Egyptian-Ottoman rule

Muhammad 'Ali and his successors

In July 1820, Muhammad 'Ali, viceroy of Egypt under the Ottoman Turks, sent an army under his son Isma'il to conquer the Sudan. Muhammad 'Ali was interested in the gold and slaves that the Sudan could provide and wished to control the vast hinterland south of Egypt. By 1821 the Funj and the sultan of Darfur had surrendered to his forces, and the Nilotic Sudan from Nubia to the Ethiopian foothills and from the 'Atbarah River to Darfur became part of his expanding empire.

The collection of taxes under Muhammad 'Ali's regime amounted to virtual confiscation of gold, livestock, and slaves, and opposition to his rule became intense, eventually erupting into rebellion and the murder of Isma'il and his bodyguard. But the rebels lacked leadership and coordination, and their revolt was brutally suppressed. A sullen hostility in the Sudanese was met by continued repression until the appointment of 'Ali Khurshid Agha as governor-general in 1826.

His administration marked a new era in Egyptian-Sudanese relations. He reduced taxes and consulted the Sudanese through the respected Sudanese leader 'Abd al-Qadir wad az-Zayn. Letters of amnesty were granted to fugitives. A more equitable system of taxation was implemented, and the support of the powerful class of holy men and sheikhs (tribal chiefs) for the administration was obtained by exempting them from taxation.

But 'Ali Khurshid was not content merely to restore the Sudan to its previous condition. Under his initiative trade routes were protected and expanded, Khartoum was developed as the administrative capital, and a host of agricultural and technical improvements were undertaken. When he retired to Cairo in 1838, Khurshid left a prosperous and contented country behind him.

His successor, Ahmad Pasha Abu Widan, with but few exceptions, continued his policies and made it his primary concern to root out official corruption. Abu Widan dealt ruthlessly with offenders or those who sought to thwart his schemes to reorganize taxation. He was particularly fond of the army, which reaped the benefits of regular pay and tolerable conditions in return for the brunt of the expansion and consolidation of Egyptian administration in Kassala and among the Baqqarah Arabs of southern Kordofan. Muhammad 'Ali, suspecting Abu Widan of disloyalty, recalled him to Cairo in the autumn of 1843, but he died mysteriously, many believed of poison, before he left the Sudan.

During the next two decades the country stagnated because of ineffective government at Khartoum and vacillation by the viceroys at Cairo. If the successors of Abu Widan possessed administrative talent, they were seldom able to demonstrate it. No governor-general held office long enough to introduce his own plans, let alone carry on those of his predecessor.

New schemes were never begun, and old projects were allowed to languish. Without direction the army and the bureaucracy became demoralized and indifferent, while the Sudanese became disgruntled with the government. In 1856 the viceroy Sa'id Pasha visited the Sudan and, shocked by what he saw, contemplated abandoning it altogether. Instead, he abolished the office of governor-general and had each Sudanese province report directly to the viceregal authority in Cairo. This state of affairs persisted until the more dynamic viceroy Isma'il took over the guidance of Egyptian and Sudanese affairs in 1862.

During these quiescent decades, however, two ominous developments began that presaged future problems. Reacting to pressure from the Western powers, particularly Great Britain, the governor-general of the Sudan was ordered to halt the slave trade. But not even the viceroy himself could overcome established custom with the stroke of a pen and the erection of a few police posts.

If the restriction of the slave trade precipitated resistance among the Sudanese, the appointment of Christian officials to the administration and the expansion of the European Christian community in the Sudan caused open resentment. European merchants, mostly of Mediterranean origin, were either ignored or tolerated by the Sudanese and confined their contacts to compatriots within their own community and to the Turko-Egyptian officials whose manners and dress they frequently adopted. They became a powerful and influential group, whose lasting contribution to the Sudan was to take the lead in opening the White Nile and the southern Sudan to navigation and commerce after Muhammad 'Ali had abolished state trading monopolies in the Sudan in 1838 under pressure from the European powers.

In 1863, Isma'il Pasha became viceroy of Egypt. Educated in Egypt, Vienna, and Paris, Isma'il had absorbed the European interest in overseas adventures as well as Muhammad 'Ali's desire for imperial expansion and had imaginative schemes for transforming Egypt and the Sudan into a modern state by employing Western technology.

