups spread out through the whole world. They all share the refusal of  American hegemony. The discussion focused mainly on the challenges for the Arab-Islamic world facing the new international order dictated by the West. The purpose of the conference was clearly to become the popular challenger of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. The Government of Sudan stopped hosting the PAIC in 2000.

Under Turabi’s auspices, during the early and mid 1990s, the Sudanese government welcomed several terrorist leaders in Khartoum. Carlos, Ossama Bin Laden, Abu Nidal and others resided in the Sudanese capital during those years.

After the legalisation of political parties in January 1999, Hassan al Turabi and President Bachir founded the National Congress Party. As Speaker of the Assembly, he introduced a bill in November 1999 to reduce the President’s power. The President replied with the dissolution of the Parliament and the declaration of a state of emergency. The power struggle between him and President Bachir led to the arrest of Turabi and some of his colleagues in 2001 on charges of undermining the state.

Mr. Turabi was released in October 2003 after the Sudanese government pledged to free all political  detainees. Mr. Turabi was detained again in April 2004 over an alleged plot to overthrow President Bachir. The National Islamic Front headquarters were closed and  its activities suspended. Mr. Turabi faces a possible condemnation of ten years of prison.

Mr. Turabi is married and has one son. His brother in law, Sadiq al-Mahdi, is a former Sudanese Prime Minister, leader of the Ansar religious sect and President of the Ummah Party. Turabi’s marriage with Wisal al-Sadiq was seen by some as a political alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Ansar sect.