When studying Sudan, there are a few names that keep appearing over and over again: Omar al-Bashir, John Garang, Sadiq al-Mahdi and Hassan al-Turabi, to name a few.
The last one, Hassan al-Turabi, is arguably the father of Sudan as it now looks. It was Turabi who was the force behind implementing shari’a (Muslim law) in the North of Sudan and who led the Islamist movement that ended up dominating the political scene. It was his ideology that inspired Omar al-Bashir to take charge of the country in 1989. He remained the real power behind Bashir for about a decade. In fact, it was Turabi who invited Osama Bin Laden to hang out in Sudan in the mid-1990s.
It was also Turabi who inspired and taught Khalid Ibrahim, the leader of the Justice and Equality Movement. I even heard an expert on Darfur once suggest that Turabi was a big force behind the Darfur uprising of 2003-4, which he encouraged in a bid to gain leverage over Bashir while the two men were struggling for power. Now, I believe, he is under house arrest in Khartoum after splitting with the ruling coalition of Bashir (the NCP) in 1999.
Anyway, I bring him up because I just came across a surprising story about Hassan al-Turabi’s last trip to Canada. Turabi, the man of power behind so many events in Sudan over the past 30 years, was visiting the country in 1992 when he was suddenly beaten up in the Ottawa airport by a black belt in karate. Apparently, the former Sudanese martial arts champion just happened to be walking through Ottawa airport when he saw the man whom he blamed for so many of Sudan’s problems and decided to give him a few karate chops to the head. Turabi ended up with serious injuries and stayed in the hospital for four weeks. The BBC also mentions the incident.
Now while I don’t think we can include karate chops as a suggestion in our policy prescriptions, it is a telling story about some of the anger that has built up against members of the northern elite over the last 50 years of mismanagement.
Needless to say, I don’t think Turabi’ll be visiting Canada again in the near future…