Modern History of the Arab Countries. Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky 1969

CHAPTER XIX
THE MAHDI STATE IN THE EAST SUDAN

EUROPEAN PENETRATION INTO THE EAST SUDAN.

After the death of Mohammed Ali, the East Sudan remained under Egyptian rule. Power was wielded by the Turco-Egyptian pashas and beys. They seized huge estates, established monopolies on Sudan’s main export items and robbed the people by excessive taxation. The slave trade was practised extensively, although in 1857 the ruler of Egypt, Mohammed Said, had officially declared its abolishment. Whole regions in the Sudan were becoming the domains of the big slave traders.

In the seventies, to the yoke of the Turco-Egyptian pashas and slave-traders was added that of the European colonialists.

The seventies and eighties of the 19th century were marked by the colonial annexation of Africa. In a mere decade or two the European Powers had divided almost the entire African continent between themselves.

Naturally, the Europeans also coveted the East Sudan with its natural resources and its extremely profitable trade in tropical goods. Another reason why they wanted to take over the East Sudan was because it offered an important means for penetrating into Central Africa. The Nile was a natural route leading into the interior. Moreover, the occupation of the Sudan was closely linked with the Egyptian question. Any Power which gained control over the flow of the Nile in the Sudan would automatically dominate Egypt.

How was the division of Africa accomplished? Individual European adventurers acted as the vanguard of the capitalist Powers in Africa. South-West Africa was seized single-handed by the German adventurer and trader Luderitz. East Africa was ruled by the German conquistador Peters. Nigeria was conquered by a handful of enterprising Britishers, who founded the Nigerian Company. The Congo was seized by the explorer Stanley, who was backed by the King of Belgium, Leopold II. If their schemes failed, they were forgotten. If they succeeded, their governments took them under their wing, despatched a fleet or army to their “domains” and declared the captured land their colony.

The initiative came from individual enterprising colonial profit-seekers. The picture was the same in the Sudan. In the seventies, not a single European state undertook operations in the Sudan in its own name. The direct struggle between the Powers began in the Sudan after 1881, following the British occupation of Egypt.

How did the adventurers penetrate into the Sudan? They took advantage of the desire of the Egyptian Khedive Is-mail, which was prompted by his cotton policy, to gain possession of the entire Nile Basin. Ismail was setting up cotton plantations in Egypt and expanding the irrigation system. He realised, however, that he could keep the Egyptian irrigation system fully supplied only by laying hands on the Nile Basin and all its tributaries. Hence, Ismail’s wars in Ethiopia and in Equatorial Africa. The Khedive’s aggressive policy attracted a number of European adventurers. The first of these was the Englishman Samuel Baker. In 1869, Ismail gave Baker the administration of the Equatorial Province of Sudan and the city of Lado, which he came to regard as his own private domain. His seizure of the ivory trade, which passed through the province, yielded him considerable profits. From here he undertook a series of campaigns against the regions south of the Sudan-Lake Albert and Unioro-and added them to his territory. Altogether he operated in this area for five years.

In 1874, Baker was succeeded by another Englishman – General Gordon. On becoming Governor of the Equatorial Province, Gordon continued Baker’s expeditions, reached Lake Victoria, sent a mission to the ruler of Uganda and took over the entire region of the White Nile sources. He was accompanied by a large group of European explorers, the Italian, Romolo Gessi, the German, Eduard Schnitzer (Emin Pasha), the Frenchman, Linan de Belfont, the American, Long, and others.

Simultaneously with the expansion in the region of the White Nile, competition began for possession of the Blue Nile sources, i.e., for Ethiopia. In 1874, the Swiss, Muntsenger, left the port of Massawa (now Eritrea), which was in the hands of the Egyptians, and set out for the Ethiopian interior: He managed to seize Keren and penetrate into the eastern part of Ethiopia, in the region of Harrar, which he added to the Egyptian domains. In 1875, the Egyptians took over the cities of Zeila and Berbera (in present-day Northern Somalia).

