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The coup leaders, joined by Awadallah, the former chief
justice who had been privy to the coup, constituted themselves as
the ten-member Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), which
posssessed collective executive authority under Nimeiri's
chairmanship. On assuming control, the RCC proclaimed the
establishment of a "democratic republic" dedicated to advancing
independent "Sudanese socialism." The RCC's first acts included
the suspension of the Transitional Constitution, the abolition of
all government institutions, and the banning of political
parties. The RCC also nationalized many industries, businesses,
and banks. Furthermore, Nimeiri ordered the arrest of sixty-three
civilian politicians and forcibly retired senior army officers.
Awadallah, appointed prime minister to form a new government
to implement RCC policy directives, wanted to dispel the notion
that the coup had installed a military dictatorship. He presided
over a twenty-one-member cabinet that included only three
officers from the RCC, among them its chairman, Nimeiri, who was
also defense minister. The cabinet's other military members held
the portfolios for internal security and communications. Nine
members of the Awadallah regime were allegedly communists,
including one of the two southerners in the cabinet, John Garang,
minister of supply and later minister for southern affairs.
Others identified themselves as Marxists. Since the RCC lacked
political and administrative experience, the communists played a
significant role in shaping government policies and programs.
Despite the influence of individual SCP members, the RCC claimed
that its cooperation with the party was a matter of convenience.
In November 1969, after he claimed the regime could not
survive without communist assistance, Awadallah lost the prime
ministership. Nimeiri, who became head of a largely civilian
government in addition to being chief of state, succeeded him.
Awadallah retained his position as RCC deputy chairman and
remained in the government as foreign minister and as an
important link with leftist elements.
Conservative forces, led by the Ansar, posed the greatest
threat to the RCC. Imam Al Hadi al Mahdi had withdrawn to his Aba
Island stronghold (in the Nile, near Khartoum) in the belief that
the government had decided to strike at the Ansar movement. The
imam had demanded a return to democratic government, the
exclusion of communists from power, and an end to RCC rule. In
March 1970, hostile Ansar crowds prevented Nimeiri from visiting
the island for talks with the imam. Fighting subsequently erupted
between government forces and as many as 30,000 Ansar. When the
Ansar ignored an ultimatum to surrender, army units with air
support assaulted Aba Island. About 3,000 people died during the
battle. The imam escaped only to be killed while attempting to
cross the border into Ethiopia. The government exiled Sadiq al
Mahdi to Egypt, where Nasser promised to keep him under guard to
prevent him from succeeding his uncle as head of the Ansar
After neutralizing this conservative opposition, the RCC
concentrated on consolidating its political organization to phase
out communist participation in the government. This strategy
prompted an internal debate within the SCP. The orthodox wing,
led by party secretary general Abd al Khaliq Mahjub, demanded a
popular front government with communists participating as equal
partners. The National Communist wing, on the other hand,
supported cooperation with the government.
Soon after the army had crushed the Ansar at Aba Island,
Nimeiri moved against the SCP. He ordered the deportation of Abd
al Khaliq Mahjub. Then, when the SCP secretary general returned
to Sudan illegally after several months abroad, Nimeiri placed
him under house arrest. In March 1971, Nimeiri indicated that
trade unions, a traditional communist stronghold, would be placed
under government control. The RCC also banned communistaffiliated student, women's, and professional organizations.
Additionally, Nimeiri announced the planned formation of a
national political movement called the Sudan Socialist Union
(SSU), which would assume control of all political parties,
including the SCP. After this speech, the government arrested the
SCP's central committee and other leading communists.
The SCP, however, retained a covert organization that was not
damaged in the sweep. Before further action could be taken
against the party, the SCP launched a coup against Nimeiri. The
coup occurred on July 19, 1971, when one of the plotters, Major
Hisham al Atta, surprised Nimeiri and the RCC meeting in the
presidential palace and seized them along with a number of proNimeiri officers. Atta named a seven-member revolutionary
council, in which communists ranked prominently, to serve as the
national government. Three days after the coup, however, loyal
army units stormed the palace, rescued Nimeiri, and arrested Atta
and his confederates. Nimeiri, who blamed the SCP for the coup,
ordered the arrest of hundreds of communists and dissident
military officers. The government subsequently executed some of
these individuals and imprisoned many others.
Having survived the SCP-inspired coup, Nimeiri reaffirmed his
commitment to establishing a socialist state. A provisional
constitution, published in August 1971, described Sudan as a
"socialist democracy" and provided for a presidential form of
government to replace the RCC. A plebiscite the following month
elected Nimeiri to a six-year term as president.
Data as of June 1991