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Sadiq al Mahdi - 06 May 1986 - 30 Jun 1989

Born in Omdurman, the cultural capital of Sudan, on Christmas Day 1935, Al-Mahdi saw himself as a Sudanese saviour of sorts. The strongest religious leader under the 1958-64 military regime, Abd ar Rahman al Mahdi, died in early 1959. His son and successor, the elder Sadiq al Mahdi, failed to enjoy the respect accorded his father. When Sadiq died two years later, Ansar religious and political leadership divided between his brother, Imam Al Hadi al Mahdi, and his son, the younger Sadiq al Mahdi.

In October 1965, the Umma-NUP coalition collapsed because of a disagreement over whether the prime minister or the president should conduct Sudan's foreign relations. Mahjub continued in office for another eight months but resigned in July 1966 after a parliamentary vote of censure, which resulted in a split in the Umma. The traditional wing led by Mahjub, under the Imam Al Hadi al Mahjub's spiritual leadership, opposed the party's majority. The latter group professed loyalty to the imam's nephew, the younger Sadiq al Mahdi, who was the Umma's official leader and who rejected religious sectarianism. Sadiq became prime minister with backing from his own Umma wing and from NUP allies.

The Sadiq al Mahdi government, supported by a sizable parliamentary majority, sought to reduce regional disparities by organizing economic development. Sadiq al Mahdi also planned to use his personal rapport with southern leaders to engineer a peace agreement with the insurgents. He proposed to replace the Supreme Commission with a president and a southern vice president and called for the approval of autonomy for the southern provinces.

The educated elite and segments of the army opposed Sadiq al Mahdi because of his gradualist approach to Sudan's political, economic, and social problems. Leftist student organizations and the trade unions demanded the creation of a socialist state. Although these elements lacked widespread popular support, they represented an influential portion of educated public opinion. Their resentment of Sadiq increased when he refused to honor a Supreme Court ruling that overturned legislation banning the SCP and ousting communists elected to parliamentary seats. In December 1966, a coup attempt by communists and a small army unit against the government failed. The government subsequently arrested many communists and army personnel.

In March 1967, the government held elections in thirty-six constituencies in pacified southern areas. The Sadiq al Mahdi wing of the Umma won fifteen seats, the federalist SANU ten, and the NUP five. Despite this apparent boost in his support, however, Sadiq's position in parliament had become tenuous because of concessions he promised to the south in order to bring an end to the civil war. The Umma traditionalist wing opposed Sadiq al Mahdi because of his support for constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and his refusal to declare Sudan an Islamic state. When the traditionalists and the NUP withdrew their support, his government fell. In May 1967, Mahjub became prime minister and head of a coalition government whose cabinet included members of his wing of the Umma, of the NUP, and of the PDP. In December 1967, the PDP and the NUP formed the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) under Azhari's leadership.

By early 1968, widening divisions in the Umma threatened the survival of the Mahjub government. Sadiq al Mahdi's wing held a majority in parliament and could thwart any government action. Mahjub therefore dissolved parliament. However, Sadiq refused to recognize the legitimacy of the prime minister's action. As a result, two governments functioned in Khartoum--one meeting in the parliament building and the other on its lawn--both of which claimed to represent the legislature's will. The army commander requested clarification from the Supreme Court regarding which of them had authority to issue orders. The court backed Mahjub's dissolution; the government scheduled new elections for April.

Although the DUP won 101 of 218 seats, no single party controlled a parliamentary majority. Thirty-six seats went to the Umma traditionalists, thirty to the Sadiq wing, and twenty-five to the two southern parties--SANU and the Southern Front. The SCP secretary general, Abd al Khaliq Mahjub, also won a seat. In a major setback, Sadiq lost his own seat to a traditionalist rival.

Because it lacked a majority, the DUP concluded an alliance with Umma traditionalists, who received the prime ministership for their leader, Muhammad Ahmad Mahjub, and four other cabinet posts. The coalition's program included plans for government reorganization, closer ties with the Arab world, and renewed economic development efforts, particularly in the southern provinces. The Muhammad Ahmad Mahjub government also accepted military, technical, and economic aid from the Soviet Union. Sadiq al Mahdi's wing of the Umma formed the small parliamentary opposition. When it refused to participate in efforts to complete the draft constitution, already ten years overdue, the government retaliated by closing the opposition's newspaper and clamping down on pro-Sadiq demonstrations in Khartoum.





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