In 1875-76, Egyptian forces under the Dane, Anderup, penetrated into the mountainous regions of Ethiopia and occupied Adua. But the Ethiopians repelled their attacks and the Egyptian-Ethiopian War of 1874-76 ended less successfully for the Egyptians than the war in the Equatorial Province. They were forced out of the Ethiopian interior and retained only certain coastal districts.

Simultaneously Egypt expanded in a third direction, towards Darfur. The region of Darfur, which was situated in the western part of the Sudan, had been an independent sultanate till 1874, when the Egyptians launched their campaign, entrusting Zobeir, the ruler of Bahr El-Ghazal, with the task of conquest. Zobeir carried out his assignment and was afterwards summoned to Cairo, where he was awarded the title of pasha and accorded all sorts of honours. He was not allowed to return to Sudan, however, and a European was sent to Darfur to take his place. This evoked big uprisings in Darfur and Bahr E1-Ghazal, led by the Sultan of Darfur and Suleiman, Zobeir Pasha’s son. The actions of the two feudal lords lacked co-ordination, however, and Gordon Pasha, who worked on behalf of the Egyptian authorities, put down both uprisings.

In 1877, General Gordon was appointed Governor-General of the Sudan. He kept the German, Eduard Schnitzer, as Governor of the Equatorial Province, and appointed his European collaborators as governors of the other provinces. The Italian, Romolo Gessi, who had defeated Suleiman ibn Zobeir, became Governor of Kordofan, the Austrian, Slatin Pasha, became governor of Darfur; the Englishman, Lupton, became the ruler of Bahr El-Ghazal and the German, Gigler, became Gordon’s immediate assistant. In this way, Sudan. though formally under the control of the Egyptians, became the property of a handful of extremely enterprising and greedy international adventurers. They levied such heavy taxes on the people (both in cash and in kind) and robbed the population to such an extent that a wave of uprisings against the Europeans and European-Egyptian rule soon swept the Sudan.

THE UPRISINGS OF THE MAHDISTS.

In 1881, a popular uprising flared up against European rule. It was headed by the roving Dervish monk, Mohammed Ahmed, who declared himself the Mahdi, i.e., the Messiah.

Mohammed Ahmed was born in 1843 on an island in the Nile near Dongola. His father was a carpenter. His brothers were engaged in the same trade. With his father and brothers, Mohammed Ahmed had roamed the Nile Valley and the Sudan since childhood and was thoroughly familiar with the ways and manners of the people. After his father’s death, Mohammed Ahmed entered the Moslem brotherhood of Samaniya in the city of Berber in the northern part of the Sudan to study theology. After graduating from the madrasah (collegiate mosque), he became a mendicant Dervish, until he finally settled on the large Abba Island, south of Khartoum on the White Nile, where his brothers were engaged in various crafts. The island became a centre, from which wandering Dervishes spread his teachings to all corners of the Sudan. His disciples advocated asceticism. They held the Turks, Egyptians and Europeans jointly responsible for the corruption of morals in the Sudan. They described the Turks and Egyptians as false Moslems and apostates and called on the people to restore the former purity of early Islam, to restore universal equality and fraternity, to share out property, estates and land on an equal basis and to confiscate the landed estates from the Turco-Egyptians and the Sudanese feudal lords. They also called for an uprising to end European plunder and the tyranny of the Turco-Egyptian pashas. “Better a thousand graves than to pay a single dirham (Arabic coin) of the tax,” they would say.

Thus, Mohammed Ahmed’s preaching, though based on moral and religious postulates, called for national liberation and class struggle, and was a product of the entire economic and political situation in the Sudan.

In August 1881, during Ramadan, Mohammed Ahmed proclaimed himself Mahdi, the Messiah, and summoned the Sudanese people to rebel. The situation was ripe for an uprising. A political crisis was brewing in Egypt. The Powers and Egypt herself were preoccupied and there was a real opportunity for decisive action in the Sudan.

