Flag description: three equal horizontal bands of red (top), white, and black with a green isosceles triangle based on the hoist side.
Location: Northern Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Egypt and Eritrea.
Geographic coordinates: 15 00 N, 30 00 E.
Climate: tropical in south; arid desert in north; rainy season (April to October).
Independence: 1 January 1956 (from Egypt and UK).
Nationality: Sudanese (singular and plural).
Capital City: Khartoum.
Population: 35,079,814 (July 2000 est.).
Head of State: President Lt. Gen. Umar Hasan Ahmad al-BASHIR (since 16 October 1993).
Area: 2,505,810 sq km.
Type of Government: transitional - previously ruling military junta; presidential and National Assembly elections held in March 1996; new constitution drafted by Presidential Committee, went into effect on 30 June 1998 after being approved in nationwide referendum.
Currency: 1 Sudanese dinar (SD) = 100 piaster.
Major peoples: black 52%, Arab 39%, Beja 6%, foreigners 2%, other 1%.
Religion: Sunni Muslim 70% (in north), indigenous beliefs 25%, Christian 5% (mostly in south and Khartoum).
Official Language: Arabic.
Principal Languages: Arabic, Nubian, Ta Bedawie, diverse dialects of Nilotic, Nilo-Hamitic, Sudanese languages, English.
Major Exports: cotton, sesame, livestock, groundnuts, oil, gum Arabic.
History: Egypt first unified the small, independent Sudanese states, some of which had existed since the early Christian era, in 1820-21. Later in that century, the Muslim MAHDI ("messiah") Muhammad Ahmed led a religious revolt. He captured El Obeid in 1883 and Khartoum in 1885 after a long siege in which the British general Charles George GORDON was killed. The Mahdi died the same year, but his successor formed an autocratic state that lasted for the next 13 years. The Mahdist state was overthrown, however, by British-Egyptian forces led by Lord KITCHENER in 1898.
Sudan then came under the joint rule of Britain and Egypt and remained so for more than 50 years. Independence was achieved on Jan. 1, 1956, but the governments during the first 13 years of independence--both civilian and military--were unstable. A coup on May 25, 1969, gave power to Gen. Gaafar al-Nimeiry.
Siding with the Arabs, Sudan declared war on Israel on June 6, 1967, and broke relations with the United States. The country was then forced to rely heavily on Soviet assistance for several years. A briefly successful Communist coup occurred in July 1971. After General Nimeiry regained power, Sudan turned again to the United States for aid, and many prominent Communists were executed.
A peace agreement in 1972 raised hopes that a long civil strife between the black provinces of the south and the Arab north could be ended. The agreement provided autonomy on most internal matters to the three southern provinces, which were united into one administrative region with its own assembly. A program of integration of former guerrilla leaders into the regular Sudanese army helped to defuse separatist tensions in the south for a time.
By the early 1980s, however, Sudan was faced with a massive deficit and a reviving rebel movement in the south. Nimeiry instituted an austerity program to rescue Sudan's failing economy and to secure a loan from the International Monetary Fund. In an attempt to divide the southern Sudan politically, he split the area into three separate administrative regions, a move that Southerners felt was contrary to the provisions of the 1972 peace agreement.
Sudan long felt threatened by the political ambitions of Libya and Ethiopia and, beginning in the late 1970s, aligned itself with Egypt and with the United States. In October 1982 Nimeiry concluded an agreement with Egypt establishing a joint Nile Valley parliament and common financial institutions for the two countries.
The immense Jonglei Canal project--over 320 km (200 mi) of excavation that was designed to divert the waters of the White Nile away from the swampy Sudd region of the Southern Sudan, and thus increase water flow into northern Sudan and Egypt--was begun in 1980, and was financed jointly by Egypt and Sudan. The project aroused opposition in the Sudanese south, however, and work on the canal--as well as on Sudan's first major oil field--was stopped in 1984 because of attacks by southern rebel groups.
In late 1983, regional tensions were further heightened when Nimeiry announced the imposition of strict Islamic law on the entire country as the basis for judgment and punishment. Further exacerbating the situation, was a severe drought that left an estimated four million Sudanese facing famine.
Nimeiry's increasingly erratic policies eventually provoked opposition among almost every segment of Sudanese society. He was overthrown on Apr. 16, 1985, after nationwide riots protesting his imposition of economic austerity measures demanded by the United States and the International Monetary Fund.
Sudan's military leaders improved relations with Libya but maintained somewhat uneasy ties with the United States and Egypt; the institutions set up under a 1982 integration agreement with Egypt were dissolved in March 1986. After the first multiparty elections since 1968, held in April 1986, a coalition civilian government headed by Prime Minister Sadeq al-Mahdi assumed power. Mahdi's efforts to end the rebellion in the south were unsuccessful and an estimated 250,000 Sudanese died of starvation in 1988 as both sides used food as a weapon.
Mahdi was overthrown on June 30, 1989, in a fundamentalist inspired military coup led by Gen. Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir.
Bashir declared a state of emergency; all parliamentary, political party, and trade union activities were shut down; and the nation's free press was closed down. Bashir re-imposed Islamic law and signed (March 1990) a declaration of integration with Libya. Much of the south was under de facto rebel control.
The costly war against the rebels in the south continued, contributing to heavy human losses from combat, hunger, and disease. Renewed drought threatened some one-third of the population with starvation but Bashir's anti-Western stance and his support of Iraq in the 1990-91 PERSIAN GULF WAR hindered relief efforts. The United Nations estimated that the fighting had forced more than 1 million people to flee from their homes in the south in 1992.