History Paper on Turkish Sudan

History Paper on Turkish Sudan

Between 1820 and 1885, the Sudan was under Turco-Egyptian colonist power. The invasion of the nation to Egypt started in 1820-1821 by Muhammad ‘Ali, the Otttoman viceroy of Egypt, and subsequently concluded by his grandson Khedive Isma’il (Ylönen 53). Muhammad ‘Ali’s main intentions for starting the invasion were to acquire black slaves for a new army and to discover new sources of revenue to fund his project in Egypt. Additionally, it is also possible that he planned to devastate the survivors of the Mamluk massacre, who had settled at Dogola. This paper discusses the strategy, responses, and legacy of the first imperialist era in the Sudan 1820-1885.

The Strategy Of The Turkish Conquest Of The Sudan

The tactic of the Turkish attack of the Sudan has raised a contentious debate among historians and politicians. Several Egyptian historians state that Muhammad ‘Ali’s main goal for what they termed the fath (“opening up”) was the wellbeing of the nation and its citizens. They claim that Pasha sympathized with the inhabitants of the declining Funj sultanate, the Sudanese political unit that was familiar to Egypt during that time. Therefore, he made an effort to protect them from sorrow and suffering and later to unite them with their brothers in Egypt in a strong state that would work for their wellbeing. Moreover, numerous Egyptian historians also state that Pasha undertook the fath after having been requested by the Sudanese themselves. It is evident that some Sudanese dignitaries approached him in Cairo but their intensions were personal and associated with a dynastic competition with the rulers of the Funj Sulnate. Therefore, the dignitaries did not represent the Sudan (Ibrahim par. 4).

A famous Egyptian historian, the late Muhammad Fu’ad, asserted that Muhammad ‘Ali’s defeat strongly created Egypt’s legal and historical rights over the Sudan. Additionally, the termination of the Funj Sultanate left the Sudan a land without a ruler. Therefore, when Pasha ruled it and formed a powerful government there, Egypt inevitably became a ruler of the Sudan by right of victory after 1821. Moreover, Muhammad ‘Ali visited the Sudan in 1838 to 1839 to spread Shukri’s supposed “nazariyat al-khulu” (philosophy of the vacuum), and utilize it to protect the union of the Nile valley. Thus, he wanted to retain Egypt and the Sudan under one political system.

The assertion of Egyptian rule over the Sudan dominated Egyptian and Sudanese politics until the 1950s. In addition, Shukri tend to have been encouraged to back the supporters of the unity of the Nile valley against their Sudanese counterparts who supported an independent Sudan. Furthermore, the Sultan of Sennar remained the main ruler in the nation until then. Egypt could not assume power over the Sudan by right of defeat, as the raid was executed in the name of Ottoman Sultan. Moreover, the terrains obtained were officially seized to his territories and Egypt remained an Ottoman dependency until 1914. Therefore, the Funj Sultanate was not the Sudan as a whole (Ibrahim par. 6).

The majority of the Sudanese historians have questioned the “welfare hypothesis” to illustrate the tactic of the Turkish raid. Through a variety of archival information, their investigations indicate that the defeat of the Sudan was highly associated with Muhammad ‘Ali’s extensive plan of liberation and regional dominion. This process needed a powerful army and extensive wealth, for which Pasha eagerly searched for in the Sudan. Therefore, manipulation instead of welfare was the major motivator of the invasion (Moore-Harell 3).

Before invading the Sudan, Muhammad ‘Ali created a powerful and obedient army that was instructed in the European way and obeyed him. Although he initially ruled out the recruitment of the Egyptian fallahim for several reasons, Pasha arranged to enroll about thirty thousand Sudanese Africans for his nizam-i-jadid. Additionally, more Sudanese were required for his many agricultural and industrial businesses in Egypt and for auction in the slave markets. Pasha later persistently beseeched and frequently reprimanded his commanders in the Sudan to strengthen their ghazwas-armed slave raids- and post the highest possible number of Africans to the training camp at Aswan. The place was selected due to its isolation from the noisy Delta cities and closeness to the alleged slave reservoir in the Sudan. He emphasized in one command that this was the major reason for facing the challenges and costs of the defeat, and termed this cruel action as his main wish regardless of the strategies utilized to accomplish it (Ibrahim par. 8).

Although there was at least one ghazwa for Sudanese in the Nuba and beyond Fazugli each year until 1838, limited demand for supply of slaves was experienced. Muhammad ‘Ali’s positive plan to expand the slave army he always desired was not based on proper evaluation of the Sudanese capability. The Sudanese in those areas had obstinately repelled the ghazwas: some opted to kill themselves to evade enslavement. Additionally, a number of those confined were lost on road whereas others died due to the Egyptian climate and several illnesses. After this radical failure, Pasha at last started the recruitment of the Egyptian peasantry and shortly found out that they made some of the best infantry in the Middle East (Metz 13).

A number of Sudanese recruited for the Egyptian army did not succeed in Egypt’s explorations overseas. Although Muhammad ‘Ali hired them in his battles against the Wahhabis in Arabia and Morea, Viceroy Muhammad Sa’id (1854-1863), after having been requested by Napoleon 111 in 1863, posted part of the Sudanese troop to Mexico to engage in the French determination to overpower a revolt there. In the same way, the blacks who conscripted for military service in the Sudan were disobedient and defiant (Jędrej 280). Several military uprisings occurred in the nation, the dangerous being in Wad Madani in 1844 and Kassala in 1865. The latter had weakened Turkish governance in the entire Kassala province and was possibly the major trouble imperialists encountered in the nation for more than thirty years. Moreover, it was repressed with much struggle through ferocity, deceit, and conspiracy.

Equally significant was Muhammad ‘Ali’s wish to manipulate Sudanese minerals, especially Gold. After taking over power in 1805, Egypt was among the poorest Ottoman provinces. Pasha eagerly searched for means of acquiring revenue through which he could attain his costly internal schemes and external explorations. Infatuated with the delusion of plentiful gold in the Sudan from early years to old age, he was highly determined to find it, especially in the Fazugli region and within Jebel Shaybun in the Nuba Mountains. Besides imparting in his commanders the importance of Gold searching, he often sent mineralogists to the Sudan, for example, the Austrian J. Von Russenger as well as his own engineer, Piedmontese Boreani. The difference between the positive report of the former and the negative one of the latter was interesting enough to convince Pasha to travel to Fazugli himself in 1838-39 when he was seventy years to instruct mining activities. However, his stay in Fazugli for three weeks was very frustrating. The Viceroy’s determination to manipulate the iron deposits of Kordofan and the copper deposits of Hufrat al-Nahhas in southern Darfur were as well complete disappointments. The government mining activities did not produce gold and other minerals and spent many of the scanty resources of the Egyptian reserves (Ibrahim par. 11).

The Turks managed to effectively improve and exploit the agriculture of the Sudan. They sent agricultural experts who were able to improve irrigation, develop available crops, plant fresh ones, and efficiently stop plagues and pests, especially locusts. Additionally, veterinary health officers were selected to take care of animals, and specialists were brought from Egypt to train the locals the ways of preserving hides and skins. After several years of political disorder in the middle Nile that almost ended trade with Egypt, the invasion had provided much security to northern Sudanese and Egyptian traders. It also made the introduction of European commerce successful.

Throughout the Turkish era of rule, Sudan was Egypt’s economical source of livestock. Moreover, regardless of the challenges in transporting livestock down the Nile due to attacks by stealing nomads and lack of organized feeding and watering plans, many cattle were brought to Egypt every year. Animal products like hides and wool were as well sent.

The Sudanese were not required to pay taxes during the time of the Funj Sulnate. Furthermore, the government did not have a lot of difficulty catering for the poor. Nevertheless, in trying to gather and manipulate Sudanese resources, the Turkish governors extended the Egyptian taxation to Sudan. The new system of taxation interfered with the economic life of individuals. People suffered from the cruel ways applied by the irregular soldiers in collecting heavy taxes and regular emphasis of the government to be paid in cash despite the fact that the normal use of coins was limited to merchants and towns individuals (Yahia 493).

The repressive taxation and maladministration triggered prevalent opposition to the short-term Turkish reign in Darfur. Eager to reestablish their earliest rule, the rest of the members of the royal Afro-Arab Keyra dynasty organized rebellion against the colonizers. The common and major rebellion was that of Amir Harun in 1877. In three years, Harun stressed the invaders and he could have ended their reign if he could not have been murdered in 1880. His kin, ‘Abdallah Dud Banga, maintained the fight from his reinvigorated military camp in the Nuba Mountains. After undergoing this great opposition, the Turks were not able to strengthen their reign. Moreover, the individuals of Darfur, in collaboration with the Mahdi, finally conquered the Turks in 1884.

The Turkish Legacy in Africa

The 19th century Turkish ambition in Africa was mainly fruitless in achieving its main goals, such as manipulation of African wealth, the extension of the Turkish authorities intensely in the interior of Africa and sudden end of slavery and slave trade. Additionally, the Turkish reign, although not very devastating as certain critics implied, was repressive, corrupt, and ineffectual. However, the Turks formed a legacy that cannot be overlooked, especially in Sudan.

Generally, the current Sudanese history begins with the Turkish movements of 1820-21. By defeating Sennar and Kordofan during that time, the basis of what is called the Republic of Sudan was formed. The Turkish governance of the northern and central Sudan was ended in 1841 by the downfall of al-Taka, whereas Darfur, Equatoria, Bahr al-Ghazal, and the Red Sea coast were later integrated into Sudan in the sovereignty of Khedive Isma’il. The day before Mahdiyya, Sudan had created a huge wing of territory stretching from the second cataract to the equatorial lakes, and from the Red sea to the western marshes of Darfur (Metz 17).

Besides politically unifying Sudan within borders similar to those of the current republic, the Turkish administration had as well commenced the process of modernization. Furthermore, the key technological innovations initiated by the Turks included firearms, steamers, and the telegraph, whereby the latter spread to Sudan during the regime of Khedive Isma’il (Yahia 495). Their initiation had a significant function in the Turkish southward initiative and was helpful in the unified administrative system created by the Turks in the 19th century, and later adopted by the Mahdists (1885- 1898), the Condominium government (1898-1956), and the independent Sudan. The Turkish centralization had progressively inflicted in various individuals of these different areas a larger homogeneity. Westernization was practiced by the Condominium administrators and dominated their administrative and education systems. The Turkish opening of the South, the Nuba Mountains and Darfur, provided new openings for the jallaba (derived from Arabic noun jallab, meaning one who brings slaves). Moreover, although just a few jallaba had visited those areas prior to Turkish invasion, the majority hurried there, especially in the 1870s, after they could be easily accessed from the North. The jallaba had a significant function in extending the boundaries of Arabic and Islam in the South, Darfur, and the Nuba Mountains. Their regular choice of violence and reported scornful attitude towards the African population thrived, with other several factors, in cultivating the suspicion and fear that dominates the current relationships between the northern Sudan and those known as sidelined regions, particularly the South (Ylönen 47).

The religious lifestyle of the northern Sudanese individuals was also highly influenced by transformations arising from the Turkish leadership. Though the Turks and the Sudanese had been faithful to Islam, a huge gap existed between the formal Sunni Islam of the Turkish administration and the Sufi Islam of the Sudanese that grew since the Funj era. In Sudan, as in Egypt, Muhammad ‘Ali and his heirs had a plan of creating a secular state whereby Islamic institutions would have a small role restricted to minor issues. As a result, the Sufi Islam of Sudan, which had intense authority over those who ruled and the rulers, was compelled to have trouble. The Turkish government regularly underrated the status of local religious governance, which comprised the fakis (innate teachers) of the Sufi instructions, and instead supported Sunni Islam. By retaining a hierarchy of pro-government ‘ulama’ and accelerating their education at al-Azhar, the Turkish administration faced the fakis with the competitor group. Additionally, toward the end of the Turkish rule, the status of traditional religious leaders had faced substantial diminution. The aim of the policy, whose objective was establishing a formal Sunni Muslim institution, was later implemented by Condominium administrators to stop Mahdism and the Sufi orders they considered probable seedbeds of rebellion and extremism (Ylönen 45).

The procedure of modernization was followed and promoted by a high likelihood of Westernization through several foreign officials, residents, and visitors, both European and North America. Although few Europeans had visited Sudan before 1820, The Turkish invasion opened up the nation to foreigners who mainly visited as travelers, traders, and missioners, as well as technical experts and staffs of administration. This occurred after the achievement of Salim Qabudan in releasing the White Nile for navigation and business in the 1840s. For thirty-years (1840-1870), the European traders and missionaries held the creativity in trade and evangelization on the upper Nile. Moreover, the Christian passion of the early missionaries, their ignorance of African culture, and their scanty resources had averted them from having any significant communication with the Africans.

The Mahdi’s “Jihad” against the “treacherous” Ottoman Caliph and his professed intent of liberating the nation from foreign and Christian power had, therefore, found complete backing from the Muslim population. The result was the defeat of the Turkish rule in 1885 and the creation of the revolutionary Islamic Mahdist rule that was prevalent in the Islamized northern Sudan for the following thirteen unstable years (Jędrej 284).


The word “Ottoman” is sometimes applied in describing this colonial era based on the fact that the invasion was conducted in the name of the Ottoman Sultan who, in his firman of 1820, permitted Muhammad ‘Ali to invade the terrains of Sennar, Kordofan, Darfur and their colonies to the Ottoman kingdom. However, this grand pronouncement, including the involvement in the excursion of three ‘ulama’ (the Hanifite Muhammad al-Asua, the Shafi’aite Ahmad al-Baqli, and the Malikite al-Salawi al-Maghribi), appears to have been engraved by Pasha himself. He contended that it was the religious responsibility of the Sudanese Muslims to submit to the forces of Sultan Amir al-Muminin (commander of the faithful) and Caliphate Rasfil Allah (successor of the Prophet). The response of the Sudanese to this assertion is demonstrated in a powerfully expressed letter that Muhammad al Fadl, Sultan of Darfur (1787-1839) sent to Pasha in 1830 whereby he mocked Pasha’s request by complaining that the Sudanese were staunch Muslims and therefore authentic Islam forbids violence upon them by other Muslims. Nevertheless, there was no observable trace to the Ottomans power and the Sudan was still governed as a defacto “colony” of Muhammad ‘Ali and his family.

The terminology ‘Egyptian’ is broadly used inappropriately and is misleading since the Sudan was never ruled by Egyptians as they are currently known, but by a Turkish-speaking elite that had controlled Egypt from the medieval periods. With few exclusions, the genuine Egyptians–individuals of the lower Nile—did not hold senior political or military positions in Egypt or the subjugated Sudan, but simply took over junior positions in the army and administration. The foreign ruling elite also hated them. Therefore, the Sudanese and Europeans refer to the rulers of the nation as Turks since Sudan was Egyptian only because it was a dependency of the Ottoman province of Egypt. Thus, many individuals choose following the Sudanese informal usage in labeling the first colonial phase as ‘Turkiyyah’ (Turkish) rather than ‘Ottoman,” Egyptian’ or ‘Turco-Egyptian.’ However, it is clear that the word “Turkiyyah” is misinforming as a racial mark for the foreign rulers of the nation since these leaders belonged to various racial backgrounds. They included Greeks, Kurds, Albanians, and others. The term is hesitantly implemented since there is no a better one.


Works Cited

Ibrahim, Hassan Ahmed. “The Strategy, Responses and Legacy of the First Imperialist Era in the Sudan 1820–18851.” The Muslim World 91.1‐2 (2001): 209-228.

Jędrej, M. C. “Ingessana and the legacy of the Funj Sultanate: the consequences of Turkish conquest on the Blue Nile.” Africa 70.02 (2000): 278-297.

Metz, Helen Chapin. Sudan: a country study. Vol. 550. No. 27-992. Government Printing Office, 1992.

Moore-Harell, Alice. Gordon and the Sudan: Prologue to the Mahdiyya 1877-1880. Routledge, 2013.

Yahia Mohammed S. The Turkish Impact On The Changes Of The Sudanese Socio-Cultural Life And Development. Accessed 30 November 2016. www.ayk.gov.tr/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/MOHAMMED-Suleiman-Yahia-THE-TURKISH-IMPACT-ON-THE-CHANGES-OF-THE-SUDANESE-SOCIO-CULTURAL-LIFE-AND-DEVELOPMENT.pdf

Ylonen, Aleksi. “Institutions and Instability in Africa: Nigeria, Sudan, and Reflections from Mises’s Nation, State and Economy.” New Perspectives on Political Economy 1.1 (2005): 38-60.

Ylönen, Aleksi. “On Sources of Political Violence in Africa: The Case of” Marginalizing State” in Sudan.” Política y cultura 32 (2009): 37-59.