The outbreak of the uprising has been described by witnesses and contemporaries as follows. In August 1881, an official of the Egyptian Government arrived on Abba Island from Khartoum. He presented himself to Mohammed Ahmed and told the Mahdi that he was charged with planning opposition to the government, and that he must go to Khartoum to justify himself before the ruler of the country. Mohammed Ahmed replied that by the grace of God and the Prophet he himself was the master of the country and that he would never go to Khartoum to make excuses to anyone. The official left for Khartoum but, soon after his departure, a punitive expedition consisting of two companies and armed with only one cannon arrived on Abba Island. The complement of the expedition indicated that the Mohammed Ahmed movement was not being taken very seriously. The mahdists completely destroyed the expedition.

After the defeat of the expedition, Mohammed Ahmed decided to cross over to Kordofan together with his followers. In Kordofan the ranks of his detachment were swelled by numerous new supporters and became a rebel army many thousand strong.

Who were the Mahdi’s followers? What were the driving forces of the mahdist uprising? Most of his followers were peasants, nomads, slaves and artisans. The Mahdi’s right-hand man, Abdullah, related that while the poor flocked to them in crowds they were shunned by the wealthy, whose concern for their property, for that earthly filth prevented them from enjoying and partaking of the true bliss of heaven.

Mahdi urged his followers to wage a holy war. Like the Prophet Mohammed, he called them his ansars (helpers), and promised eternal bliss for those who fell in battle and four-fifths of the captured booty for the survivors.

Slatin Pasha, who left a detailed account of the uprising, wrote that for over 60 years the Sudan had belonged to the Turks and Egyptians. True, during this period there had been cases when some tribes had refused to pay tribute, for which they had been punished, but nobody had yet dared to rebel against the country’s authorities or declare actual war on them. But now a beggar, an unknown fakir (hermit) with a handful of hungry, poorly armed adherents had appeared and was winning one victory after another.

When the Mahdi pitched camp in the mountains of Kordofan, the poor came flocking to. him from all over the Sudan, bringing with them their wives and children. Here they formed guerilla detachments, chose their leaders and ambushed government posts, tax-gatherers and armed detachments which had been sent out to collect the taxes. Slatin Pasha wrote that the poor hoped the revolt would improve their conditions. Throughout the country tax-gatherers, government officials and armed posts were attacked and either wiped out or forced to turn back.

The national element played an important part in the Mahdi uprising. Slatin Pasha wrote in this connection that their vanity was flattered by the fact that a Sudanese had become the Mahdi, and that, consequently, the Sudan would be ruled by one of their own people, and not by foreigners.

For the most part the Sudanese feudal lords and rich slave traders were hostile to the uprising. The preaching of the equal sharing of property and land was deeply opposed to their interests. But they often had to reckon with the insurgent forces. None of them were consistent in their support of the Mahdi, but some of them either compromised with him or tried to work themselves into his favour to prevent the redistribution of their property or to use the Mahdi for their own ends.

Soon all of Kordofan had joined the Mahdi and several European and Egyptian punitive expeditions were repelled.

In the autumn of 1881, Gigler, who was now the Governor of Kordofan, sent an expedition against the Mahdi under the command of Said Mohammed Pasha. The expedition, however, did not achieve its goal and its commander, fearing defeat, turned back.

In December 1881, the Governor of Fashoda, Rashid Bey, despatched a fresh expedition under the German Bergchoff to fight the Mahdi in Kordofan. This expedition was utterly defeated.

In March 1882, a 6,000-strong expeditionary corps from Khartoum under Yusef Pasha Shelali set out for Kordofan. In June of the same year it was completely destroyed.

In September 1882, the mahdists besieged El-Obeid, the capital of Kordofan. The city fell on the 18th of February, 1883, culminating the conquest of Kordofan. From here the uprising spread to all the other regions of the Sudan.

