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date: 27 April 2018

The 1924 Revolution in Sudan

Summary and Keywords

The 1924 Revolution marked the first time in Sudanese history a nationalist ideology became the language of politics and was successfully employed to mobilize the masses. It was a part of a broader movement of anticolonial nationalist agitation that merits studying this Sudanese event as an illuminating example in world history of the period. Thousands of people from all over Sudan protested in the name of principles such as self-determination and the will of the Nation, and the right of citizens to choose their own destiny. Moreover, the movement that led it, the White Flag League, explicitly sought to include people from different backgrounds, statuses, professions, and religions, to counteract the colonial policy of reliance on ethnic affiliations and social hierarchies. Even though it was bloodily put down after only six months, the events of 1924 represent a revolutionary departure in the in the history of modern Sudan.

Keywords: Sudan, 1924 Revolution, anticolonial nationalism, memory, transnational movements, secret societies, repertoire of protest, social movements

The Events

At the end of the First World War, Sa‘d Zaghlūl, a seasoned moderate Egyptian politician, gathered a few of his associates for a meeting in Cairo with the British High Commissioner of Egypt, General Francis R. Wingate. The group expressed their desire to form a delegation—a wafd—that would travel to London and then on to Paris to plead for an end to the British protectorate over Egypt. When Britain made it clear that the protectorate would not be lifted, millions of Egyptians reacted by taking to the streets.1

The events in Egypt had immediate repercussions in Sudan, which had been an Anglo-Egyptian Condominium since 1899. It was a dominion of both Britain and Egypt, but in practice it was kept solidly under British authority. Egypt retained a number of powers and exerted an important influence there, however. Thousands of Egyptians worked in the Sudanese administration and in the military, as Sudan depended on the Egyptian Army, which in Sudan was composed of Sudanese and Egyptian battalions. For these reasons, the British were constantly worried about the possibility of Egyptian anticolonial nationalism’s “infecting” Sudan, but for as long as Egypt had been under British control, this danger had somehow been kept in check. Everything changed with the outbreak of the Egyptian revolution.

In July 1919, to offset any adverse political effects of the Egyptian revolution on Sudan, British administrators decided that it was time that some selected Sudanese expressed their support for Britain in an ostensible manner. They organized a delegation of ten Sudanese notables to London, accompanied by a cohort of young graduates, to meet King George V to congratulate him on Great Britain’s victory in the Great War and to praise British colonization for “assist[ing] in [Sudan’s] material and moral advancement.”2 This travel should not be seen so much as an act of subservience, but rather as a sign of the changing power balance and of the government need for the validation and support by its most crucial allies. The mission of the Sudanese delegation was vigorously condemned in the Egyptian press, however, and bitterly criticized in Sudan. In 1920, in an attempt to consolidate their image and take a position in the debate on nationalism, three members of the London delegation, who were considered to be the highest religious leaders—‘Alī al-Mīrghanī, the head of the tarīqa Khatimiyya, ‘Abd al-Raḥman al-Mahdī, the son and spiritual heir of the mahdī Muḥammad Aḥmad, and Sharīf Yūsif al-Hindī, the leader of the tarīqa Hindiyya—financed the first Sudanese political journal, Ḥaḍārat al-Sūdān (The Civilization of Sudan), edited by Ḥusayn Sharīf under British supervision.3

In 1922, meanwhile, continuing unrest, marches, demonstrations, and bloody clashes eventually led Great Britain to grant, unilaterally, a form of independence to Egypt. This independence was limited, however, by four “Reserved Points,” one of which was the status of Sudan. Zaghlūl and his Wafd party strongly opposed these conditions and, among other things, requested renegotiation of the Condominium Agreement. It should be noted that no Sudanese were invited to take part in these negotiations. After yet another period in exile, Zaghlūl was allowed to return to Egypt in 1923, and in January 1924, he was elected Prime Minister of Egypt, while his party obtained almost the 90% of the seats in Parliament.

