Home | News    Monday 10 September 2007

INTERVIEW: Sudan Turabi says international community has no colonial motives in Darfur


By Ahmed Elzobier

September 10, 2007 (KHARTOUM) — The Sudanese Islamist leader Hassan Abdullah al-Turabi, said that international concern towards Darfur crisis is raised by the humanitarian tragedy of the region, adding there are no colonial motives.

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Hassan al-Turabi

The leader of the opposition Popular Congress Party (PCP) told Sudan Tribune that there are no colonial motives behind the international interest in Darfur crisis. He said the whole world has been moved by the tragedy.

"It is the human shock, really, that moves them. Television images shocked them and they put pressure on their politicians so they come here and say that they have been to Darfur."

He added that no major economic resources can allow to say there are colonial objectives behind the move. "I don’t think it’s because they have ulterior colonial motives, and Darfur in reality doesn’t have petrol resources till now, maybe in the eastern part."

On the rift his party and the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), Turabi said he set conditions for reconciliation with his former disciples: "Now and then many people come and ask me to reconcile, I tell them that if I am right in freedom and democracy, and federalism, go and correct these things and then we can talk about reconciliation and joining, everyone could join. Anybody could join if you are Umma, DUP or anything else."

In a three hours interview with the Sudan Tribune, al-Turabi spoke about the origins pf the Islamist movement in the country and the 1989 coup d’état. He also dealt longley with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA). He said the NCP is looking for ways to cancel a deal that it does want to implement.

Regarding the general elections in 2009, al-Turabi seemed skeptical, saying that the ruling National Congress Party will use power and money to remain in power. According to Turabi en spite of the CPA, the NCP can arrest people through some emergency security measures or exercise economic pressures on villagers.

He also disclosed that "the ruling party is now training hundreds of people to become election staff who will oversee the running of the election."

The Sudanese Islamist leader said, in this interview which was conducted at the end of August, he has contact with the leader of rebel SLM, Abdelwahid al-Nur. Whoever al-Nur dismissed these allegations saying he never had any contact with Hassan al-Turabi.

Below the text of the interview:

Dr Hassan Al Turabi, the Godfather of the Islamic movement of Sudan, is considered to be one of the most controversial political figures in post-independence Sudan. The 75-year-old charismatic political leader has proved beyond any doubt to be a skillful political survivor. He belongs to what he himself describes in a pejorative sense as “the indestructible Sudanese political class”. According to him, “They betray one another, imprison one another, reconcile with one another, but they never assassinate one another. In Sudan, only the people have the privilege of dying”. In return the Sudanese people have increasingly become cynical about this political class and they tend to view them as hopelessly corrupt, dishonest, power-hungry, hypocritical misfits, or incurable idealists doomed to failure – unfortunately most of them fit this description perfectly.

In this interview we have tried to make sense of the man behind the controversy, the man who has tried all the tricks in the book, and outside it, to install a totalitarian Islamic regime in Sudan. For 10 years, from 1989 to 1999, Al Turabi remained the ultimate power behind the throne, whether as leader of the National Islamic Front (NIF) or later as speaker of the assembly. During that time many human rights abuses were committed, including summary executions, torture, arbitrary detentions, denial of freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion, and violations of the rules of war, particularly in the south and Nuba Mountains.

But now he characterizes the experiment that he meticulously engineered as a “failure”. The British and French educated politician decided his political destiny as a very young man in the early 1950s when he joined the Sudan’s Muslim Brothers movement, which at the time was an inhibited and politically naïve organization. He presided over a movement that comprised contradictions between the Sufi order and hard-line, radical Islamists, but to many people, even his enemies, he increasingly came across as pragmatic and liberal minded. Many see this as part of the opportunistic nature of the Islamic movement in Sudan, lead by an essentially westernized, open-minded leader who cynically thought that access to power in Sudan is best achieved by competing successfully against the popular sectarian parties of Sudan, and to outbid them in their political comfort zone which was securely centered around religion.

Under his leadership the party changed its name many times, from Muslim Brothers to Islamic Charter in the 1960s, to the National Islamic Front in the 1980s, the National Congress Party in the 1990s and now his current party, the Popular Congress Party. He joined Nimeiri’s regime after the National reconciliation in 1977. For him, it was a chance to rebuild his movement and they wasted no time, becoming heavily engaged in a mass scale recruitment program unprecedented in the history of the country, especially within the universities and among school students. Thanks to the oil boom in the 1970s the movement started to solicit funds from wealthy Arabs in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf countries and the Islamic world. After Nimeiri’s regime collapsed in 1985, although their reputation was tarnished because of their association with the Nimeiri dictatorship and the harsh implementation of Sharia law in 1983, to many people’s surprise the Islamic movement re-emerged as the third political party in Sudan after the 1986 General Election.

For Al Turabi, the National Congress Party (NCP) which was once lead by his loyal followers and students, is now full of self-serving chancers with multiple centres of decision making, some of whom are answerable to no-one. The NCP increasingly resembles Nimeiri’s Socialist Union Party that immediately evaporated after he lost power in 1985. Although no-one could pin-point a clear ideological divide between PCP and the NCP, it seems that the heart of their differences is not the ideology of the state but the management of it and the question of who would do a better job.