First he hoped to acquire the rest of the Nile basin, including the southern Sudan and the Bantu states by the great lakes of central Africa. To finance this vast undertaking, and his projects for the modernization of Egypt itself, Isma'il turned to the capital-rich nations of western Europe, where investors were willing to risk their savings at high rates of interest in the cause of Egyptian and African development.

But such funds would be attracted only as long as Isma'il demonstrated his interest in reform by intensifying the campaign against the slave trade in the Sudan. Isma'il needed no encouragement, for he required the diplomatic and financial support of the European powers in his efforts to modernize Egypt and expand his empire. Thus, these two major themes of Isma'il's rule of the Nilotic Sudan--imperial expansion and the suppression of the slave trade--became intertwined, culminating in a third major development, the introduction of an ever-increasing number of European Christians to carry out the task of modernization.

In 1869 Isma'il commissioned the Englishman Samuel Baker to lead an expedition up the White Nile to establish Egyptian hegemony over the equatorial regions of central Africa and to curtail the slave trade on the upper Nile. Baker remained in equatorial Africa until 1873, where he established the Equatoria province as part of the Egyptian Sudan. He had extended Egyptian power and curbed the slave traders on the Nile, but he had also alienated certain African tribes and, being a rather tactless Christian, Isma'il's Muslim administrators as well. Moreover, Baker had struck only at the Nilotic slave trade.

To the west, on the vast plains of the Bahr Al-Ghazal (now a state of the Republic of The Sudan), slave merchants had established enormous empires with stations garrisoned by slave soldiers.

From these stations the long lines of human chattels were sent overland through Darfur and Kordofan to the slave markets of the northern Sudan, Egypt, and Arabia. Not only did the firearms of the Khartoumers (as the traders were called) establish their supremacy over the peoples of the interior but also those merchants with the strongest resources gradually swallowed up lesser traders until virtually the whole of the Bahr Al-Ghazal was controlled by the greatest slaver of them all, az-Zubayr Rahma Mansur, more commonly known as Zubayr (or Zobeir) Pasha.

So powerful had he become that in 1873, the year Baker retired from the Sudan, the Egyptian viceroy (now called the khedive) appointed Zubayr governor of the Bahr Al-Ghazal. Isma'il's officials had failed to destroy Zubayr as Baker had crushed the slavers east of the Nile, and to elevate Zubayr to the governorship appeared the only way to establish at least the nominal sovereignty of Cairo over that enormous province. Thus, the agents of Zubayr continued to pillage the Bahr Al-Ghazal under the Egyptian flag, while officially Egypt extended its dominion to the tropical rainforests of the Congo region. Zubayr remained in detention in Cairo.

Isma'il next offered the governorship of the Equatoria province to another Englishman, Charles George Gordon, who in China had won fame and the sobriquet Chinese Gordon. Gordon arrived in Equatoria in 1874. His object was the same as Baker's--to consolidate Egyptian authority in Equatoria and to establish Egyptian sovereignty over the kingdoms of the great East African lakes. He achieved some success in the former and none in the latter. When Gordon retired from Equatoria, the lake kingdoms remained stubbornly independent.

In 1877 Isma'il appointed Gordon governor-general of the Sudan. Gordon was a European and a Christian. He returned to the Sudan to lead a crusade against the slave trade, and, to assist him in this humanitarian enterprise, he surrounded himself with a cadre of European and American Christian officials. In 1877 Isma'il had signed the Anglo-Egyptian Slave Trade Convention, which provided for the termination of the sale and purchase of slaves in the Sudan by 1880. Gordon set out to fulfill the terms of this treaty, and in whirlwind tours through the country he broke up the markets and imprisoned the traders. His European subordinates did the same in the provinces.

Gordon's crusading zeal blinded him to his invidious position as a Christian in a Muslim land and obscured from him the social and economic effects of arbitrary repression. Not only did his campaign create a crisis in the Sudan's economy but the Sudanese soon came to believe that the crusade, led by European Christians, violated the principles and traditions of Islam.

