Note: This is part two of a two-part documentary. Watch Part 1 here: https://youtu.be/AGEnhSHo2P0
Sudan has a troubled history and has been in almost constant turmoil since the 1950s.
Regime change, coups, street protests, famine, war, political division – and in April 2019, the toppling of President Omar al-Bashir.
The history of modern Sudan is punctuated by several coups, including in 1989, the seizing of power by al-Bashir, whose regime would last for three decades.
In the background was Hassan al-Turabi, the power behind the leadership, and the man many call the architect of modern Sudan.
“Al-Turabi was a successful politician, not in the sense of political achievements on the ground but in his capacity for mass mobilisation, creating an organisational structure and ensuring continuity,” says Dr Al Nour Ahmed, a researcher, academic and Sudanese opposition member.
“No politician had ever created a cohesive organisational body in Sudan as al-Turabi did.”
Al-Turabi was enigmatic, a learned Islamic scholar, the founder of Sudan’s religious political party and an arch-politician. His followers revered him as a scholar, diplomat, spiritual leader and strategic thinker, with an uncanny knack of backing winners.
“Thanks to his quite diverse experience, he combined traditional Islamic culture with modern European thinking,” says political analyst Dr Mohamed Mokhtar al-Shanqity.
But to his many enemies, he was Machiavellian, ruthlessly ambitious and sought power on his own terms.
“Al-Turabi was known for his intellectual and political flexibility. Political shrewdness is one of his greatest strengths and at the same time one of his major weaknesses,” al-Shanqity says.
As al-Bashir’s attorney-general, al-Turabi was at the heart of power and also at the centre of Sudan’s religious ideologues who controlled the executive, the military and the judiciary.
When al-Turabi set up a General Assembly to discuss a worldwide Islamic revolution, he attracted people like Osama bin Laden who, as a then-Saudi entrepreneur, set up businesses in Sudan. However, relations with the West deteriorated and Sudan’s exiled community, antagonistic to al-Bashir’s authoritarian rule, grew.
In the 1990s, al-Turabi came under increasing pressure. Soon a rift developed with al-Bashir who dismissed al-Turabi in 1999. He spent the rest of his career in opposition, and spent many years in prison. His loyal following gave him continued support until his death in 2016.
Throughout al-Bashir’s regime, al-Turabi was a key background figure. His political sway and his avowed mission to establish a religious state in Sudan, both formed and later challenged al-Bashir – even from his prison cell – and hold weight even in events unfolding today.
In the current power struggle enveloping the country, al-Turabi’s influence is still felt – not least among some of the protesters vying with the army for civilian rule in the post al-Bashir era.
In this two-part series, we trace the rise and fall of Hassan al-Turabi, and explore the vast influence he had over five decades of Sudanese politics.
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