Gaafar Mohamed el-Nimeiri, also spelled Jaʿfar Muḥammad al-Numayrī, Nimeiri also spelled Nimeiry, Nemery, or Numeyri (b. January 1, 1930, Wad Nubawi, Omdurman, Sudan— d. May 30, 2009, Omdurman, Sudan), major general, commander of the armed forces, and president of Sudan (1971–85).
After graduating from the Sudan Military College in 1952, Nimeiry acted as commander of the Khartoum garrison and led campaigns against rebels in southern Sudan. He joined in a number of attempts to overthrow the Sudanese government. In 1966 he graduated from the United States Army Command College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Three years later he overthrew the civilian regime of Isma'il al-Azhari and was promoted to major general. He became prime minister and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC). He put down a right-wing revolt led by Sayyid Ṣādiq al-Mahdī in March 1970 but was briefly overthrown by a communist coup in July 1971. In September 1971, he was elected president in a plebiscite with 98.6 percent of the vote.
Upon his election as president, Nimeiry dissolved the RCC and established in 1972 the Sudanese Socialist Union, a political party of which he also became president. He was credited with bringing about negotiations that led to a settlement of a long-running conflict with the southern Sudan region, to which he granted autonomy in 1972.
When Nimeiry assumed power, he first pursued a socialist economic policy but soon shifted course in favor of capitalist agriculture, designed to make Sudan a major food producer. In March 1981 he inaugurated the Kinānah sugar project, one of the largest sugar refineries in the world. His efforts were hampered, however, by a succession of economic crises brought on in part by overly ambitious development plans, and his reign was punctuated by many attempted coups.
Nimeiry became the first Muslim leader to back the efforts of Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat to establish peace with Israel. As president of the Organization of African Unity (OAU; now the African Union) in 1978, Nimeiri reasserted his position that Africa should keep free from entanglements of “alignment” with external powers.
His attempts to promulgate measures of Islamic law (Shari'ah) in Sudan alienated many in the predominantly Christian southern region, as did his abrogation of the 1972 agreement that had granted southern Sudan autonomy. These factors helped to fuel the resumption of war with southern Sudan (now South Sudan) in 1983.
In April 1985, while he was in the United States, Nimeiry was overthrown by his defense minister in a bloodless coup. He sought refuge in Egypt, where he spent 14 years in exile. After his return to Sudan in 1999, he was not actively involved in Sudanese politics.