Hassan Al Turabi’s views on various issues might have changed, especially in relation to democracy and democratic rule, however the core of his belief is still intact. Although it is not based on any real evidence it is an article of faith, a corollary of the doctrine that there was an ideal Islamic state in existence fourteen centuries ago and which could be replicated in the 21st century. In the complex modern world we live in today, whenever there is a battle between common sense and an unfounded ideology, common sense should win hands-down every time. Because, ultimately, it is about what works, rather than trying to implement pie-in-the-sky ideologies dreamed up in closed off rooms, mosques, or conferences and seminar theatres. I think common sense in Sudan says that the country is too diverse and too complex to fit his brand of ideology, and maybe deep down he realizes this reality too. As many observers — particularly Alex De Waal and Peter Woodward — have accurately noted, the embrace of political Islam in Sudan underlies the structural weaknesses of the state that have left Sudan vulnerable to conflict.


- What is your overall assessment of the political situation in Sudan now?

Turabi: This country, of course, is a not a nation. We have been called the blacks because of our colour, we have been assembled together and contained by the colonial powers, the Italians, British, Belgians, Egyptians and the French. We have to work hard to develop as a nation and to relate to other nations, but we are not a country or a nation yet.

We are running the risk of disintegrating completely, but we could overcome these crises through enlightenment and education, whatever the level of it all over Sudan, and this has been facilitated by the spread of electronic communication. It is very difficult to control this country by force. Twice before in Sudan we have had a popular uprising overthrowing a military government, this does not happen in other countries, probably only recently in a few Eastern European countries.

We thought at the beginning that this government will implement the ideal of Islam to which they claim to belong, as in Islam there is no church, no holy people, no angels come down to instruct you, freedom is for everyone the first model of Islam itself. There were Jews, Christians, human rights for minorities, much control over public finance, no corruption, and people were actually elected.

The Islamic state should be based on religious conviction and it has to have: (a) freedom for all people. If you don’t like other people’s views then you respond verbally; (b) elections for all leaders to the head of state, nobody should be appointed; (c) be clean in public life, you don’t have to misappropriate public property just because you control all the finance and revenue; (d) if you sign any contract you have to abide by it and be loyal to it. That’s where we actually differ with this government.

Now it has become a dictatorship and it is not easy to overthrow like Aboud’s or Nimeiri’s regime. These people are much more difficult to get rid off simply because they have been established by a well organized and efficient political party. Although factions of that party broke away, and the leadership broke away, they still maintain some following simply because of the temptations of power and money. Also, they established their security services much better, they learned the lessons, actually. If there is an uprising now it will risk more than before and there will be a lot of bloodshed because the army and the police force could kill easily, indiscriminately. Sudan is now breaking loose at the regional level, if there is any doubt about what’s happening in Khartoum, then Darfur, the south, the Nubians in the north, the Beja, and the whole country will be shattered.

The opposition parties are not united, the Communist party doesn’t like the Islamists, the Umma party has most of its following in the west, the Islamists outside power compete with them there, and the Islamists in power have followers in the northern province. The President has now become an isolated figure although he is the most powerful person and he takes all the decisions. Fortunately he is not that obsessed with governing, but sometimes his decisions are final and the Council of Ministers, the Parliament have to approve.

The National Congress Party (NCP) is now working hard for the election, if the election has a reasonable measure of fairness, and I am sure there will never be complete freedom in the elections under this government, it might change the whole show. Most Sudanese don’t like this government and wouldn’t vote for it if they are given a free choice, because they are more urbanized and politically aware now.

- You once said, “Sudan’s political class is indestructible. They betray one another, imprison one another, reconcile with one another, but they never assassinate one another. In Sudan, only the people have the privilege of dying”. In relation to this initiative this might be true, what do you think?

Turabi: (Laughter) Yes, that was accurate regarding the National Reconciliation Initiative chaired by Siwar Al Dahab (the PCP submitted their opinion in writing to the National Reconciliation Initiative in October 2006) but I don’t think anyone takes it seriously. I have to respect them, although you sometimes have problems with others you always receive them at home or in your headquarter office. Sudanese are always nice to one another and I don’t think others take it seriously either. That exercise is for the media and the press, the committee itself is not organized, sometimes three or two of them call for a meeting, they talk and talk and decide nothing.
As Sudanese we don’t know how to work in groups, you know why? Because we are nomadic people, we have no team spirit, it will take us a while to learn how to work with others.

- Many reports now describe this country as potentially a failing state – what is your opinion, on that?

Turabi: We have to describe our state first, we did not choose to be born here, we find it like that. Sudan has great potential, Al-Mahdia (19th century revolutionary against Turkish-Egyptian rule) managed to unite the whole country, the tribes and the Sufi orders etc. I don’t think we are a desperate case, we have to describe what we are and we can overcome the current crisis.

In our soul we have to change, we have to make social change, we have huge resources, we have nine neighbors. We are an African and an Arab country, the biggest country in Africa and many people come to Sudan, refugees and many others, settle here and have our nationality and join us to multiply our population. This is not an easy country to reckon with but the potential is very high. That’s why the Europeans, for some time, wanted to wreck it a little bit. Because its potential could be too dangerous for them.

- In relation to the previous question, how do you assess your party’s input?

Turabi: Which party? Historically the British overcame an Islamic government in Sudan. Unfortunately, Al-Mahdi’s family themselves never remembered the origin of that state at all, even the sons of the Al Khalifa forgot that origin. The communist reaction to colonialism was to go east (towards the Eastern Block), our reaction was to go to our original values. It was called the Islamic libration movement, we took the same name of the Muslim Brothers of Egypt but we were not a branch of them. And people remember the military in Egypt crushed and killed the Muslim Brothers. After the October 1964 revolution we thought we should not be confined to that name like the others, so we called it the Islamic Charter. People joined us and after the 1985 uprising we called it the National Islamic Front. The Europeans like democracy but if democracy produces anything they dislike they oppose it, they crush it immediately like in Algeria, or Hamas in Palestinian, they crush them down.

