The Politics of Independence
Sudan achieved independence without the rival political parties
having agreed on the form and content of a permanent constitution.
Instead, the Constituent Assembly adopted a document known as
the Transitional Constitution, which replaced the governor general
as head of state with a five-member Supreme Commission that was
elected by a parliament composed of an indirectly elected Senate
and a popularly elected House of Representatives. The Transitional
Constitution also allocated executive power to the prime minister,
who was nominated by the House of Representatives and confirmed
in office by the Supreme Commission.
Although it achieved independence without conflict, Sudan inherited
many problems from the condominium. Chief among these was the
status of the civil service. The government placed Sudanese in
the administration and provided compensation and pensions for
British officers of the Sudan Political Service who left the country;
it retained those who could not be replaced, mostly technicians
and teachers. Khartoum achieved this transformation quickly and
with a minimum of turbulence, although southerners resented the
replacement of British administrators in the south with northern
Sudanese. To advance their interests, many southern leaders concentrated
their efforts in Khartoum, where they hoped to win constitutional
concessions. Although determined to resist what they perceived
to be Arab imperialism, they were opposed to violence. Most southern
representatives supported provincial autonomy and warned that
failure to win legal concessions would drive the south to rebellion.
The parliamentary regime introduced plans to expand the country's
education, economic, and transportation sectors. To achieve these
goals, Khartoum needed foreign economic and technical assistance,
to which the United States made an early commitment. Conversations
between the two governments had begun in mid-1957, and the parliament
ratified a United States aid agreement in July 1958. Washington
hoped this agreement would reduce Sudan's excessive reliance on
a one-crop (cotton) economy and would facilitate the development
of the country's transportation and communications infrastructure.
The prime minister formed a coalition government in February
1956, but he alienated the Khatmiyyah by supporting increasingly
secular government policies. In June some Khatmiyyah members who
had defected from the NUP established the People's Democratic
Party (PDP) under Mirghani's leadership. The Umma and the PDP
combined in parliament to bring down the Azhari government. With
support from the two parties and backing from the Ansar and the
Khatmiyyah, Abd Allah Khalil put together a coalition government.
Major issues confronting Khalil's coalition government included
winning agreement on a permanent constitution, stabilizing the
south, encouraging economic development, and improving relations
with Egypt. Strains within the Umma-PDP coalition hampered the
government's ability to make progress on these matters. The Umma,
for example, wanted the proposed constitution to institute a presidential
form of government on the assumption that Abd ar Rahman al Mahdi
would be elected the first president. Consensus was lacking about
the country's economic future. A poor cotton harvest followed
the 1957 bumper cotton crop, which Sudan had been unable to sell
at a good price in a glutted market. This downturn depleted Sudan's
reserves and caused unrest over government-imposed economic restrictions.
To overcome these problems and finance future development projects,
the Umma called for greater reliance on foreign aid. The PDP,
however, objected to this strategy because it promoted unacceptable
foreign influence in Sudan. The PDP's philosophy reflected the
Arab nationalism espoused by Gamal Abdul Nasser, who had replaced
Egyptian leader Naguib in 1954. Despite these policy differences,
the Umma-PDP coalition lasted for the remaining year of the parliament's
tenure. Moreover, after the parliament adjourned, the two parties
promised to maintain a common front for the 1958 elections.
The electorate gave a plurality in both houses to the Umma and
an overall majority to the Umma-PDP coalition. The NUP, however,
won nearly one-quarter of the seats, largely from urban centers
and from Gezira Scheme agricultural workers. In the south, the
vote represented a rejection of the men who had cooperated with
the government--voters defeated all three southerners in the preelection
cabinet--and a victory for advocates of autonomy within a federal
system. Resentment against the government's taking over mission
schools and against the measures used in suppressing the 1955
mutiny contributed to the election of several candidates who had
been implicated in the rebellion.
After the new parliament convened, Khalil again formed an Umma-PDP
coalition government. Unfortunately, factionalism, corruption,
and vote fraud dominated parliamentary deliberations at a time
when the country needed decisive action with regard to the proposed
constitution and the future of the south. As a result, the Umma-PDP
coalition failed to exercise effective leadership.
Another issue that divided the parliament concerned SudaneseUnited
States relations. In March 1958, Khalil signed a technical assistance
agreement with the United States. When he presented the pact to
parliament for ratification, he discovered that the NUP wanted
to use the issue to defeat the Umma-PDP coalition and that many
PDP delegates opposed the agreement. Nevertheless, the Umma, with
the support of some PDP and southern delegates, managed to obtain
approval of the agreement.
Factionalism and bribery in parliament, coupled with the government's
inability to resolve Sudan's many social, political, and economic
problems, increased popular disillusion with democratic government.
Specific complaints included Khartoum's decision to sell cotton
at a price above world market prices. This policy resulted in
low sales of cotton, the commodity from which Sudan derived most
of its income. Restrictions on imports imposed to take pressure
off depleted foreign exchange reserves caused consternation among
town dwellers who had become accustomed to buying foreign goods.
Moreover, rural northerners also suffered from an embargo that
Egypt placed on imports of cattle, camels, and dates from Sudan.
Growing popular discontent caused many antigovernment demonstrations
in Khartoum. Egypt also criticized Khalil and suggested that it
might support a coup against his government. Meanwhile, reports
circulated in Khartoum that the Umma and the NUP were near agreement
on a new coalition that would exclude the PDP and Khalil.
On November 17, 1958, the day parliament was to convene, a military
coup occurred. Khalil, himself a retired army general, planned
the preemptive coup in conjunction with leading Umma members and
the army's two senior generals, Ibrahim Abbud and Ahmad Abd al
Wahab, who became leaders of the military regime. Abbud immediately
pledged to resolve all disputes with Egypt, including the long-standing
problem of the status of the Nile River. Abbud abandoned the previous
government's unrealistic policies regarding the sale of cotton.
He also appointed a constitutional commission, headed by the chief
justice, to draft a permanent constitution. Abbud maintained,
however, that political parties only served as vehicles for personal
ambitions and that they would not be reestablished when civilian
rule was restored.
Data as of June 1991