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river war II

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river war II

مُساهمة من طرف cnoc في السبت أبريل 02, 2011 6:18 am

It was a pity that one, thus gloriously free from the ordinary
restraining influences of human society, should have found in his own
character so little mental ballast. His moods were capricious and
uncertain, his passions violent, his impulses sudden and inconsistent.
The mortal enemy of the morning had become a trusted ally before the
night. The friend he loved to-day he loathed to-morrow. Scheme after
scheme formed in his fertile brain, and jostled confusingly together.
All in succession were pressed with enthusiasm. All at times were
rejected with disdain. A temperament naturally neurotic had been
aggravated by an acquired habit of smoking; and the General carried this
to so great an extreme that he was rarely seen without a cigarette. His
virtues are famous among men; his daring and resource might turn the
tide or war; his energy would have animated a whole people; his
achievements are upon record; but it must also be set down that few more
uncertain and impracticable forces than Gordon have ever been introduced
into administration and diplomacy.

Although the Egyptian Government might loudly proclaim their detestation
of slavery, their behaviour in the Soudan was viewed with suspicion by
the European Powers, and particularly by Great Britain. To vindicate his
sincerity the Khedive Ismail in 1874 appointed Gordon to be Governor of
the Equatorial Province in succession to Sir Samuel Baker. The name of
the General was a sufficient guarantee that the slave trade was being
earnestly attacked. The Khedive would gladly have stopped at the
guarantee, and satisfied the world without disturbing 'vested interests.'
But the mission, which may have been originally instituted as a pretence,
soon became in Gordon's energetic hands very real. Circumstances,
moreover, soon enlisted the sympathies of the Egyptian Government on the
side of their zealous agent. The slave dealers had committed every
variety of atrocity for which the most odious traffic in the world
afforded occasion; but when, under the leadership of Zubehr Rahamna,
they refused to pay their annual tribute, it was felt in Cairo that
their crimes had cried aloud for chastisement.

Zubehr is sufficiently described when it has been said that he was
the most notorious slave dealer Africa has ever produced. His infamy had
spread beyond the limits of the continent which was the scene of his
exploits to the distant nations of the north and west. In reality, his
rule was a distinct advance on the anarchy which had preceded it, and
certainly he was no worse than others of his vile trade. His scale of
business was, however, more extended. What William Whiteley was in
respect of goods and chattels, that was Zubehr in respect of slaves--
a universal provider. Magnitude lends a certain grandeur to crime; and
Zubehr in the height of his power, at the head of the slave merchants'
confederacy, might boast the retinue of a king and exercise authority
over wide regions and a powerful army.

As early as 1869 he was practically the independent ruler of the
Bahr-el-Ghazal. The Khedive resolved to assert his rights. A small
Egyptian force was sent to subdue the rebel slaver who not only
disgraced humanity but refused to pay tribute. Like most of the Khedivial
expeditions the troops under Bellal Bey met with ill-fortune. They came,
they saw, they ran away. Some, less speedy than the rest, fell on the
field of dishonour. The rebellion was open. Nevertheless it was the
Khedive who sought peace. Zubehr apologised for defeating the Viceregal
soldiers and remained supreme in the Bahr-el-Ghazal. Thence he planned
the conquest of Darfur, at that time an independent kingdom. The Egyptian
Government were glad to join with him in the enterprise. The man they had
been unable to conquer, they found it expedient to assist. The operations
were successful. The King of Darfur, who was distinguished no less for
his valour than for his folly, was killed. The whole country was subdued.
The whole population available after the battles became slaves. Zubehr
thus wielded a formidable power. The Khedivial Government, thinking to
ensure his loyalty, created him a Pasha--a rank which he could scarcely
disgrace; and the authority of the rebel was thus unwillingly recognised
by the ruler. Such was the situation when Gordon first came to the Soudan.

It was beyond the power of the new Governor of the Equatorial Province
at once to destroy the slave-hunting confederacy. Yet he struck heavy
blows at the slave trade, and when in 1877, after a short visit to
England, he returned to the Soudan as Governor-General and with absolute
power, he assailed it with redoubled energy. Fortune assisted his efforts,
for the able Zubehr was enticed to Cairo, and, once there, the Government
refused to allow their faithful ally and distinguished guest to go back
to his happy-hunting grounds. Although the slave dealers were thus robbed
of their great leader, they were still strong, and Zubehr's son, the brave
Suliman, found a considerable following. Furious at his father's captivity,
and alarmed lest his own should follow, he meditated revolt. But the
Governor-General, mounted on a swift camel and attired in full uniform,
rode alone into the rebel camp and compelled the submission of its chiefs
before they could recover from their amazement. The confederacy was
severely shaken, and when, in the following year, Suliman again revolted,
the Egyptian troops under Gessi Pasha were able to disperse his forces and
induce him to surrender on terms. The terms were broken, and Suliman and
ten of his companions suffered death by shooting [von Slatin, Baron
Rudolf Karl. FIRE AND SWORD IN THE SOUDAN, p.28.] The league of the slave
dealers was thus destroyed.

