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Discover Sudan: History, Culture, and Diversity in Northeast Africa


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Sudan, officially known as the Republic of Sudan and not to be confused with South Sudan, is a country located in Northeast Africa.

It shares borders with several nations, including the Central African Republic, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Libya, South Sudan, and the Red Sea.

With a population of approximately 45.7 million people as of 2022, the country covers an area of about 1,886,068 square kilometers, making it the third-largest country in Africa and the Arab League in terms of land area.

Khartoum serves as the capital city, while Omdurman is the most populous city, both forming part of the Khartoum metropolitan area.

The history of the country dates back to ancient times, witnessing the Kingdom of Kerma, the Egyptian New Kingdom, and the Kingdom of Kush.

Following the decline of Kush, Nubians established the Christian kingdoms of Nobatia, Makuria, and Alodia.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, Arab nomads gradually settled in most of Sudan. The Funj sultanate dominated central and eastern Sudan from the 16th to the 19th centuries, while Darfur and the Ottoman Empire held control over the west and east, respectively.

In 1811, Mamluks established a state in Dunqulah, using it as a base for slave trading. Under Turco-Egyptian rule in the 19th century, slavery became entrenched, with slave raids occurring in the south and slaves being transported to Egypt and the Ottoman Empire.

Egyptian rule expanded throughout the country in the 19th century, culminating in the Mahdist Uprising. The Mahdist forces were eventually defeated by a joint Egyptian-British military force.

In 1899, Sudan became a condominium, with shared sovereignty between Egypt and the United Kingdom under British administration.

The country remained under British control until 1956 when it gained independence through an agreement with Egypt.

Following independence, the country experienced political turmoil, with the regime of Jaafar Nimeiry promoting Islamist rule.

This led to a civil war between government forces, influenced by the National Islamic Front (NIF), and southern rebels, notably the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

Eventually, South Sudan gained independence in 2011. From 1989 to 2019, the country was under the military dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir, marked by widespread human rights abuses, including genocide in Darfur.

In 2018, protests erupted, demanding Bashir’s resignation, which led to a coup d’état in April 2019 and his subsequent imprisonment.

Until 2020, Islam was the state religion of Sudan, and Islamic laws were enforced. However, the country transitioned to a secular state in 2020.

It is also important to note that the country faces significant challenges as one of the least developed countries, ranking low on the Human Development Index.

Its economy relies heavily on agriculture, but international sanctions, isolation, internal instability, and factional violence have hindered its progress.

Over 35% of Sudan’s population lives in poverty. Sudan is a member of various international organizations, including the United Nations, the Arab League, the African Union, COMESA, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

The country got its name from the historical Sahel region of West Africa, located to the immediate west of present-day Sudan.

Initially, “Sudan” referred to both the geographical region extending from Senegal on the Atlantic Coast to Northeast Africa and modern-day Sudan.

The term “Sudan” comes from the Arabic phrase bilād as-sūdān, which means “The Land of the Blacks.”

This name is related to other place names with similar origins, alluding to the dark skin color of the indigenous inhabitants.

Before adopting the name Sudan, the region was referred to as Nubia and was also known as Ta Nehesi or Ta Seti by the Ancient Egyptians.

History of Sudan

During the eighth millennium BC, people in the country adopted a settled lifestyle in fortified mudbrick villages, engaging in hunting, fishing, grain gathering, and cattle herding.

As the Sahara Desert expanded, Neolithic populations migrated into the Nile Valley, bringing agriculture with them.

Over time, a diverse population emerged from cultural and genetic interactions, leading to the formation of the Kingdom of Kush, with its capital at Kerma, around 1700 BC.

Research suggests that during the predynastic period, Nubia and Upper Egypt shared similar ethnic and cultural characteristics, and both regions developed systems of pharaonic kingship around 3300 BC.

In more recent history, the country has experienced conflicts such as the Sudanese conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile, which began over a dispute in the oil-rich region of Abyei and later became entangled with the civil war in Darfur.

President Omar al-Bashir, who ruled for over 30 years, faced massive protests in 2018 due to economic hardships and his refusal to step down.

The protests continued until April 2019 when al-Bashir was arrested and a transitional government was established.

