Khartoum, Asharq Al-Awsat – In an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Islamist Sudanese opposition leader, Dr. Hassan Abdallah al-Turabi, warned that the al-Bashir regime may collapse and plunge Sudan into chaos. The controversial Sudanese Islamist figure, who was a major power behind the 1989 coup before falling out with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, spoke with Asharq Al-Awsat at the headquarters of his opposition People’s Congress Party in Khartoum. The interview focused on the current political situation in Sudan, the Arab Spring and the secession of South Sudan, amongst other issues.
Dr. Hassan Adballah al-Turabi is widely viewed as the ideological power being the 1989 Islamist revolution that brought Omar al-Bashir to power. He formed the National Islamic Front in the 1960s, before this group was banned and its members arrested after General Gaafar Nimeiry took power in 1969. Al-Turabi returned to political life in 1977 after reconciling with the Sudanese president. He later went on to become Nimeiry’s Minister of Justice, before backing Omar al-Bashir’s coup against him. Al-Turabi had enjoyed close ties with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir; however following a bitter power struggle between 1999 and 2000 al-Turabi defected from the ruling National Congress Party to form his own party. Al-Turabi has been arrested by the al-Bashir regime more than 5 times since then, being imprisoned for a number of years during this period.
The following is the full text of the interview:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are statements attributed to you saying that if President Al-Bashir’s regime falls, the alternative will be Islamist. Can you elaborate?
[Al-Turabi] We consider “freedom” to be the most important thing, because presenting Islam on its own, without other concepts, does not make it real Islam. Reading the developments and events, we realize that Islam is behind them. The Sudanese are no longer hostages to history, sects, or quotas. When people are liberated, they will not find a tendency closer to them than Islam.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What I understood from your statement is that you propose your party, the People’s Congress Party, as an alternative to the current regime?
[Al-Turabi] After all the development we have lived through, we will not become the previous or current name, or the upcoming party; we are not a historic party linked to its language, name, leaders, or heritage.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So are you saying that you present a new party and name for the upcoming stage?
[Al-Turabi] Perhaps we will propose a new organization, because Islam will be restructured anew. I mean that there is no other tendency that is more qualified than Islam if there is freedom; there are historic tendencies, but education, the communication revolution, and migration have influenced these tendencies.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Sudanese history says that the “evil cycle” or the duality of “democracy and military coup d’état” gives a new life to sectarianism?
[Al-Turabi] This is not true. In the first Sudanese freedom revolution (October 1964) Al-Baja Congress emerged as an independent party, whose areas are affiliated to a sectarian side (meaning Al-Khatamiyyah Sect), independent Deputies for Nuba Mountains reached Parliament, new parties such as the Communist Party and the Islamists emerged, and the Darfur Development would have got rid of its old cloak had it not been eventually contained. “Servants” used to come to the Sudanese merchants from the south; however, after October [revolution] new men came from the south, such as Able Alier, and new powers such as the separatist Southern Front.
Then, the conflict between the sect and the party started within the Democratic Unionist party, between the politics and the divinity, and hence they separated from each other, and the Ummah Party split between the leadership and the Imamate.
We will not freeze like Islamic jurisprudence. There only are four Imams (Malik, Al-Shafii, Ibn Hanbal, and Abu-Hanifah) despite the existence of hundreds of improvisers along more than 1,000 years, and two sects, Shiites and Sunnis, and the Sufi ways. Why should not be Samanis, Tijanis, Abdul-Qadiris, and so on? If this does not occur here, it will take place in another country, and then it will storm us, because we are not isolated from the world.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] With the efforts you are exerting with the “Arab spring” countries, are trying to present yourself as an authority and a leader of the political Islam in the region?
[Al-Turabi] I cannot say that. I do not consider myself an authority in Sudan, but it is the “authority” complex, when we steer away from God, we look up to the “Sheikhs and authorities.” This does not apply only to us, because the entire world is like this. The west hated Islam, and hence “it killed Bin Laden, and it only has Al-Turabi now;” they have hit me in Canada, but it was not yet my time of death.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] After the “Arab spring revolutions,” the Islamists proposed “freedom” but without giving it socio-political or cultural content?
[Al-Turabi] God has left freedom like this without a concept to be believed be force, “There is no coercion in religion.”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But the human experience has produced ways to reach freedom?
[Al-Turabi] When you say the human experience you mean the “European” experience; are not there people in China and Latin America? The European experience has emphasized the forgotten meanings of religion when the Muslims were free and selected their Caliph by “elections” and with the participation of women. After how many years from that date have women participated in voting in Europe?
Look who awarded women the right to vote in Sudan in 1964, and look at what the revolution created by the Islamists among the university professors and students, who held forums, and stood against discrimination for the benefit of graduates and giving them elite privileges; they wanted equality for the people, and hence we call ourselves the People’s Congress.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] I have heard that you have reservations over the “civil state” within the opposition alliance of the national unanimity party, “the Democratic Alternative.” Over what are your reservations?