By 1879 a strong current of reaction against Gordon's reforms was running through the country. The powerful slave-trading interests had, of course, turned against the administration, while the ordinary villagers and nomads, who habitually blamed the government for any difficulties, were quick to associate economic depression with Gordon's Christianity. And then suddenly, in the middle of rising discontent in the Sudan, Isma'il's financial position collapsed. In difficulties for years, he could now no longer pay the interest on the Egyptian debt, and an international commission was appointed by the European powers to oversee Egyptian finances. After 16 years of glorious spending, Isma'il sailed away into exile. Gordon resigned.

Gordon left a perilous situation in the Sudan. The Sudanese were confused and dissatisfied. Many of the ablest senior officials, both European and Egyptian, had been dismissed by Gordon, departed with him, or died in his service. Castigated and ignored by Gordon, the bureaucracy had lapsed into apathy. Moreover, the office of governor-general, on which the administration was so dependent, devolved upon Muhammad Ra'uf Pasha, a mild man, ill-suited to stem the current of discontent or to shore up the structure of Egyptian rule, particularly when he could no longer count on Egyptian resources. Such then was the Sudan in June of 1881 when Muhammad Ahmad declared himself to be the Mahdi ("the divinely guided one").

The Mahdiyah

Muhammad Ahmad ibn 'Abd Allah was the son of a Dunqulahwi boatbuilder who claimed descent from the Prophet Muhammad. Deeply religious from his youth, he was educated in one of the Sufi orders, the Sammaniyah, but he later secluded himself on Aba Island in the White Nile to practice religious asceticism.

In 1880 he toured Kordofan, where he learned of the discontent of the people and observed those actions of the government that he could not reconcile with his own religious beliefs. Upon his return to Aba Island he clearly viewed himself as a mujaddid, a renewer of the Muslim faith, his mission to reform Islam and return it to the pristine form practiced by the Prophet.

To Muhammad Ahmad the orthodox 'ulama' who supported the administration were no less infidels than Christians, and, when he later lashed out against misgovernment, he was referring as much to the theological heresy as to secular maladministration.

Once he had proclaimed himself Mahdi (a title traditionally used by Islamic religious reformers), Muhammad Ahmad was regarded by the Sudanese as an eschatological figure, one who foreshadows the end of an age of darkness (which happened to coincide with the end of the 13th Muslim century) and heralds the beginnings of a new era of light and righteousness. Thus, as a divinely guided reformer and symbol, Muhammad Ahmad fulfilled the requirements of Mahdi in the eyes of his supporters.

Surrounding the Mahdi were his followers, the ansar, and foremost among them was 'Abd Allah ibn Muhammad, the caliph (khalifah; "deputy"), who came from the Ta'a'ishah tribe of the Baqqarah Arabs and who assumed the leadership of the Mahdist state upon the death of Muhammad Ahmad.

The holy men, the faqihs, who for long had lamented the sorry state of religion in the Sudan brought on by the legalistic and unappealing orthodoxy of the Egyptians, looked to the Mahdi to purge the Sudan of the faithless ones. Also in his following, more numerous and powerful than the holy men, were the merchants formerly connected with the slave trade. All had suffered from Gordon's campaign against the trade, and all now hoped to reassert their economic position under the banner of religious war. Neither of these groups, however, could have carried out a revolution by themselves.

The third and vital participants were the Baqqarah Arabs, the cattle nomads of Kordofan and Darfur who hated taxes and despised government. They formed the shock troops of the Mahdist revolutionary army, whose enthusiasm and numbers made up for its primitive technology. Moreover, the government itself only managed to enhance the prestige of the Mahdi by its fumbling attempts to arrest him and proscribe his movement.

By September 1882, the Mahdists controlled all of Kordofan and at Shaykan on Nov. 5, 1883, destroyed an Egyptian army of 10,000 men under the command of a British colonel. After Shaykan, the Sudan was lost, and not even the heroic leadership of Gordon, who was hastily sent to Khartoum, could save the Sudan for Egypt. On Jan. 26, 1885, the Mahdists captured Khartoum and massacred Gordon and the defenders.

The reign of the Khalifah

Five months after the fall of Khartoum, the Mahdi suddenly died on June 22, 1885. He was succeeded by the Khalifah 'Abd Allah. The Khalifah's first task was to secure his own precarious position among the competing factions in the Mahdist state. He frustrated a conspiracy by the Mahdi's relatives and disarmed the personal retinues of his leading rivals in Omdurman, the Mahdist capital of the Sudan. Having curtailed the threats to his rule, the Khalifah sought to accomplish the Mahdi's dream of a universal jihad (holy war) to reform Islam throughout the Muslim world.

