“Sudanese Bin Laden-linked Islamist wants Obama win.” Here’s an AFP headline I could have written and it has yet to be ‘fixed’ to something more innocuous, like “Moderate Islamist hopes Obama second term will improve relations with the West.”
Sudan’s veteran Islamist leader Hassan al-Turabi, linked to Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the 1990s, hopes US President Barack Obama will win a second term on Tuesday.
“Obama of course,” Turabi told AFP when asked about his US presidential preference during an interview.
“He’s gentle towards the Muslims generally,” Turabi said, and referred to Obama’s childhood spent in Muslim-majority Indonesia, and his Kenyan father who was raised a Muslim.
Obama uses the word “terrorism” far less than his predecessor George W. Bush, and his name is a variant of the Arabic word “Baraka”, Turabi said. “You know what ‘Baraka’ means in Arabic? Blessing.”
Here’s what the AFP story isn’t telling you about Turabi.
President Jafaar an-Nimeiri’s decision to impose sharia, or Islamic law, throughout the country in 1983 renewed tensions between the two parties, and war broke out again. Nimeiri’s Islamicization project was urged on by Sudan’s Muslim Brotherhood, including its leading ideologue and the country’s attorney general, Hassan al-Turabi.
The man who would later become known for inviting Osama Bin Laden to make his home in Khartoum in 1991 has long been a central figure in Sudanese politics. Turabi’s brother-in-law Sadeq al-Mahdi ran the country from 1985 until 1989, when the NIF and current ruler Lt.-Gen. Omar al-Bashir came to power in a military coup that Turabi supported.
Indeed, as the one-time spiritual guide of the NIF, Turabi was said to be the power behind the throne and thus most likely supplied the government with its additional rationale for continuing the war—jihad. After all, Khartoum was fighting to protect Islam and sharia against non-Muslims. Many of the Christians and animists who resisted sharia and refused to convert to Islam were killed, with the death toll from two decades of fighting recently estimated at around 2 million.
It’s worth remembering that, as the NIF’s chief ideologue, Turabi played on the other side, against Africans, when he boasted of wanting to “Arabize Africa.” Over the last several decades, this spiritual guide for hire has not only determined most of Sudan’s political and military battlegrounds, he also helped turn the country into a well-known international jihadist resort: Bin Laden, who reportedly married one of Turabi’s nieces, and Ayman al-Zawahiri both spent part of the ’90s in Sudan.
Nonetheless, during that time, a number of Western academics and journalists saw Sudan as an exciting experiment in Islamic governance, and Turabi, its architect, wrote Georgetown professor John O. Voll, “had an international reputation as an imaginative advocate of renewal and rethinking the foundations of Islamic law.” Turabi was a media darling. Milton Viorst once described him as “a man of brilliant intellect and ineffable charm … admired by many, and even more feared by some. He is at ease in both tie and turban.”
That was in 2004. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Meanwhile Obama’s new pal was quite offended when Bin Laden got his burial at sea. And he promised a moderate Arab Spring.
Turabi, who was a minister in President Omar el-Beshir’s government for 10 years, was arrested in January shortly after warning of a Tunisia-style uprising. After his release he again called for a revolution against corruption.
The Arab spring will probably lead to “a new Islamic wave”, he declares. “But it is more moderate, it’s more considerate, more constructive rather than destructive. It is not anti-Western just like that.”