Towards the end of 1879 Gordon left the Soudan. With short intervals
he had spent five busy years in its provinces. His energy had stirred the
country. He had struck at the root of the slave trade, he had attacked the
system of slavery, and, as slavery was the greatest institution in
the land, he had undermined the whole social system. Indignation had
stimulated his activity to an extraordinary degree. In a climate usually
fatal to Europeans he discharged the work of five officers. Careless of
his methods, he bought slaves himself, drilled them, and with the soldiers
thus formed pounced on the caravans of the hunters. Traversing the country
on a fleet dromedary--on which in a single year he is said to have covered
3,840 miles--he scattered justice and freedom among the astonished natives.
He fed the infirm, protected the weak, executed the wicked. To some he gave
actual help, to many freedom, to all new hopes and aspirations. Nor were
the tribes ungrateful. The fiercest savages and cannibals respected the
life of the strange white man. The women blessed him. He could ride unarmed
and alone where a brigade of soldiers dared not venture. But he was, as he
knew himself, the herald of the storm. Oppressed yet ferocious races had
learned that they had rights; the misery of the Soudanese was lessened, but
their knowledge had increased. The whole population was unsettled, and the
wheels of change began slowly to revolve; nor did they stop until they
had accomplished an enormous revolution.

The part played by the second force is more obscure. Few facts are so
encouraging to the student of human development as the desire, which most
men and all communities manifest at all times, to associate with their
actions at least the appearance of moral right. However distorted may be
their conceptions of virtue, however feeble their efforts to attain even
to their own ideals, it is a pleasing feature and a hopeful augury that
they should wish to be justified. No community embarks on a great
enterprise without fortifying itself with the belief that from some
points of view its motives are lofty and disinterested. It is an
involuntary tribute, the humble tribute of imperfect beings, to the
eternal temples of Truth and Beauty. The sufferings of a people or a
class may be intolerable, but before they will take up arms and risk
their lives some unselfish and impersonal spirit must animate them.
In countries where there is education and mental activity or refinement,
this high motive is found in the pride of glorious traditions or in
a keen sympathy with surrounding misery. Ignorance deprives savage
nations of such incentives. Yet in the marvellous economy of nature this
very ignorance is a source of greater strength. It affords them the
mighty stimulus of fanaticism. The French Communists might plead that
they upheld the rights of man. The desert tribes proclaimed that they
fought for the glory of God. But although the force of fanatical passion
is far greater than that exerted by any philosophical belief, its
sanction is just the same. It gives men something which they think is
sublime to fight for, and this serves them as an excuse for wars which
it is desirable to begin for totally different reasons. Fanaticism is
not a cause of war. It is the means which helps savage peoples to fight.
It is the spirit which enables them to combine--the great common object
before which all personal or tribal disputes become insignificant.
What the horn is to the rhinoceros, what the sting is to the wasp,
the Mohammedan faith was to the Arabs of the Soudan--a faculty
of offence or defence.

It was all this and no more. It was not the reason of the revolt.
It strengthened, it characterised, but it did not cause. ['I do not
believe that fanaticism exists as it used to do in the world, judging
from what I have seen in this so-called fanatic land. It is far more
a question of property, and is more like Communism under the flag
of religion.'--GENERAL GORDON'S JOURNALS AT KHARTOUM, bk.i. p.13.]
Those whose practice it is to regard their own nation as possessing a
monopoly of virtue and common-sense, are wont to ascribe every military
enterprise of savage peoples to fanaticism. They calmly ignore obvious
and legitimate motives. The most rational conduct is considered mad.
It has therefore been freely stated, and is to some extent believed,
that the revolt in the Soudan was entirely religious. If the worst
untruths are those that have some appearance of veracity, this impression
must be very false indeed. It is, perhaps, an historical fact that the
revolt of a large population has never been caused solely or even mainly
by religious enthusiasm.

The reasons which forced the peoples of the Soudan to revolt were
as strong as the defence which their oppressors could offer was feeble.
Looking at the question from a purely political standpoint, we may say
that upon the whole there exists no record of a better case for rebellion
than presented itself to the Soudanese. Their country was being ruined;
their property was plundered; their women were ravished; their liberties
were curtailed; even their lives were threatened. Aliens ruled the
inhabitants; the few oppressed the many; brave men were harried by cowards;
the weak compelled the strong. Here were sufficient reasons. Since any
armed movement against an established Government can be justified only by
success, strength is an important revolutionary virtue. It was a virtue
that the Arabs might boast. They were indeed far stronger than they,
their persecutors, or the outside world had yet learned. All were soon
to be enlightened.