With a zeal compounded from a genuine wish to carry out religious reform, a desire for military victory and personal power, and an appalling ignorance of the world beyond the Sudan, the forces of the Khalifah marched to the four points of the compass to spread Mahdism and extend the domains of the Mahdist state. By 1889 this expansionist drive was spent. In the west the Mahdist armies had achieved only an unstable occupation of Darfur.

In the east they had defeated the Ethiopians, but the victory produced no permanent gain. In the southern Sudan the Mahdists had scored some initial successes but were driven from the upper Nile in 1897 by the forces of the Congo Free State of Leopold II of Belgium.

On the Egyptian frontier in the north the jihad met its worst defeat at Tushki in August 1889, when an Anglo-Egyptian army under General F.W. (later Baron) Grenfell destroyed a Mahdist army led by 'Abd ar-Rahman an-Nujumi.

The Mahdist state had squandered its resources on the jihad, and a period of consolidation and contraction followed, necessitated by a sequence of bad harvests resulting in famine, epidemic, and death.

Between 1889 and 1892 the Sudan suffered its most devastating and terrible years, as the Sudanese sought to survive on their shriveled crops and emaciated herds. After 1892 the harvests improved, and food was no longer in short supply.

Moreover, the autocracy of the Khalifah had become increasingly acceptable to most Sudanese, and, having tempered his own despotism and eliminated the gross defects of his administration he too received the widespread acceptance, if not devotion, that the Sudanese had accorded the Mahdi.

In spite of its many defects, the Khalifah's administration served the Sudan better than its many detractors would admit. Certainly the Khalifah's government was autocratic, but, while autocracy may be repugnant to European democrats, it was not only understandable to the Sudanese but appealed to their deepest feelings and attitudes formed by tribe, religion, and past experience with the centralized authoritarianism of the Turks. For them, the Khalifah was equal to the task of governing bequeathed him by the Mahdi.

Only when confronted by new forces from the outside world, of which he was ignorant, did 'Abd Allah's abilities fail him. His belief in Mahdism, his reliance on the superb courage and military skill of the ansar, and his own ability to rally them against an alien invader were simply insufficient to preserve his independent Islamic state against the overwhelming technological superiority of Britain. And, as the 19th century drew to a close, the rival imperialisms of the European powers brought the full force of this technological supremacy against the Mahdist state.

The British conquest

British forces invaded and occupied Egypt in 1882 to put down a nationalist revolution hostile to foreign interests and remained there to prevent any further threat to the khedive's government or the possible intervention of another European power. The consequences of this were far-reaching. A permanent British occupation of Egypt required the inviolability of the Nile waters without which Egypt could not survive, not from any African state, who did not possess the technical resources to interfere with them, but from rival European powers, who could. Consequently, the British government, by diplomacy and military maneuvers, negotiated agreements with the Italians and the Germans to keep them out of the Nile valley.

They were less successful with the French, who wanted them to withdraw from Egypt. Once it became apparent that the British were determined to remain, the French cast about for means to force the British from the Nile valley; in 1893 an elaborate plan was concocted by which a French expedition would march across Africa from the west coast to Fashoda (Kodok) on the upper Nile, where it was believed a dam could be constructed to obstruct the flow of the Nile waters. After inordinate delays, the French Nile expedition set out for Africa in June 1896, under the command of Captain Jean-Baptiste Marchand.

As reports reached London during 1896 and 1897 of Marchand's march to Fashoda, Britain's inability to insulate the Nile valley became embarrassingly exposed. British officials desperately tried one scheme after another to beat the French to Fashoda.

They all failed, and by the autumn of 1897 British authorities had come to the reluctant conclusion that the conquest of the Sudan was necessary to protect the Nile waters from French encroachment. In October an Anglo-Egyptian army under the command of General Sir Horatio Herbert Kitchener was ordered to invade the Sudan.

Kitchener pushed steadily but cautiously up the Nile. His Anglo-Egyptian forces defeated a large Mahdist army at the 'Atbarah River on April 8, 1898. Then, after spending four months preparing for the final advance to Omdurman, Kitchener's army of about 25,000 troops met the massed 60,000-man army of the Khalifah outside the city on Sept. 2, 1898. By midday the Battle of Omdurman was over.