1883 was a year of decisive victories for the mahdists. In the spring of the same year, a large Anglo-Egyptian force, under the British general, Hicks, arrived in Kordofan. After operating in the area for eight months, it was utterly defeated. The insurgents employed scorched earth tactics in their fight against Hicks. They drove away the cattle, burnt settlements and filled up the wells. In a battle north of El-Obeid, on November 5, 1883, Hicks’s exhausted army was finally routed and General Hicks himself was killed. Some of his men went over to the insurgents. It must be admitted that Hicks’s detachment included many of the Egyptian soldiers who only a year ago (1882) had served in Arabi’s army against the British. As a form of punishment, they had been despatched to the Sudan. From the political point of view, this force was unfit for punitive operations and Cromer himself described how these soldiers exclaimed in battle: “Oh Effendina Arabi! If you only knew the position Tewfik has placed us in!” [Lord Cromer, Modern Egypt, London, 1908, Vol. I, p. 354.] – and threw down their arms.

In August 1883, the uprising spread to the Red Sea provinces, where the mahdists inflicted a series of defeats on the Anglo-Egyptian forces led by General Baker. By the close of 1883, all the provinces of Sudan were in the hands of the insurgents. In December 1883, Slatin Pasha, the Governor of Darfur, gave up further resistance. At the outset of 1884, Lupton, the Governor of Bahr E1-Ghazal, surrendered. Thus the entire country, both east and west of the Nile, was controlled by the Mahdi, except for a narrow strip of land in the Nile valley that remained under Anglo-Egyptian rule. Here the position was hopeless because the Mahdists could at any moment cut off the valley and disrupt communications with Egypt.

Meanwhile, the British authorities in Egypt resorted to the following manoeuvre. Since the uprising was directed against Egyptian domination, they decided to declare the Sudan independent of Egypt, but to appoint the Englishman, Gordon, Governor-General of the Sudan. In other words, they wanted to come to an understanding with the Mahdi and, with his support, rule the Sudan as a British colony.

On February 18, 1884, Gordon and his aide Stewart arrived in Khartoum, where he began to conduct this new policy. He proclaimed the Sudan independent of Egypt, wisely keeping for himself the post of Governor-General, and appointed the Mahdi Sultan of Kordofan. Furthermore, Gordon abolished all the arrears of the past and pardoned the imprisoned defaulters. A huge number of peasants had been imprisoned for not paying their taxes. Gordon released them. He felt that by so doing he could achieve a compromise with the Mahdi, but the mahdists saw through his trick. They had no intention of letting the Sudan pass under British control and in March 1884, replied to Gordon’s proposals by besieging Khartoum.

In the fall of 1884, a 7,000-strong army under General Wolseley, the conqueror of Egypt, set out to Gordon’s rescue, but failed to reach Khartoum. On January 23, 1885, all resistance stopped in beleaguered Khartoum and the mahdists occupied the city. Gordon was killed during the assault, as were the other Englishmen with him. Wolseley and his army withdrew to Egypt. In the remaining months of 1885, the mahdists completed the conquest of the Nile valley.

Thus within a period of four years the Mahdi State, which embraced the whole of the eastern Sudan (with the exception of a small region north of Dongola and the Equatorial Province), was formed.

THE INTERNAL SYSTEM OF THE MAHDI STATE.

The Mahdi died soon after the conquest of Khartoum and leadership passed to his right-hand man, Abdullah, who had adopted the title of caliph.

This newly arisen state, which in spite of everything, continued to exist for 13 years, right up to 1898, was an armed camp besieged on all sides by the enemy and continuously blockaded. The chief task of the Mahdi State was the organisation of defence. As a means to this end, Caliph Abdullah built primitive arsenals, factories and dockyards.

He also repaired ships left behind by the Egyptians and even set up a printing shop. He used captured Europeans as experts for the organisation of the army and the war industry. Among the Europeans in his service were Slatin, Romolo Gessi and Lupton. Slatin openly describes the acts of sabotage they resorted to, their negligence, and how they dragged out the ship repairs, ruined the equipment at the war factories and so on.

Surrounded on all sides by hostile forces (not to mention the enemy within), the state always had to use terror against the traitors. This was the second most important function of Abdullah and the Mahdi State.

