With all eyes set on the Arab summit currently underway in Khartoum, I remembered how the Arab state system exploded when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990. I reminisced about that summer’s events and their main players, especially those who remain involved in politics today, such as Ghazi al Gosaibi, the academic, minister, ambassador, poet, writer and researcher.
In each of these guises, Gosaibi, also known as Abu Yara, preferred to be direct and critical. Most recently, as Minister of Labor in Saudi Arabia, he has waged war on the trading of visas, or as he has called it, the trading of people, while championing Saudization. Raising concerns amongst Saudi businessmen who fear Saudization might have a negative effect on the private sector.
Some of Al Gosaibi’s followers might have forgotten the battles he fought in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. At the time, the Minister wrote a series of stormy articles in Asharq al Awsat, where he replied to the rejectionist Arab camp, which at the time included the Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, King Hussein of Jordan, Yasser Arafat, and Sudan’s President Omar Bashir and his supporters.
One of the most exciting clashes to take place at the time pitted Al Gosaibi against a leading political Islamist and one of the “stars” of that era who has recently returned to the fore, Hassan Al Turabi. Once an ally of Jaafar Al Numeiri and then Osama Bin Laden, the Sudanese Islamist lured Carlos the Jackal to Sudan before handing him over to the French in 1994.
The two men held very divergent views following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and it was normal for his attitude to anger those harmed by Saddam’s “annexation” of the Emirates and his threats to Saudi Arabia. Al Gosaibi wrote in Asharq al Awsat on 22 February 1991 about perplexing support shown by several Islamist groups, movements and personalities to a Baathist secular regime opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood and a ruler such as Saddam. This was, of course, before the Iraqi dictator transformed himself into a pious Muslim.
But Al Gosabi wrote their support was solely based on political expediency and had nothing to with Islam. He singled out in particular Al Turabi and attacked his opportunism. Indeed, the Sudanese leader had said, “The presence of the Americans in the region is nothing but one of the tools of the Islamist movement. The presence of the Americans will untie all Islamist groups.” Of course, Al Gosaibi did not let the occasion slip without criticizing these words.
According to Al Turabi, one of the benefits of the Iraqi invasion would be to bring down the current regime in all Gulf Cooperation Council countries because they are “ignorant of Islam and revolution”.
The Sudanese Islamist leader concludes, “This event [the Kuwait crisis] has brought down the claims of traditional leaders who used to speak in the name of Islam: the ulama.
More than a decade later and the situation remains the same. There are the sponsors of political Islam who continue to adopt similar views starting with those who see the U.S presence in Iraq as a God send, in order to infuse life in the jihadist current, to those who consider the global religious crisis caused by the Danish cartoons as an opportunity to drum up popular support, as Sheikh Al Qardawi and his followers believe.
Al Turabi has failed to lead the “Popular Arab and Islamic Conference” which he had wanted to transform into an umbrella organization under which minor Islamist groups and movements would shelter. He had sought to release a revolutionary Islamist movement that would bring down “corrupt” and “ignorant” Arab regimes. Al Turabi, according to one of his sympathizers in Saudi Arabia focused on three areas: Dawaa (preaching), thought and politics. He succeeded in on the first two fronts unlike the third.
Once more, Al Turabi has returned to politics and is preaching new opinions in Islamic jurisprudence, such as permitting female imams as well as other notions in his book, which he wrote while in prison entitled “Politics and Government”.
But al Turabi has remained the same and so have our problems!
In an interview with Asharq al Awsat after his release, the Islamist ideologue said Al Qaeda was an American illusion and that Osama Bin Laden was in Sudan for business reasons only! As if Osama was the representative of General Motors and not “Sheikh Al Mujahideen,” who al Turabi knows very well.
In conclusion, Al Turabi’s deception remains unaffected by the passage of time and so does Al Gosaibi’s battle with the enemies of yesterday, despite calls in some quarters to let bygone’s be bygone’s! The Saudi Minister of Labor was transformed by his foes into a symbol of evil until the veil was exposed by the winds of globalizations, and the illusions of Islamic fundamentalism collapsed on 11 September 2001, as the dreams of nationalism had disintegrated after the August invasion of Kuwait.
The fight remains the same, albeit with different scenes and minor details.