Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Al-Turabi and Mubarak’s assassination attempt

Asmaa Al-Husseini reports on the latest revelation linking Sudan’s Hassan Al-Turabi to the assassination attempt against Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak

Al-Ahram Weekly

Exactly 21 years have passed since the assassination attempt against former president Hosni Mubarak while attending an African summit in Addis Ababa. The incident has resurfaced following Al-Jazeera TV’s revelation of testimony by the Hassan Al-Turabi on that incident which would have such a great impact on Egyptian-Sudanese relations.

The testimony, which was recorded in an interview in 2010 and aired on the Qatari-based satellite TV station, triggered widespread controversy in Egypt and Sudan, and throughout their various media and social networking sites. Moreover, Egyptian lawyers and political activists have begun to campaign to reopen the case of Sudanese involvement in the assassination attempt and to bring it before international courts.

In the interview, Al-Turabi, the secretary-general of the National Islamic Front (NIF) who died in March, admitted that the Sudanese regime had, in fact, been implicated in the assassination attempt, confirming the accusation that Mubarak had levelled at the time against Khartoum. Al-Turabi denied that either he or Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir had any knowledge of the assassination plot, although he identified certain individuals who, he said, were directly responsible for the planning and execution of the plot. Nevertheless, this does not exonerate Al-Turabi who, following the NIF coup in 1989, was the Sudanese strongman at the time of the assassination attempt and who had harboured extremist Islamist movements in Sudan. He and Al-Bashir were responsible for every detail concerning government policy and operations. More significantly, the two officials eventually promoted the very individuals that Al-Turabi had identified as being responsible for the assassination attempt to the highest offices. Ali Osman Mohamed Taha, who had been Al-Turabi’s vice-president in FIS and foreign minister in 1995, became Al-Bashir’s first vice-president. Nafie Ali Nafie became Al-Bashir’s senior aide and Salah Qoush became chief of Sudanese Intelligence. Such promotions are curious for someone who, according to the testimony, claims to have disapproved of the operation.

Further questions are raised by Al-Turabi’s disclosure that the assassination plot was funded to the tune of $1 million, secretly taken from the FIS coffers and paid to the Egyptian and Sudanese operatives who, in addition, were given Sudanese diplomatic passports and flown to Ethiopia.  Among the Egyptian assassins were Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya leader Mustafa Hamza and Safwat Abdel-Ghani. The identities of all the Egyptians and Sudanese executers were revealed in other “leaks” that some believe originated with Al-Turabi himself. All these individuals were subsequently eliminated in horrific ways even though all evidence of the crime had been effaced.

Some in Sudan and perhaps in Egypt as well believe that the information is not new. Egyptian intelligence agencies clearly obtained much of it immediately after the incident and certain Sudanese circles were also aware of many of the details. Moreover, Al-Turabi had alluded to some of the information frequently, but never before had the incident been discussed at such length and so explicitly by the founder of FIS and the godfather of the regime that has been ruling Sudan for 28 years.

Many are curious as to why this testimony has surfaced and is being accorded such attention at this moment. It has been suggested that this was motivated by a hatred for Al-Turabi and a form of retaliation against his hostility toward Egypt. Others suggest that it is motivated by a desire to settle old scores and to stir renewed tension between Cairo and Khartoum.

Numerous historians and political analysts cite 26 June 1995, the date of the assassination attempt, as a turning point in the history of Egyptian-Sudanese relations. The incident brought detrimental repercussions for citizens of both countries as the result of decisions that caused interruptions in commerce, the movement of people between the two countries, educational programmes and students’ studies, and peoples’ healthcare and remedy needs. Others are of the opinion that the consequences of the incident were even more far-reaching and cast a shadow over the region as a whole. It harmed Egyptian national security while, at the same time, the alienation of Egypt from Sudan worked to facilitate the secession of South Sudan. The forces plotting the partition of the Sudan could never have succeeded otherwise and worked to fuel tension and disputes between Khartoum and Cairo until the rupture was complete.

