(FinalCall.com) – Prior to his recent arrest, The Final Call interviewed Dr. Hassan Al-Turabi, a Sudanese political leader, and discovered this constitutional scholar and Islamist, a former friend of President Omar Bashir and former House speaker in Sudan willing to openly and frankly speak his mind, not caring about possible consequences.
As secretary general of the Popular Congress Party, Turabi has had his share of conflicts with Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party, since he left the organization. He has been arrested at least five times. The government’s latest arrest of Turabi on May 15 seemed to coincide with closure of the Popular Congress Party-affiliated daily newspaper Ray Alsh’ab.
According to published reports, the arrest was in response to the publication of a story alleging the Islamic Republic of Iran had constructed a “weapons factory” somewhere in Sudan, with the aim of supplying “Islamists insurgents in Somalia and Yemeni … as well as (the) Islamist Palestinian movement Hamas.” This might have been enough to spook the ruling NCP, which remembers clearly President Bill Clinton’s 1998 bombing of a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum after Clinton alleged the plant was hiding manufacture of “weapons of mass destruction.”
The day after the arrest, speaking via Sudan Radio Service, Dr. Turabi’s wife, Wisal Al-Turabi, said she feels “the government is thinking we are helping our brothers in Darfur” and gave that fear as the apparent reason for Turabi’s arrest. “Nobody has managed to resolve this issue because they don’t want a peaceful solution–just military solutions. But they didn’t succeed because the International Criminal Court has been monitoring them,” she added.
What she meant was her husband was arrested and accused of being in cahoots with the Darfur rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). In recent weeks the government and JEM have been involved in skirmishes. Reports claim over 100 JEM fighters have been killed by government troops and many captured.
But just before April elections in Sudan, Turabi spoke with this writer in Khartoum. He talked about everything from the impossibility of America winning the war in Afghanistan, to the importance of the recent Sudanese elections, and credited Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan with knowing “the Qur’an better than many (Islamic) scholars that speak Arabic.” Dr. Turabi expressed his views in a one-hour interview and pulled no punches.
“(The United States) they’ll never beat the Afghanis,” Turabi said convincingly. “The British tried them. They conquered the whole of India for 300 years… but they couldn’t conquer the Afghanis. They are mountain people (and) mountain people are like rocks. You cannot beat them. You just waste your time, your blood and their blood.”
Dr. Turabi responded to a question concerning Sudan’s first election in 24 years, saying it “was a good thing,” two days before holding a press conference condemning the elections. He also condemned the election after losing his bid for a congressional seat. Whether one has anything to do with the other is anyone’s guess. One thing for sure, Turabi described the election as a paradigm swing. What comes after the race, which not only included the election of the president but also of governors and members of Parliament as well, would mean “checks and balances and controls” on the presidency, Turabi said.
In fact, the most “exciting and untold story” of the election is indeed the “power shifts occurring” in Sudan, a vast country. According to Feisal Abdul Rauf, who led the first ever international, independent, Muslim-led election observation mission, “The Sudanese people elected all 25 governors in all 25 states, all 450 members of the National Assembly and members of all 25 state assemblies–previously all appointed by Khartoum.” In addition 25 percent of the seats in the new parliament were set-aside for women who voted in large numbers.
Though Turabi’s answer concerning the election was an eye opener, his response to a question concerning Min. Farrakhan was insightful. Saying he met with Min Farrakhan on different occasions, the Muslim scholar said, Farrakhan “is a proper Muslim just like me and everybody else.” Explaining his take on why Min Farrakhan has taught Blacks much about their racial identity while Islam is “non racial,” Turabi said, “Blacks have a complex of inferiority.” Min Farrakhan had “to little bit overload them so they have a sense of equality to others,” he continued. In addition Turabi said he once saw Min. Farrakhan “answer questions” in Sudan “to the press and to others better than many so-called scholars of Qur’an.”
Responding to a question concerning the pros and cons of Sudan’s oil economy, Turabi said from the beginning “we said it (oil wealth) had to be focused on infrastructure (development).” This included making sure peoples’ personal needs were met, meaning “(sufficient) electricity, drinking water, basic education, health and nothing more than that,” he stressed.
Using the example of oil producing countries like Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, he said, “People abandoned agriculture, abandoned industry, and just waited for the (Chevron’s or British Petroleum’s of the world) to come and prospect (for oil) and pull it out (of the ground) and transport it (abroad) and bring us this easy money.” He said oil wealth was “like inherited money from my rich father.” Many oil-producing nations “want to live just like that … with no other resources,” he said. Turabi added, “That is how we (Sudan) lost much of our agricultural schemes, they (just) collapsed, (because of the focus on oil production).”
According to a recent estimate, oil makes up over half of the revenue for the Government of National Unity of Sudan, and over 95 percent of the Government of Southern Sudan’s revenue.
A 2008 Sudan Tribune report notes that though the region has some of the most fertile land in Africa, “you hardly see a tractor… let alone harvesters, irrigation systems and modern machineries that you would expect to see in territories (as fertilely rich) as Southern Sudan.”
Instead of Southern Sudan using its substantial oil revenue to feed its people by developing an agricultural economy as Dr. Turabi suggests, the U.S. has had to “lead the charge” and come in and start a “$55 million program in Southern Sudan to help improve the ability of small farmers to grow stable crops,” according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Turabi said sarcatically, “We don’t want to go and get into agriculture, or why should we work at all” given oil revenue?
The 77-year-old Turabi stressed if oil wealth was used properly “it should have been used to build more roads, and then farmers can grow their crops and reach the market, otherwise you can’t.”
(To leave a comment go to http://africawatch53.blogspot.com. Jehron Muhammad can be reached at [email protected].)
Artists campaign for Sudan unity (Video, 05-13-2010)
Sudan election a good first step (FCN, 04-25-2010)
African Union High Level Panel on Darfur – A Blueprint For What Plagues Africa (FCN, 12-14-2009)
Serious questions about politics in Sudan and North Africa (FCN, 11-05-2009)