National Umma Party [NUP]
The Muslim population is almost entirely Sunni but is divided into many different groups. The most significant divisions occur along the lines of the Sufi Brotherhood. Islamic orders associated with opposition political parties, particularly the Khatimia (associated with the Democratic Unionist Party) are regularly denied permission to hold large gatherings.
The National Umma Party [NUP] is a moderate Islamic, centrist political party led by Al Sadig Al Mahdi, who served twice as Prime Minister in Sudan, and was removed both times in military coups. The Umma Party was formed in 1945 on a platform advocating national independence for Sudan. After Sudan's independence in 1956, the platform of Umma party became equal democratic rights, equal rights of participation for all Sudanese citizens in their government regardless of gender, religion or ethnicity, and equal distribution of wealth and power. A majority of Darfurians are ostensibly and traditionally affiliated with the National Umma Party, due in part to the movements' roots in Darfur (the successor to the Mahdi was from Darfur), and to most Darfurians' deep commitment to Islam. Some Darfurians are also drawn to the influential party leadership, who are descendants of the Mahdi, leader of the Mahdia revolution (1885) whose supporters were mainly from Darfur and Kordofan.
The Umma Party (UP) was founded in 1945. According to the 2012 edition of the Political Handbook of the World (PHW), the party's main supporters are Ansar Muslims in the provinces of White Nile, western Darfur, and Kordofan (1357). Similarly, the US International Religious Freedom Report July-December 2010 notes that the UP is "closely connected with Arab followers of the Ansar sect" (US 13 Sept. 2011, 2, 3). US Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011 indicates that the UP is not "officially registered with the government" (US 24 May 2012, 25).
According to the UP's official website, the party began as an alliance between the Ansar, some tribal chiefs and Sufi sects, and "graduates" promoting the independence of Sudan (UP n.d.a). The UP advocated for the repeal of sharia law in Sudan (PHW 2012, 1357). The party's website states that "[c]urrently the Umma Party is championing the cause of a negotiated Just Peace, and Democratic Transformation and so putting an end to the War and to Totalitarianism" (UP n.d.b). According to Gurtong Trust - Peace and Media Project (Gurtong), a Kenyan and south Sudanese independent, non-profit media project supported by the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Open Society Institute (Gurtong 12 Aug. 2009), the principles of the UP are "'an Islam that is based on rationality, humanism, science, plurality,' [and a] 'respect of all faiths'" (Gurtong n.d.a). The party also is mainly focused on solving the crisis in Darfur (ibid.; Al Jazeera 7 Apr. 2010). The UP is the main opposition party to the current government in Sudan (ibid.; Bloomberg 31 Jan. 2012).
During the last period of parliamentary democracy, the Umma Party was the largest in the country, and its leader, Sadiq al Mahdi served as prime minister in all coalition governments between 1986 and 1989. Originally founded in 1945, the Umma was the political organization of the Islamic Ansar movement. Its supporters followed the strict teachings of the Mahdi, who ruled Sudan in the 1880s. Although the Ansar were found throughout Sudan, most lived in rural areas of western Darfur and Kurdufan. Since Sudan became independent in 1956, the Umma Party has experienced alternating periods of political prominence and persecution.
Sadiq al Mahdi became head of the Umma and spiritual leader of the Ansar in 1970, following clashes with the Nimeiri government, during which about 3,000 Ansar were killed. Following a brief reconciliation with Nimeiri in the mid-1970s, Sadiq al Mahdi was imprisoned for his opposition to the government's foreign and domestic policies, including his 1983 denunciation of the September Laws as being un-Islamic.
Despite Sadiq al Mahdi's criticisms of Nimeiri's efforts to exploit religious sentiments, the Umma was an Islamic party dedicated to achieving its own Muslim political agenda for Sudan. Sadiq al Mahdi had never objected to the sharia becoming the law of the land, but rather to the "un-Islamic" manner Nimeiri had used to implement the sharia through the September Laws. Thus, when Sadiq al Mahdi became prime minister in 1986, he was loath to become the leader who abolished the sharia in Sudan. Failing to appreciate the reasons for non-Muslim antipathy toward the sharia, Sadiq al Mahdi cooperated with his brother-in-law, NIF leader Turabi, to draft Islamic legal codes for the country.
By the time Sadiq al Mahdi realized that ending the civil war and retaining the sharia were incompatible political goals, public confidence in his government had dissipated, setting the stage for military intervention. Following the June 1989 coup, Sadiq al Mahdi was arrested and kept in solitary confinement for several months. He was not released from prison until early 1991. Sadiq al Mahdi indicated approval of political positions adopted by the Umma Party during his detention, including joining with the SPLM and northern political parties in the National Democratic Alliance opposition grouping.