The Mahdists were decisively defeated with heavy losses, and the Khalifah fled, to be killed nearly a year later. Kitchener did not long remain at Omdurman but pressed up the Nile to Fashoda with a small flotilla. There on Sept. 18, 1898, he met Captain Marchand, who declined to withdraw--the long-expected Fashoda crisis had begun. Both the French and British governments prepared for war. Neither the French army nor the navy was in any condition to fight, however, and the French were forced to give way. An Anglo-French agreement of March 1899 stipulated that French expansion eastward in Africa would stop at the Nile watershed.

The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium

The early years of British rule

Having conquered the Sudan, the British now had to govern it. But the administration of this vast land was complicated by the legal and diplomatic problems that had accompanied the conquest. The Sudan campaigns had been undertaken by the British to protect their imperial position as well as the Nile waters, yet the Egyptian treasury had borne the greater part of the expense, and Egyptian troops had far outnumbered those of Britain in the Anglo-Egyptian army.

The British, however, did not simply want to hand the Sudan over to Egyptian rule; most Englishmen were convinced that the Mahdiyah was the result of 60 years of Egyptian oppression.

To resolve this dilemma the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium was declared in 1899, whereby the Sudan was given separate political status in which sovereignty was jointly shared by the khedive and the British crown, and the Egyptian and the British flags were flown side by side. The military and civil government of the Sudan was invested in a governor-general appointed by the khedive of Egypt but nominated by the British government. In reality, there was no equal partnership between Britain and Egypt in the Sudan.

From the first the British dominated the condominium and set about pacifying the countryside and suppressing local religious uprisings, which created insecurity among British officials but never posed a major threat to their rule. The north was quickly pacified and modern improvements were introduced under the aegis of civilian administrators, who began to replace the military as early as 1900. In the south, resistance to British rule was more prolonged; administration there was confined to keeping the peace rather than making any serious attempts at modernization.

The first governor-general was Lord Kitchener himself, but in 1899 his former aide, Sir Reginald Wingate, was appointed to succeed him. Wingate knew the Sudan well and during his long tenure as governor-general (1899-1916) became devoted to its people and their prosperity. His tolerance and trust in the Sudanese resulted in policies that did much to establish confidence in Christian British rule by a devoutly Muslim, Arab-oriented people.

Modernization was slow at first. Taxes were purposely kept light, and the government consequently had few funds available for development. In fact, the Sudan remained dependent on Egyptian subsidies for many years. Nevertheless, railways, telegraph, and steamer services were expanded, particularly in Al-Jazirah, in order to launch the great cotton-growing scheme that remains today the backbone of The Sudan's economy. In addition, technical and primary schools were established, including the Gordon Memorial College, which opened in 1902 and soon began to graduate a Western-educated elite that was gradually drawn away from the traditional political and social framework. Scorned by the British officials, who preferred the illiterate but contented fathers to the ill-educated, rebellious sons, and adrift from their own customary tribal and religious affiliations, these Sudanese turned for encouragement to Egyptian nationalists; from that association Sudanese nationalism in this century was born.

Its first manifestations occurred in 1921, when 'Ali 'Abd al-Latif founded the United Tribes Society and was arrested for nationalist agitation. In 1924 he formed the White Flag League, dedicated to driving the British from the Sudan. Demonstrations followed in Khartoum in June and August and were suppressed. When the governor-general, Sir Lee Stack, was assassinated in Cairo on Nov. 19, 1924, the British forced the Egyptians to withdraw from the Sudan and annihilated a Sudanese battalion that mutinied in support of the Egyptians. The Sudanese revolt was ended, and British rule remained unchallenged until after World War II.

n 1936 Britain and Egypt had reached a partial accord in the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty that enabled Egyptian officials to return to the Sudan. Although the traditional Sudanese sheikhs and chiefs remained indifferent to the fact that they had not been consulted in the negotiations over this treaty, the educated Sudanese elite were resentful that neither Britain nor Egypt had bothered to solicit their opinions. Thus, they began to express their grievances through the Graduates' General Congress, which had been established as an alumni association of Gordon Memorial College and soon embraced all educated Sudanese.

