THE SUDAN: The Mahdi's Return

In 1884 a Sudanese boatman, turned religious seer, involved the British Empire in a sticky little war. Mohamed Ahmed, who had declared himself the Mahdi, the long-awaited messiah of Islamic tradition, had whipped his dervish followers into a frenzied jihad (holy war) against the Sudan's Egyptian rulers. Since Egypt was under British occupation, Britain sent solemn, Bible-reading General Charles George ("Chinese") Gordon* to restore order. Instead, the fanatical dervishes bottled up the undermanned British garrison in Khartoum, hacked Gordon to death with their swords.

Thirteen years later, another British army, under General Horatio Herbert Kitchener (thenceforth known as K of...

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