The storm gathered and the waters rose. Three great waves impelled
the living tide against the tottering house founded on the desert sand.
The Arab suffered acutely from poverty, misgovernment, and oppression.
Infuriated, he looked up and perceived that the cause of all his miseries
was a weak and cowardly foreigner, a despicable 'Turk.' The antagonism
of races increased the hatred sprung from social evils. The moment was
at hand. Then, and not till then, the third wave came--the wave of
fanaticism, which, catching up and surmounting the other waves, covered
all the flood with its white foam, and, bearing on with the momentum of
the waters, beat in thunder against the weak house so that it fell;
and great was the fall thereof.

Down to the year 1881 there was no fanatical movement in the Soudan.
In their utter misery the hopeless inhabitants had neglected even the
practices of religion. They were nevertheless prepared for any enterprise,
however desperate, which might free them from the Egyptian yoke. All that
delayed them was the want of some leader who could combine the tribes
and restore their broken spirits, and in the summer of 1881 the leader
appeared. His subsequent career is within the limits of this account,
and since his life throws a strong light on the thoughts and habits
of the Arabs of the Soudan it may be worth while to trace it from
the beginning.

The man who was the proximate cause of the River War was born
by the banks of the Nile, not very far from Dongola. His family were
poor and of no account in the province. But as the Prophet had claimed
a royal descent, and as a Sacred Example was sprung from David's line,
Mohammed Ahmed asserted that he was of the 'Ashraf,'(descendants of
the Prophet) and the assertion, since it cannot be disproved, may be
accepted. His father was a humble priest; yet he contrived to give his
son some education in the practices of religion, the principles of
the Koran, and the art of writing. Then he died at Kerreri while on
a journey to Khartoum, and left the future Mahdi, still a child,
to the mercies of the world. Solitary trees, if they grow at all,
grow strong; and a boy deprived of a father's care often develops,
if he escape the perils of youth, an independence and vigour of thought
which may restore in after life the heavy loss of early days. It was so
with Mohammed Ahmed. He looked around for an occupation and subsistence.
A large proportion of the population of religious countries pass their
lives at leisure, supported by the patient labour of the devout. The
young man determined to follow the profession for which he felt
his talents suited, and which would afford him the widest scope.
He became a priest. Many of the religious teachers of heathen and other
countries are devoid of enthusiasm and turn their attention to the
next world because doing so affords them an easy living in this.
Happily this is not true of all. It was not true of Mohammed. Even at
an early age he manifested a zeal for God's service, and displayed a
peculiar aptitude for learning the tenets and dogmas of the Mohammedan
belief. So promising a pupil did not long lack a master in a country
where intelligence and enthusiasm were scarce. His aspirations growing
with his years and knowledge, he journeyed to Khartoum as soon as his
religious education was completed, and became a disciple of the renowned
and holy Sheikh, Mohammed Sherif.

His devotion to his superior, to his studies and to the practice
of austerities, and a strange personal influence he was already
beginning to show, won him by degrees a few disciples of his own:
and with them he retired to the island of Abba. Here by the waters of
the White Nile Mohammed Ahmed lived for several years. His two brothers,
who were boat-builders in the neighbourhood, supported him by their
industry. But it must have been an easy burden, for we read that he
'hollowed out for himself a cave in the mud bank, and lived in almost
entire seclusion, fasting often for days, and occasionally paying a visit
to the head of the order to assure him of his devotion and obedience.'
[I take this passage from FIRE AND SWORD IN THE SOUDAN, by Slatin. His
account is the most graphic and trustworthy of all known records of
the Mahdi. He had terrible opportunities of collecting information.
I have followed his version (chapter iv.) very closely on this subject.]
Meanwhile his sanctity increased, and the labour and charity of the
brothers were assisted by the alms of godly travellers on the river.

