Even before President Jaafar Nimeiry left Sudan Wednesday on a visit to the United States, reports were circulating freely in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, that he would be ousted while he was abroad. The opposition is reported to be organized in at least three known circles:
1. The senior ranks in the Army and the ruling Sudan Socialist Union.
2. The Muslim Brotherhood, former allies of Mr. Nimeiry with whom he recently broke after accusing them of responsibility for legal excesses in the name of religion.
3. The traditional political opposition -- ranging from the Umma Party, led by Sadiq el-Mahdi, and the National Republic Party, mainly supported by the Khatmia Muslim sect, both on the right -- to the Communist Party on the left. These groups have ties with leaders of the armed rebellion in the south, the Sudan People's Liberation Army.
The demonstrations that produced Army violence on the day Nimeiry set off for Washington seem to have been organized by the Muslim Brotherhood. This, at least, is what is believed in government circles.
It is too soon to know where the current troubles in the capital will end. Ostensibly they are protests against cuts in subsidies on food and other living essentials. But, in fact, they are an expression of Sudanese opposition to Nimeiry. Ever since independence, regimes in the Sudan have fallen following popular street demonstrations.
Last month, when Vice-President George Bush visited Sudan, Sayid el Mahdi, in his meeting with Mr. Bush, argued that there is a widespread belief among all Sudanese that the present regime has failed the country.
An anonymous delegation of ``concerned Sudanese professionals and academics'' later presented a memorandum to Chester Crocker, the US assistant secretary of state for Africa, declaring that Bush's visit coincided ``with a most crucial phase of political developments in the Sudan, and it therefore arouses the deep anxiety of most segments of our society.''
They allege that Nimeiry imposed Islamic laws as a means of ``muzzling dissent'' and suppressing his opponents. They blame the present economic and political crisis on 15 years of mismanagement, poor planning, and corruption deepened by political despotism.
The group called on the US to freeze economic and military aid to the Sudan until human rights are respected, democracy is restored, and the war in the south is ended. While saying they would have preferred to sign their memorandum, they added: ``For reasons that are undoubtedly clear to you, we must remain anonymous.''
The reasons for the widespread public discontent with Nimeiry emerge very clearly in a book by Dr. Mansour Khalid, Nimeiry's former foreign minister. His book, being released in London, provides a wealth of detailed, secret information about the Sudanese president's behavior, the alleged economic malpractices of his political favorites, and the information about foreign business tycoons.
The book recounts in considerable detail a number of deals of businessman Adnan Kashoggi, including the allged huge rake-off he obtained from loans raised for the country, and another involving the raising of a 200 million loan to construct an oil refinery which was never built. Mr. Khalid describes how, while he was still foreign minister, he sought an interview with the then-Saudi King Faisal to report to him personally on Kashoggi's activities.
He writes: ``The king was enraged by these allegations.''
Despite a subsequent ban on Kashoggi from the Saudi kingdom, Nimeiry continued to trust him. While on a state visit to Saudi Arabia, Nimeiry asked the King to do him a favor.
``Like a true Arab host, Faisal gave an unconditional yes. The favor was the forgiving of AK, whom Nimeiry had brought with him on the visit in his own plane [i.e., one owned by Kashoggi]. AK stepped into the country from which he was banished to the amusement of the Saudis. The King could not go back on his word.''
Various explanations have been given for Nimeiry's sudden decision to embark on the Islamization of Sudanese society in 1983. While Khalid allows for what he calls the ``internal conflicts in Nimeiry's psyche,'' he insists that any theory that ignores the political motives behind the President's introduction of Sharia misses the point.
He cites three reasons for Nimeiry's decision to turn himself into ``the imam of the Sudan'':
To take the wind out of the sails of the Muslim brothers and the other Islamic sects;
To turn away public attention from internal problems involving government mismanagement and economic collapse and to make them think of ``the life to come'';
To divert attention from government (mainly palace corruption), and to stop gossip about the alcoholism, adultery, and malpractices of ``Nimeiry's cronies.''
Khalid devotes considerable attention to the relationship between Nimeiry and the Muslim Brotherhood, and suggests that the latter's real motive in joining the President's government was to secure power for themselves.
Even before this book came off the presses, its forecast about the power struggle between Nimeiry and the Muslim Brotherhood had been proved correct. It has been suggested that Nimeiry, having exploited the support of the Brothers, has now turned on them to frustrate their plans.
For the moment, his alleged tactics appear to have succeeded. But the future remains uncertain.
Khalid concludes: ``If Sudan is to come out of its morass, Nimeiry must go. Although there is nothing to make us believe that his removal by itself will take us back to what we called the years of promise, of one thing we are sure: The situation can not deteriorate any further. Sudan has reached its nadir.''
It would be surprising if this book, with its wealth of detailed revelations, were not to have a major impact on political developments in the troubled Sudan.