236. Telegram 1988 From the Embassy in Sudan to the Department of State1 2


  • Continuing Stability of Nimeiri Regime


  • Khartoum 1979

Dept pass Asst Secretary Schaufele

Summary. Possessed of as many lives as the proverbial cat, Nimeiri has successfully weathered yet another coup attempt involving members of the old-line religious-oriented Umma party, disaffected Western Sudanese, numbers of non-Sudanese “mercenaires” and, quite clearly the Libyans.

Army was slow respond to threat, but this probably due to variety coincidental factors rather than evidence significant military disloyalty. Regime remains narrowly-based, but we believe Nimeiri continues enjoy enough support from armed forces and civilian elements, notably southerners, to continue govern as effectively as in past. End summary.

1. Establish something of a record for survivability among unstable Mid-East governments, Nimeiri has now rpt now successfully weathered some five coup attempts in seven years. This oft-repeated drama clearly demonstrates the continuing narrow base of regime’s popular support but it also shows absence of massive popular antipathy to Nimeiri. As far as we able judge, majority northern and eastern Sudanese probably apathetic vis-a-vis regime; Westerners to considerable extent opposed; and southerners on balance favorable. Regime has been careful avoid blatant corruption of type which as fed popular disaffection elsewhere. Many ordinary Sudanese, particularly in rural areas, are flattered by Nimeiri’s frequent “whistle stop” visits and feel that regime is serious about developing country and improving their lot. Traditional urban elites, on other hand, are more likely to be critical of specific policies and bitter at their exclusion from decision-making processes. There was, however, no out-pouring of support for rebels on part Khartoum population during early stages coup. On contrary, many citizens reportedly were repelled by initial brutal murders of prominent figures in their homes.

2. Two antithetical groups who would clearly like to see Nimeiri go are local communists and followers of exiled Ansar religious leader Saddiq al-Mahdi. Communists lack numbers and position on which to base any successful coup and appear to have intentionally stood aside during July 2–3 struggle in Khartoum. The Ansar (considerable among whom hail from Western Sudan) have clearly represented more substantial threat. They would like revenge for Nimeiri regime’s pounding of their former Aba island stronghold in 1970 and subsequent killing of last imam. But fact that this revenge remains unrequited after over six years underlines that Ansar no longer represent the significant power base they once did. Among captive rebels so far identified, many appear to be of poorer class who quite likely, as GOS claims, joined rebel movement for good pay and promise of either early earthly—or heavenly—reward.

3. Army remains key to Nimeiri’s survival. It seems clear troops responded slowly to coup threat early July 2. However, number of factors probably account for evident lethargy, notably perhaps at Shagara armored corps camp, without resorting to conspiracy theory or allegations of major military disloyalty: (a) crack parachute battalion normally stationed north Khartoum for security capital had just left for Lebanon: (b) number key operational leaders (Abdul Gassim Ibrahim, Ahmed Abdel Hakim, and Zein al-Abdin) were absent from city; (c) radio and telephone communications were broken; (d) military still lacks adequate emergency communications net (page communications currently has contract to remedy this defect but work not completed); (e) many troops normally sleep at home and it was Friday holiday; (f) movement to duty stations rapidly dangerous in most areas; and (g) as in Sept 1975 coup attempt, many soldiers appear to have chosen stay out of harm’s way. Armed forces thus initially caught off balance and some purge of officer corps may well occur as result, but we conclude that military in general showed positive loyality in rallying to Nimeiri by afternoon July 2 to beat back a well-planned and well-executed rebel move. There seems no better test of the military’s basic steadfastness than to note speed which outlying units arrived Khartoum and significant number of casualties armed forces incurred in assuring survivability of regime.

4. Questions of Nimeiri’s “popularity” exceedingly hard to answer and to considerable extent irrelevant in Near Eastern context. It is clear, however, that he enjoys considerable support in south and among southerners in the armed forces. Southern community living in Omdurman reportedly started riot with neighboring Chadian area when rumor spread Nimeiri dead. Palace area, which served as tactical headquarters for Nimeiri forces, is guarded by an all-southern unit. Whatever residual support old-line political figures may command elsewhere in Sudan (and we believe this to be slight), they clearly remain discredited in the south where Nimeiri is still hailed as architect of civil war settlement.

5. Events of last few days provided sadat with timely opportunity place on public record Egyptian determination support Nimeiri as necessary to insure his survival. This likely to buttress Nimeiri’s position in short run, particularly outside Sudan, but it would have been serious blow to his standing among Sudanese had his survivability been shown to require Egyptian bayonets. Sadat’s open support for Nimeiri is no doubt one reason for the continuing all-out local campaign to stress that recent abortive coup almost entirely due to Libyan machinations.

6. On balance, Country Team concludes that: (a) despite regime’s short-comings and obvious lack of broad support, failure of yet another coup indicates anew the underlying strength of the Nimeiri regime more than the contrary; (b) with rebel collapse and severe retribution likely to be visited on their associates, this could well represent Ansar leadership’s last hurrah; (c) widespread internal apathy toward Nimeiri could not have produced recent coup attempt; (d) substantial outside stimulus and support could have, and (e) as indicated reftel, Libyans have again been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Policy Files, 1976. Secret; Priority. Repeated to Addis Ababa, Cairo, Jidda, London, Moscow, Nairobi, Ndjamena, Paris, Tripoli, the Mission to the UN, USCINCEUR, and COMIDEASTFOR.
  2. The Embassy summarized President Nimeiri’s success in weathering another coup attempt and assessed his popularity and stability.