Hassan al Turabi, a graduate of Khartoum University School of Law and of the Sorbonne, became a leader of the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1960s. When Gen. Jafa'ar Nimeiri took power in a coup in 1969, Turabi's Islamist party was dissolved and its members arrested, only to return to political life in 1977 in reconciliation with Nimeiri, whose attorney general Turabi became. Nimeiri made shari'a the law of the land in Sudan in September 1983, but shari’a amputations and hangings contributed to a popular nonviolent overthrow of Nimeiri in 1985, and the reinstatement of parliamentary rule. In the 1986 elections, Turabi led a new faction of the Muslim Brotherhood, the National Islamic Front (NIF), to third place in the national assembly.
The NIF sought to create an Islamic state in Sudan. In 1989, from behind the scenes, this party participated in a military coup overthrowing the elected government. From that time until 2001, Turabi was the power behind the throne, whether as leader of the NIF or later as speaker of the assembly. He led the creation of the NIF police state and associated NIF militias to consolidate Islamist power and prevent a popular uprising. The NIF police state and militias committed many human rights abuses, including summary executions, torture, ill treatment, arbitrary detentions, denial of freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion, and violations of the rules of war, particularly in the south, where a civil war was being waged from 1983 to the present. In 1990-91 Turabi also established a regional umbrella for political Islamist militants, the Popular Arab Islamic conference (PAIC), headquartered in Khartoum. It was formed with the immediate aim of opposing American involvement in the Gulf War. Turabi became its secretary general. Under his guidance, the Sudan government created an open-door policy for Arabs, including Turabi's Islamist associate Osama bin Laden, who made his base in Sudan in 1990-1996. The efforts of the NIF to refashion Sudan into an Islamic state bore mixed results because of the opposition it inspired and the civil war. The Government of Sudan ceased hosting PAIC in 2000.
Human Rights Watch has published many documents on the abuses committed by the NIF government which Turabi orchestrated, starting in 1990 with "'Denying the Honor of Living,' Sudan: A Human Rights Disaster." Other publications include "Sudan: In the Name of God:;
"Behind the Red Line: Political Repression in Northern Sudan," (1996), ; "Famine in Sudan, 1998: The Human Rights Causes," (1999), ; and annual chapters on Sudan in the Human Rights Watch Annual Report (1990-2001).