We realized that “democracy” could only be achieved by revolution, like in France or America. Although this revolution is not through a popular movement it’s a military takeover, but once we proceeded the military wanted to remain military. We said that we are here not to govern as a military government, we are here to restore the fundamentals of the Islamic statehood, freedom for all, like what happened to Al Madina’s Jews or the hypocrites. The Islamic Shora (Consultation), decision by representation, and public money back to the people and not to be misappropriated, and to be bound by any treaties you sign and there was a constitution you have to abide by, so that’s why we differ from them (NCP) and so we broke completely.

- Could you tell us about the political atmosphere before the 30th of June 1989 military coup?

Turabi: Every time we approached politics there was foreign intervention and some leader has said “the Sudan is mine” since the 19th century, so we tried to break away from that. We realized that people did not believe in a nationwide approach. Then we joined Nimeiri (after the national reconciliation in 1977) for a while but once he realized that the Islamic opinion was very powerful he wanted to introduce Islam himself, he was very jealous of us. Then George Bush Sr. came to Sudan and he told Nimeiri, “These people are behind it all, and we are going to withdrew our support to your country”. So, he arrested us immediately (in 1985). At the time I was Assistant to the President with similar powers to the Prime Minister, but he jailed me – then four weeks later his regime collapsed.

After the April uprising in 1985, we joined the Sadiq al-Mahdi government peacefully (in 1988) in a coalition, although Sadiq and his partners could govern alone, but he found our opposition very difficult. We had too many newspapers, we had educated Members of Parliament, it was very hard for him and he said to me, “please come and join us”. We joined him and then the army moved in (February 1989) and they told him to move these people (NIF) out or “we will move you out”.

The army thought that if the West realized that this was an Islamic government (Sadiq al-Mahdi) they would arm the SPLM, and because we have relations with nine countries this could be dangerous, so he decided to move us out. So we realized that you cannot win through democratic means, like what happened in Algeria when the moment the Islamists won the Army moved in.

We thought that democracy, like in France or England, can come through revolution but the old system would not allow us, so we thought to bring in the army. If we do it through popular uprising it will be too destructive and many people will interfere, internally and externally. Hence, we wanted a clean and quiet revolution and some of the people who participated in the coup (June 1989) were our members and some were ex-communists, or the type that join any government whatever the program.

- Looking back to that takeover decision, do you think that was the right decision?

Turabi: One wrong thing about it was we resorted to the army. We should have understood that the army, throughout the history of the region, are dangerous and after a while they control everything and they overthrow civilians. It happens in many countries and in those days we should have realized that.

But the West doesn’t like any independent path and especially if it’s Islamic, look at Turkey, or Hamas. Now in Egypt, who will win the election if it’s fair? Of course the Muslim Brothers but the West will not let it happen.

- There is a tendency in this region to install totalitarian regimes, it has always been justified under slogans such as socialism, nationalism, and you yourself tried to install a totalitarian Islamic regime in Sudan – do you think it is justifiable under any ideological slogan or project to install a totalitarian regime?

Turabi: In Islam now, and I know most of the Islamic movements have changed, the political model of Islam that was established by the Prophet Muhammad is not a dictatorship model. He was welcomed in Al Madina after he was persecuted in Makka. Then he drew up a constitution and everyone was consulted, and there was federation, each small group had its own law, its own court and educational system, that was the model. After his death he never appointed a successor but there was an election with different candidates. In the third succession (between Ali and Osman) there was a proper election when women and men voted, and there was an independent election committee or commission. They asked everyone for his program and they asked people, “Osman thinks this way, and Ali thinks that way, who do you vote for?”. Ultimately they published the result in the mosque and declared Osman as the winner and Ali accepted the result. Only when Mawia (fifth Khalifa) came back from Syria did he introduce the hereditary system and so forth.

In the Western world the Church used to control everything, they thought on behalf of God. But in Islam we don’t have such things like that between us and God, there are no angels sent by God to govern us so freedom is for all people even if they are against God. The Jew that was mentioned in the Qur’an laughed at God and said to Prophet Muhammad, “This God of yours is very poor”, but he responded by word – the Prophet never detained anybody, only those who committed a crime.

We tried to establish that from in the early days, but you know takeover is always like that and revolutions always control, at the beginning, everything by force. If we are not allowed to proceed by democratic means then what shall we do? Actually, we did not want it that way, there was a lot of debate about elections and decentralization of power but they (NCP) always voted against these reforms, that’s why we differ with them and they turned on us.

-  During your time in power from 1989 to 1999, hundred of thousands lost their jobs, there were many human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, arbitrary detentions, denial of freedoms of speech, assembly, and violations of the rules of war, particularly in the south – do you accept responsibility for all these things?

Turabi: That was all because of the military, by the way. I have to be objective and you are right, but it wasn’t as bad as during Nimeiri’s time when there were thousands jailed, including us.

- But you heard of the Ghost Houses?

Turabi: Of course, they were security houses. During Nimeiri’s time hundreds were killed inside jail and in those days security was a whole lot different, now we call it “Beet Al Ashabh”, Ghost Houses. There was active propaganda denying it, unfortunately.

- Were you aware of these detentions centers?

Turabi: The first period (1989–1990) I was in jail, they maintained their security detention outside the jailing system. When I came out there was some difference, I had to develop institutions where there were no institutions, so I wanted to establish institutions and to overcome that. But they did like it, and you can ask anyone about the security law when it came to parliament. As speaker at the time I didn’t talk too much because I had to be neutral, but I told people that if it is crime then let the police force arrest them and take them to court, and the ultimate investigation period should not exceed one month, but now they changed that to eternity. That’s why the president dissolved the parliament, and he doesn’t have any powers to do that. He dissolved the party, and he dismissed us all, he just used force to dismantle any aspect of democracy. The president did not like freedom, he used to sign any laws and then he’d ask people to go and arrest people despite the law.