At first the state had certain democratic features. The army consisted of peasants, nomads and slaves. Many of its commanders were men of humble birth. Taxes were considerably reduced and the officers and functionaries of the state adhered to an ascetic way of life. The chief cadi (judge) of the Mahdi State received forty talers a month, i.e., the average wage of an artisan. Other officials received from twenty to thirty talers a month.

The mahdists were against individual wealth and aspired to universal equality. Marauders and robbers were strictly punished. The Mahdi forbade his followers to ride horses and called on all true believers to please Allah by going about on foot. Orders were given to hand over articles of gold and jewels to the Beit El-Mal (Treasury), which supervised the economic life of the Sudan. Only one sheep could be slaughtered for a wedding feast and bride money (Kalim) was reduced to ten talers for a girl and five talers for a widow.

Despite all its levelling, democratic tendencies, this movement, basically peasant in nature, did not lead to the liquidation of the existing feudal relations in the Sudan. The natural laws characteristic of many peasant movements had their effect. Many peasant movements are known to history. They have usually ended in defeat because of their spontaneous character, because they have lacked a clear-cut programme, a clear understanding of their aims, carefully thought out tactics, and the like. The peasant movement in the Sudan was victorious, but it was unable to liquidate the feudal relations against which it had fought.

Engels clearly stressed this aspect of Sudanese mahdism.

He spoke of it in connection with the religious popular movements in Africa in the Middle Ages. He regarded these movements as conflicts between the poor nomads and the rich townspeople. “The townspeople,” he wrote, “grow rich, luxurious and lax in the observation of the ‘law’ (the canon law-V.L.). The Bedouins, poor and hence of strict morals, contemplate with envy and covetousness these riches and pleasures. Then they unite under a prophet, a Mahdi, to chastise the apostates and restore the observation of the ritual and the true faith and to appropriate in recompense the treasures of the renegades. In a hundred years they are naturally in the same position as the renegades were: a new purge of the faith is required, a new Mahdi arises and the game starts again from the beginning. That is what happened from the conquest campaigns of the African Almoravids and Almohads in Spain to the last Mahdi of Khartoum who so successfully thwarted the English.... All these movements are clothed in religion but they have their source in economic causes; and yet, even when they are victorious, they allow the old economic conditions to persist untouched. So the old situation remains unchanged and the collision recurs periodically.” [K. Marx and F. Engels, On Religion, Moscow, 1966, p. 282.]

This is the key to the comprehension of the Mahdi State, where everything remained as of old. Much less than a hundred years were to elapse before the feudal degeneration of the leaders of the movement took place. Feudal degeneration developed extremely rapidly and, five years after the occupation of Khartoum, the same chief justice who had originally led the life of an ascetic and monk was the owner of vast estates and a multitude of slaves. It is characteristic that the Mahdi State did not do away with slave-holding. A number of measures to restrict the slave trade were adopted and that was all. The trade in male slaves was forbidden. Captive males were not sold, but were used for work on the estates of the caliph and his associates. The caliph gave the prisoners away as slaves to other tribes on which he depended. But the trade in female slaves continued and slave ownership itself as an institution was preserved. The mahdists did not grant freedom to the slaves, although they had taken part in the mahdist movement in hope of liberation. This gave rise to a number of slave uprisings against the Mahdi State.

As long as the mahdists waged victorious wars during the uprising, the moral and political upsurge furthered the cohesion of the tribes but, after victory, signs of discord appeared in their ranks. Some tribes, especially those of Kordofan, where Caliph Abdullah came from, were in a privileged position, while others, especially those of the Nile valley, where Mahdi Mohammed Ahmed came from, were worse off. Most of the booty was usually handed over to the Kordofan tribes. The Nile tribes were displeased and waged a struggle against their privileged counterparts.

The Mahdi’s relatives, the sherifs, provoked a rebellion in Khartoum. This was an uprising of the democratic elements in the movement against the degenerate feudal leaders. This was an uprising of the tribes of the Nile valley and also of carpenters and the sailors of the Sudanese Nile Fleet.

Weakened internally by the intertribal and class struggle, the Mahdi State had to meet continuous attacks by its external enemies.

