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Abdullah Khalil

second Prime Minister of Sudan

Abdullah Khalil

Sayyid Abdullah Khalil was born in the western Sudan in 1892. He received a degree in engineering from the Khartoum Military School, entered the Egyptian Army as an engineer in 1910, and was commissioned into the Sudan Defense Force in 1915. During his military career he served in the Dardanelles Campaign during World War I and against the Italians in Ethiopia in World War II. He retired in 1944 with the rank of brigadier general.

Khalil first became involved in politics in the early 1920s, as an active member of the Sudanese Union, a group of young, educated Sudanese who sought closer ties between Egypt and the Sudan. After his retirement from the army he became active in politics again, this time as a co-founder and leader of the Umma (Independence) Party, which was formed to oppose the pro-Egyptian Ashiqqa Party led by Ismail al-Azhari.

In 1948 the Umma Party received a majority of the seats in the new Legislative Assembly and Khalil became the leader of that majority. The party's willingness to cooperate with the British gradually weakened its position, however, and in 1953 al-Azhari's Ashiqqa Party won the majority in the first independent Sudanese Parliament. Khalil and the Umma Party became the minority in Parliament, in which capacity they pushed for nothing less than a fully independent Sudan.

Recognizing that his pro-Egyptian policy did not have the support of the majority of the Sudanese people, al-Azhari declared the Sudan an independent republic on January 1, 1956. In February he invited Khalil to join his government as Minister of Agriculture. Khalil accepted the appointment, but in June he and some of his former supporters founded the People's Democratic Party, which established a coalition with the Umma Party. That coalition ultimately forced al-Azhari to resign, and Khalil became his country's second Prime Minister on July 5.

Khalil's government faced difficulties from the beginning, with the most serious problem being an inability to prepare a constitution acceptable to all segments of the population. Khalil and his supporters wanted a presidential system like that of the United States, while al-Azhari and his supporters argued for a parliamentary system similar to that of the United Kingdom. Both of those systems were opposed by people in the southern Sudan, who wanted a federation which would grant the south substantial internal autonomy.

The political situation in Sudan continued to deteriorate through 1957 and 1958, with southern Sudanese resentful of the government's efforts to Arabicize and Islamize them and northerners concerned about strained relations with Egypt. The situation was made even worse by an economic recession that hit the Sudan when the world price of cotton, the country's only major export, fell below the price the government needed to maintain a favorable balance of payments and to support their development projects. On November 16, 1958, the army, under General Ibrahim Abboud occupied Khartoum and seized power. The military coup d'etat was unopposed and bloodless, and the civilian government collapsed with little protest. The military take-over ended Abdullah Khalil's career as a powerful political leader in the Sudan and relegated him to quiet obscurity.

Abdullah Khalil died in Khartoum on August 23, 1970.

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Ibrahim Abboud

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This page was last updated on 11/16/2017.