-  Most of the people, who run this country now, were once your loyal disciples and followers, what do you make of them?

Turabi: Look, this is all about power and the temptation is sometimes stronger than anything else. If you have money, cars and houses it is very difficult to let go. Only three ministers resigned during that time – power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

-  Do you think the NCP have enough genuine support to win an election?

Turabi: They will win if they use force and money but in reality they don’t have a following. I asked people when I visited the regions if there was anyone with the National Congress Party and they say “yes” only when there are jobs to be grabbed, like commissioners, mayors, ministers, then many people will show up for that. But when you speak to these people privately they are against the government. Publicly they appear to be with the government, it’s just like Nimeiri’s Socialist Union Party, but when his regime collapsed the party support disappeared.

But now I have my own party and I can go to Nyala, Northern Province, Gadarif, I go every where I can to meet people. Many people were confused and they lost interest, so they became paralyzed and stayed away.

-  Many Sudanese don’t believe there is a genuine rift between PCP and NCP, and they think this another clever exit strategy to save the future of the Islamic movement in Sudan.

Turabi: You are right, people might think that, but what we did at the beginning is because of the fear of the outside world’s reaction. The Americans, Europeans and Egyptians might think this is something dangerous, and they will crush it immediately, they will abort it like a baby.

So we said that if you going to send other politicians to jail, it’s appropriate to send us as well. It took them a year and a half to declare that they are Islamist. But there was a plan for democratization but they are military and they know only orders.

At base many people know where to stand, but at the top many people joined the government, they love to stay in those chairs, they can travel, and get paid in dollars, build houses, and if you like polygamy you can marry another wife, it is too tempting.

Now and then many people come and ask me to reconcile, I tell them that if I am right in freedom and democracy, and federalism, go and correct these things and then we can talk about reconciliation and joining, everyone could join. Anybody could join if you are Umma, DUP or anything else.

Now we call ourselves the Popular Congress Party because we believe in the people down below, in elections and freedom from the grassroots up. We are now a national party all over the Sudan, it’s a male and female party, 25% of our leadership are females, and they are not just engaged in women’s affairs, they are involved in other functions. We have southerners, easterners, and westerners. In our executive office we have five members from the east, the south, the west, the north, and the fifth member is a woman. This came through elections, we cannot preach something and then ignore it in our practice.

One of the Secretary General’s deputies is Abdalla Deng, he is a southerner. Our leadership council members are 120, two representatives from each state and even in our secretarial leadership we have some southerners they are not just concerned with the south, but they work in different branches of our party, we try to advocate what we preach.

We have more enlightened people in Sudan and probably our share will not be just 20% as we did last time, in 1986.


-  When did you join the Muslim Brother organization?

Turabi: I joined in 1951, at the university. My father was a judge and he taught me and gave me all his ideas. He worked all over the Sudan and I have seen most of the country from childhood, we went to Umroaba, then al Nuhood, (both in Kordofan) Abu Hamad (Northern Province) ...etc.

-  Have you ever been tempted to join any other political party other than the Muslim Brothers?

Turabi: I was first approached by the communists in the secondary school, well I started to argue with them from day one. I was not an average student and they knew that, they gave me books to read and then I argued a lot. The communists were very active at the time. The Muslim Brothers were very secretive and very limited so I could have joined them (the communists) but I always prayed and fasted.

In the university the debate was open, so I joined the Muslim Brothers movement, it awakened all the knowledge inside me and from the early days I became part of the leadership in the University. Before my graduation in the third year I became the student leader. I was popular because I had a diverse background and the movement recruited people from all Sudan.

-  Have you ever tempted to join the Umma party, or DUP or any other nationalist movement?

Turabi: (Laughter) Oh no, but I married from the Al Mahadi family, not out of anything, she was my student in the law college, that was all. I am from Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) areas and our family are followers of the Gadri order, and Gadri belong to the Khatmiyya sect and they are, by default, DUP supporters and they always voted for the DUP.

-  Although you mention leadership change before, I think you are the longest serving Sudanese party leader since 1964. Do you have any idea when leadership change will take place in your party?

Turabi: New leaders will appear eventually, but if party leaders always persecute and give no freedom they will always remain as figureheads, although the grassroots are there but no one gives them a chance. If they have been given the option of leadership they will gradually take over.

-  Many people view the Islamic movement as just a reaction to the popular Communist Party at the time, what do you think?

Turabi: It’s not a reaction, it’s a response, and history is always like that. If you are not challenged you will not be provoked to response. It is not the communists alone, the British as well, they had complete control so they wanted us to become like apes. If people are not challenged they will not be able to activate their own energy, their thoughts, their own activity. People will never develop if there are no challenges.

We always argued with the communists, when we moved out of university we faced them in the modern sectors, in the labor unions etc, but we had access to ordinary people, we can talk to Sufi, go to the countryside and lecture to people, quoting verses from the Qur’an. We don’t have to quote from Marx or Engels or anybody, we found it easier to move into the wider society.

-  In the 1950s, what was your party’s position on the issue of independence and unity with Egypt?

Turabi: Close to the election (in 1953) we engaged in the first demonstration for independence, because we didn’t want any unity with Egypt which was ruled by a dictatorship,
We were independent from the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, we refused to be their Sudan branch, we had our own identity so we were for independence and there is not any doubt about that.

-  One thing astounding in Sudan politics is the continuous ideological shift and movement of people from one ideology to another, especially between Islamism and communism.

