The novel opens with the fall of Khartoum, the defeat of the Mahdist
army, and the release of the slave Bekhit Mandil from prison.
During the 1870s, European initiatives against the slave trade caused an economic crisis in southern Sudan, precipitating the rise of Mahdist
Egypt, which had ruled Sudan from 1821, was expelled by the Mahdist
revolution in 1885.
1) In 1883 a military expedition of 11,000 English and Egyptian soldiers--the Hicks expedition--was destroyed while attempting to suppress the Mahdist
In July of the previous year, while the British were engaged in a war against the Mahdists
in the Sudan, a French contingent, with the cooperation of the Belgian authorities in the Congo, took possession of Fashoda, on the Nile.
Large numbers of British troops and their native proxies ended up fighting the Mahdists
and their jihad against Egypt and the infidels.
The British public, in the meantime, deluded by a hopelessly naive faith in the power of Gordon's personality to subdue the vast hordes of Mahdists
, was convinced that if anyone could pull off a miracle in such straits, it would be the legendary Gordon.
Nimeiri had proclaimed an unified Islamic state in 1983 (abrogating the 1972 agreement), and in the nineteenth century the Mahdists
had swept all before them.
Perhaps to avenge Gordon's death at the hands of the Mahdists
, Kitchener left the wounded enemy to die on the plain and later, after triumphantly entering Khartoum, he looted the city and murdered many of the Khalifa's leading followers.
During the Mahdiyya, many Southerners, including Dinka, joined the Mahdists
to drive out the colonial Turko-Egyptians.
were still in control of the Sudan, and in 1896 the British sent a punitive expedition south from Egypt under Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916).
The argument was that since Sudan is the backyard of Egypt and since Egypt did not wish to be harassed anymore by the staunch Mahdists
once again, that Egypt should really bear such a responsibility.
During this period, the Egyptians and the Mahdists
of the Sudan were also fighting Yohannes (Jalata, 1993: 49).
The defeat of the Anglo-Egyptian force by the Mahdists
in 1883, leading to General Gordon's death at Khartoum in 1885 and the Egyptian evacuation of Sudan, left the field open to French and Belgian claims to the Upper Nile region known as Bahr al-Ghazal.
Kitchener repulsed two determined charges before slaughtering the hapless Mahdists
with machine guns and artillery.