The turmoil in Egypt and the negotiations on the status of Sudan had a direct impact on political life within Sudan. The debate on the country’s status prompted the polarization of Sudanese politics around two main orientations. The first supported the slogan “Sudan for the Sudanese” (sūdān lil-sūdāniyyin) and believed that Sudan should become independent from both Egypt and Britain. Because it was still unprepared for independence, however, it should remain under British tutelage for some years. The second faction, whose slogan was “Unity of the Nile Valley,” or waḥda wadī al-nīl, claimed that Sudan should unite with Egypt to achieve the “perfect unity of the Nile Valley” and the end of British colonization. This idea was endorsed by the most important secret society of the time, the Society of the Sudan Union (Jam‘iyyat al-Ittiḥādi al-Sūdān), which had been founded probably in 1921.

In 1922, Mulāzim Awwal (First Lieutenant) ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf attempted to publish an anti-colonial text in the journal al-Ḥaḍāra, in which he demanded complete independence for Sudan from both Egypt and Great Britain, with no tutelage. He was arrested and imprisoned for a year between 1922 and 1923. After his release, he decided to align with the pro-Egyptian faction.

The 1924 Revolution in SudanClick to view larger

Figure 1. Four of the Founders of the White Flag League, May 15, 1924. From left to right: ‘Ubayd al-Ḥājj al-Amīn, Ṣāliḥ ‘Abd al-Qādir, ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf, and Ḥassan Sharīf. Reproduced by kind permission of Amīna Bilāl Riziq, the wife of Zayn al-‘Ābdīn ‘Abd al-Tām.

Between 1923 and early 1924, he joined forces with two former members of the Society of the Sudan Union, ‘Ubayd al-Ḥājj al-Amīn and Ṣāliḥ ‘Abd al-Qādir, who had grown dissatisfied with the Society’s policies, which they considered to be too mild. Together with two employees of the Department of Post and Telegraphs, Ḥassan Sharīf and Ḥassan Ṣāliḥ al-Maṭbājī,4 the five formed the Jam‘iyyat al-Liwā’ al-Abyaḍ (the White Flag League) (Figure 1). Ex-officer ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf was selected to be the leader. The official founding date of the society may be considered to be May 15, 1924, the day on which they sent the first in a long series of protest telegrams.5

The White Flag League’s objective was to demonstrate openly and peacefully that the Sudanese nation supported the “Unity of the Nile Valley” and wanted independence from Britain. During the initial phase, their main activity consisted in collecting petitions of support to express the will of Sudanese people to be with Egypt. They also began sending telegrams to the Sudanese government and the Egyptian authorities. In June 1924, however, the White Flag broadened the scope of its activities, and decided to stage a series of demonstrations. This phase began on 14 June with the organization of a two-man delegation to travel to Cairo, composed of an Egyptian Army officer of Dinka origin named Zayn al-‘Ābdīn ‘Abd al-Tām, and Muḥammad al-Mahdī, an employee of the Irrigation Department and a son of the successor of the mahdī, the Khalīfa ‘Abdullāhi.6 The delegation, which was allegedly carrying letters of petitions for Egypt, was intercepted on a train between Khartoum and Wadi Halfa. On the return of Muḥammad al-Mahdī to Khartoum, a small demonstration was organized, but it was discovered and blocked by the British.7 On June 19, after the funeral of a beloved Egyptian ma’mūr (district officer) of Omdurman, the first large demonstration erupted, in support of Egypt.8 More demonstrations occurred in the following days. Even when the government declared demonstrations illegal after June 23, and the League stopped organizing them, supporters of the League continued to take to the streets autonomously, and demonstrations took place in Khartoum almost daily.9 Meanwhile, the movement began to spread beyond the capital; in the provinces, disaffected officers and officials were encouraged to form local political associations.

At the beginning of July, the British began a crackdown against the movement. On July 4, they arrested ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf. By the beginning of August, all its founders and most important members had been imprisoned, and a few others had been exiled to remote locations. The arrests provoked an intensification of the protests, however, and in Port Sudan, Ