External Online Maps featuring Mahdiyya Sudan

Africa 1885 (Scottish Geogr. Magazine), posted by PCL, UTexas
Africa 1886 (Berthelot 1888), posted by MSU
Africa 1890, from Encyclopaedia Britannica Amer. edition, posted by PCL, UTexas
Africa, 1891 (Brockhaus/Efron, Russian edition, 1890-1904), posted by MSU
Africa in 1892, from Gardiner's Atlas of English History, 1892

The Mahdiyya in the Sudan 1881-1898

A.) The Situation Preceding the Rebellion

In the 1880es the SUDAN formally was a province of EGYPT. MUHAMMAD AHMAD IBN ABDULLAH, born c. 1840, in 1881 proclaimed to be the MAHDI (literally : the Guided One) and Imam and collected a large followership around him in the Egyptian Sudan. Britain proclaimed a PROTECTORATE over Egypt in 1882, and western (British) influence at the court in Cairo rose, to the disgust of zealot Islamic factions.

B.) The Cource of Events

The Mahdi and his followers rose in rebellion; an Egyptian army commanded by British officers, sent against him, was lured into the desert and annihilated; now the Mahdi's forces had modern English rifles and was much more dangerous.
The Egyptians only held on to a few positions on the Nile, most notably KHARTOUM; British prime minister Gladstone did not want to get directly involved. He sent Gen. CHARLES GEORGE GORDON ("Chinese Gordon"; he had been Governor General of the Egyptian Sudan from 1874 to 1879) with the order to assess the situation at Khartoum and evacuate the city if necessary. Gordon, who arrived in February 1884, recognized the Mahdi as the SULTAN OF KORDOFAN. Soon he realized that a collision was unavoidable, and he prepared the city for defense, hoping the British government would change its mind and sent troops. Khartoum held out for almost a year, but then fell on January 26th 1885; Gordon was killed. The Mahdi, who had established his residence at OMDURMAN opposite Khartoum, died shortly afterward.
Gordon's heroic actions have found resonance in the British press; the government was criticized for not aiding Gordon (actually a relief column had arrived in Khartoum two days after the city had fallen); revenge was demanded.

Yet for years to come, little was done against the MAHDIYYA, as the movement is called. The Mahdiyya controlled most of the Egyptian Sudan, except the southern EQUATORIA province which was held by EMIN PASCHA, a German in the service of the Khedive of Egypt.
In 1889 a number of expeditions went out to reach and save Emin Pascha; H.M. Stanley succeeded in doing so.
Ever since the BERLIN CONFERENCE of 1885, Britain regarded the Nile valley (the Sudan technically was a province of Egypt, which again was a British protectorate) as British sphere of influence. Yet Congo State Forces, in the course of fighting Arab slave trade, penetrated into southern Sudan in 1897, establishing stations in the BAHR-EL-GHAZAL. French troops under Col. MARCHAND had marched on FASHODA, where they were met by British forces under Lord KITCHENER.
The Mahdiyya had lost control over the Nile valley.

C.) Legacy

The French attempt to contest the British claim over Sudan failed (FASHODA INCIDENT); Britain leased the territory held by the Congo State forces to the Congo State (LADO ENCLAVE, until 1908); the Sudan was placed under joint Anglo-Egyptian control. The SULTANATE OF DARFUR continued to be a stronghold of the Mahdiyya, ignored by the British authorities until World War I, when Darfur declared a holy war against Britain and was quickly defeated.
The Sudan was granted independence in 1956. Sudanese politics is still strongly influenced by Islam; many Sudanese regard the Mahdiyya as the predecessor of present-day Sudan.

Article Mahdiyya, from Agence Europe
Charles George Gordon (1833-1885), a brief biography, from the Victorian Web
DOCUMENTS Death of General Gordon at Khartoum, 1885, from Islamic History Sourcebook
Chinese Gordon, article by W.T. Stead in The Century, August 1884, posted at the W.T. Stead Site
From British Military Medals : Egypt Medal 1882-1889, Khedive Star, 1882-1891, Queen's Sudan Medal 1896-1897, Khedive's Sudan Medal, 1896-1908

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on February 7th 2002, last revised on November 17th 2004

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