Nimeiri Takes Charge in Khartoum Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Overthrowing civilian politicians, Colonel Nimeiri neutralized opponents and pursued dictatorial policies, undoing peace agreements with Sudan’s non-Muslim south.

Summary of Event

On January 1, 1956, Sudan gained independence as a parliamentary republic. However, civil war Civil wars;Sudan First Sudanese Civil War (1955-1972) had erupted between its Muslim-run government in Khartoum and the non-Muslim south. Northern Arab elites were deeply and almost evenly divided between the Umma Party, Umma Party, Sudanese based on the nineteenth century Mahdi’s Ansar sect, Ansar sect (Sudan) and the pro-Egyptian National Unionist Party National Unionist Party, Sudanese (later the Democratic Unionist Party). Democratic Unionist Party, Sudanese Divisive constitutional debates, strife in the south, disagreement over relations with Egypt, and problems in the cotton market strained a weak coalition, led by retired general Abdullah Khalil, that had replaced an unpopular NUP government. On November 17, 1958, General Ibrahim Abboud Abboud, Ibrahim seized power from civilian politicians, whom he accused of corruption and factionalism. In October, 1964, antigovernment protests by university professors and students led to a general strike. Following violent riots, the increasingly autocratic Abboud was forced to reestablish civilian rule with nonpolitical civil servant Sirr al-Khatim al-Khalifa Khalifa, Sirr al-Khatim al- as prime minister. Revolutions and coups;Sudan May Revolution of 1969 (Sudan) [kw]Nimeiri Takes Charge in Khartoum (May 25, 1969) [kw]Khartoum, Nimeiri Takes Charge in (May 25, 1969) Revolutions and coups;Sudan May Revolution of 1969 (Sudan) [g]Africa;May 25, 1969: Nimeiri Takes Charge in Khartoum[10270] [g]Sudan;May 25, 1969: Nimeiri Takes Charge in Khartoum[10270] [c]Government and politics;May 25, 1969: Nimeiri Takes Charge in Khartoum[10270] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;May 25, 1969: Nimeiri Takes Charge in Khartoum[10270] Nimeiri, Gaafer Muhammad al- Atta, Hashim al- Mahgoub, Muhammad Ahmad Mahdi, Sadiq al-

Following inconclusive elections in 1965, a government was formed by Umma leader, poet, and ex-foreign minister Muhammad Ahmad Mahgoub, whose brutal offensives in the south resulted in systematic property destruction and numerous atrocities against civilians. However, in October, 1965, Mahgoub’s fragile coalition collapsed over control of Sudan’s foreign relations. He resigned after a vote of censure eight months later. Following the deaths of Ansar leader Abdel Rahman al-Mahdi in 1959 and his son Sadik two years later, Ansar leadership was split between Sadik’s brother El Hadi Hadi, El and his modernist son Sadiq al-Mahdi. Backed by Umma and NUP factions, Sadiq became prime minister in 1966.

Seeking to reduce regional disparities and negotiate peace with the southerners, Sadiq’s gradualist approach was criticized by intellectuals, labor unions, and some army officers. Despite electoral gains in March, 1967, Sadiq’s government fell when powerful northerners rejected his proposed constitutional guarantee of religious freedom and Sadiq refused to declare Sudan an Islamic state—concessions demanded to end the civil war. Returned to power, Mahgoub dissolved parliament, where Sadiq held a majority. Each leader refused to recognize the other. By early 1968, two governments were in session, one in parliament and another on its lawn. To clarify who had authority to issue orders, army commanders turned to the Supreme Court, which backed Mahgoub. No party gained a majority in subsequent elections, and the DUP and Umma traditionalists allied under Mahgoub, whose commitment to democracy was questioned when he clamped down on the press and pro-Sadiq demonstrations.

On May 25, 1969, preempting communist, nationalist, and traditionalist plots, Colonel Gaafer Muhammad al-Nimeiri and nine other army officers overthrew Mahgoub’s government on the grounds that civilian politicians had paralyzed decision making, ignored economic and regional problems, and failed to approve a constitution. Influenced by Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, the coup leaders called themselves the Free Officers’ Movement. Free Officers’ Movement (Sudan)

Son of a postman and great grandson of a tribal leader from Wad Nimeiri near Dongola in the far north, Nimeiri was born January 1, 1930, in Wad Nubawi, near Khartoum. Active in nationalist movements as a youth, he was expelled from school for leading a 1948 strike against British rule but graduated from Sudan Military College in 1952. By 1960, he had joined a group of pan-Arab socialist officers implicated in plots against Abboud. Nimeiri completed studies at the U.S. Army Command College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1966.

As a result of the May Revolution, as the 1969 coup came to be known, Nimeiri chaired the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), modeled on Nasser’s. To dispel notions that the coup had installed a military dictatorship, former Supreme Court chief justice Babiker Awadalla, Awadalla, Babiker who had been privy to the coup and had previously ruled against Mahgoub’s attempts to ban the Communist Party, Communist Party, Sudanese became prime minister. He presided over a twenty-one-member cabinet that included alleged Communists but only three RCC officers, among them Nimeiri as defense minister. Because the RCC lacked political experience, Communists played a significant role in shaping government policies. Dedicated to an independent “Sudanese socialism,” Nimeiri ordered the arrest of sixty-three civilian politicians and forced senior army officers to retire. Banning all political parties, he named himself president and began reforming Sudan’s economy by nationalizing banks and industries. In November of 1969, after claiming that the regime could not survive without Communist assistance, Awadalla was demoted to foreign minister and RCC deputy chairman. Consolidating his power with Soviet and Libyan support, Nimeiri took over the role, and in 1972 the title, of prime minister. From 1968 to 1972, Soviet bloc nations provided assistance, training, and large quantities of weapons to the Sudanese army, which grew from eighteen thousand men to roughly fifty thousand.

The Ansar sect posed Nimeiri’s greatest political threat. Demanding elections and assuming that Nimeiri would strike against him, El Hadi withdrew to a stronghold on Aba Island in the Nile, south of Khartoum. In March, 1970, hostile crowds prevented Nimeiri from visiting Aba. Fighting erupted between RCC forces and the Ansar. Following an ultimatum, army and air units assaulted the island, killing some three thousand people. El Hadi escaped but was killed crossing the Ethiopian border. Sadiq was exiled to Egypt, where Nasser promised to prevent him from succeeding his uncle as Ansar leader.

Neutralizing this opposition, Nimeiri moved against the Sudanese Communist Party, which had been banned by earlier regimes. Supported by railway unions and sharecroppers, the Communists distanced themselves from the Moscow-supported regime. Their secretary-general, Abdel Khaliq Mahgoub, Mahgoub, Abdel Khaliq was deported, returned illegally, and was placed under house arrest. In March, 1971, Nimeiri announced the formation of the Sudan Socialist Union Sudan Socialist Union (SSU) to replace all political parties and bring unions under government control. Leading Communists were arrested after calling for armed struggle against the regime. On July 19, 1971, the July Rectification Movement, July Rectification Movement (Sudan) a cabal of Communist army officers, led by Major Hashim al-Atta, launched a coup and seized Nimeiri and the RCC in the presidential palace. Three days later, units loyal to Nimeiri stormed the palace and subdued the Communists.

Becoming Sudan’s first elected president with a 98.6 percent vote in September, 1971, Nimeiri shifted to a more pro-Western stance. Still affirming his commitment to a socialist state, he sought Saudi, Egyptian, and Western support, despite a disruption in relations with the United States by the 1973 murders of American diplomats in Khartoum by Palestinian terrorists. Banks were privatized and foreign investment was encouraged. Nimeiri’s greatest accomplishment, the Addis Ababa Accords, Addis Ababa Accords (1972) signed with southern leaders on March 27, 1972, ended seventeen years of civil war. Facilitated by Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, these accords guaranteed autonomy for the south, incorporated separatist rebels into the Sudanese army, and recognized Arabic as Sudan’s official language and English as the south’s principal language. A constitution, promulgated in May, 1973, continued presidential government, recognized the SSU as the only authorized political party, and supported southern autonomy. Surviving several coup attempts, Nimeiri responded to unrest by declaring a state of emergency in September, 1974, purging the SSU and cabinet, and arresting large numbers of Islamist and leftist dissidents. Opposition coalesced in the National Front, an alliance of Sadiq’s Umma, the NUP, and the Islamic Charter Front, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood.

After a July, 1976, Ansar-inspired rebellion brought mass arrests and more than seven hundred deaths, Nimeiri adopted more conciliatory policies. In a much lauded “national reconciliation,” he signed an agreement with Sadiq al-Mahdi restoring civil liberties, freeing political prisoners, reaffirming a nonaligned foreign policy, and promising government reform in return for the National Front’s absorption into an increasingly incoherent SSU. Although reelected in 1977 and again in 1983, Nimeiri’s popularity waned when he became the only Arab leader to support Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat’s Sadat, Anwar el- peace with Israel. Sadat’s 1981 assassination left Sudan vulnerable to subversion.


Nimeiri’s regime promoted Islamist rigidity in the north and devastation in the south. A consummate but increasingly dictatorial political chameleon, Nimeiri censored the press, closed universities, imprisoned opponents, and thwarted anyone who appeared to be gaining power. Amid minimal progress and growing instability, he allied with Islamists to shore up his popularity. In June, 1983, he violated the Addis Ababa Accords by redividing the South. That September, he applied a harsh interpretation of Islamic law to all Sudanese regardless of religion.

Meanwhile, significant petroleum discoveries were made in the south, where the Sudan People’s Liberation Army People’s Liberation Army, Sudanese[Peoples Liberation Army, Sudanese] seized large areas in renewed fighting. Convicted of heresy, peaceful reformer Mahmoud Muhammad Taha Taha, Mahmoud Muhammad was executed. Massive demonstrations broke out in Khartoum amid serious fuel shortages, drought, inflation, and growing insurgency. On April 6, 1985, while visiting the United States, Nimeiri was deposed by defense minister General Abdel Rahman Suwar al-Dahab Dahab, Abdel Rahman Suwar al- in a bloodless coup. Elections in April, 1986, gave power to a civilian government, headed by Sadiq al-Mahdi. Mahdi, Sadiq al- However, on June, 30, 1989, Colonel Omar al-Bashir Bashir, Omar al- seized power. Guiding events behind the scenes, National Islamic Front leader Hassan al-Turabi Turabi, Hassan al- imposed a theocracy. Nimeiri returned from fourteen years in exile in May, 1999. Unable to regain public support, his Alliance of the People’s Working Forces merged with the ruling National Congress Party in March, 2005. The second phase of Sudan’s civil war, Second Sudanese Civil War which he unleashed, claimed more than two million lives and displaced another four million. Revolutions and coups;Sudan May Revolution of 1969 (Sudan)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Khalid, Mansour. Nimeiri and the Revolution of Dis-May. London: KPI, 1985. An account of the Nimeiri era by a former cabinet member.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Waal, Alex de. Politics and Famine Crimes. London: James Currey, 1998. Good on the dynamics of Sudan’s north-south conflict.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Woodward, Peter. Sudan, the Unstable State, 1898-1988. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Reiner, 1990. An excellent political history of twentieth century Sudan.

First Sudanese Civil War Erupts

Categories: History