History of Sudan (1821–85)

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The History of Sudan under Muhammad Ali and his successors traces the period from Muhammad Ali Pasha's invasion of Sudan in 1820 until the fall of Khartoum in 1885 to Muhammad Ahmad, the self-proclaimed Mahdi. This era of Ottoman control is commonly known as the Turkiyah.


Although a part of present-day northern Sudan was nominally an Egyptian dependency during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods, previous Egyptian rulers had demanded little more from the Sudanese Kashif than the regular remittance of tribute. After Muhammad Ali crushed the Mamluks in Egypt, a party of them escaped and fled south. In 1811 these Mamluks established a state at Dunqulah as a base for their slave trading.

In 1820 the Sultan of Sennar informed Muhammad Ali that he was unable to comply with the demand to expel the Mamluks. In response Muhammad Ali sent 4,000 troops to invade Sudan, clear it of Mamluks, and incorporate it into Egypt. His forces received the submission of the Kashif, dispersed the Dunqulah Mamluks, conquered Kurdufan, and accepted Sannar's surrender from the last Funj sultan, Badi VII. However, the Arab Ja'alin tribes offered stiff resistance.

Egyptian Rule[edit]

Under the new government established in 1821, Egyptian soldiers lived off the land and exacted exorbitant taxes from the population. They also destroyed many ancient Meroitic pyramids searching for hidden gold. Furthermore, slave trading increased, causing many of the inhabitants of the fertile Al Jazirah, heartland of Funj, to flee to escape the slave traders. Within a year of Muhammad Ali's victory, 30,000 Sudanese were conscripted and sent to Egypt for training and induction into the army. So many perished from disease and the unfamiliar climate that the survivors could be used only in garrisons in Sudan.

As Egyptian rule became more secure, the government became less harsh. Egypt saddled Sudan with a burdensome bureaucracy and expected the country to be self-supporting. Farmers and herders gradually returned to Al Jazirah. Muhammad Ali also won the allegiance of some tribal and religious leaders by granting them a tax exemption. Egyptian soldiers and Sudanese jahidiyah (conscripted soldiers), supplemented by mercenaries, manned garrisons in Khartoum, Kassala, and Al Ubayyid and at several smaller outposts.

The Shaiqiyah, Arabic speakers who had resisted Egyptian occupation, were defeated and allowed to serve the Egyptian rulers as tax collectors and irregular cavalry under their own shaykhs. The Egyptians divided Sudan into provinces, which they then subdivided into smaller administrative units that usually corresponded to tribal territories. In 1835 Khartoum became the seat of the Hakimadar (governor general). Many garrison towns also developed into administrative centers in their respective regions. At the local level, shaykhs and traditional tribal chieftains assumed administrative responsibilities.

In the 1850s, the Egyptians revised the legal system in both Egypt and Sudan, introducing a commercial code and a criminal code administered in secular courts. The change reduced the prestige of the qadis (Islamic judges) whose sharia courts were confined to dealing with matters of personal status. Even in this area, the courts lacked credibility in the eyes of Sudanese Muslims because they conducted hearings according to the Hanafi school of law rather than the stricter Maliki school traditional in the area.

The Egyptians also undertook a mosque-building program and staffed religious schools and courts with teachers and judges trained at Cairo's Al Azhar University. The government favored the Khatmiyyah, a traditional religious order, because its leaders preached cooperation with the regime. But Sudanese Muslims condemned the official orthodoxy as decadent because it had rejected many popular beliefs and practices.

Until its gradual suppression in the 1860s, the slave trade was the most profitable undertaking in Sudan and was the focus of Egyptian interests in the country. The government encouraged economic development through state monopolies that had exported slaves, ivory, and gum arabic. In some areas, tribal land, which had been held in common, became the private property of the sheikhs and was sometimes sold to buyers outside the tribe.

Muhammad Ali's immediate successors, Abbas I (1849–54) and Said (1854–63), lacked leadership qualities and paid little attention to Sudan, but the reign of Ismail I (1863–79) revitalized Egyptian interest in the country. In 1865 the Ottoman Empire ceded the Red Sea coast and its ports to Egypt. Two years later, the Ottoman Sultan formally recognized Ismail as Khedive of Egypt and Sudan, a title Muhammad Ali had previously used without Ottoman sanction. Egypt organized and garrisoned the new provinces of Upper Nile, Bahr al Ghazal, and Equatoria and, in 1874, conquered and annexed Darfur.

Ismail named Europeans to provincial governorships and appointed Sudanese to more responsible government positions. Under prodding from Britain, Ismail took steps to complete the elimination of the slave trade in the north of present-day Sudan. He also tried to build a new army on the European model that no longer would depend on slaves to provide manpower.

This modernization process caused unrest. Army units mutinied, and many Sudanese resented the quartering of troops among the civilian population and the use of Sudanese forced labor on public projects. Efforts to suppress the slave trade angered the urban merchant class and the Baqqara Arabs, who had grown prosperous by selling slaves.

See also[edit]