A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Hasan al-Turabi (1932-2016)

I rarely post on weekends, but the passing of Hasan al-Turabi demands comment. From the 1970s until today, in power or sometimes in prison, he was a major figure in Sudanese politics and society, and a major figure in the spread of Islamist ideology, especially in Africa. Educated in law in Khartoum, London, and Paris with a Ph.D. from the Sorbonne). He was active in the Sudanese wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, In the 1960s he transformed that into the Islamic Charter Front, becoming its Secretary-General. With the 1969 coup by Ja‘far al-Numeiri, Turabi was jailed and later exiled. He returned under a national reconciliation agreement in 1977, and in 1979 became Numeiri's Justice Minister/Attorney General. After Numeiri was overthrown in 1985, the democratic parties united to keep Turabi out of power.

But not for long. After four years, in 1989,  another military coup brought President ‘Umar al-Bashir and a military regime to power. It was soon clear that the ideology behind the coup was that of Turabi's movement, now known as the National Islamic Front (NIF).

The NIF was essentially the real power throughout the 1990s. In various roles, including Speaker of Parliament,  Turabi was the chief ideologue of the Bashir regime.

In the 1990s, Turabi founded the Popular Arab and Islamic Congress as a sort of Islamist International, and Sudan was soon hosting a number of radical organizations, most famously including Usama bin Laden, but also Abu Nidal. This in turn led to international sanctions and an ostracism of Sudan, including a US air attack in 1998. In 1999, Turabi had a falling out with Bashir, and spent the following decade in and out of prison, and as an open critic of Bashir.

Out of power he advocated democracy, but when in power in the 1990s he was part of a ruthless and oppressive regime and supported radical jihadis like Bin Laden.

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