Debunking propaganda : the British Empire used the Mahdi against Egypt and created Sudan

Sep 2019
5
france
#1
Official History is that in 1881 in Sudan, a sharif called Muhammad Ahmad proclamed himself the Mahdi and conquered Sudan against the fierce Turco-egyptian occupation. He beated the Egyptian army, and the bey Rudolph von Slatin was enslaved. Governor Gordon heroically resisted but got killed in Khartoum. The British army then overcame the mahdist army and settled a condominium along with Egypy to rule Sudan.

I found that all this is rubbish.

The story of the Mahdi, from the beginning, was sold to the public as a great adventure. Slatin's book, Fire and Sword in the Sudan, is comparable to Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom : a blockbuster about a European who is loved by the Arabs, fighting amongst them for their freedom, against the horrible Turk. Up to now, the Mahdi is commonly presented as a hero, the creator of sudanese nationalism.

Here is what I understood from that story.

The Mahdi litteraly decimated the population of Sudan, to establish a wicked theocraty which aimed at conquering the world through jihad. He was used by the British, who were at odds with a rebellious Egypt and wanted to split the Nile Valley in two. The Mahdi would conquer, the British would reconquer.

The Egyptian troops were under british command, so they simply withdrew. Gordon had become half-mad, he thought he was some kind of African king ; he disobeyed his orders and stayed in Khartoum were he got killed. But if they had wanted, the British were able to defeat the Mahdi : they chose to let him win.

The former governor of Sudan wrote to the Crown « how Gordon and Kitchener could crush the Mahdi by themselves »
Sir Samuel Baker. How Gordon and Kitchener could crush the Mahdi by themselves. Sent... | The National Archives

The Empire needed to get weapons for the Mahdi, and the easiest way was to get it from the Indians : "Secret aid of the Nawab of Radhanpur asked for on behalf of the Mahdi »
File S I Oct 1884 58-67 Secret aid of the Nawab of Radhanpur asked for on behalf of the Mahdi | The National Archives

Slatin, of course, was not a prisoner, least was he enslaved. He was the liaison officer with the Mahdi. He's also called "commander of the Mahdi's cavalry" in a memo.
OVERSEAS: Sudan (Code 0(AJ)): Nile and Suakin Expeditions: Letters from General Wolseley... | The National Archives

So more than10 years later, when Egypt was on its knees, the British came back and took a huge territory with no difficulty, after slaughtering the Mahdi's army with machine guns. The Mahdi had died years before that and his grave was destroyed by the British against Queen Victoria's will.
Regrets destruction of Mahdi's tomb and desecration of his body. Grieved to hear of... | The National Archives

Then, british colonialism was imposed on a country whose original national myth was created by the Empire ; sudanese nationalism had no meaning before that. However the country was torn, emptied of the three quarters of its population.

The son of the Mahdi, Abd ar Rahman, became Britain's main ally, they made his family the richest of the country by giving him a dominant position in the cotton market. Behind him, an army of "ansars" was his clientele, his army, his employees and his party, the Umma party which is still the strongest political force in Sudan. He also created the first Sudanese newspaper in Arabic, An Nil.

The British always seeked to isolate Sudan from Egypt, and they always used Mahdism for this purpose.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,260
Dispargum
#2
I've read a little of the popular history on this subject. I haven't dug into the primary sources. I agree the British had no interest in letting Sudan unite with Egypt or despite the condominium in letting Egypt have any influence in Sudan. Yes, the Mahdi's son was prominent in Sudan under the British, but he was mostly a figurehead. The British didn't let him have any real power. If they gave him great wealth it was probably to keep him loyal. They didn't want him leading another revolution like his father.

The one thing I'd like you to elaborate on is your claim that the British and the Mahdi were cooperating, even conspiring, with each other. Could you please quote the relevant portions of your documents since your links don't give us access to the documents. To begin, what about those Indian weapons going to Sudan?
 
Likes: HiddenHistory
Sep 2019
5
france
#4
I've read a little of the popular history on this subject. I haven't dug into the primary sources. I agree the British had no interest in letting Sudan unite with Egypt or despite the condominium in letting Egypt have any influence in Sudan. Yes, the Mahdi's son was prominent in Sudan under the British, but he was mostly a figurehead. The British didn't let him have any real power. If they gave him great wealth it was probably to keep him loyal. They didn't want him leading another revolution like his father.

The one thing I'd like you to elaborate on is your claim that the British and the Mahdi were cooperating, even conspiring, with each other. Could you please quote the relevant portions of your documents since your links don't give us access to the documents. To begin, what about those Indian weapons going to Sudan?
Nobody has access to this documents...
I rely only on the title, which is rather self explanatory : "Secret aid of the Nawab of Radhanpur asked for on behalf of the Mahdi"
The Mahdi had no ships ! Only the empire could get these weapons and ship them to Sudan.
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,260
Dispargum
#5
The title of a document is far too thin evidence to draw any conclusions from. For all we know the text of the document might refute the title. Or better yet, the Mahdi may have asked for aid but his request may have been refused. Anything is possible. We need more than the title.
 
