Umma Party

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Political party in Sudan founded by Abd al-Rahman alMahdi in 1945.

Sayyid Abd al-Rahman al-Mahdi (18851959), the posthumous son of Muhammad Ahmad Abdullah al-Mahdi (18481885), used his wealth acquired by his loyalty to the British during World War I and his religious influence as the leader of the Ansar to enhance his political ambitions by launching a newspaper, al-Umma. Then, in February 1945, he mobilized his followers, the Ansar, to establish the Umma political party. The name refers to the community of Islam (umma). Its political platform, however, promotes a Sudan for the Sudanese, evoking the legacy of the Mahdist State, founded by his father, which was hostile to the imperial ambitions of Egypt. The founding members included prominent Mahdists. Although Abd al-Rahman publicly remained aloof, he provided the funds and spiritual guidance for the party, which alienated many nonMahdist Sudanese who were deeply suspicious that he was using the party to further his monarchical ambitions. The opposition gravitated to the Ashiqqa (Brothers) Party founded by Ismaʿil al-Azhari (19001969), which advocated the union of the Nile Valley with Egypt.

Frequent attempts to reconcile the unionists and the Umma failed when Azhari broadened his narrow political base to found the National Union-ist Party (NUP) with Sayyid Ali al-Mirghani and his Khatmiyya Brotherhood, bitter rivals of the Ansar and historically pro-Egyptian. The Umma lost the elections in 1952 to the NUP, and Azhari declared the Sudan independent on 1 January 1956. The Umma Party continued to play a powerful role in the first parliamentary government (19561958) and even under the military regimes of Major-General Ibrahim Abbud (19581964) and Colonel Muhammad Jaʿfar Numeiri (19691985), when political parties were officially proscribed. It sustained an intense rivalry with the Democratic Unionist Party (the former NUP), whose patrons, the Mirghani family, played a role similar to that of the descendants of Sayyid Abd al-Rahmanhis son Siddiq alMahdi and grandson Sadiq al- Mahdiin the Umma Party.

The Umma Party was not without internal rivalry, particularly among the more conservative Ansar, who were led by Imam al-Hadi until he was killed in the suppression of the Ansar by Numeiri in 1970. Since then, Sadiq al-Mahdi, the great-grandson of the Mahdi, has led the Umma Party. He served as prime minister in all the coalition governments between 1986 and 1989, after which he was placed under arrest by Brigadier Umar Hasan Ahmad al-Bashir, who seized control of the government in his coup d'état of June 1989. Although all political parties except Bashir's National Islamic Front (NIF) were proscribed, the organization of the Umma Party in the Sudan remained in place and its leadership joined the other opposition parties in exile who had formed the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in Asmara, Eritrea.

In December 1996 Sadiq made a spectacular escape from house arrest to join the NDA in Asmara. Thereafter, he played an ambiguous role, seeking control of the NDA on the one hand and a rapprochement with the Bashir government on the other, both of which weakened the authority of the NDA. He failed to dominate the NDA; but when President Bashir permitted political parties to once again be openly active in Sudan, Sadiq signed the Djibouti Agreement with President Bashir in November 1999 and was able to return to lead the Umma as an opposition party. Although a body of the Umma leadership defected from the Umma to join the government, Sadiq remained in Khartoum and was confirmed leader of the opposition Umma Party in April 2003 at its first general conference in fifteen years.

see also ansar, al-; azhari, ismaʿil;mahdi; mahdist state;sudan.


Khalid, Mansour. The Government They Deserve: The Role of the Elite in Sudan's Political Evolution. London: Kegan Paul, 1990.

Khalid, Mansour. War and Peace in Sudan: A Tale of Two Countries. London: Kegan Paul, 2003.

Mahjoub, M. A. Democracy on Trial. London: Andre Deutsch, 1974.

Niblock, Tim. Class and Power in the Sudan: The Dynamics of Sudanese Politics, 18981985. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987.

Woodward, Peter. Sudan: The Unstable State. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1990.

robert o. collins