Religious zealot who has turned Sudan into a pariah state

Khartoum's Islamic path has left the nation friendless and in poverty, reports Mary Braid

Dr Hassan al-Turabi gazed out of his office window, above the point where the Blue and White Niles meet, and sniffed at the British colonial bridge which still traverses the river.

The religious guru, accused by the US of supporting Islamic terrorism, preferred to focus further upstream on the bridge being built by the Chinese.

To say Dr Turabi, speaker of the Sudanese parliament and leader of National Islamic Front (NIF), which seized power in Sudan seven years ago, was anti-British would be a monumental understatement. "We did not ask them to come here and massacre people," Dr Turabi said, referring to Kitchener's defeat of the Mahdist tribesmen a century ago at the Battle of Omdurman, which led to British-Egyptian rule in Sudan until independence in 1956.

In his opulent office, where engraved Islamic texts sit alongside mounted models of bullets, Dr Turabi says Britain hardly invests in Sudan any more. He looks beyond the obvious - like the NIF's alleged links with terrorists - for reasons, and argues that the British, like the Egyptians, are jealous of the former colony's success.

It is hard to see how. Despite Dr Turabi's upbeat assertions, Sudan could hardly be in worse shape. The Islamic Arab north has been at war with the African Christian and animist south for 30 of the past 40 years. The war has claimed millions of lives and is estimated to be costing $1m (pounds 625,000) a day.

Sudan could do with friends but in the seven years since the NIF manipulated itself into power - immediately banning all political parties - Sudan has become one of the loneliest countries on the planet. It is shunned by Arab countries for its support of Iraq during the Gulf War and for harbouring Islamist extremists. Egypt believes Sudan was involved in the 1995 assassination attempt on President Hosni Mubarak, and the country is virtually at war with Uganda, which it accuses of backing southern SPLA rebels.

Now its eastern neighbours Eritrea and Ethiopia, worried by its expansionist rhetoric, have given refuge to Dr Turabi's brother-in-law and former prime minister, Sadiq al Mahdi, who fled Khartoum at Christmas. Mr Mahdi, great grandson of the original 19th century leader and head of the National Democratic Alliance, shook the Turabi regime to its roots in January by launching the first joint attack on Sudan's eastern border by his northern opposition group and the SPLA.

An undeclared international embargo, meanwhile, has dried foreign investment and aid to a trickle.

Dr Turabi believes Sudan's Islamic government is setting an example for the entire Arab world, and at first meeting his overseas reputation as a "mad, evil genius" seems undeserved.

Who can blame a poor Arab country for trying to forge its own way? "It is good they have isolated us," he says. "It forces us to be independent."

Dr Turabi, who was educated at London University, the Sorbonne and in the US, became a bogeyman only in the 1990s but he has been pulling strings in Sudanese politics for decades, nursing his Islamic dream andwaiting for his chance.

He talks for two hours. Western democratic systems are routinely trashed. Dr Turabi does admit, however, that Sudan has buckled under US pressure. It has expelled some alleged extremists and made itself less of a home from home for radical Islamic movements.

Ironically, Washington refuses to acknowledge any change. It recently provided Eritrea, Ethiopia and Uganda with $20m of "non lethal" military aid. That strengthens Dr Turabi's call for defiance. "If that is what the US admits to, there is far more happening covertly," he says.

After attacking all international enemies, Dr Turabi sneers at those at home who believe religion is something private and separate from politics. Unfortunately that is the way the majority of Sudanese Muslims (Sufis) see it.

The logical conclusion of Dr Turabi's Islam occurred during the January attack in the east when an imam in camouflage fatigues, wielding an AK47, incited people in Khartoum to jihad. The call did bring considerable numbers on to the street but the fervour was short-lived. Many Sudanese were offended by this fusion of politics and religion.

Sudan is a comparatively relaxed Islamic country and its Muslim population is conducting a quiet but highly effective campaign to keep it that way.

Directives that men and women should not walk together and women cover themselves more completely are ignored. "They will never make their brand of Islam stick," says a Sudanese academic. "People are saying little but they stay away. The sheikhs are also silent. That is their statement."

The professor, like most government opponents, is too afraid to give his name. Khartoum is crawling with security police and up to 500 dissidents are estimated to be under arrest.

But in Dr Turabi's eyes there are no secret police or "ghost houses" where dissidents are tortured; there is only a "free country" and popular support for a government poised to realise Sudan's enormous potential.

Suggested Topics
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home