The transitional period saw the creation of a joint military-civilian Sovereignty Council of Sudan and the appointment of a new prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok.

Efforts were made to stabilize the economy and address the country’s challenges. However, in 2021, the country experienced political turbulence, including a failed coup attempt in September and a successful military coup led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan in October, resulting in the capture of the civilian government.

The country faced internal conflict in April 2023 when clashes erupted between the army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces in the streets of Khartoum.

The violence led to numerous casualties and injuries, including the suspension of humanitarian work by the World Food Program.

Mediation efforts by the African Union and Saudi diplomats were initiated to negotiate a ceasefire and bring an end to the conflict.

Sudan’s Ethnic group

The population of the country consists of various ethnic groups, with Arabs, estimated to make up around 70% of the total population.

They are predominantly Muslim and primarily speak Sudanese Arabic. Other ethnic groups include the Beja, Fur, Nubians, Nuba, and Copts.

Non-Arab groups are often distinct in terms of ethnicity, language, and cultural practices.

The Hausa language is used as a trade language, and there is also a small but notable Greek community in the country.

Certain Arab tribes in Sudan speak regional forms of Arabic, such as the Awadia, Fadnia, and Bani Arak tribes.

Some Arab Bedouins of the northern Rizeigat tribe speak Sudanese Arabic and share the cultural practices of Sudanese Arabs. Certain Baggara and Tunjur groups also speak Chadian Arabic.

The Sudanese Arabs in the northern and eastern regions of Sudan claim their ancestry comes mainly from migrants originating from the Arabian Peninsula who intermarried with the indigenous population.

The Nubian people have a shared history with Nubians in southern Egypt. The majority of Arab tribes migrated to the region during the 12th century, intermixing with the indigenous Nubian and other African populations and gradually adopting Islam.

Some Arabic tribes had settled in Sudan even earlier, originating from western Arabia.


Sudanese people commonly dress in either traditional or western clothing styles. Traditional attire for men often includes the jalabiya, a loose-fitting, ankle-length garment with long sleeves and no collar.

Discover Sudan: History, Culture, and Diversity in Northeast Africa
A Sufi dervish drums up the Friday afternoon crowd at the Hamed el-Nil Mosque and Tomb in Omdurman, Sudan.

Similar to Egyptian attire, the jalabiya is often worn with a large turban and a scarf. It can be found in various colors, stripes, and fabrics of different thicknesses, depending on personal preference and the season.

For Sudanese women, the most prevalent dress is the thobe or thawb, pronounced as “tobe” in the Sudanese dialect.

Also read: Rabih az-Zubayr, the Sudanese Warlord Who was Beheaded For Fighting Against French Colonialists

The thobe is a one-piece cloth, usually white but also available in vibrant colors. It is worn as a long garment that women wrap around their inner clothes, covering their heads and hair.

It’s worth noting that in the past, Sudanese women faced restrictions on their clothing choices due to the 1991 penal code, specifically the Public Order Law.

This law prohibited women from wearing trousers in public, deeming them as “obscene attire.”

However, in 2009, a woman found guilty of wearing trousers was fined around 200 U.S. dollars instead of receiving lashes.


During Omar al-Bashir’s regime, Sudan’s legal system was based on Islamic Sharia law. However, the application of Sharia law was inconsistent geographically.

The Naivasha Agreement of 2005, which ended the civil war between North and South Sudan, provided some protections for non-Muslims in Khartoum.

Under this system, harsh punishments such as stoning and flogging were administered as judicial punishments.

Between 2009 and 2012, there were cases of women being sentenced to death by stoning, and many individuals received sentences of 40 to 100 lashes between 2009 and 2014.

Tragically, there were instances where Sudanese men died in custody after being subjected to flogging.

Following the ouster of al-Bashir, the interim constitution signed in August 2019 did not mention Sharia law.

The country took steps to reform its legal framework, including abolishing public flogging and alcohol ban for non-Muslims in July 2020.

The criminalization of female genital mutilation with a jail term of up to 3 years was also implemented.

In September 2020, an accord between the transitional government and rebel groups was signed, officially separating the state from religion and ending three decades of rule under Islamic law.

Additionally, it was agreed that no official state religion would be established.




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