Return to Civilian Rule, 1964-69
Recognizing its inability to quell growing southern discontent,
the Abbud regime asked the civilian sector to submit proposals
for a solution to the southern problem. However, criticism of
government policy quickly went beyond the southern issue and included
Abbud's handling of other problems, such as the economy and education.
Government attempts to silence these protests, which were centered
in the University of Khartoum, brought a reaction not only from
teachers and students but also from Khartoum's civil servants
and trade unionists. The so-called October Revolution of 1964
centered around a general strike that spread throughout the country.
Strike leaders identified themselves as the National Front for
Professionals. Along with some former politicians, they formed
the leftist United National Front (UNF), which made contact with
dissident army officers.
After several days of rioting that resulted in many deaths, Abbud
dissolved the government and the Supreme Council of the Armed
Forces. UNF leaders and army commanders who planned the transition
from military to civilian rule selected a nonpolitical senior
civil servant, Sirr al Khatim al Khalifa, as prime minister to
head a transitional government.
The new civilian regime, which operated under the 1956 Transitional
Constitution, tried to end political factionalism by establishing
a coalition government. There was continued popular hostility
to the reappearance of political parties, however, because of
their divisiveness during the Abbud regime. Although the new government
allowed all parties, including the SCP, to operate, only five
of fifteen posts in Khatim's cabinet went to party politicians.
The prime minister gave two positions to nonparty southerners
and the remaining eight to members of the National Front for Professionals,
which included several communists.
Eventually two political parties emerged to represent the south.
The Sudan African National Union (SANU), founded in 1963 and led
by William Deng and Saturino Lahure, a Roman Catholic priest,
operated among refugee groups and guerrilla forces. The Southern
Front, a mass organization led by Stanislaus Payasama that had
worked underground during the Abbud regime, functioned openly
within the southern provinces. After the collapse of government-sponsored
peace conferences in 1965, Deng's wing of SANU--known locally
as SANU-William--and the Southern Front coalesced to take part
in the parliamentary elections. SANU remained active in parliament
for the next four years as a voice for southern regional autonomy
within a unified state. Exiled SANU leaders balked at Deng's moderate
approach and formed the Azania Liberation Front based in Kampala,
Anya Nya leaders remained aloof from political movements. The
guerrillas were fragmented by ethnic and religious differences.
Additionally, conflicts surfaced within Anya Nya between older
leaders who had been in the bush since 1955, and younger, better
educated men like Joseph Lagu, a former Sudanese army captain,
who eventually became a strong guerrilla leader, largely because
of his ability to get arms from Israel.
The government scheduled national elections for March 1965 and
announced that the new parliament's task would be to prepare a
new constitution. The deteriorating southern security situation
prevented elections from being conducted in that region, however,
and the political parties split on the question of whether elections
should be held in the north as scheduled or postponed until the
whole country could vote. The PDP and SCP, both fearful of losing
votes, wanted to postpone the elections, as did southern elements
loyal to Khartoum. Their opposition forced the government to resign.
The president of the reinstated Supreme Commission, who had replaced
Abbud as chief of state, directed that the elections be held wherever
possible. The PDP rejected this decision and boycotted the elections.
The 1965 election results were inconclusive. Apart from a low
voter turnout, there was a confusing overabundance of candidates
on the ballots. As a result, few of those elected won a majority
of the votes cast. The Umma captured 75 out of 158 parliamentary
seats while its NUP ally took 52 of the remainder. The two parties
formed a coalition cabinet in June headed by Umma leader Muhammad
Ahmad Mahjub, whereas Azhari, the NUP leader, became the Supreme
Commission's permanent president and chief of state.
The Mahjub government had two goals: progress toward solving
the southern problem and the removal of communists from positions
of power. The army launched a major offensive to crush the rebellion
and in the process augmented its reputation for brutality among
the southerners. Many southerners reported government atrocities
against civilians, especially at Juba and Waw. Sudanese army troops
also burned churches and huts, closed schools, and destroyed crops
and cattle. To achieve his second objective, Mahjub succeeded
in having parliament approve a decree that abolished the SCP and
deprived the eleven communists of their seats.
In October 1965, the Umma-NUP coalition collapsed because of
a disagreement over whether Mahjub, as prime minister, or Azhari,
as 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
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
By late 1968, the two Umma wings agreed to support the Ansar
chief Imam Al Hadi al Mahdi in the 1969 presidential election.
At the same time, the DUP announced that Azhari also would seek
the presidency. The communists and other leftists aligned themselves
behind the presidential candidacy of former Chief Justice Babikr
Awadallah, whom they viewed as an ally because he had ruled against
the government when it attempted to outlaw the SCP.
Data as of June 1991