This virtuous and frugal existence was disturbed and terminated
by an untoward event. The renowned and holy Sheikh made a feast to
celebrate the circumcision of his sons. That the merriment of the
auspicious occasion and the entertainment of the guests might be
increased, Sherif, according to the lax practice of the time,
granted a dispensation from any sins committed during the festivities,
and proclaimed in God's name the suspension of the rules against singing
and dancing by which the religious orders were bound. The ascetic
of Abba island did not join in these seemingly innocent dissipations.
With the recklessness of the reformer he protested against the
demoralisation of the age, and loudly affirmed the doctrine
that God alone could forgive sins. These things were speedily brought
to the ears of the renowned Sheikh, and in all the righteous indignation
that accompanies detected wrong-doing, he summoned Mohammed Ahmed
before him. The latter obeyed. He respected his superior. He was under
obligations to him. His ire had disappeared as soon as it had
been expressed. He submissively entreated forgiveness; but in vain.
Sherif felt that some sort of discipline must be maintained among
his flock. He had connived at disobedience to the divine law.
All the more must he uphold his own authority. Rising in anger,
he drove the presumptuous disciple from his presence with bitter words,
and expunged his name from the order of the elect.

Mohammed went home. He was greatly distressed. Yet his fortunes were
not ruined. His sanctity was still a valuable and, unless he chose
otherwise, an inalienable asset. The renowned Sheikh had a rival--nearly
as holy and more enterprising than himself. From him the young priest
might expect a warm welcome. Nevertheless he did not yet abandon his
former superior. Placing a heavy wooden collar on his neck, clad in
sackcloth and sprinkled with ashes, he again returned to his
spiritual leader, and in this penitential guise implored pardon. He was
ignominiously ejected. Nor did he venture to revisit the unforgiving
Sheikh. But it happened that in a few weeks Sherif had occasion to
journey to the island of Abba. His former disciple appeared suddenly
before him, still clad in sackcloth and defiled by ashes. Careless of
his plain misery, and unmoved by his loyalty, which was the more
remarkable since it was disinterested, the implacable Sheikh poured forth
a stream of invective. Among many insults, one went home: 'Be off,
you wretched Dongolawi.'

Although the natives of the Dongola province were despised and disliked
in the Southern Soudan, it is not at first apparent why Mohammed should
have resented so bitterly the allusion to his birthplace. But abuse by
class is a dangerous though effective practice. A man will perhaps
tolerate an offensive word applied to himself, but will be infuriated if
his nation, his rank, or his profession is insulted.

Mohammed Ahmed rose. All that man could do to make amends he had done.
Now he had been publicly called 'a wretched Dongolawi.' Henceforth he
would afflict Sherif with his repentance no longer. Reaching his house,
he informed his disciples--for they had not abandoned him in all his
trouble--that the Sheikh had finally cast him off, and that he would now
take his discarded allegiance elsewhere. The rival, the Sheikh
el Koreishi, lived near Mesalamia. He was jealous of Sherif and envied
him his sanctimonious disciples. He was therefore delighted to receive
a letter from Mohammed Ahmed announcing his breach with his former
superior and offering his most devoted services. He returned a cordial
invitation, and the priest of Abba island made all preparation
for the journey.

This new development seems to have startled the unforgiving Sherif.
It was no part of his policy to alienate his followers, still less to
add to those of his rival. After all, the quality of mercy was high
and noble. He would at last graciously forgive the impulsive but
repentant disciple. He wrote him a letter to this effect. But it was now
too late. Mohammed replied with grave dignity that he had committed no
crime, that he sought no forgiveness, and that 'a wretched Dongolawi'
would not offend by his presence the renowned Sheikh el Sherif.
After this indulgence he departed to Mesalamia.

But the fame of his doings spread far and wide throughout the land.
'Even in distant Darfur it was the principal topic of conversation'
[Slatin, FIRE AND SWORD]. Rarely had a Fiki been known to offend
his superior; never to refuse his forgiveness. Mohammed did not
hesitate to declare that he had done what he had done as a protest
against the decay of religious fervour and the torpor of the times.
Since his conduct had actually caused his dismissal, it appears that he
was quite justified in making a virtue of necessity. At any rate he was
believed, and the people groaning under oppression looked from all
the regions to the figure that began to grow on the political horizon.
His fame grew. Rumour, loud-tongued, carried it about the land that a
great Reformer was come to purify the faith and break the stony apathy
which paralysed the hearts of Islam. Whisperings added that a man
was found who should break from off the necks of the tribes the hateful
yoke of Egypt. Mohammed now deliberately entered upon the
path of ambition.

Throughout Nubia the Shukri belief prevails: some day, in a time
of shame and trouble, a second great Prophet will arise--a Mahdi who
shall lead the faithful nearer God and sustain the religion. The people
of the Soudan always look inquiringly to any ascetic who rises to fame,
and the question is often repeated, 'Art thou he that should come,
or do we look for another?' Of this powerful element of disturbance
Mohammed Ahmed resolved to avail himself. He requested and obtained
the permission of the Sheikh Koreishi to return to Abba, where he was
well known, and with which island village his name was connected,
and so came back in triumph to the scene of his disgrace. Thither many
pilgrims began to resort. He received valuable presents, which he
distributed to the poor, who acclaimed him as 'Zahed'--a renouncer of
earthly pleasures. He journeyed preaching through Kordofan, and received
the respect of the priesthood and the homage of the people. And while
he spoke of the purification of the religion, they thought that the
burning words might be applied to the freedom of the soil. He supported
his sermons by writings, which were widely read. When a few months later
the Sheikh Koreishi died, the priest of Abba proceeded forthwith to erect
a tomb to his memory, directing and controlling the voluntary labours
of the reverent Arabs who carried the stones.

While Mohammed was thus occupied he received the support of a man,
less virtuous than but nearly as famous as himself. Abdullah was one of
four brothers, the sons of an obscure priest; but he inherited
no great love of religion or devotion to its observances. He was a man
of determination and capacity. He set before himself two distinct
ambitions, both of which he accomplished: to free the Soudan of
foreigners, and to rule it himself. He seems to have had a queer
presentiment of his career. This much he knew: there would be a great
religious leader, and he would be his lieutenant and his successor.
When Zubehr conquered Darfur, Abdullah presented himself before him
and hailed him as 'the expected Mahdi.' Zubehr, however, protested with
superfluous energy that he was no saint, and the impulsive patriot was
compelled to accept his assurances. So soon as he saw Mohammed Ahmed
rising to fame and displaying qualities of courage and energy,
he hastened to throw himself at his feet and assure him of his devotion.

No part of Slatin Pasha's fascinating account of his perils and sufferings
is so entertaining as that in which Abdullah, then become Khalifa of the
whole Soudan, describes his early struggles and adversity:

'Indeed it was a very troublesome journey. At that time my entire
property consisted of one donkey, and he had a gall on his back,
so that I could not ride him. But I made him carry my water-skin and
bag of corn, over which I spread my rough cotton garment, and drove him
along in front of me. At that time I wore the white cotton shirt,
like the rest of my tribe. My clothes and my dialect at once marked
me out as a stranger wherever I went; and when I crossed the Nile I was
frequently greeted with "What do you want? Go back to your own country.
There is nothing to steal here."'

What a life of ups and downs! It was a long stride from the ownership
of one saddle-galled donkey to the undisputed rule of an empire.
The weary wayfarer may have dreamed of this, for ambition stirs
imagination nearly as much as imagination excites ambition. But further
he could not expect or wish to see. Nor could he anticipate as, in the
complacency of a man who had done with evil days, he told the story of
his rise to the submissive Slatin, that the day would come when he would
lead an army of more than fifty thousand men to destruction, and that
the night would follow when, almost alone, his empire shrunk again to
the saddle-galled donkey, he would seek his home in distant Kordofan,
while this same Slatin who knelt so humbly before him would lay
the fierce pursuing squadrons on the trail.

Mohammed Ahmed received his new adherent kindly, but without enthusiasm.
For some months Abdullah carried stones to build the tomb of the Sheikh
el Koreishi. Gradually they got to know each other. 'But long before he
entrusted me with his secret,' said Abdullah to Slatin, 'I knew that he
was "the expected Guide."' [Slatin, FIRE AND SWORD, p.131.] And though
the world might think that the 'Messenger of God' was sent to lead men
to happiness in heaven, Abdullah attached to the phrase a significance
of his own, and knew that he should lead him to power on earth. The two
formed a strong combination. The Mahdi--for such Mohammed Ahmed had
already in secret announced himself--brought the wild enthusiasm of
religion, the glamour of a stainless life, and the influence of
superstition into the movement. But if he were the soul of the plot,
Abdullah was the brain. He was the man of the world, the practical
politician, the general.

There now commenced a great conspiracy against the Egyptian Government.
It was fostered by the discontents and justified by the miseries of
the people of the Soudan. The Mahdi began to collect adherents and to
extend his influence in all parts of the country. He made a second
journey through Kordofan, and received everywhere promises of support
from all classes. The most distant tribes sent assurances of devotion
and reverence, and, what was of more importance, of armed assistance.
The secret could not be long confined to those who welcomed the movement.
As the ramifications of the plot spread they were perceived by
the renowned Sheikh Sherif, who still nursed his chagrin and thirsted
for revenge. He warned the Egyptian Government. They, knowing his envy
and hatred of his former disciple, discounted his evidence and for some
time paid no attention to the gathering of the storm. But presently
more trustworthy witnesses confirmed his statements, and Raouf Pasha,
then Governor-General, finding himself confronted with a growing
agitation, determined to act. He accordingly sent a messenger to the
island of Abba, to summon Mohammed Ahmed to Khartoum to justify his
behaviour and explain his intentions. The news of the despatch of the
messenger was swiftly carried to the Mahdi! He consulted with his trusty
lieutenant. They decided to risk everything, and without further delay
to defy the Government. When it is remembered how easily an organised
army, even though it be in a bad condition, can stamp out the beginnings
of revolt among a population, the courage of their resolve
must be admired.

The messenger arrived. He was received with courtesy by Abdullah,
and forthwith conducted before the Mahdi. He delivered his message,
and urged Mohammed Ahmed to comply with the orders of the
Governor-General. The Mahdi listened for some time in silence,
but with increasing emotion; and when the messenger advised him,
as he valued his own safety, to journey to Khartoum, if only to
justify himself, his passion overcame him. 'What!' he shouted,
rising suddenly and striking his breast with his hand. 'By the grace
of God and his Prophet I am master of this country, and never shall
I go to Khartoum to justify myself.' [Slatin, FIRE AND SWORD, p.135.]
The terrified messenger withdrew. The rebellion of the Mahdi had begun.

Both the priest and the Governor-General prepared for military
enterprise. The Mahdi proclaimed a holy war against the foreigners,
alike the enemies of God and the scourge of men. He collected his
followers. He roused the local tribes. He wrote letters to all parts
of the Soudan, calling upon the people to fight for a purified religion,
the freedom of the soil, and God's holy prophet 'the expected Mahdi.'
He promised the honour of men to those who lived, the favour of God
to those who fell, and lastly that the land should be cleared of the
miserable 'Turk.' 'Better,' he said, and it became the watchword of
the revolt, 'thousands of graves than a dollar tax.' [Ohrwalder, TEN
YEARS'CAPTIVITY IN THE MAHDI'S CAMP.]

Nor was Raouf Pasha idle. He sent two companies of infantry
with one gun by steamer to Abba to arrest the fanatic who disturbed
the public peace. What followed is characteristically Egyptian.
Each company was commanded by a captain. To encourage their efforts,
whichever officer captured the Mahdi was promised promotion. At sunset
on an August evening in 1881 the steamer arrived at Abba. The promise
of the Governor-General had provoked the strife, not the emulation of
the officers. Both landed with their companies and proceeded by
different routes under the cover of darkness to the village where
the Mahdi dwelt. Arriving simultaneously from opposite directions,
they fired into each other, and, in the midst of this mistaken combat,
the Mahdi rushed upon them with his scanty following and destroyed them
impartially. A few soldiers succeeded in reaching the bank of the river.
But the captain of the steamer would run no risks, and those who
could not swim out to the vessel were left to their fate. With such
tidings the expedition returned to Khartoum.

Mohammed Ahmed had been himself wounded in the attack, but the faithful
Abdullah bound up the injury, so that none might know that God's Prophet
had been pierced by carnal weapons. The effect of the success was
electrical. The news spread throughout the Soudan. Men with sticks
had slain men with rifles. A priest had destroyed the soldiers of the
Government. Surely this was the Expected One. The Mahdi, however,
profited by his victory only to accomplish a retreat without loss of
prestige. Abdullah had no illusions. More troops would be sent.
They were too near to Khartoum. Prudence counselled flight to regions
more remote. But before this new Hegira the Mahdi appointed his four
Khalifas, in accordance with prophecy and precedent. The first was
Abdullah. Of the others it is only necessary at this moment to notice
Ali-Wad-Helu, the chief of one of the local tribes, and among the first
to rally to the standard of revolt.

Then the retreat began; but it was more like a triumphal progress.
Attended by a considerable following, and preceded by tales of the most
wonderful miracles and prodigies, the Mahdi retired to a mountain in
Kordofan to which he gave the name of Jebel Masa, that being the
mountain whence 'the expected Guide' is declared in the Koran sooner or
later to appear. He was now out of reach of Khartoum, but within reach
of Fashoda. The Egyptian Governor of that town, Rashid Bey, a man of
more enterprise and even less military knowledge than is usual in his
race, determined to make all attempt to seize the rebel and disperse his
following. Taking no precautions, he fell on the 9th of December into
an ambush, was attacked unprepared, and was himself, with fourteen
hundred men, slaughtered by the ill-armed but valiant Arabs.