Turabi: These things happen, but the movement from the communists towards us is much more, then from the communists to Sufi, because communism as a model has collapsed, I don’t mean the ideas. You know, during university they openly declared they were non-believers in God. During my time in the university it was very difficult for me to talk in a public rally about God or the Qur’an, people always shouted me down and the word “religious” was considered reactionary. They would tell me that religion is a private affair, even praying as a group we found difficult, we prayed in closed rooms in the university because of the pressure and the control of the communists. I think the communists now have changed and become more democratic, and they still believe in justice.

-  You were also involved in the infamous campaign of dissolving the Communist Party in 1965?

Turabi: Because, you know, communists at the time were not as democratic as today, their model at the time was not democratic. It was a totalitarian regime, unlike the democratic communist parties of Western Europe, the French and the Italians.

-  How do you see the future of the Islamic movement?

Turabi: Sudan Nationalist movements had a great record during the struggle against colonialism, but they cannot keep feeding on that forever. The leftist parties once were dominant, but now the communist parties and Baathist parties have lost popular support all over the Muslim and the Arab world. In Indonesia and Somalia, the socialist movement has lost its appeal, Arab nationalism has lost its appeal. There are also some liberal and pro-Western trends but they are not organized, their model is the West but they are scattered in many places.

All over the world, most of the young Muslims are now going back to Islam, but most of it is without a program, just shouting “Islam, Islam, if someone commits aggression against you just kill him” – most of it is like that, unfortunately. They didn’t develop their political or social programs, or their economic program, for me this is a crisis.

Some Islamic parties developed their social programs especially to provide assistance to the poor and they are changing in the entire Islamic world. The Islamic movement is internationalized and it’s all over the place, even in the Western hemisphere, in England, France. Now Islam is spreading as an identity to many people. I wish it also had a social, economical and political way of life based on the believe in the here and hereafter, the physical and metaphysical.

I think the future in this part of the world probably will be Islamic but not the traditional concept of Islam, the reactionary with all the negative aspects, against justice, against freedom, and against women.

-  There are also worrying trends such as the re-emergence of tribalism, what’s your take on that?

Turabi: In Sudan the national party lost their appeal because people went back to their family roots, neighborhood, locality or tribes, but if you allow freedom again and the national parties started to compete again, people will go national.

-  The ruling parties now play the tribal card, which is quite dangerous.

Turabi: Believe me, if they lose power they will have to look for a program and a political party that addresses national issues. We don’t promote tribalism, I don’t think the Umma party, or the DUP, and the Communist Party do. But because of the dictatorship people are going back to their tribes, localities and villages.

-  It has been reported that you have said that the Islamist experiment in Sudan was a failure. When did you realize this “failure”, do you attribute this “failure” to the Islamic movement’s ideology or its practice?

Turabi: It’s the first time it was practiced, when it was first started democracy was also corrupt and most of the power remained in the hands of the monarchies. Women were not allowed to vote, Jews were not allowed to vote, nothing starts perfectly. If you become a medical doctor after your graduation you might kill some people. But we have to describe things as they are, the first experiment of socialism in Russia was a complete failure, the bureaucrats took over and they became worse than capitalist.

-  Could you criticize the ideology that produces that failure?

Turabi: If you look back to the Al Madina model, the Prophet himself is not an absolute president, but these people here (NCP) are immune from any accountability by law. The Prophet himself never practiced that. He allowed the Jews, the hypocrites, to criticize him and his God openly, he never used force against others.

-  You have made many public statements on very controversial issues, such as Muslim women could marry non-Muslims (Jews or Christians), or Muslim women are not required to wear the Hijab (headscarf). Are these fatwas or are you just expressing your opinion?

Turabi: The word fatwa in Arabic means that you impose your opinion on others and I am not that powerful a figure, or a religious person claiming to be so close to God. This is just my opinion and if it’s popular then let it circulate, or if it’s mad then people have the right to reject it. But young people like it – I recently met young British Muslims, they came here to support the cause of Darfur working for charitable organizations, and they like my ideas.
Even in Saudi Arabia people down below like these ideas. Some people say I am Kafir and Westernized, I don’t mind that, I am not Shia or Sunni and I don’t like sectarianism anyway.

-  It has been recently reported in Al Wan newspaper that your top aid, Mr. Yasin Omer Al Imam, said he was ashamed to speak about Islam or the Islamic movement after the Al Ingaz experience. Do you agree with him?

Turabi: I am not surprised because the regime projects this as the model of Islam. Of course if I am non-Muslim I will not like it because it is a dictatorship, it’s corrupt, it broke up the Sudan into pieces and it gives a bad name to Islam. Unfortunately they control the media in this part of the world.
So I am not surprised that many in the Islamic movement are now telling us that they facing an argument that goes like this, “You will use democracy to climb up and then when you are up there you will pull the ladder, and you will become corrupt, and jail people like the Sudanese”. That why I preferred to go to jail, people know me and they don’t know Omar al-Bashir and they cannot associate him with Islam, whatever his claims. When I am in jail they will say, “This is not the model, if this is the model then Turabi should be out”.

-  Given the marginality of Sudan in the Arab and Muslim world, do you think Sudan or any movement in Sudan has any realistic chance of taking the lead in any Pan-Arab Islamic movement?

Turabi: The Arabs are not such a dominant people, the Persians used to dominate them, the Romans had colonies in Arabia, and the Ethiopians had colonies as well. The Prophet himself was from a very poor tribe, Beny Hashim. Who was the most knowledgeable about the Arabic language? Sibawaih of course, and he came from Persia. Most of the recorders of the Qur’an were non-Arabs, most of those who reported Al Hadieth were non-Arabs. They came from all over the place.
Sometimes when I go to Egypt some people will say, “who is Al Turabi? … he is a Barber, he is a Sudanese, he doesn’t know Arabic”. All these scholars sometimes dismiss me because of my colour and they don’t want even to respond to my arguments or the reasons why I concluded them. In Saudi Arabia the same thing happens, they say that this face is not even worthy of replying to.

