Read this fascinating, but true story, from the Pakistani publication “Dawn” by Nadeem F. Paracha on how the Sudan was transformed from a secular socialist pan-Arabist regime, in the mold of the late Egyptian leader Nasser, into a genocidal Jihadist regime under the regime of military strong man and President Gaafar Nimeiry who ruled from 1969 to 1985.
He succumbed to Muslim Brotherhood doctrine of former exile Hassan al-Turabi who hosted Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the Sudan in the 1990’s following the seizure of power by current long term President Omar al-Bashir onm 1989.
Nimeiry transformed the Sudan into an Islamist ruled under Shari’a and promoted the genocidal doctrine of oppressing indigenous Black Africans. Amazingly, Nimiery was a US ally during the Iran Iraq war, and despite evidence of Sunni extremism Bashirt forged an alliance with both Iran’s Shiite Ayatollahs and welcomed Bin Laden during his exile from Saudi Arabia.
From the 1990s onward it has been declared a pariah state by the US (for ‘supporting terrorism against the US’). The common perception of this country is that of a chaotic land ravaged by crazy dictators nurturing crazier ‘Islamic terrorists.’
In May 1969, a group in the Sudanese military, operating secretly as the Free Officers Movement and led by the 38-year-old colonel, Gafaar Nimeiry, toppled the weak civilian government and declared Sudan’s second Martial Law.
Nimeiry was a great admirer of the charismatic Egyptian nationalist leader, Gamal Abul Nasser. Nasser immediately recognised the new Sudanese regime and this also attracted the interest of the Soviet Union which was aiding Nasser since the 1950s.
This way Nimeiry pulled Sudan into the Cold War. When the Soviets and Egypt began to dish out economic and military aid to Sudan, the US and its allies became concerned about ‘the spread of communism in Africa.’
Nimeiry had used pro-communist factions in the military to launch his coup. He was also helped by the strong labour, trade and student unions controlled by the Sudanese Communist Party.
With Egyptian and Soviet aid, as well as help from the newly installed radical regime of Colonel Qaddafi in Libya, Nimeiry began to implement ‘socialist’ economic policies, nationalising whatever little industry Sudan had. He also struck a peace treaty with the leaders in the restive Christian-majority south.
Though Sudan did not plunge into anarchy like Syria, Somalia, Yemen or Iraq, its history of the past 60 years or so is one of the most vivid reflections of how during the Cold War (1949-89), major international powers manoeuvered regimes in various Muslim-majority countries for various economic and strategic gains.
They bolstered those regimes and then turned against them once certain ideological and geopolitical experiments which they had supported began to backfire and became ‘Frankenstein’ in nature.
A look at the rise and fall of perhaps Sudan’s most enigmatic leader, Gafaar Nimeiry, can clearly unfold the complex and highly mutable ideological and geopolitical intricacies which eventually led to the anarchic destruction of so many Muslim countries after the Cold War.
In 1970, the Ansar rose up against the regime’s ‘secular’ and ‘communist’ policies and launched a militant movement in its stronghold, the Aba Island. The Ansar were supported by the Sudanese faction of the Muslim Brotherhood, a largely Egyptian organisation which was brutally suppressed by Nasser. The Ansar and the Larry Brothers
erhood were being financed by Saudi Arabia.
The Sudanese military, supported by Egyptian air force, crushed the uprising, bombing the Ansar’s headquarters and vanquishing the party. In 1971, after banning all political parties, Nimeiry formed the Sudan Socialist Union (SSU), turning the country into a single-party ‘socialist’ state. He also began ousting the more radical communists from the government, accusing them of ‘blackmail.’
In July 1976, Nimeiry faced a serious coup attempt orchestrated by officers sympathetic to the Ansar. Nimeiry responded by ordering severe crackdown on Islamic groups, killing over 400 members of the Ansar.
Economic growth largely failed to trickle down and the radical Islamic groups, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, vehemently criticised the regime for its lopsided economic policies, its social liberalism and for becoming an unquestioning ally of the United States.
In 1977 Nimeiry moved to reach reconciliation with the Islamic groups. He agreed to release hundreds of political prisoners and allow the return of opposition groups into mainstream politics, even though Sudan remained a one-party state.
In 1979, Nimeiry also recalled the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood’s main ideologue, Hasan al-Turabi, from exile and made him the Justice Minister. The regime however remained close to the US.
Turabi began to exercise greater influence over Niamey, who donned off his ‘western clothes’ and began to wear traditional Sudanese dress and turban. Corruption became rampant in state and government institutions and even though the US continued to dish out millions of dollars in financial aid, much of this aid landed in the pockets of crooked government and military officials and bureaucrats.
In 1983, as the economy began to decline, creating food shortages and widespread unemployment, protests erupted on the streets. As a reaction and on the advice of Turabi and the growing numbers of Muslim Brotherhood members in the regime, Nimeiry introduced strict ‘Shariah’ laws.
Amputation of limbs for supposed thieves was introduced and such punishments, including floggings and hangings, were televised live on state television. Sale of alcohol was banned and Crockett wrote that in one such exhibition, Nimeiry, who had been a heavy drinker all his life, appeared at an anti-alcohol rally to smash beer bottles against a wall!
The amputations, the floggings and the executions which was all televised live worried Sudan’s allies in the US and Europe. But the aid continued to come in and US President Ronald Reagan actually praised Nimeiry for keeping communism at bay in the region.
In 1985, the economy almost completely collapsed and a severe drought killed thousands of poor Sudanese in the rural areas. The civil war reappeared after the region’s Christian majority saw the introduction of ‘Islamic laws’ as a negation of what the South was promised in the 1970s.
Nimeiry refused to allow aid agencies to distribute food in drought-struck areas. In one meeting he shouted at an official who was requesting him to allow food trucks to reach the victims of the drought. He told him “No! They (the aid organisations) are undermining my revolution!”
In 1985, as protests against the regime grew and became violent, Nimeiry flew out to the US for a meeting with his main supporter, President Reagan. But when he was in the US, General Abdel Salam Swar toppled the regime and imposed the country’s third Martial Law. Sadiq Al-Siddiq of the Ummah Party became Prime Minister.
A series of democratic governments (mostly uneasy and weak coalitions) tried to reverse Nimeiry’s extreme policies and convince the International Monetary Fund to bail Sudan out of its deepening economic quagmire.
In 1989, General Ahmad Bashir toppled the civilian regime in a military coup. Bashir revived the harsh laws imposed by the Nimeiry regime (in the name of Shariah) and went to war against the South.
Under him, Sudan became a pariah state and a hotbed and refuge for radical Islamists. It is believed that by the late 1990s, the situation of the country was such that had oil not been discovered here and the Chinese not stepped in to become main consumers of this oil, Sudan would have descended into complete anarchy just as Somalia had done in the early 1990s.