- Gordon and the Sudan: Prologue to the Mahdiyya, 1877–1880
On 26 June 1879, during an official gathering in Khartoum to announce the deposition of Khedive Isma'il and to celebrate the accession of his son Tawfiq, Alice Moore-Harell writes, a storm broke out and the Egyptian flag fell from its staff. The Sudanese interpreted this as a bad omen. Six months later, on the eve of his resignation as governor-general of the Sudan, Charles Gordon wrote a letter to Malet of his sense of an impending crisis for the Sudan. He warned that if the administration in the Sudan returned to Turco-Egyptian hands, widespread agitation and unrest throughout the country would be the result. What had gone wrong to merit this foreboding?
Gordon and the Sudan: Prologue to the Mahdiyya could perhaps be the missing link Sudanists have sought in their quest for a more comprehensive understanding and appreciation of the background and causes of the Mahdist revolution. The book is an in-depth analysis, indeed a "total history," of the governor-generalship of Charles Gordon from 1877 to 1880. Historians of the Sudan have generally recognized the critical importance of Gordon's tenure to the outbreak of the Mahdist revolution. And yet, surprisingly, the author observes, no one has ever found it necessary to devote separate research on the period. Gordon and the Sudan is Moore-Harell's attempt to fill in this important lacuna in the historiography of Turco-Egyptian Sudan. [End Page 207]
The book is divided into five chapters, a conclusion, and three appendices. Chapter 1 is devoted to discussion of the relationship between Egypt, the Sudan, and Europe. It also covers employment of high-ranking European officials in the Sudan. The thrust of the argument in this chapter is that until Egypt's financial crisis in the late 1870s, there was no European imperial interest in Egypt. Chapter 2 focuses on Gordon's administration, covering various aspects of the governor's duties, functions, administrative reforms, relationship with officials and people, and diplomatic relations and issues of war with Ethiopia. Chapter 3 examines the economy: agriculture, trade, taxation, transport and communication systems, and the slave trade. Chapter 4 discusses social policy—a broad concept that encompasses religion, law, education, health, and slavery. Finally, chapter 5 focuses on civil unrest and revolts. It discusses security problems in general, and military campaigns against the slave traders in particular. The concluding chapter is both a summary and a synthesis of all the chapters, and it ends with reflections on Gordon's long-term impact on the Sudan.
Alice Moore-Harell's central thesis is that Gordon's governor-generalship marked a new era in the history of the Turco-Egyptian regime in the Sudan. The powers and tasks granted to him, as well as the complete autonomy he enjoyed in all administrative and financial matters, were unprecedented in the history of the regime and made Gordon the most powerful governor-general in the history of Turco-Egyptian Sudan. Because of his power, Gordon affected the administration and the country more profoundly than any Turco-Egyptian ruler before or after him. He was the first governor-general to move decisively against the powerful slave traders. He won the confrontation during the latter half of his tenure, although that victory ultimately proved to be partial and temporary. Nevertheless, this suppression of the slave trade provoked the hostility of the slave traders, who now waited to vent their anger and frustration on the government should an opportunity present itself.
In the meantime, almost simultaneously, the financial crisis in Egypt in the late 1870s quickly drew in the involvement of the European creditors in Egypt's internal affairs and progressively eroded that country's independence. The first victim was Khedive Isma'il, who was deposed at the urging of the European creditor nations. This foreign interference [End Page 208] quickly provoked a virulent nationalist revolution led by Colonel 'Urabi, which in turn led to British intervention and...