You are right, some time ago we organized what we called the Arab and Islamic Conference and Islamic people from all over the world came. More Muslims came in than Arabs, so we dropped the word Arab. Some of them were even from Germany, Britain, America, Russia, and India, and they like the Sudan and they thought this country was asserting its political identity and moving forward. They thought that this is black people now asserting themselves and they like it. Unfortunately most of them got disillusioned when the split happened.

This country has a long history, it goes back to the Nubian civilization that was established here in Sudan first and then moved into Egypt. God did not give anybody with colour and race any superiority over others, ultimately people are equal.

These Europeans, sometimes I challenge them, I say to them, “Where is centre of the world? The centre of the world is here, where you can find the Babylonian, Assyrian, Indian, the Chinese civilizations. Now the sun is rising in the east, the Chinese are rising and nobody could stop them”. I always keep telling them, “Do not be obsessed with color, we are all born in one family, Christians and Muslims are one family, those who moved away from the sun lost their pigmentation, that’s all”.
The first time I went to America I was faced by the reaction of some Muslims there, when they told me, “These pink people are created from the color of hell, look at them, they are devils”. I told them that we also have some white Muslims, they told me, “they are repentant devils”. I said to them, “please do not believe in that, we are all the same and don’t care about color, the merit of the human determines his worth whether he is at the top or bottom”.

In Sudan I am not despaired but I have to tell people what they are now, that unless they diagnose their sickness or weakness they will never move on and be strong or well, so I think Sudan need its neighbors, all of them.

We are weak and the weak need each other, so let us establish a common market, let us move these frontiers that have been put there for us by the colonial powers. I have spoken to the Ethiopian, Ugandan, Chadian, Eritrean, all around and I told them that only through democracy can we do it, through the government of the people, not through presidents, because we tried that with Egypt and Libya and it didn’t last for long. Let the people join together and become one people, for our own interest we have to invite all the neighbors to join us.

-  This seems to me like a project for African unity, but have we concluded our endless debate about whether we are Arab or African?

Turabi: The word Arab is just describing our tongue, but we also speak other languages but we cannot claim to be English or French. You should be assessed on your merit, and your hard work, and your contribution to the commonwealth of humanity.


-  A few weeks ago the International Crisis Group warned against the potential danger of the collapse of the CPA. What do you make of the implementation of the CPA so far?

Turabi: As I mentioned earlier, since 1964 we have been federalist, we advocated the regionalization of Sudan and then federation, but other parties did not have the same mind-set. We staged the October 1964 revolution for the southern problem, not for our own problem. If there is no freedom and democracy nationally there will be no federation and no decentralization of power, just concentration of power. We have always been in the cause of the south and we have presence in the south because if we don’t we cannot claim to be a national party and advocate for the unity of Sudan.

We had the Khartoum Peace Agreement, a treaty between the government and the rebel movement lead by Riack Machar (in 1997), we also had the Addis Ababa agreement (in 1972), but the military regimes think that by giving people posts and money that they will all forget about the agreement. Military regimes are always like that.

This time southerners will never trust again, they maintained that their army was never to reintegrate and they brought in the international forces. The southern gun beat the army ultimately and they have had to acquiesce and concede everything.
The CPA wasn’t a coherent treaty; it dealt with security apart, economic issues apart, and constitutional issues apart, but called it comprehensive and together. Naturally, if you treat all regions separately like that, there is hardly any centre at all.

The SPLM had the African and the international community support, and the government was isolated and weak. I think that once you sign a contract you have to abide by it but I think they (NCP) did not read it, and when they read it they found the agreement was too much for them. Also, the SPLM thought that when they came to power they would tip the balance but that is not happening. The first president is now called (Al Gha aib Al Alawel) the First Absentee in the presidency. Of course the south itself occupies their time, but ultimately people have to realize they have to be loyal to it. I wish the same model could have been applied to Darfur so we would have no problem.

These people now realize they have signed the wrong thing, but when you sign you should abide by it.

In the south I am not happy because the SPLM brought in ex-commanders who fought for the cause, obviously, but there is an inflation of political posts and with no public opinion there is no check and balance. There is now resentment in the south, of course for a while they were happy with the peace but there is nothing there, no schools, no hospitals, no roads. In the south the only institutions operating in the society are tribes, not the parties, and that could be dangerous.
If the south separates, and that is their right, it will be very miserable because the north is no longer there to point the finger at. They are all now united against the north, this happens in all revolutions when there is a common enemy, they all unite.

-  In an interview last April with the Sudan Tribune, Pagan Amum (SPLM SG), said, “SPLM is the only political party in Sudan that could guarantee the unity or separation of Sudan”. How do you respond to that?

Turabi: Do not call it a party, it’s not yet party, it’s an army, actually. The first thing we said to John Garang was to change from an army discipline into a party. People do not belong to you because of your military orders, if they break rank you punish them, but they have to like your program in the south, not only because of the injustice happening in the south from the north, but because of your program.

It will take them a while, I understand. Yes, now they control the south, but I don’t know that if there is an election it will be a fair election, because these military fighters are present everywhere, controlling everything.
If they said “no” then the whole of southern Sudan will vote “no”. The southerners in the north will not vote that way at all and it will take a while for the south to develop. They do not want to go back to the forest, they will find menial jobs here in Khartoum, construction work, go to schools, they can go to hospitals, and they can gradually integrate with society here.

