The salient events in recorded Sudanese history occurred in the northern half of the country. The kingdom of Kush (or Cush), rich in gold and iron and sustained by irrigation from the Nile floodwaters, broke away from Egyptian rule about 1000 BC , becoming a separate kingdom, with its capital at Napatan, and developing under the pervasive influence of Egyptian culture. It conquered Egypt for a time (736–657 BC ), moved its capital to Meroe (now Merowe) in 538 BC , and was destroyed about AD
350 by the Aksumite (or Axumite) Empire in Ethiopia.
Following the fall of Kush, two successor kingdoms arose: Maqurra, in northern Sudan, with its capital at Old Dongola; and Alwa, in central Sudan, with its capital at Soba. Maqurra fell in the 15th century to an alliance of Arabs and Mamlukes from Egypt. Around the beginning of the 17th century, Alwa was conquered by an alliance of Arabs and a loose confederation of tribes ruled by the "Black Sultans" of the Funj dynasty, with their capital at Sennar. The inhabitants of the south, until the 20th century, lived in primitive tribal isolation, interrupted only by explorers and perennial slave raiding.
In the 1820s, the autonomous Ottoman viceroy of Egypt, Muhammad 'Ali, defeated the Funj sultan and brought Sudan under Turco-Egyptian rule, which lasted until 1885. By then, most of the Sudanese tribes had revolted against the harshness and corruption of the regime and rallied under the leadership of a northern shipwright, Muhammad Ahmad bin 'Abdallah. He proclaimed himself the Mahdi (Rightly Guided One), whose coming to achieve the complete victory of Islam had been prophesied in Muslim tradition. After decisively defeating a series of punitive expeditions, the Mahdi took possession of Khartoum in 1885, whereupon his troops captured and beheaded the governor, Gen. Charles Gordon, one of the British officers in the employ of Egypt. The Mahdi installed himself as head of a theocratic state, which survived until 1898, when an Anglo-Egyptian invasion force under Gen. Horatio Herbert Kitchener defeated the Mahdi's successor, the Khalifa ('Abdallah bin Muhammad), in the battle of Omdurman. British rule was set up under a nominal Anglo-Egyptian "condominium" following a French attempt to seize parts of Sudan, an effort thwarted by Kitchener at Fashoda (now Kodok) in an incident that almost provoked a war between France and Great Britain. British administration did much to restore law and order, repress slave trading, and bring modern government and economic stability to Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, as it was then called.
Sudanese nationalism erupted after World War I with Egyptian support and received its decisive impetus during World War II, when British-led Sudanese troops distinguished themselves in repelling a vastly superior Italian force. An Egyptian scheme to join Egypt and Sudan in a dual monarchy under King Faruk miscarried, as did other proposals for the "unity of the Nile Valley." Prolonged Anglo-Egyptian negotiations for agreement on a mutually acceptable form of Sudanese independence reached fruition in 1953, after Faruk was deposed.
The new Republic of the Sudan, under a parliamentary government, was proclaimed on 1 January 1956. On 17 November 1958, a military dictatorship was installed, headed by Lt. Gen. Ibrahim Abboud, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, after a bloodless coup that had the support of some party leaders. President Abboud's military regime was overthrown on 26 October 1964, and civilian politicians ruled for the next five years.
A revolutionary council led by Col. Gaafar Mohammed Nimeiri (Ja'far Muhammad Numayri) overthrew the government in a bloodless coup on 25 May 1969 and established the Democratic Republic of the Sudan. The new government suspended the constitution, the Supreme Council of State, the National Assembly, and all political parties; the ex-president and former ministers were arrested. Nimeiri became prime minister in October 1969. On 25 May 1971, he proclaimed that Sudan would become a one-party state, with the Sudanese Socialist Union the sole political organization. A provisional constitution was promulgated on 13 August 1971, and Nimeiri, running unopposed, was elected president in September, receiving 98.6% of the votes cast. One of Nimeiri's most significant acts was to bring an end to the sporadic civil war that had plagued Sudan since independence. A settlement with autonomist forces in the south was reached in February 1972, when negotiators for the Sudanese government and the South Sudan Liberation Front, the Anyanya rebels, agreed on a cease-fire and on autonomy for the southern provinces.
Nimeiri was reelected without opposition in 1977 and 1983, but his regime had to weather considerable turmoil both domestically and in relations with neighboring countries, especially Libya. An abortive left-wing coup attempt in July 1971 led to the execution of leading Sudanese Communists; the banning of the Trade Union Federation, the Public Servants Union, and the Teachers Union (all formerly Communistdominated); and the expulsion of East German security advisers. Another alleged coup was foiled in January 1973, and an abortive, Libyan-inspired attempt on Nimeiri's life was disclosed by the Sudanese government in April 1974. Student riots and disclosure of yet another abortive coup came in October 1974, and during the following year the Nimeiri government faced and successfully suppressed at least two military rebellions.
In July 1976, an attempted coup by the Ansar brotherhood, allegedly with Libyan support, was crushed. In subsequent years, Nimeiri charged repeatedly that Libya was aiding Muslim dissidents in Sudan. On 16 March 1984, Omdurman was bombed by what Sudan, Egypt, and the United States claimed (but Libya denied) was a Libyan air force TU-22. Nimeiri declared a state of emergency in April 1984 to cope with protests over rising prices and a new government Islamization program (in July of that year, the National People's Assembly rejected his attempt to make Sudan an official Islamic state). The state of emergency ended in September 1984, but by then a new rebellion was under way in the south, which had become alienated by Nimeiri's efforts to restrict its autonomy and apply Shari'ah (Muslim law). Many Sudanese were shocked by the execution of Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, a popular Muslim political and religious leader, for heresy (in criticizing the application of Shari'ah) in January 1985.