[Al-Turabi] During the transitional period, we do not want any principle other than freedom. We did not say “Islamic” against what they propose; “civil” means “western,” and it means “non-religious.” Why do they not deal explicitly and say: “Non-religious?” When they propose the civil state do they mean “the state of the Prophet?” You know them. I say: Be frank and say “non-religious state.”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What if the concept of a “non-religious” state is proposed?
[Al-Turabi] [The proposal is] a “secular non-religious state” is neither for or against religion, getting religion out of politics, banning any party based on religious foundations, and preventing any sect from establishing a party. We said to them we agree on freedom, and with the end of the transitional period, everyone has the right to present what he wants.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If the charter of the national unanimity forces stipulates as “secular non-religious” state, will the People’s Congress Party agree to it?
[Al-Turabi] Then, we would be hypocrites. The People’s Congress Party will work against this regime until it falls, and then it stands against these people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Then this means that your acceptance is “tactical?”
[Al-Turabi] This is a stage in which I can buy from a “wanton, atheist, infidel” person who has goods I need; I can even rent his house! Most of the parties have abandoned the term “civil,” and we do not call for an “Islamist” state, but we call for a state in which there is freedom of the press and of forming parties, a state that is governed transitionally by agreed parliamentary, ministerial, and presidential councils.
After the end of the transitional period and the preparation of the permanent constitution, everyone has the right to propose what he wants, even if it is an Islamist state with one Caliph, or governed by the Sufi Sheikhs. These are tricks used by anyone who is afraid to say, “I am a religious ruler, and I do not want anyone to struggle over power against me,” and hence let me say to them: “A civil state” and hence they will follow me like sheep! I said to them: I am not with you on this, and I am against this system. Everybody has abandoned the “civil state,” the only one who keeps clinging to it is the one considered closer to religion (Al-Turabi hints to Imam Al-Mahdi), who stays behind the word “civil” because it hides him, and hence he uses it to deceive the people.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you think of the Islamist who stayed in power after your famous split?
[Al-Turabi] I consider them only “Muslims,” because I do not judge anyone to be outside the Islamic faith. The word “Islamist” is a new word, and it means getting politics, arts, and economics in religion, after they were taken out of it. The Islamists want to bring these issues anew into religions; these people have had Islamist “intentions” in politics.
Even in the Medina state, our Master Muhammad (God’s prayer and peace be upon him) was not a dictator, and did not ban newspapers, “Satan’s Party,” the hypocrites, the infidels, and the Jews, despite the fact that they were slandering him; he did not say: I will put you on trial in military courts.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In your assessment, the conflict within the ruling group, which has reached the level of exchanging accusations of fraud, where will it lead?
[Al-Turabi] This group has not learned fraud just now; they have been practicing fraud for a long time. Before the split they rigged the elections in order to bring in a secretary general of the Islamist movement other than the one the people chose. The same as there is a Muslim who steels, gets drunk, and commits adultery, these people commit fraud.
In the last elections “the Ummah Party, the independents, the Communists, the Baathists, the People’s Congress Party” with all their grassroots did not manage to gain 1 percent of the parliamentary seats; is this conceivable? Fraud is their nature. We know who committed fraud, and who printed the papers, and other things, but we are not preoccupied with the scandals; this is the fault of the country, and if the country is satisfied with this, then its people are responsible for it.
You always accuse the government of corruption, but you forget that most of the market is based on “flying checks.” All this corruption will collapse through the people’s will to live, because we have overthrown the rule of former President Ibrahim Abbud in a single day. We have lost hope in them completely, and we will not enter in any elections with them.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] In the light of the state of conflict that has surfaced, in what direction is President Al-Bashir’s regime going?
[Al-Turabi] My personal assessment is that it is going to collapse and fall. The country is torn up, there are threats of severing other parts of it, there is no freedom and suppression leads to explosion, and the economic crisis is exerting severe pressure on the people. This kind of tension in most cases brings in revolution.
The situation of the regime is very bad; it is abject, hunted down, politically isolated, and criminally accused by the world; and internally it is as you can see. I expect it to collapse suddenly.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are the scenarios of this collapse?
[Al-Turabi] It will fragment from within between newly established Islamists and appeased Islamists. I beseech God that the opposition is prepared, because if the regime collapses, we will move from an odious regime to chaos, and the situation will be worse than it is in Somalia, because of the lack of something that unites the Sudanese. The opposition has to organize its ranks in order to fill the vacuum.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you mean a shadow government?
[Al-Turabi] A shadow government is not sufficient. The opposition ought to be prepared with institutions and policies for the transitional period. The opposition members have agreed most of the issues, including the powers that carry arms.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The “youth movements” accuse you of complacency about directing your membership to participate in the demonstrations. What is your reply?
