The largest country in Africa, lying S of Egypt, bordered on the E by Ethiopia and the Red Sea; on the S by Kenya, Uganda, and the Congo; on the W by the Central African Republic, Chad, and Libya.
The ancient kingdom of Kush occupied the region of Nubia that is now Sudan, as did Egypt, which had begun to colonize this northern section at least by 3000 b.c. Makuria and Alwa inherited control from Kush and ruled as Coptic Christian kingdoms until the 15th century a.d., when they were converted to Islam. After the 16th century there was no dominant state in the region until the early 19th century, when Ottoman Egyptian forces occupied the country.
By the middle of the century there had been considerable European exploration of this area, often referred to as Ethiopia or Nubia, and a considerable trade in slaves and ivory had begun. A violent religious war of rebellion erupted in 1881, led by Muhammad Ahmal al-Mahdi, an Islamic messianic leader. The Mahdi’s troops repelled the Ottoman Egyptian forces and destroyed a punitive expedition sent by Great Britain. Egypt aband oned the Sudan, and in 1884 Charles George Gordon was sent to Khartoum to relieve the remaining troops. Gordon was besieged there and killed in 1885 shortly before a relief column arrived.
Thereafter a Muslim Sudanese state ruled until 1898, when a British army led by General H.H. Kitchener reconquered the region. In 1899 it became the Anglo Egyptian Sudan, a joint condominium of Egypt and Great Britain. The latter dominated the condominium, and after Egyptian troops rebelled in 1924 Great Britain assumed sole control of the Sudan.
Nationalism became a strong movement after World War II, and in 1956 Sudan became an independent republic. The new country underwent several coups and changes of government and faced rebellion from black Sudanese guerrillas from the southern part of the country. In 1971 a coup led by Colonel Jafaar al-Nimeiry seized power, and he was subsequently elected president and has survived several assassination and coup attempts. Nimeiry established Islamic law in the country against the will of the Christian and Animist South. Nimeiry was overthrown in 1985, and General Abdul Rahman Swaredahab was installed as leader of a transitional military government. A civilian government led by Sadiq al-Mahdi ruled from 1986 until it was overthrown in a bloodless coup in 1989.
The new military regime under Lieutenant General Omar Ahmed al-Bashir strengthened the Islamic state and fought a long civil war against separatists in the South. In 1998, U.S. missiles destroyed a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum that was suspected of manufacturing chemical-weapons compounds to be used in terrorist activities. The civil war in the 1990s was responsible for over 2,000,000 deaths due to casualties, disease, and starvation. The government was cited for numerous human rights abuses including slavery and ethnic cleansing. In 2003, another civil war broke out in the Durfur region of western Sudan and local government–allied militias were again accused by international observers of ethnic cleansing, and another 2,000,000 were displaced by the fighting. In 2005, peace agreements were signed with rebel groups limiting Islamic law to the North, southern autonomy, and elections for independence in the South in 2011.