At first, the Graduates' General Congress confined its interests to social and educational activities, but with Egyptian support the organization demanded recognition by the British to act as the spokesman for Sudanese nationalism. The Sudan government refused, and the Congress split into two groups: a moderate majority prepared to accept the good faith of the government, and a radical minority, led by Isma'il al-Azhari, which turned to Egypt. By 1943 Azhari and his supporters had won control of the Congress and organized the Ashiqqa' (Brothers), the first genuine political party in the Sudan. Seeing the initiative pass to the militants, the moderates formed the Ummah (Nation) Party under the patronage of Sayyid 'Abd ar-Rahman al-Mahdi, the posthumous son of the Mahdi, with the intention of cooperating with the British toward independence.

Sayyid 'Abd ar-Rahman had inherited the allegiance of the thousands of Sudanese who had followed his father. He now sought to combine to his own advantage this power and influence with the ideology of the Ummah. His principal rival was Sayyid 'Ali al-Mirghani, the leader of the Khatmiyah brotherhood. Although he personally remained aloof from politics, Sayyid 'Ali threw his support to Azhari. The competition between the Azhari-Khatmiyah faction--remodeled in 1951 as the National Unionist Party (NUP)--and the Ummah-Mahdist group quickly rekindled old suspicions and deep-seated hatreds that soured Sudanese politics for years and eventually strangled parliamentary government. These sectarian religious elites virtually controlled The Sudan's political parties until the last decade of the 20th century, stultifying any attempt to democratize the country or to include the millions of Sudanese remote from Khartoum in the political process.

Although the Sudanese government had crushed the initial hopes of the congress, the British officials were well aware of the pervasive power of nationalism among the elite and sought to introduce new institutions to associate the Sudanese more closely with the task of governing. An Advisory Council was established for the northern Sudan consisting of the governor-general and 28 Sudanese, but Sudanese nationalists soon began to agitate to transform the Advisory Council into a legislative one that would include the southern Sudan. The British had facilitated their control of the Sudan by segregating the animist or Christian Africans who predominated in the south from the Muslim Arabs who were predominant in the north. The decision to establish a legislative council forced the British to abandon this policy; in 1947 they instituted southern participation in the legislative council.

The creation of this council produced a strong reaction on the part of the Egyptian government, which in October 1951 unilaterally abrogated the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 and proclaimed Egyptian rule over the Sudan. These hasty and ill-considered actions only managed to alienate the Sudanese from Egypt until the Nasser-Naguib revolution in July 1952 placed men with more understanding of Sudanese aspirations in power in Cairo.

On Feb. 12, 1953, the Egyptian government signed an agreement with Britain granting self-government for the Sudan and self-determination within three years for the Sudanese. Elections for a representative Parliament to rule the Sudan followed in November and December 1953. The Egyptians threw their support behind Isma'il al-Azhari, the leader of the National Unionist Party, who campaigned on the slogan "Unity of the Nile Valley." This position was opposed by the Ummah Party, which had the less vocal but pervasive support of British officials. To the shock of many British officials and to the chagrin of the Ummah, which had enjoyed power in the Legislative Council for nearly six years, Azhari's NUP won an overwhelming victory. Although Azhari had campaigned to unite the Sudan with Egypt, the realities of disturbances in the southern Sudan and the responsibilities of political power and authority ultimately led him to disown his own campaign promises and to declare The Sudan an independent republic with an elected representative Parliament on Jan. 1, 1956.

The Republic of The Sudan

The triumph of liberal democracy in The Sudan was short-lived. Compared with the strength of tradition, which still shaped the life of the Sudanese, the liberalism imported from the West, disseminated through British education and adopted by the Sudanese intelligentsia, was a weak force. At first parliamentary government had been held in high esteem as the symbol of nationalism and independence. But at best Parliament was a superficial instrument. It had been introduced into The Sudan at precisely the time parliamentary forms were rapidly disappearing from other countries in the Middle East. Political parties were not well-organized groups with distinct objectives, but loose alliances motivated primarily by personal interests and loyalty to the various religious factions. When the tactics of party management were exhausted, Parliament became debased, benefiting only those politicians who reaped the rewards of power and patronage. Disillusioned with their experiment in liberal democracy, the Sudanese turned once again to authoritarianism.