THE STRUGGLE OF THE POWERS AGAINST THE MAHDI STATE.

The Mahdi State had to wage a persistent struggle against its external enemies. The fight against the Anglo-Egyptian army, which was still holding the regions of Suakin and Wadi-Halfa, went on from 1885 to 1886. Between 1887 and 1889, the mahdists fought the Ethiopian Negus (sovereign) in the east and the Darfur Sultan in the west. In 1891, they had to fight the Anglo-Egyptian army on the Red Sea coast and the insurgents in Kordofan and Darfur.

In 1896, the struggle of the Mahdi State against the European Powers entered the crucial stage.

Having conquered Egypt, the British began to expand the cotton plantations; in the nineties, work began on the construction of a big reservoir near Aswan. In light of this, the British decided to gain a foothold in the region of the Nile sources and annihilate the Mahdi State at all costs.

France also sought possession of the Nile sources and the Anglo-French contest in the partition of Africa reached a new pitch of intensity. On the one hand, the French wanted to fortify their position in Ethiopia (i.e., the region of the Blue Nile sources), where they had acquired consider-able influence over the new Negus, Menelik. On the other hand, while gaining a foothold in the West and Central Sudan, they also intended to spread their influence to the East Sudan, i.e., to the region of the White Nile sources. The French expansion in East and West Africa forced the British to speed up their campaign against the Sudan.

The British planned to use other powers in their fight against the French. They supported the Italians in the struggle against French expansion in Ethiopia. Italy, a weak state at the time, offered no threat to Britain, who readily exploited Italian-French differences to prevent French expansion in Ethiopia. She also encouraged Belgian expansion (from the direction of the Congo) to counterpoise that of the French in the region of the White Nile sources.

Between 1893 and 1894, the Italians, having gained a foothold in Eritrea (on the Red Sea coast), invaded the Sudan and took over Kassala.

In 1895, the Italians started a war against Ethiopia, which evoked a big upsurge of patriotic feelings in the area. The people rallied their forces to repel the Italians and defeated them near Adua on March 1, 1896. Ethiopia was helped in this war by France and Russia, particularly by France, who after the war, strengthened her influence in that region.

In 1894, Britain concluded an agreement with Belgium on the division of the spheres of influence in the upper reaches of the White Nile. Britain leased the Equatorial Province of the Sudan, the Lado Enclave, to the Belgian “Association of the Congo.” This region was owned by the Belgians till 1910, when it was reincorporated in the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Having received this region on lease, in 1894, the Belgians invaded the Mahdi State and thus the Mahdi State, which was already fighting the Italians in the cast, had to fight the Belgians in the south.

After the Battle of Adua, France decided to use her fortified position in Ethiopia to organise a campaign against the Sudan. In the meanwhile, France had received concessions for the construction of a railway from Jibuti to Addis-Ababa. The railway was to be extended beyond the confinesof Ethiopia so it would cross the entire African continent from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic. Simultaneously, Colonel Marchand, the French Commander in Africa, was instructed to thrust forward with his army from the Central Sudan to the upper reaches of the Nile. In March 1896, Britain, in turn, decided to despatch an Anglo-Egyptian expedition under Kitchener to the East Sudan.

Thus in 1896, Britain and France were operating directly against the Mahdi State. Britain proceeded with her troops from the north, under the command of Kitchener, and France from the west under the command of Marchand.

On July 10, 1898, Marchand reached Fashoda and stopped here. On September 2, 1898, Kitchener marched on Omdurman, the capital of the Mahdi State, which was situated opposite Khartoum, on the other side of the Nile. Here a decisive battle took place between the Anglo-Egyptian forces and the mahdists. In this battle Kitchener used a new weapon, the machine-gun. The mahdists, armed with outdated rifles, spears and daggers, advanced in a solid body, defying death, and Kitchener mowed them down with machine-gun fire. Over 20,000 mahdists perished in the fighting. This was the complete defeat of the mahdist army, the remnants of which retreated westwards, into Kordofan. Kitchener did not pursue them for the time being, but quickly moved his troops to the south and on September 19, 1898, he advanced on Fashoda (now Kodok).