Banna was sentenced to 40 years in prison for corruption (PHW 2012, 1357). For his part, after being released from prison, Mahdi was placed under house arrest between January 1989 and May 1991 (ibid.). According to a US Library of Congress country report on Sudan sponsored by the US Department of the Army (US n.d.), while Mahdi was kept under arrest, the UP allied itself with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and other government opposition parties (US 1991). Similarly, the Political Handbook of the World indicates that in 1991, the UP aligned with the SPLM, which wanted to overthrow the government, end the civil war, and advocated for a multiparty, secular democracy; this caused division in the UP (2012, 1357). In 1994, the SPLM and UP signed an agreement recognizing that South Sudan had a right to hold a referendum regarding its independence (Gurtong n.d.a). Mahdi was arrested again in June 1994, charged with "plotting against the government," and again in May 1995 for three months; in December 1996 he "fled" to Asmara, Eritrea (PHW 2012, 1357). In November 1999, Mahdi reached an agreement with the government called the "Call of the Homeland Accord," which offered a new pluralistic constitution and a referendum for the south to become independent (ibid.).
In 2000, Mahdi ordered the Umma militia to cease fire (ibid.). In November 2000, Mahdi returned to Sudan after a four year exile in Egypt, but the UP boycotted the presidential elections in December because they wanted to wait for a "national reconciliation". In November 1999, the Government signed a peace accord with the Umma Party which is one of Sudan's main opposition political parties. The Umma Party stated that the accord called for the establishment of a democratic federal system of government in Khartoum and for a referendum on self-determination for the south of the country. The agreement was finalised in Djibouti, where East African leaders met to discuss the long-running war, as well as the conflict in Somalia. In March 2000, the Umma Party left the National Democratic Alliance. The premises of the Umma Party, which had been seized by the Government in 1989, was handed back to the Umma Party.
In April 2000, thirty exiled leading figures of the Umma Party returned to Sudan in accordance with the November 1999 peace accord with the Government. On 23 November 2000, Sadiq al-Mahdi, the leader of the Umma Party, returned to Sudan after four years of exile in Egypt. This was a voluntary return with no pre-conditions attached by the Government and with the full approval of President al-Bashir. A large crowd of Umma Party followers met al-Mahdi on his arrival in Sudan. There were no reports that this crowd was broken up by the security forces. This is in line with the Umma Party's policy of constructive engagement with the Government to achieve the political and constitutional changes it wanted.
There are five active political factions within the Umma Party in Sudan, each claiming political legitimacy. According to the Political Handbook of the World, the Islamic Umma Party (IUP) separated from UP in 1985 and became an official political party in April 1999; the leader of the IUP is Wali al-Din al-Hadi al-Mahdi (2012, 1357). The party advocates for Sharia law as the only law. In the 2010 presidential elections, the Federal Umma Party obtained three assembly seats and Nahar received a cabinet position (PHW 2012, 1358).
Sources indicate that the Umma Reform and Renewal Party (URRP) was officially formed in 2002 and led by Mubarak Al Fadil Al Mahdi (Gurtong n.d.b; Al Jazeera 7 Apr. 2010). According to Gurtong, in 2002 the URRP joined the government; Fadil became assistant president and other URRP members secured government positions, with the party's deputy chairman Al-Zahawi Ibrahim Malik taking the position of information minister (ibid.). The Sudan Tribune states that Fadil was appointed as the presidential adviser for economic affairs in 2002 (3 Jan. 2011). Similarly, the Political Handbook of the World notes that in August 2002, as well as in 2005, members of the URRP accepted ministerial positions (2012, 1357). Fadil was removed from his position in 2004 (Gurtong n.d.b; Sudan Tribune 3 Jan. 2011) for criticizing government policies in Darfur and Eastern Sudan (Gurtong n.d.b). In July 2007, Fadil and 27 other party leaders were arrested for "plotting to overthrow the government," but Fadil was later released (PHW 2012, 1357). Similarly, Gurtong indicates that in 2007 Fadil, URRP secretary general Abdel Jalil Basha, and other party members were imprisoned for a number of months because they were allegedly planning a "coup" (Gurtong n.d.b). The Sudan Tribune reports that Fadil was released after the information obtained from the government turned out to be false (3 Jan. 2011).
In 2010, the National Umma Party nominated Mahdi as its presidential candidate, but withdrew from the elections in protest of "electoral irregularities;" Mahdi placed fifth in the election results with less than one percent of the votes; the party gained one assembly seat (PHW 2012, 1357). In reference to the 2010 elections, the Human Rights Watch World Report 2011 noted that "international and domestic observers reported widespread technical irregularities such as multiple voting, ballot-stuffing, and other acts of fraud" (2011).
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