The whole country stirred. The Government, thoroughly alarmed by
the serious aspect the revolt had assumed, organised a great expedition.
Four thousand troops under Yusef, a Pasha of distinguished reputation,
were sent against the rebels. Meanwhile the Mahdi and his followers
suffered the extremes of want. Their cause was as yet too perilous for
the rich to join. Only the poor flocked to the holy standard. All that
Mohammed possessed he gave away, keeping nothing for himself, excepting
only a horse to lead his followers in battle. Abdullah walked.
Nevertheless the rebels were half-famished, and armed with scarcely
any more deadly weapons than sticks and stones. The army of the
Government approached slowly. Their leaders anticipated an easy victory.
Their contempt for the enemy was supreme. They did not even trouble
themselves to post sentries by night, but slept calmly inside a slender
thorn fence, unwatched save by their tireless foes. And so it came to
pass that in the half-light of the early morning of the 7th of June
the Mahdi, his ragged Khalifas, and his almost naked army rushed
upon them, and slew them to a man.

The victory was decisive. Southern Kordofan was at the feet of
the priest of Abba. Stores of arms and ammunition had fallen into
his hands. Thousands of every class hastened to join his standard.
No one doubted that he was the divine messenger sent to free them from
their oppressors. The whole of the Arab tribes all over the Soudan
rose at once. The revolt broke out simultaneously in Sennar and Darfur,
and spread to provinces still more remote. The smaller Egyptian posts,
the tax-gatherers and local administrators, were massacred in every
district. Only the larger garrisons maintained themselves in the
principal towns. They were at once blockaded. All communications were
interrupted. All legal authority was defied. Only the Mahdi was obeyed.

It is now necessary to look for a moment to Egypt. The misgovernment
which in the Soudan had caused the rebellion of the Mahdi, in Egypt
produced the revolt of Arabi Pasha. As the people of the Soudan longed
to be rid of the foreign oppressors--the so-called 'Turks'--so those
of the Delta were eager to free themselves from the foreign regulators
and the real Turkish influence. While men who lived by the sources of
the Nile asserted that tribes did not exist for officials to harry,
others who dwelt at its mouth protested that nations were not made to
be exploited by creditors or aliens. The ignorant south found their
leader in a priest: the more educated north looked to a soldier.
Mohammed Ahmed broke the Egyptian yoke; Arabi gave expression to the
hatred of the Egyptians for the Turks. But although the hardy Arabs
might scatter the effete Egyptians, the effete Egyptians were not likely
to disturb the solid battalions of Europe. After much hesitation and
many attempts at compromise, the Liberal Administration of Mr. Gladstone
sent a fleet which reduced the forts of Alexandria to silence and the
city to anarchy. The bombardment of the fleet was followed by the
invasion of a powerful army. Twenty-five thousand men were landed in
Egypt. The campaign was conducted with celerity and skill. The Egyptian
armies were slaughtered or captured. Their patriotic but commonplace
leader was sentenced to death and condemned to exile, and Great Britain
assumed the direction of Egyptian affairs.

The British soon restored law and order in Egypt, and the question
of the revolt in the Soudan came before the English advisers of
the Khedive. Notwithstanding the poverty and military misfortunes which
depressed the people of the Delta, the desire to hold their southern
provinces was evident. The British Government, which at that time was
determined to pursue a policy of non-interference in the Soudan, gave a
tacit consent, and another great expedition was prepared to suppress the
False Prophet, as the English and Egyptians deemed him--'the expected
Mahdi,' as the people of the Soudan believed.

A retired officer of the Indian Staff Corps and a few European officers
of various nationalities were sent to Khartoum to organise the new
field force. Meanwhile the Mahdi, having failed to take by storm, laid
siege to El Obeid, the chief town of Kordofan. During the summer of 1883
the Egyptian troops gradually concentrated at Khartoum until a
considerable army was formed. It was perhaps the worst army that has ever
marched to war. One extract from General Hicks's letters will suffice.
Writing on the 8th of June, 1883, to Sir E. Wood, he says incidentally:
'Fifty-one men of the Krupp battery deserted on the way here, although
in chains.' The officers and men who had been defeated fighting for their
own liberties at Tel-el-Kebir were sent to be destroyed, fighting to
take away the liberties of others in the Soudan. They had no spirit,
no discipline, hardly any training, and in a force of over eight thousand
men there were scarcely a dozen capable officers. The two who were the
most notable of these few--General Hicks, who commanded, and Colonel
Farquhar, the Chief of the Staff--must be remarked.