Sep 2019
5
france
#6
The evidence is that in the archives of the empire there is such a document with such a title. We shouldn't stop thinking just because we can't have access to it.

the british intelligence was informed that the Mahdi has asked the Nawab for a secret aid
implies
1) the Mahdi used his own means of communication to reach the nawab : impossible
2) the Mahdi used the British to reach the nawab : possible

1) the weapons would travel on the Mahdi's boats : he has none
2) the nawab's boats : under british control if he has some
3) british boats : possible

And how can you explain that Slatin was made "commander of the Mahdi's cavalry" ?
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,260
Dispargum
#7
We can discuss Slatin later, but just to keep things simple, let's confine the conversation to one topic at a time.

Speculation can be fun, but it never leads anywhere conclusive without evidence. I think the best this line of inquiry will produce is possibly a hypothesis that could reveal a different line of inquiry. For instance, Is there another way to prove what the Mahdi and Nawob actually said to each other?

First off, if the Mahdi and the Nawab were both working for British interests, why did British intelligence care that they were in communication with each other? British Intelligence exists to gather information about the Empire's enemies, not it's own agents.

Assuming what you say is true about British Intelligence learning that the Mahdi had asked the Nawab for weapons or other aid,
1. I would like to know when the message was sent and when the Mahdi expected to receive the aid. The time span would give us insight into how quickly the message traveled and how quickly the arms were supposed to be delivered. If the timeline requires the message to sent by telegraph, then I would agree the message had to pass through British-controlled communications. But if the timeline allows for a hand-carried letter to be smuggled by a Sudanese spy through British territory, a period of weeks or months, then it's entirely plausible for the Mahdi to communicate with the Nawab without the British knowing about it, at least at first. Obviously the British did learn about it eventually.
2. It would have been possible for the Nawab to illegally smuggle arms to the Mahdi against British wishes. Just look at the modern arms trade. Arms are one of the most tightly regulated commodities on the planet, and even with modern technology arms still get smuggled all the time. Just to pluck a crazy scenario out of my head, the Nawab could pretend to export arms to the Sultan of Aden, which was another British protectorate at that time. The British authorities would have no objection since it's a transfer between two British entities. However, when the arms arrived in Aden, they could be stolen out of their warehouse, loaded onto boats, and sailed across the Red Sea to Sudan. A few bribes would be paid, officials would look the other way, for an experienced arms smuggler it wouldn't be all that difficult.
3. The fact that British Intelligence found out about this plot tells me that it failed or at least became known after the fact.

These types of exercises where we try to prove something true by disproving everything else, risk falling into the false choice fallacy. It's impossible to think of every possibility and to disprove all but one of them. There's always a possibility that we didn't consider.
 
Sep 2019
5
france
#9
First off, if the Mahdi and the Nawab were both working for British interests, why did British intelligence care that they were in communication with each other? British Intelligence exists to gather information about the Empire's enemies, not it's own agents.
This is totally untrue. Of course British Intelligence gathers information on its own agents, and in this case, in my opinion, it was Slatin who asked the Crown to import Weapons from India.

when the arms arrived in Aden, they could be stolen out of their warehouse, loaded onto boats, and sailed across the Red Sea to Sudan
By whom ? On whose boats ? How come Slatin never said anything about it ?

3. The fact that British Intelligence found out about this plot tells me that it failed or at least became known after the fact.
Well you seem to you have your own convictions. I will say that my scenario is not 100% sure, but it's really more plausible that the story of a european officer who is enslaved by the Mahdi, somehow ends up being his protégé, and manages to escape to the enemy's line.

You don't have problems accepting this strange official history where the English back off in front of an archaic and disorganised army, which somehow manages to conquer a huge territory and rule it for 18 years or so, with brutal force and bigotry, but never harms its "slave" Slatin.
 
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Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,260
Dispargum
#10
Well you seem to you have your own convictions. I will say that my scenario is not 100% sure, but it's really more plausible that the story of a european officer who is enslaved by the Mahdi, somehow ends up being his protégé, and manages to escape to the enemy's line.

You don't have problems accepting this strange official history where the English back off in front of an archaic and disorganised army, which somehow manages to conquer a huge territory and rule it for 18 years or so, with brutal force and bigotry, but never harms its "slave" Slatin.
I'm OK with the official history. 1) I don't find it strange, and 2) the official history is supported by documentation.

There are actually several documented stories similar to Slatin's. Some of them also from Sudan in the 1880s, but others from elsewhere around the world at different times. There is a logical pattern to all of these stories: first the slave is captured and oppressed, second the slave earns the master's trust, finally, the slave uses his or her new-found trust and freedom to make an escape attempt.

I actually find it plausible that Slatin could be behind the attempted arms purchase. It's exactly what someone like Slatin, in that position, would do to gain the Mahdi's trust - prove that he's the Mahdi's friend by appearing to betray the British. But plausibility is not proof. I still want to see documentation that's what Slatin did.
 

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