[Al-Turabi] Most of those arrested at the demonstrations are not members of any party; however, there are parties whose members have been arrested. Usually the youths have a prominent role in revolutions, because they have no families to support, no senior jobs for which to fear, and no large capital for which to fear; therefore, the youths are freer, and closer to the revolution than the old who fear for the son, the wife, the job, and the shop.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What exactly do these groups say to the political leaders; is it that the parties have been set aside, and have not issued clear instructions to their grassroots to participate?
[Al-Turabi] This is not true. For instance, we in the People’s Congress Party, will none of our members participate if we do not ask him to do so? Does the issue of overthrowing the regime need instructions?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is a difference between political talk about overthrowing the regime and the party instructing its membership to participate?
[Al-Turabi] Any member of the People’s Congress Party knows that the party line is to overthrow the regime via a popular revolution. We have said that publicly in the international press, because the national press does not convey this, but the people listen to the radio.
In order not to do the other parties injustice, it is true that the coordination elements between the political groups everywhere in Sudan have been arrested. However, I will not vote for someone merely because he is young, but I will vote for him on the basis of a program.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] these powers do not present themselves as political powers that aspire to ascend to power, but as powers that exert pressure in the direction of revolution and overthrowing the regime?
[Al-Turabi] Who has been detained more than us during the evens of the last decade? Since we separated from these people, we have been imprisoned more. Our decisions come out from the general secretariat of the liaison office, and are conveyed directly to all our grassroots among the students, the sectors, and the public everywhere in Sudan.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You are facing accusations, even from some of your supporters, of “clinging” to the leadership of your parties?
[Al-Turabi] It is very easy to slander Al-Turabi; the Salafis slander him because of his stance toward women, and toward apostasy, and “they call on Amin Hasan Umar to hit him” in order to promote the newspapers. By nature, I do not reply to such things.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are things to make this accusation objective, as the new generations do not know anyone other than “Al-Turabi, Al-Sadiq, [Muhammad Ibrahim] Naqd, God have mercy on his soul, and Al-Mirghani,” who continue to be leaders of parties, and they do not change except by death?
[Al-Turabi] Under the climate of dictatorship it is difficult to establish intercommunication between the generations. I do not specify or present a new person, because I am neither an heir apparent nor a Caliph. The people choose the most appropriate person, and they stipulate that he should be national, international, and speaks and organizes well.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If Al-Turabi refuses to accept the post proposed to him, the congress will have other options, but Al-Turabi usually agrees?
[Al-Turabi] When the freedom is opened up, the options become opened up, and the leaders are elected. You criticize me, or make someone else slander Al-Turabi in order to “promote your newspaper,” because none of the suppressed does so. For instance, if I ask you to name ten names in Ummah Party, other than Al-Sadiq al-Mahdi and Maryam [al-Mahdi], you will not be able to do so.
During the short period of freedom, the members of the sectarian party were split among themselves into the Democratic Unionist Party and Ummah Party, and their grassroots rebelled against “the first man” despite the fact that he inherits power, and is not changed except when he goes.
Had there been freedom, Muhammad Ibrahim Naqd, God have mercy on his soul, would have left his place for you before he died, and then another and another would have come after him.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The contracted agreements between the north and the south, would they contribute to the resolution of the regime’s dilemma?
[Al-Turabi] The agreement ignored issues, such as Abyei, which will be raised within the other sides by activists, and here there are activist tribes that will raise this issue anew. The agreement also ignored the issue of the borders, and the issue of South Kurdufan and the Blue Nile, which geographically and historically are linked to the south, and have their relations with the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, because they were the same movement.
The agreement deals with the issue of trade, because from the beginning the prevention of trade was “stupid,” and it removed the military force from specific regions. They agreed on petrol, and negotiated a price of between nine dollars and 36 dollars per barrel, and then agreed a price of over nine dollars in the strangest bargaining process. One side proposed a price of 36 dollars per barrel, and the other side proposed nine dollars, and they reached an agreement on 9.5 dollars per barrel! This is ridiculous and really humiliating. As an African, you have described me as an “insect;” therefore, should not I gloat when you accept such agreements?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Could this agreement prolong the survival of the regime?
[Al-Turabi] I do not think so. Do not consider freedom to be an easy cause; at the time of the October revolution there was no economic issue. I do not want ” a revolution of the hungry,” and I beseech God to spare us the revolution of the hungry, because it normally is brutal.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] After nearly a quarter of a century since the coup d’etat planned by Dr Hasan al-Turabi, how do you see the situation?
[Al-Turabi] Why do you insist that the event was arranged by Hasan al-Turabi alone; it was agreed by the Shura Council; I am not a god to do that alone! We have been prevented from reaching the people with their consent more than once, we have been hit twice, once in a coalition with another party, and before that with the dictator (Jaafar al-Numayri), and then we intervened with the army; with hindsight we have said: “This was wrong, wrong;” change ought to have happened through a popular revolution.