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1971 Sudanese coup d'état

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Title: 1971 Sudanese coup d'état  
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1971 Sudanese coup d'état

1971 Sudanese coup d'état
Date 19–22 July 1971
Location Khartoum, Sudan
Result Coup attempt fails, Nimeiry government restored, anti-communist purges by government forces in Sudan, execution of several SCP leaders
Nimeiry led-government
  • Loyalist military units

Supported by:

Revolutionary Council
  • Sudanese communists
  • Rebel military units
Commanders and leaders
Gaafar Nimeiry
Muammar Gaddafi
Anwar Sadat
Maj. Hashem al Atta
Col. Abdel Moneim Mohamed Ahmed
Lt. Col. Osman Hussein
Cpt. Muawaiya Abdul Hay
Abdel Khaliq Mahjub
Joseph Garang

The 1971 Sudanese coup d'état was a short-lived communist-backed coup, led by Major Hashem al Atta, against the government of President Gaafar Nimeiry. The coup took place on 19 July 1971, toppling the government of Sudan, but failed to garner support either domestically or internationally. After several days Nimeiry loyalist launched a counter-coup, freeing Nimeiry and toppling Atta's government.


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 communist affiliated 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 pro-Nimeiri 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.


The Siesta Coup

The coup began in the mid afternoon of 19 July, when Khartoum was relatively quiet due to many Sudanese retiring from the scorching mid afternoon sun to take a siesta. With Khartoum relatively quiet Atta moved tanks into positions around government buildings, capturing the Presidential Palace and taking Nimeiry and several dozen of his followers prisoner.[1]

At this point Atta declared himself, Osman, and Hamdallah in charge of the government, proclaiming a new Revolutionary Council. The three men were rumoured communists, and whilst they denied this, their new governments first act was to lift Nimeiry's ban on the Sudanese Communist Party and its various affiliated organisations. Speaking over the radio, Atta announced the new government would work in closer collaboration with communist and socialist countries, and stated that Sudanese communists would be brought into a new coalition government.[1]

The response to the coup was initially limited, with Atta's forces receiving no opposition from either the Sudanese Armed Forces or from the wider population. Khartoum did however see communists stage pro-coup demonstrations. Whilst Atta was in Khartoum, his fellow coup leaders, Osman and Hamdallah, were in London, with Hamdallah having accompanied Osman on a trip for medical treatment. Upon being informed of the success of the coup the two wound up their affairs and prepared to fly back to Khartoum, with Osman being slated to serve as Chief of Staff in the new government.[1]

The coup fails to take hold

Despite the ease at which Atta had seized Khartoum the coup had little widespread support. Whilst the Sudanese Communist Party was the largest Communist Party in the Arab World it's support base was limited to a small section of Sudan's population. In contrast to this there was a widespread opposition in Sudan's religious and conservative population to communist, which was viewed as having dangerous links to atheism. [1]

Adding to this was the fact that Sudan's neighbors were also opposed to the new communist government. None of Sudan's neighbours wished to have either a communist or communist sympathising government for a neighbor,[1] and Anwar Sadat in Egypt ordered first a fact-finding mission to Khartoum, and later ordered Egyptian forces stationed south of Khartoum to resist the coup.[2]

Gaddafi's Libya also supported Nimeiry. Gaddafi, like Nimeiry, had come to power two years prior. Gaddafi was also at this point virulently anti-communist. Gaddafi's response was far more extreme than Sadat's, and he dispatched two Libyan fighter jets to force down the British Airlines jetliner which was ferrying Osman and Hamdallah from London back to Khartoum. The plane was forced down in Libya, and the two were taken off the plane and arrested.[2]

Saudi Arabia was also worried about the prospect of a new communist government across the red sea, although Saudi Arabia refrained from engaging in any clear action against the new Sudanese government. Ba'athist Iraq did however respond favorably to the new government, publicly supporting the coup, and was actually the only Arab government to do so. Baghdad dispatched an airliner to Khartoum carrying an Iraqi delegation to congratulate Atta and his new government, although this crashed under mysterious circumstances whilst crossing Saudi Arabia.[2]

The coup unravels

Unaware that Osman and Hamdallah's plane had been forced down in Libya, Atta travelled to Khartoum International Airport on the morning of the 22 July expecting to welcome the two back to Sudan. Atta had realized by this point that the coup may prove more difficult than it originally appeared, and had dispatched orders to prevent any attempted countercoups; the army had been ordered to immobolise its tanks in the Khartoum area, most armored brigades and paratroopers had been put on leave, and the arms and ammunition of units whose loyalty was in doubt had been removed and locked away. According to rumours Atta had not undertaken these courses of action alone, but had instead done so with the advise and support of Soviet military personnel.[2]

Upon learning of the status of the plane Atta travelled to the center of Khartoum to address a rally that he had called to welcome back Osman and Hamdullah. Speaking to the crowd, Atta tried desperately to muster support for his coup, but the crowd was thin, Atta was heckled, and there were calls for the return of Nimeiry.[2]

Within hours military units loyal to Nimeiry moved into Khartoum, engaging with units loyal to Atta and freeing Nimeiry after a short battle. Osman and Hamdullah were returned to Khartoum by Gaddafi, and were executed alongside Atta and a half dozen other coup leaders.[2][3]


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.

The coup brought major changes in Sudan's foreign and domestic policies. In its aftermath, leading members of the Sudanese Communist Party were executed, and several communist-dominated trade unions were banned. In his foreign policy, Nimeiry expelled East German security advisers and denounced the Soviet Union and most of its European allies for their attitude to the attempted coup.[4][5]


  1. ^ a b c d e Korn, David A. (1993). Assassination in Khartoum. Indiana University Press. p. 87. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Korn, David A. (1993). Assassination in Khartoum. Indiana University Press. p. 88. 
  3. ^ "Execute Leaders of Sudan Coup".  
  4. ^ Sudan: Aftermath of the Coup
  5. ^ Library of Congress Country Studies: Sudan
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