El Obeid had fallen before the ill-fated expedition left Khartoum;
but the fact that Slatin Bey, an Austrian officer in the Egyptian service,
was still maintaining himself in Darfur provided it with an object. On the
9th of September Hicks and his army (the actual strength of which was
7,000 infantry, 400 mounted Bashi Bazuks, 500 cavalry, 100 Circassians,
10 mounted guns, 4 Krupps, and 6 Nordenfeldt machine guns) left Omdurman
and marched to Duem. Although the actual command of the expedition was
vested in the English officer, Ala-ed-Din Pasha, the Governor-General who
had succeeded Raouf Pasha, exercised an uncertain authority. Differences
of opinion were frequent, though all the officers were agreed in taking
the darkest views of their chances. The miserable host toiled slowly
onward towards its destruction, marching in a south-westerly direction
through Shat and Rahad. Here the condition of the force was so obviously
demoralised that a German servant (Gustav Klootz, the servant of Baron
Seckendorf) actually deserted to the Mahdi's camp. He was paraded
in triumph as an English officer.

On the approach of the Government troops the Mahdi had marched
out of El Obeid and established himself in the open country, where he
made his followers live under military conditions and continually
practised them in warlike evolutions. More than forty thousand men
collected round his standard, and the Arabs were now armed with several
thousand rifles and a few cannon, as well as a great number of swords
and spears. To these proportions had the little band of followers who
fought at Abba grown! The disparity of the forces was apparent before
the battle. The Mahdi thereupon wrote to Hicks, calling on him to
surrender and offering terms. His proposals were treated with disdain,
although the probable result of an engagement was clear.

Until the expedition reached Rahad only a few cavalry patrols had watched
its slow advance. But on the 1st of November the Mahdi left El Obeid and
marched with his whole power to meet his adversary. The collision took
place on the 3rd of November. All through that day the Egyptians
struggled slowly forward, in great want of water, losing continually from
the fire of the Soudanese riflemen, and leaving several guns behind them.
On the next morning they were confronted by the main body of the Arab
army, and their attempts to advance further were defeated with heavy loss.
The force began to break up. Yet another day was consumed before it was
completely destroyed. Scarcely five hundred Egyptians escaped death;
hardly as many of the Arabs fell. The European officers perished fighting
to the end; and the general met his fate sword in hand, at the head of
the last formed body of his troops, his personal valour and physical
strength exciting the admiration even of the fearless enemy, so that in
chivalrous respect they buried his body with barbaric honours. Mohammed
Ahmed celebrated his victory with a salute of one hundred guns; and well
he might, for the Soudan was now his, and his boast that, by God's grace
and the favour of the Prophet, he was the master of all the land had been
made good by force of arms.

No further attempt was made to subdue the country. The people of
the Soudan had won their freedom by their valour and by the skill and
courage of their saintly leader. It only remained to evacuate the towns
and withdraw the garrisons safely. But what looked like the winding-up
of one story was really the beginning of another, much longer, just as
bloody, commencing in shame and disaster, but ending in triumph and,
let us hope, in peace.

I desire for a moment to take a more general view of the
Mahdi's movement than the narrative has allowed. The original causes
were social and racial. But, great as was the misery of the people,
their spirit was low, and they would not have taken up arms merely on
material grounds. Then came the Mahdi. He gave the tribes the enthusiasm
they lacked. The war broke out. It is customary to lay to the charge of
Mohammed Ahmed all the blood that was spilled. To my mind it seems that
he may divide the responsibility with the unjust rulers who oppressed
the land, with the incapable commanders who muddled away the lives of
their men, with the vacillating Ministers who aggravated the misfortunes.
But, whatever is set to the Mahdi's account, it should not be forgotten
that he put life and soul into the hearts of his countrymen, and freed
his native land of foreigners. The poor miserable natives, eating only
a handful of grain, toiling half-naked and without hope, found a new,
if terrible magnificence added to life. Within their humble breasts the
spirit of the Mahdi roused the fires of patriotism and religion. Life
became filled with thrilling, exhilarating terrors. They existed in
a new and wonderful world of imagination. While they lived there were
great things to be done; and when they died, whether it were slaying the
Egyptians or charging the British squares, a Paradise which they could
understand awaited them. There are many Christians who reverence
the faith of Islam and yet regard the Mahdi merely as a commonplace
religious impostor whom force of circumstances elevated to notoriety.
In a certain sense, this may be true. But I know not how a genuine
may be distinguished from a spurious Prophet, except by the measure of
his success. The triumphs of the Mahdi were in his lifetime far greater
than those of the founder of the Mohammedan faith; and the chief
difference between orthodox Mohammedanism and Mahdism was that the
original impulse was opposed only by decaying systems of government and
society and the recent movement came in contact with civilisation and
the machinery of science. Recognising this, I do not share the popular
opinion, and I believe that if in future years prosperity should come
to the peoples of the Upper Nile, and learning and happiness follow in
its train, then the first Arab historian who shall investigate the
early annals of that new nation will not forget, foremost among
the heroes of his race, to write the name of Mohammed Ahmed.





cnoc

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تاريخ التسجيل : 16/03/2011

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