The northern Sudanese who came to Khartoum will never want to go back again, people who went to America as slaves did not come back. So we are all for unity, our parties should truly be national parties. If the government is loyal to the agreement then most of the southerners will stay, they don’t want to go to a land-locked area, completely undeveloped where they will start fighting among themselves. It is better to open up the whole Sudan in different capitals to be able to attract these people. We are all for unity but not a compulsory unity.

-  What will make unity attractive, in your opinion?

Turabi: It depends on the government; we do not have anything in our hands to make it attractive. Our party has offices in every state of the south but that will not be enough, it is the government who controls all the money and all the power now, so it depends on the government and on the southerners themselves.

-  The SPLM recently apologized to the Sudanese people; do you think it’s time for northern Sudanese parties to apologies for their mistakes as well?

Turabi: This is silly, when did England apologize? Apology is a word to humiliate the other, if we learn the lessons of history and we become fair and just to each other, that’s the most important issue. That is just a statement for the newspapers, the SPLM never apologized, they said it is a war we have been shot at and we shot back.
These are just statements, the best way to conduct ourselves with each other is not to be prejudiced and to be fair, and forget the past.

-  According to the CPA, Sudan will hold parliamentary and regional elections in 2009. Are you planning to take part in these elections and do you think the political scene will change as a result of these elections?

Turabi: With respect to the south, the army controls everything, I don’t think there will be much freedom or choice between the candidates. In the north it is a bit different, people are politically aware and we have political parties, although with traditional allegiances that are not based on programs, but we have new parties based on ideas, on programs and some ideologies. The problem is that the government has all the revenue and they will finance the government party. This is one bad element.

Election laws cannot make a big difference, there are many things beyond that, for example emergency security measures. They could detain campaigners of other parties indiscriminately until the election is over. They could also tell every village that if we find in the vote count that you voted for other parties, then you will see what will happen, your schools, health centres etc will close down.

In the countryside people are illiterate, well some of them, and they tend to take the short-term view, they are limited in their horizons and they cannot vote for a program for the whole Sudan that can bring benefit to them. In towns people are a bit more free, even if there are security issues, and they will be more careful because there are foreign correspondents and diplomats. In the countryside they will exert all their force to terrorize people and they pay money as incentives and rewards to distort the election.
The ruling party is now training hundreds of people to become election staff who will oversee the running of the election. Then small things could happened such as when you will take them to the judiciary, well, if you ask any judge to act independently against the government he will be send to jail.

Some judges say that if they are ordered privately to declare someone guilty they will do it. Sometimes these judges will say privately to a lawyer, “We are not free, your client will be found guilty and will be sent to jail, please do not waste your time in bringing witnesses”.
In short, you cannot have fair elections under a dictatorship. That’s why we suggested, at least for a short while before the election, a national government or neutral government from technocrats and civil servants would be a good idea, and only have a token representation from other political parties. Similar to the transitional government after October 1964.
But these people in government will not leave their chairs, and some of them declared that they will maintain their chairs for eternity, they will only give it up when Jesus Christ appears.


-  Could you explain to us the reasons behind the current conflict in Darfur, and what do you think the solution should be?

Turabi: Darfur, for centuries, had been an independent autonomous state with international relations westwards, in particular within the Sudan belt, and eastwards and northwards. It had quite an established government with direct impact in its territory. It was only during Al Mahadiya that it joined the rest of Sudan, but once again it withdrew as an autonomous state from 1899 until the First World War. Then the British occupied it and co-opted it into the Republic of Sudan (1916), probably they meant to close it like the south and deny it railway access, even social services, educational, health etc

During British rule Darfur was given very little, although the population is bigger as the south. Darfurians are a very active society and hard-working women and men who always contributed to the good of Sudan.

When Sudan started to have cotton plantations most of the workers were from Darfur. In the armed forces the majority were from Darfur, during the Al Mahdiaya revolution (1885–1898) and also during the British rule they were a belligerent and militant people.
From very early times when there were short spells of democracy there was resentment in Darfur because political parties tended to send someone from the Khartoum to be elected. Later on with the first military coup of 1958 there was an uprising in Darfur, there was so much discrepancy in development but it did not help them to beg for more powers.

They took up arms with the thought that the only way to have legitimate rights is by fighting, then other factors also aggravated the situation. The desert is creeping southwards and people with their flocks of animals moved to the south and there were some confrontations, this is just natural. It used to be settled by the tribes because the British left Darfur without any local administration, judiciary, services or police force, only the tribal system. There was no other governmental institution and if there was any conflict, in any case, there would be tribal arbitration, reconciliation and compensation. Another factor is the dictatorship, they have all the power and all the revenue is collected here in Khartoum.

Unfortunately, since it became a military dictatorship, the military understand command but they do not understand sharing ideas, consultation, advice, participation in power. The army now is like the army of yesterday or before that. It will be jealous of any attempt to pull away some of its central powers. So the government used force but it could not use much force because, unfortunately for it, many of the rank and file of the army are from Darfur. So they mobilized the nomadic tribes, not because they are racially Arabs. They are nomadic, a little bit wild and if you give them arms they could march into everybody’s village and burn everything down. They are not educated and they are not that religious as well, however, I don’t think it was a deliberate genocide by the government.

The Darfurians used to demand that Sudan was divided into 25 states but only in the text of a constitution. The government has always been centralized, they don’t understand decentralization, it’s a dictatorship. Darfurians want their own regional state, and they want their old northern frontier which has been taken by the northern state. They want a fair share of wealth according to their population. They also want their presence here in Khartoum and they want to be part of the presidency, like the south. They also want their share in parliament and ministries and the leadership. They want their share in the civil service.

