In 1969 Numeiri, with the help of four other officers, orchestrated a coup to overthrow the Sudanese government. He then became the new prime minister and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) and renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Sudan.
In July 1971 Sudanese communists staged a coup, and Numeiri was imprisoned. Shortly after his incarceration, Numeiri escaped and rallied loyal forces to put down the revolt and brutally crush the communists.
Numeiri quickly moved to strengthen his base of political support by changing domestic and foreign policies. In the 1971 referendum on the presidency, Numeiri received a 98.6 percent affirmative vote and was sworn in for a six-year term as president.
Spurred by Numeiri’s view of Arab socialism, in 1969 the Sudan agreed in the Tripoli Charter to coordinate foreign policies with Libya and Egypt. This union, which developed into a federation of Arab Republics, was extremely short-lived and was never really implemented.
Numeiri inherited the problem of civil war in the southern Sudan, which had begun in 1955, even before Sudanese independence. A positive step toward resolving the war was taken in 1972 with the signing of the Addis Ababa Agreement. A cease-fire was declared in the south, and autonomy was granted to the non-Muslim southern region of the Sudan.
In an effort to bolster support for his regime, Numeiri imposed sharia, Islamic law, over all of the Sudan in 1983. He also unilaterally decreed the division of the south into three regions corresponding to the old provinces; these decisions led to the resumption of the civil war.
The mounting economic crisis led to urban riots, and spreading famines in rural areas marked the final phase of the Numeiri era. In April 1985, while Numeiri was out of the country on official business, the military launched a successful coup against his regime.
Until 1999, when he was allowed to return to the Sudan, Numeiri remained in exile in Egypt while the Sudan continued to suffer through civil war, drought, famines, and mounting political repression from Islamist forces.