Sadig Al-Mahdi, Sudan Premier Turned Opposition Head, Dies at 84

Sadig al-Mahdi, the Sudanese prime minister who was overthrown by dictator Omar al-Bashir and later became the African nation’s most prominent opposition leader, has died. He was 84.

Al-Mahdi died early Thursday in the United Arab Emirates, where he’d traveled for treatment after contracting the coronavirus, the National Umma Party said in a statement.

The head of the NUP and a fierce critic of Bashir, who was himself ousted by the army last year amid mass protests, al-Mahdi twice held the premiership of Sudan, a country that’s swung between civilian and military rule throughout its six decades of independence.

Descended from Muhammad Ansar, the 19th-century messianic leader known as the Mahdi who fought against Ottoman and British rule and created a short-lived Islamic state, al-Mahdi also led the Ansar Sufi order.

Sadig Al-Mahdi, Sudan Premier Turned Opposition Head, Dies at 84

His first bout in office was in 1966-67, two years after the so-called October Revolution as Marxist and Islamist factions vied for power. Two decades later, after another popular uprising, he headed a coalition government from 1986-89. Bashir, then a senior army officer, ended that in an Islamist-backed coup that eventually led to Sudan becoming a pariah in the Western world.

In exile in the mid-1990s, al-Mahdi made common cause with southern rebels seeking to overthrow Bashir. He later softened his stance and returned to Sudan in 2000, unsuccessfully challenging his old foe in elections a decade later. He was periodically detained on accusations of supporting insurgencies and spent long periods outside the country.

When Bashir’s three decades of authoritarian rule came to a close, the Umma Party rejoiced. But as a broad opposition coalition strives to direct Sudan’s shift to democracy under a transitional government, al-Mahdi’s party has become one among many voices.

His children followed him into politics. A son acted as adviser to Bashir, in a sign of the compromises and elite ties that have been characteristic of Sudan’s governance. His daughter, Mariam, is the Umma Party’s deputy leader.

One of his nephews is Alexander Siddig, an actor famous for his roles in series including ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’ and ‘Game of Thrones,’ and Hollywood movies such as ‘Syriana’ and ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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