Then there is the humanitarian problem. Outside Sudan there are refugees in Chad because people are related, and of course these frontiers are not natural, they are colonial frontiers which the French and the British created, so the tribes are here and there and if there is any crisis here they cross the so-called border. Their language is the same, their features are the same, the environment is the same.

Then there are the IDP camps where more than two million assembled after their villages were burned, women raped and men killed. People seek refuge in the big cities and they are detained in these camps and cannot go to tend their farms or animals. There is paralysis of the whole economic activity in the region. They are very active people, the rainfall this season is very good but not many people able to utilize it, this is a tragedy. Most of the IDP are women and children, the adult men have been killed, and they don’t have any education at all. For one million people there is one specialist.

The whole world has been moved by Darfur and I don’t think it’s because they have ulterior colonial motives, and Darfur in reality doesn’t have petrol resources till now, maybe in the eastern part. It is the human shock, really, that moves them. Television images shocked them and they put pressure on their politicians so they come here and say that they have been to Darfur. So it becomes an international issue. Many Darfurians tried to come here to Khartoum but they were harassed so they went abroad to eastern and western Europe, the Arab world, even Israel. Thus it becomes an international and national problem that multiplies the crisis of Sudan.

-  Do you think there is underlying racism and discrimination that could be cited as one of the reasons behind the tragedy of Darfur?

Turabi: The British left Darfur with little education and ultimately no services and no access to higher civil service posts. It was not deliberate but people should have noticed it a long time ago and corrected it. I don’t think it was a deliberate policy of discrimination but at the time people didn’t pay much attention to it. The Black and the Arab issue is not clear-cut, the so-called Arabs might have Arabic for a mother tongue and their origin is Arabic, but they have mixed so much and all have dark complexions so you cannot really distinguish them from other Darfurians, people have intermarried. Darfurian people marry easily, polygamy is also popular in Darfur, and all people speak Arabic of course.

There are many who lose their African language and adopt Arabic language and then call themselves Arab. Anywhere in the world there is a colour problem and a regional problem. In England there was a time when nobody wanted to sit next to you in the bus, or to rent you a room, no-one wanted to see your face. It takes time to make people intermarry. People in Sudan intermarry easily compared to USA or Europe, between the blacks and whites. In Sudan people developed neighborhoods without regard to colour or ethnicity. Darfur receives many people from all over the Sudan and from Arab countries and West Africa.

-  What do you think the solution should be?

Turabi: The ideal is to settle our own problems. We think that since more forces are coming in we actually prefer the international forces, although they call them now the hybrid forces just to avoid the word foreign. But the African forces are foreign too, and the Asian or wherever they come from. The government, of course, thinks this is an ulterior motive of colonial powers so they have to avoid the French, British and Americans. But they are not able to pacify the region and at the moment nobody dares to venture out or go out of the towns. If there is more peace then their immediate problems will be solved so they could be able to farm and look after their cattle. So I believe the government will not be able to settle the crisis themselves. We think that the best solution is to invite all the resistance movements, although the government tries to break them up, but if you break them you will end up confusing your own problem. Get them together and make one agreement for a transitional period. When an election comes the people will decide who will govern Darfur, in the local and regional governments, or who will send deputies to the central parliament. Even the people who are not fighting in Darfur are supporting the cause of Darfur, everyone is complaining, Arabs or non-Arabs, government officials, even people in Ministerial posts. If you talk to them privately they will say there is so much injustice against us, so to get fair representation from all groups they should not be isolated.

Also, invite the Government, including the SPLM, and bring in the national parties as well because they have a following in Darfur and elsewhere. They will try to observe the equilibrium of a fairer deal.

There is a risk of disintegration of the whole country because if the problem persists for too long then people will start to mention that Darfur is an independent country and this will develop into a break-up of the country, Darfur, the east and the south. All the political forces should sit together. I myself know Darfur very well, I know their problems. I am a constitutional lawyer and I have always noticed the Darfurian parliamentarian groups pressuring for more budget for Darfur.

This problem could be settled easily, and for the whole Sudan through federation. Everyone should have their share in the resources according to their population. At the moment we have a national assembly in Khartoum appointed from above but they should be elected from below, that will make them sensitive to public opinion.

We will suffer for a while and the young people will not forget easily because they saw their mothers or sisters raped, or their fathers and brothers killed and their houses burnt. Even if we settle the problem there will be a lot of resentment and the slightest provocation could ignite the whole thing again, so we have a problem for a while, this is life. If you settle the problems you will overcome the grievances.

-  What is your party’s relationship with the Justice and Equality Movement, or the rebellious in Darfur in general?

We have relations with all the movements in Darfur. The government told everybody that they are Al Turabi group, but this is not true. They left our party because they thought the only way to get their rights back is to fight for it and they broke away to have their own independent party.

We talk to all of them, even Abdelwahid, although he is a leftist, I have talked to him personally many times and he met our delegation. Why are we in contact with them? Because we have always been in favor of federation since 1964, we were jailed and banned for 30 months because of this. We also have quite a good following in Darfur as well.
But these movements don’t belong to us. And the people of Darfur will ultimately decide who they trust to govern them.


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  • 11 September 2007 16:11, by Wad south

    ((Mr Problem)) you did so many bad things to Sudanese when you was in power , especially by changing rules not letting people live freely for example you introduced salamis laws in Sudan in 1983 and many innocence people had their hands and legs cut off because of you, then; what makes you think that you are better then anybody else?

    otherwise shut up! because your days are just numbers and remember what they say what goes around comes around!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Wad south

    repondre message

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