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Sudan’s Umma Party leader El Sadig El Mahdi dies

November 26 - 2020 OMDURMAN (UPDATED)
NUP leader El Sadig El Mahdi on his horse in Omdurman, December 2018 (Facebook account of Imam El Sadig El Mahdi)
NUP leader El Sadig El Mahdi on his horse in Omdurman, December 2018 (Facebook account of Imam El Sadig El Mahdi)

El Sadig El Mahdi, Imam of the followers of the Mahdi and President of the National Umma Party (NUP) died this early morning in a hospital in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In a short statement on social media posted around 01:00, the party announced his death. He died from complications of COVID-19.

El Sadig El Mahdi was transferred to the UAE on November 2 after he tested positive for COVID-19 the week before.

Born in 1935, he was the great-grandson of Mohamed Ahmed bin Abdallah, the Mahdi [the Chosen One, the messianic saviour of Islam] who led the Mahdist War in the late 19th century to free Sudan from Anglo-Egyptian rule.

El Sadig El Mahdi was first and for all a politician, who spent most of his political life in the opposition. The NUP leader was prime minister twice, between 1966-1967, and 1986-1989.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdouk eulogised El Mahdi in statement via Sudan News Agency (SUNA) this morning, referring to the deceased NUP leader as “a paradigm for democracy and a model for good governance”.

The Prime Minister’s statement said that “it was with much sorrow and grief for the Sudanese people” that the last elected Prime Minister of Sudan has died. “He was one of the most important figures of thought, politics, literature, and wisdom in our country,” Hamdok said.

El Mahdi's body will be flown to Khartoum today, where he will be buried tomorrow.

In a statement via social media, Ambassador Robert van den Dool, Head of Delegation of the European Union to Sudan says:: “Today is a sad day for Sudan. The European Union and it member states embassies express their sincere condolences to the people and government of Sudan, to the members and the supporters of the Umma National Party on the death of El Sadig El Mahdi".

Al Mahdi was a great statesman, religious figure, thinker and supporter of civilian, human rights, interfaith dialogue and democracy in Sudan.

He was a friend of Europe, peace and the world. Through good times and bad, he showed the power of a strong will applied to a worthy cause. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and the Sudanese people.”

Exiles

A year after Jaafar Nimeiri took power in Sudan, with a coup in May 1969, El Mahdi attempted to oust him with a countercoup. He was later imprisoned twice for a short time before leaving Sudan in 1974. Upon his return in 1977, he started forming opposition against the Nimeiri’s ruling party.

In 1986, El Mahdi formed a coalition government of the NUP, the National Islamic Front (NIF) led by his brother-in-law Hasan El Turabi, the Democratic Unionist Party led by Mohamed El Mirghani, and four small southern Sudanese parties.

On 30 June 1989, his government was overthrown in a military coup led by Brig Omar Al Bashir, after which El Mahdi continued to lead the Umma Party in opposition. He spent a period in exile but eventually returned to Sudan in November 2000.

He ran unsuccessfully for the 2010 general election, pledging not to hand Al Bashir to the International Criminal Court, saying it would destabilise the country.

The NUP leader left Sudan in August 2014 after having been detained for a month. The Sudanese security apparatus accused him undermining the Constitution because he denounced attacks against civilians in Kordofan and Darfur by the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commanded by the apparatus. He remained abroad until January 2017, when he returned to the Sudanese capital.

In April 2018, following El Mahdi’s election as chairman of the Sudan Call alliance of opposition parties, rebel groups, and civil society organisations, the Sudanese State Security Prosecution filed a complaint against El Mahdi “for dealing and coordinating with rebel armed movements to overthrow the regime.” He left the country, and returned again in December that year, when the first protests erupted that would quickly develop into a nationwide uprising that ousted the 30-year regime of Omar Al Bashir.

Radio Dabanga’s editor-in-chief visited him in Omdurman in January this year, and found him in good health and ready to continue his policies.

Position

For years, the NUP advocated a new, democratic government. In December 2014, the party signed the Sudan Call (or Sudan Appeal) in Addis Ababa, with rebel groups, opposition parties, and civil society organisations.

The position of El Mahdi’s party towards the power circles in Sudan has not always been clear. He been repeatedly accused of siding with President Al Bashir. In 2008, the NUP signed an agreement with Al Bashir's ruling party, causing many young supporters to leave. After the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against Al Bashir in 2009 and 2010, El Mahdi more than once spoke out against the indictments.

During the uprising, the party seems to have lost even more of its influence. Though the NUP signed the Declaration for Freedom and Change on January 1, it has not been an active member of the opposition. Sources say that the isolated position it took to keep its leading role, may have turned against the party itself.

(Sources: Dabanga Sudan, Wikipedia)


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