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Hassan 'Abd Allah al-Turabi

An empty chair awaits Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bas...
An empty chair awaits Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, president of Sudan, before the opening of the 20th session of The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) at the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Jan. 30, 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Hassan 'Abd Allah al-Turabi[1] (born c.1932 in Kassala), is a religious and Islamist political leader in Sudan, who may have been instrumental in institutionalizing sharia in the northern part of the country. He has been called a "longtime hard-line ideological leader".[2]
Al-Turabi was leader of the National Islamic Front (NIF), a political movement with considerable political power in Sudan but little popularity among voters. In 1979 he became Minister of Justice. In June 1989, a coup d'état by his allies, the "National Salvation Revolution", brought him and the National Islamic Front to power.
In March 1996, al-Turabi was elected to a seat in the National Assembly, where he served as speaker during the 1990s.[2] This period coincided with a decline in the influence of al-Turabi and his party's "internationalist and ideological wing" in favor of more pragmatic leaders, brought on by the imposition of UN sanctions on Sudan in punishment for Sudan's assistance to Egyptian terrorists in their attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Al-Turabi was imprisoned in the Kobar (Cooper) prison in Khartoum in March 2004 on the orders of his one-time ally President Omar al-Bashir. He was released on 28 June 2005.
He has been imprisoned many times since, most recently on 17 January 2011, following civil unrest across the Maghreb.[3]
Religious and political beliefs
Al-Turabi has espoused progressive Islamist ideas, such as the embrace of democracy, healing the breach and expanding the rights of women, where he noted:
The Prophet himself used to visit women, not men, for counseling and advice. They could lead prayer. Even in his battles, they are there! In the election between Othman and Ali to determine who will be the successor to the Prophet, they voted![4]
In another interview he said, "I want women to work and become part of public life" because "the home doesn't require much work anymore, what with all the appliances". During an interview on al-Arabiya TV in 2006, al-Turabi describes the requirement of niqab (face veil) as applying only to the Prophet's wives, whereas hijab (the headscarf as part of a complete Islamic dress code for women) applies to all Muslim women. Hijab literally means "barrier" and he said it was "a curtain in the Prophet's room. Naturally, it was impossible for the Prophet's wife to sit there when people entered the room". The Prophet's wives sat behind it when talking to males because they were not allowed to show their faces.[5] He opposed the death penalty for apostasy from Islam and opposed Ayatollah Khomeini's death sentence fatwa against Salman Rushdie. He declared Islamist organizations "too focused on narrow historical debates and behavioral issues of what should be forbidden, at the expense of economic and social development".[6]
Al-Turabi also laid out his vision for a Sharia law that would be applied gradually instead of forcefully and would apply only to Muslims, who would share power with the Christians in a federal system.
However, after al-Turabi came to power in a military coup d'état that overthrew a democratic government, his regime was characterized by harsh human rights violations rather than progressive, or liberal theology.[7]

  Political career

After graduating, he returned to Sudan and became a member of the Islamic Charter Front, an offshoot of the Sudanese branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Within a five-year period, the Islamic Charter Front became a large political group that identified al-Turabi as its Secretary general in 1964. Through the Islamic Charter Front, al-Turabi worked with two factions of the Sudanese Islamic movement, Ansar and Khatmiyyah, to draft an Islamic constitution. Members of Ansar define themselves as the followers of Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad, stemming from nineteenth century Sudan. Al-Turabi remained with the Islamic Charter Front until 1969, when Gaafar Nimeiry assumed power in a coup. The members of Islamic Charter Front were arrested, and al-Turabi spent six years in custody and three in exile in Libya.
In 1977, the regime and the two factions of the Islamic movement in Sudan attempt to reach a "national reconciliation", where opposition leaders were freed and/or allowed back from exile, including al-Turabi. "Turabi and his people now begin to play a major role, infiltrating the top echelons of the government where their education, frequently acquired in the West, made them indispensable" and "Islamizing society from the top down".[8] Al-Turabi became a leader of the Sudanese Socialist Union, and was promoted to Minister of Justice in 1979.

  Sharia law

The Nimeiry administration declared the imposition of a harsh brand of Sharia law in 1983. Popular opposition against political actions such as the dissolution of the Sudanese parliament and legally-inflicted punishments such as amputations and hangings, resulted in a coup against Nimeiry in 1985.
His frequent close relationships with Sudanese governments resulted in the famous association against him in the 1986 votes, where all political parties decided to withdraw their nominees and keep only one nominee against al-Turabi, which led to the loss of al-Turabi being part of the only democratic government in Sudan during the last four decades.

  1989 coup

On 30 June 1989, a coup d'état by General Omar Hassan al-Bashir and supported by al-Turabi and his followers led to severe repression, including purges and executions in the upper ranks of the army, the banning of associations, political parties, and independent newspapers and the imprisonment of leading political figures and journalists.[9]


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