FASHODA.

In Fashoda the British found themselves face to face with the French. This event led to the famous international Fashoda Crisis. Lenin wrote in his chronicle of events that Britain was “on the verge of war with France.” [Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 39, p. 686.] Later France invented a story to the effect that she had expected help from Menelik, the Ethiopian Negus. Despite his promises, however, the Negus had not sent reinforcements and France was compelled to order Marchand to retreat.

Matters, however, had been decided not by the balance of forces in Africa, but on an international scale. In the meanwhile, Britain had been negotiating an alliance with Germany, and France, fearing a war on two fronts, did not venture to act against Britain. After lengthy talks, on November 4, 1898, the French government ordered Marchand to retreat from Fashoda. The Fashoda conflict ended in France’s capitulation.

Several months later, in March 1899, an agreement was concluded between Britain and France on the delimitation of spheres of influence in Africa, according to which the East Sudan passed completely under the British sphere of influence. The agreement put an end to the age-old struggle between Britain and France over the partition of Africa. Anglo-French contradictions had reached their climax in Fashoda.

The Fashoda events marked the beginning of a rapprochement between Britain and France, which led to the Treaty of the Entente. The emergence of a new rival (Germany) was another reason for the rapprochement.

THE ANGLO-EGYPTIAN CONDOMINIUM.

After Britain had gained a foothold in the East Sudan, it only remained to find a valid excuse for the conquest of the country. This involved considerable difficulties since East Sudan formally belonged to Egypt and, consequently, to Turkey, for Egypt was still a part of the Ottoman Empire and a direct conquest might entail a whole series of inter-national complications. Britain legalised the seizure by means of the so-called Anglo-Egyptian condominium.

On January 19, 1899, an agreement was signed in Cairo by Lord Cromer, for Great Britain, and by Butrus Ghali, for Egypt. In the Preamble to the Agreement the reason given for the condominium was that Egypt had lost the Sudan in consequence of her misrule. The Egyptian Government “consented” to give Britain access to the administration of the country in return for the aid she had rendered with regard to the Sudan.

According to this agreement, the supreme authority in the Sudan was the governor-general, who wielded absolute civil, military, legislative and executive power. The governor-general was nominated by the British Government and appointed by a khedival decree. His dismissal also had to be sanctioned by the British Government. No Egyptian laws could be instituted on the territory of the East Sudan without the permission of the governor-general. He received the consuls of the foreign Powers in the Sudan and had the right to reject their candidacies.

What part did Egypt play in the administration of the Sudan? Apart from the British forces, Egypt also kept a battalion in the Sudan. A number of second-rate official posts were given to the Egyptians. Egypt had to bear the entire financial burden of the occupation and engaged to give the Sudanese administration 750,000 sterling annually for the occupation expenses of the Sudan and for administration of the country, which was no small sum, especially for the Egyptian budget.

British governors were placed at the head of all the provinces of the Sudan. The only exception was Darfur in the westernmost part of the country, where power remained in the hands of the local sultans who had pledged vassal loyalty to the British colonial government. The Darfur sultanate existed till 1916, when a sultan instigated an anti-British uprising, after which it was abolished and Darfur became a province of the Sudan directly subordinate to the British Governor.

In 1899, the Sudan was officially renamed the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

Having established this joint regime, Britain set about wiping out the last remnants of the Mahdi forces, which had retreated to the steppes of Kordofan.

In November 1899, Kitchener despatched his troops to Kordofan and on November 25 routed the remnants of the mahdists at Jedid, Caliph Abdullah himself being killed in the battle. El-Obeid, the capital of the mahdists, fell on December 17, 1899. The uprising was defeated, although isolated mahdist detachments continued to offer resistance in various parts of Sudan for some time to come.

The British had great difficulty in exercising control over the Sudan. From 1900 till 1927, not a single year passed in the Sudan without an uprising, none of which, however, embraced more than separate regions or separate tribes. They were all of a local and isolated character and, accordingly, doomed to failure.