Ismail al-Azhari

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Ismail al-Azhari
Ismail al-Azahri.jpg
3rd President of the Sudan
In office
June 10, 1965 – May 25, 1969
Succeeded by Gaafar Nimeiry
First Prime Minister of Sudan
In office
1954–1956
Succeeded by Abdullah Khalil
Personal details
Born 20 October 1900
Omdurman, Anglo-Egyptian Sudan
Died 26 August 1969 (aged 68)
Political party Democratic Unionist Party
Religion Sunni Islam

Ismail al-Azhari (Saiyid) (October 20, 1900 – August 26, 1969) (Arabic: إسماعيل الأزهري‎) was a Sudanese nationalist and political figure. He served as the Prime Minister of Sudan between 1954 and 1956, and as President of Sudan from 1964 until he was overthrown by Gaafar Nimeiry in 1969.[1]

Early life[edit]

Sayyid Ismail al-Azhari was born in Omdurman, the son of a religious notable. He studied at Gordon Memorial College in Khartoum and graduated in mathematics at the American University in Beirut in 1930.[1] He became a teacher of mathematics and then an administrator in the Anglo-Egyptian condominium government that ruled the Sudan during the colonial period.

Entry into politics[edit]

Al-Azhari and other educated Sudanese demanded greater participation in the administration of the country, and to promote their objectives they formed the Graduates' General Congress in 1938. Al-Azhari's election as secretary to the congress launched him into a career in politics.

Although the congress at first had no political aspirations, in 1942 it asserted its claim to act as the spokesman for all Sudanese nationalists. When the wartime British administration rejected this claim, the congress split into two groups: the moderates, who were prepared to work with the British toward full independence, and a more extreme group, led by al-Azhari, which distrusted the British and sought unity with Egypt in the post-colonial period.

Political formation[edit]

Azhari (seated first from left) with notable nationalist figures from across the Arab world, including Allal al-Fassi of Morocco (first from right) and Aziz Ali al-Misri of Egypt (second from right) in Cairo, 1946

In 1943 al-Azhari and his supporters from the congress formed the Ashiqqa (Brothers') party, the first true political party in the Sudan. His main support came from the Khatmiyya brotherhood, one of the two main Muslim groups in the country. When the more moderate nationalists formed the Umma Party in 1945, its principal support came from the chief rival of the Khatmiyya, the anti-Egyptian Mahdist sect.

Between 1944 and 1953 al-Azhari, as the leading advocate for uniting the Sudan with Egypt, fought tenaciously against any act which appeared to weaken the "unity of the Nile Valley". Thus, in 1948 he boycotted the elections to establish a legislative assembly in the Sudan, and his propaganda and demonstrations led to his arrest and imprisonment for subversion in 1948-1949.

The Egyptian Revolution of 1952, which ended the regime of King Farouk I, dramatically changed the situation in the Sudan. Farouk's government had exerted all its influence to unite Egypt and the Sudan and block Sudanese independence. Egypt's new leaders, Muhammad Naguib, who was half-Sudanese, and later Gamal Abdel Nasser, were more willing to permit the Sudan to achieve independence.

In February 1953 an agreement was reached between Egypt, the Sudanese, and their British rulers for a transition from co-dominium rule to self-government within three years, followed by an election to determine the future relationship between Egypt and the Sudan. Although his imprisonment and the quarrels within his own party had for a time undermined al-Azhari's power and prestige, he was able to reunite his followers under the banner of the National Unionist Party (NUP) in time to campaign vigorously for the combined parliament and constitutional assembly which was to rule the Sudan for the next 2 years. Throughout the campaign al-Azhari emphasized his hostility to the British and his support for Egypt so that when the NUP won a victory in the elections of 1953, it was widely regarded as a victory for al-Azhari's efforts to link the Sudan to Egypt.

Prime minister[edit]

Cairo, 1968, from left to right the presidents Houari Boumediène of Algeria, Nurredin al-Atassi of Syria, Abdul Salam Arif of Iraq, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and al-Azhari

In 1954 al-Azhari became the Sudan's first prime minister.[1] His government faced three major problems. The first was the critical constitutional question of the Sudan's relationship with Egypt. It soon became clear that the Sudanese people did not want to be tied closely to Egypt, and in his greatest act of statesmanship al-Azhari dramatically reversed the position which he had long advocated and, with the support of the principal political leaders, declared the Sudan independent on January 1, 1956.

Then al-Azhari was faced with the second problem, the task of organizing a permanent government. His principal opponent, the Umma Party, wanted a strong presidential system. Al-Azhari advocated a British parliamentary form of government, but he never resolved the issue during his tenure and the problem remained into the 1970s.

The third problem which confronted al-Azhari's government was the uniting of the black, non-Muslim Southern Sudanese with peoples and traditions very different if not opposed to the Arab, Muslim north. Neither by his background nor by his political convictions was al-Azhari sympathetic to the aspirations of the Southern Sudanese, and he sought to control the Southern Sudan by a combination of military and police repression on the one hand and negotiations and discussion on the other. The failure of the policy became apparent in 1955, when a mutiny in the Equatorial Corps precipitated disturbances throughout many of the districts in the south. Thereafter, relations between the Northern and the Southern Sudan remained the principal problem facing successive Sudanese governments. Their failure to meet Southern aspirations undermined their authority, just as it had drained al-Azhari's political strength.

These and other problems began to weaken al-Azhari's coalition. His reversal on unity with Egypt undermined the political strength of the NUP by depriving it of its principal ideology. The mutiny in the south damaged al-Azhari's prestige. More importantly, the fragile alliance between the Khatmiyya sect and the NUP began to disintegrate, leaving the prime minister without the popular support he needed to rule effectively. As a result, he reformed his coalition into a "government of all talents" in February 1956, but then his former Khatmiyya supporters deserted to form the People's Democratic Party in June. In July he lost a vote of confidence in Parliament and resigned.

Later life[edit]

Al-Azhari opposed the government led by Abdullah Khalil, who replaced him, and also the succeeding military regime of Ibrahim Abboud. In 1961 al-Azhari was arrested and exiled for several months to Juba in Southern Sudan. In 1964 the military regime resigned in the face of student-led demonstrations, and party politics reemerged in the Sudan. Al-Azhari sought to regain power, but without a strong political base even his skill as a politician was insufficient to lead a government in the Sudan. In March 1965 he became President of the Republic of the Sudan, but this was primarily an honorary position with little real power. He remained president until May 1969,[1] when a military coup d'état ended his political life. Known as a skilled if not crafty politician, al-Azhari was respected and loved. His tenacity to survive the many vicissitudes of Sudanese political life was even admired. Ironically, his most statesmanlike decision - not to press for unity with Egypt - destroyed the principles upon which his political life had been constructed, leaving only manipulation to achieve political power. He died on August 26, 1969.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Staff Prime Ministers of Sudan Sudanese Embassy, Retrieved 22 August 2012