Friday, December 3, 2021

Sudan Tribune

Plural news and views on Sudan

Freed Sudanese Islamist calls for elections

KHARTOUM, Sudan, Oct. 19, 2003 (PANA) — Hassan al-Turabi, Sudan’s Islamist Sudanese opposition leader released from house earlier this week has called for early elections to bolster the peace deal being negotiated by the government in Khartoum and southern rebels.

In an interview published by a local daily al-Khartoum on Saturday, al-Turabi, Sudan President Omar Hassan al-Bashir’s ally until his detention in 2001 following a power struggle, said that regions deserved to be given more powers, including on matters of religion.

The imposition of Islamic Sharia law prompted the southern rebellion against the central government that erupted in 1983.

Sudan, Africa’s largest country, is mainly Christian or animist in the south and Muslim in the north.

Bashir’s Islamist government, which seized to power in a coup in 1989, is now engaged in talks with the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M) to end the 20-year-old conflict that has killed 2 million people and displaced more than four million others.

Wealth and power sharing are the main issues at the current peace talks in Naivasha, Kenya. The belligerents have already agreed in principle on issues of religion and giving the south the right to vote on whether to secede from the rest of Sudan or not after six years.

Turabi, who heads the Popular National Congress Party (PNC) and was once the ideologue for Bashir’s government, said elections were key to preventing secession of the south.

“Elections should be as soon as possible,” the 70-year-old politician told Sudan’s daily Al-Khartoum at his home in Khartoum, adding that the government in Sudan should be decentralised. “Sudan is too big to be governed from one centre,” he said.

He said Bashir’s government had misrepresented his ideas on implementing Sharia. According to him, most laws, including those on freedom of worship and alcohol consumption, should be determined by individuals, not the state.

“Family laws, personal laws … what you drink, the way you dress, the way you associate with people … Those laws have to be personalised. Other laws have to be local. Each federated state parliament should develop its own laws,” he said.

Turabi said he wanted “freedom for all, even for those who attack Islam, as long as it’s verbal or writing, allow it. And then democracy, for all people down to the bottom.”

Bashir detained Turabi in 2001, after accusing him of Committing “crimes against the state”. Bashir’s rage followed a memorandum of understanding the Islamist leader signed with the SPLA/M, which was then still fighting government forces in the south.

Turabi’s release was seen as a government attempt to rally support from the Islamist leader’s northern support base for an impending peace deal with the SPLA/M, which is seeking more autonomy for the south.

For many southerners, Turabi is a symbol of Khartoum’s attempt to impose Arabic and Islam in the south.

Securing a peace deal is seen as crucial to ending Sudan’s international isolation, which Washington lists one of the “sponsors of state terrorism.”

The US government has played a key role in pressuring Khartoum to end the war in the south.

In the 1990s, when Sudan played host to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, Turabi was seen as the driving force behind Khartoum’s promotion of Islamic militant groups.

He organised conferences in Sudan attended by Muslim militant groups from the Arab world.

Meanwhile, Turabi, a European-educated lawyer, said the US-led war on terror has turned Muslims against the United States.

“The worst thing is happening now because the whole Muslim world … is announcing that America is the devil,” he said.

“Americans are anti-Islam. The word terrorism is used simply as a cover-up for the war on Islam,” he said, adding that the US campaign had turned bin Laden into a hero for many.

In a presidential decree, Bashir ordered Turabi’s release along with all other political detainees who have been held over the last two years. The decree also lifted a ban imposed on the political activities of Turabi’s PNC.

In August Sudan promised to free all political detainees as part of peace talks with the southern rebels.