Riots broke out in the spring of 1985, when, in order to gain new loans from international creditors, Nimeiri removed subsidies on basic commodities, causing prices to rise. On 7 April 1985, Nimeiri was replaced by a military council headed by Gen. Abdel-Rahman Swar ad-Dhahab. The country was renamed the Republic of Sudan, the ruling Sudanese Socialist Union was abolished, political and press freedom was restored, and food prices were lowered. Sudan reverted to a policy of nonalignment in foreign policy, backing away from its close ties with Egypt and the US.
General elections held in April 1986 resulted in a moderate civilian coalition government headed by Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi. The government's chief problem was the continuing rebellion by the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which controlled much of the south and prevented voting there. The SPLA halted air traffic (including food relief) to the south and opposed two major projects vital to the economy—oil exploration and a canal that would provide water to the parched north. The coalition government was headed by the northern-based Ummah. It began searching for a formula to unite the country with the SPLA which, unlike the earlier Anyanya, was also committed to unity. Divisions with government over meeting key SPLA demands, most especially the repeal of Islamic law, prolonged the civil war. In March 1989, a new government composed of Ummah Party and Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) ministers agreed to accommodate the SPLA.
However, on 30 June 1989, a group of army officers led by Brig. Omar Hassam al-Bashir overthrew the civilian government. Mahdi was arrested and fighting in the south escalated. The coup makers created a National Salvation Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), a junta composed of 15 military officers assisted by a civilian cabinet, suspending the 1985 transitional constitution, abrogating press freedoms, and dissolving all parties and trade unions. In September 1989 the government sponsored a "National Dialogue Conference on the Political System" which produced a proposal for a new federal system of government. On 23 April 1990, Bashir declared a state of emergency and dissolved parliament. An alleged coup attempt prompted that move. The following day, 28 officers were court martialed and executed.
Despite these measures and the efforts of by third parties including ex-US president Jimmy Carter and Nigeria to further the peace process, few positive results were obtained. With the fall of Ethiopia's Marxist government in 1991, the SPLA rebel faction lost its chief patron. A 1992 government offensive, coupled with a major political split in the SPLA, reduced rebel-held territory while increasing casualties and displaced persons with the latter numbering, at times, over two million.
Civilian rule returned nominally to Sudan in 1993, when the RCC was formally dissolved and Bashir declared president. However, Bashir retained control of the military, and the government was dominated by the fundamentalist National Islamic Front (NIF), under the leadership of Hassan al-Turabi. Bashir was elected president with a reported 75% of the vote in the 1996 national elections, which were boycotted by major opposition groups; following the elections, al-Turabi was elected speaker of parliament.
Because of its militant Islamic policies, Sudan has become increasingly isolated internationally. Sudan has given sanctuary to Muslim rebels from Tunisia and Algeria, to the Hezbollah (Party of God), and to Abu Nidal's Palestinian rebels. Iran and Libya assist Sudan militarily. The regime has purged the civil service, the armed forces, the judiciary and the educational system of non-Muslims. It has also promulgated a Penal Code based on Islamic Law. The UN General Assembly condemned Sudan's human rights violations in March 1993. The United States added Sudan to its list of countries spawning international terrorism in August 1993, and tensions with Egypt have grown as well. Under international pressure, Sudan adopted a new constitution in 1998 providing for a multi-party government, and registration of new parties began in 1999.
In the same year, fighting in the oil-rich southern part of the country escalated into wholesale destruction. Human rights abuses multiplied as factional rivalries intensified between rebels loyal to SPLA leader John Garang and militants of the Nasir faction of the SPLA. The latter reject all cooperation with the Islamic north. Famine relief efforts in the region had to be suspended owing to rebel attacks. In March 2000, a number of NGOs left the country after refusing to comply with restrictions imposed by rebel authorities.
In the meantime, a power struggle between President Bashir and Hassan Turabi, party leader, parliamentary speaker, and architect of the nation's Islamist policies, ended with Turabi's forced removal and the dismissal of the National Assembly in a military raid ordered by Bashir in December 1999. In widely boycotted and discredited elections held December 2000, Bachir was reelected and the NCP gained 355 seats to five for nonpartisans in the National Assembly.
In early 2003, conflict broke out in the west of Sudan led by the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A), which captured the capital of Dafur's Jebel Marrah province in February 2003. The rebels accused the government of ignoring the development of the West. The government also had yet to mend diplomatic relations with Uganda, which for some time had accused Sudan of providing safe haven for the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA has been conducting attacks into northern Uganda for more than a decade. Sudan has also accused Uganda of harboring the SPLA.
By mid-2003 prospects for peace within Sudan had improved. The government and the SPLA agreed to renew their cease-fire for six months in the central Nuba Mountains, extending a truce that has held since January 2002. In July 2003, a new round of peace talks between the government and the SPLA aimed at tackling power-sharing and distribution of the country's oil resources was set to begin in Nakuru, Kenya. These talks were to follow on previous rounds of discussion in Machakos, Kenya in 2002 at which both parties agreed that the south would be given a vote on secession after a six-year interim period. According to the agreement, elections would be held in the first year after the signing of a peace treaty. Meanwhile, in July 2003 the SPLA enacted 26 laws that will govern the south until the treaty is established.