After the settlement in the south, Nimeiri attempted to mend
fences with northern Muslim religious groups. The government undertook
administrative decentralization, popular with the Ansar, that
favored rural over urban areas, where leftist activism was most
evident. Khartoum also reaffirmed Islam's special position in
the country, recognized the sharia as the source of all legislation,
and released some members of religious orders who had been incarcerated.
However, a reconciliation with conservative groups, which had
organized outside Sudan under Sadiq al Mahdi's leadership and
were later known as the National Front, eluded Nimeiri.
In August 1972, Nimeiri sought to consolidate his position by
creating a Constituent Assembly to draft a permanent constitution.
He then asked for the government's resignation to allow him to
appoint a cabinet whose members were drawn from the Constituent
Assembly. Nimeiri excluded individuals who had opposed the southern
settlement or who had been identified with the SSU's pro-Egyptian
In May 1973, the Constitutent Assembly promulgated a draft constitution.
This document provided for a continuation of presidential government,
recognized the SSU as the only authorized political organization,
and supported regional autonomy for the south. The constitution
also stipulated that voters were to choose members for the 250-seat
People's Assembly from an SSU-approved slate. Although it cited
Islam as Sudan's official religion, the constitution admitted
Christianity as the faith of a large number of Sudanese citizens
(see Christianity , ch. 2). In May 1974, voters selected 125 members
for the assembly; SSU-affiliated occupational and professional
groups named 100; and the president appointed the remaining 25.
Discontent with Nimeiri's policies and the increased military
role in government escalated as a result of food shortages and
the southern settlement, which many Muslim conservatives regarded
as surrender. In 1973 and 1974 there were unsuccessful coup attempts
against Nimeiri. Muslims and leftist students also staged strikes
against the government. In September 1974, Nimeiri responded to
this unrest by declaring a state of emergency, purging the SSU,
and arresting large numbers of dissidents. Nimeiri also replaced
some cabinet members with military personnel loyal to him.
Conservative opposition to Nimeiri coalesced in the National
Front, formed in 1974. The National Front included people from
Sadiq's wing of Umma; the NUP; and the Islamic Charter Front,
then the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic activist
movement. Their activity crystallized in a July 1976 Ansar-inspired
coup attempt. Government soldiers quickly restored order by killing
more than 700 rebels in Khartoum and arresting scores of dissidents,
including many prominent religious leaders. Despite this unrest,
in 1977 Sudanese voters reelected Nimeiri for a second six-year
term as president.
Data as of June 1991