The Addis Ababa incident can also be said to have weakened Egypt with respect to Ethiopia and the Nile waters question as well as Egypt’s position in the region as a whole. The decline of the Egyptian presence in Ethiopia and Africa, in general, dates from that time. Prior to this, Mubarak was involved in Africa and favoured an active Egyptian foreign policy in the continent. After the terrorist attack against him, Egypt’s African relations declined which, in turn, was a major cause of the Nile water crisis that Egypt faces today. This is why many believe that the assassination attempt, now that it has resurfaced, should not be allowed to be reburied due to some notion of a statute of limitations. Probing it in light of Al-Turabi’s revelations and deriving the lessons that incident holds is important for the two peoples, for history and for our countries’ welfare, especially as this could help avert similar experiences in the future.

The Al-Jazeera series that has just aired the Al-Turabi testimony recorded six years ago raises a number of other questions. Why now? Had Al-Turabi stipulated in some will that this should only be broadcast after his death? Why did the Qatari TV station keep this interview mum all this time? Or did the Sudanese government try to pressure or plea with Doha to keep it under wraps for all these years in order to avoid all the problems caused by stirring this hornets’ nest?

Whatever the truth is, in the world of the media no news agency that records such a significant interview with an individual of that influence and status is entitled to conceal it from the public. Such testimony is not the property of the TV channel; it is the property of its audiences, first and foremost. Al Jazeera should be asked to account for its decision to withhold such crucial information from the public.

Another compelling question begs an answer. What made Al-Turabi decide, 16 years later, to disclose the details of that appalling incident? Some believe that the Sudanese leader wanted to exonerate himself from the crime. Others argue that he wanted to avenge his former disciples who removed him from power. Could it really be that the consummately pragmatic Al-Turabi decided, in some fit of pique, to reserve a last bullet for his students who only paid him back with defiance and ingratitude?

Not a few observers suspect that the ever controversial Al-Turabi, even after his death, hoped to throw the political arena in Khartoum into total disarray. In view of the storm his testimony has caused and the various issues it has stirred, the Sudanese government has little choice but to form a fact-finding commission at the highest level with participants from both the Egyptian and the Ethiopian governments and with full authorities given to investigators. The Sudanese government should open all the drawers and cabinets to the necessary files and information related to that incident and the same applies to the governments in Addis and Cairo. On the basis of all available information, the commission will need to determine exactly how accurate Al-Turabi’s testimony is and to what extent the Sudanese government and Al-Bashir above all was aware of the plot. It will also have to clarify the precise roles played by the Sudanese individuals identified by Al-Turabi as involved in the planning and funding of the crime as well as the identities of the persons involved in carrying out the assassination attempt. All this naturally raises the question of corroboratory testimonies by the individuals mentioned by Al-Turabi. Does such testimony actually exist and if so where? The commission will also need to pursue the leaks or rumours concerning gruesome deaths of the Egyptians and Sudanese alleged to have been the perpetrators of the assassination attempt.

Al-Turabi’s unprecedented confessions regarding high-level Sudanese officials’ involvement in a criminal attack against the president of a neighbouring state are only one dimension of an array of confessions regarding the sins and errors of an Islamist movement that sought to impose a straightjacket of uniformity and conformity on a multi-ethnic, multi-tribal, multi-faith and multi-cultural society. It was this drive that ignited strife and warfare throughout the country, fragmented its unity, destroyed its social fabric and wreaked untold harm on its citizens.

Al-Turabi, who saw himself as the leader of Islamists throughout the world and who was the head of the first Islamist movement to reach power in the Arab world, reaped the bitter harvest of the mistakes of the Islamist experience in Sudan. Through his confessions, he tried to offer an implicit apology for his role in this process and, simultaneously, to acquit himself from some of its more atrocious consequences on the ground that he was not the dominant authority. He also tried to impart some advice to his brother Islamists in the Arab world and elsewhere, suggesting that they should heed the lessons of the Sudanese experience which he, personally, only discovered when it was too late. Among these lessons is that the overthrow of democracy is unjustifiable under any circumstances and that any wise Islamist movement will realise that the modern citizen state is more beneficial all around. In addition, he suggested that Sudanese and, indeed, Muslims everywhere, needed more democratic and justice systems of government, governments that were more committed to fighting corruption and nepotism, and laws that offered stronger guarantees against repression and abuse of civil and human rights.

Perhaps if Al-Turabi had realised all this earlier on, he might have compelled his powerful and well organised Islamist movement, with its vast human and material capacities, to take a completely different path, one in which it would have managed its relations with the Sudanese social and political forces and with Sudan’s neighbours and the rest of the world in constructive and productive ways. (see pp.14&15)

add comment

  • follow us on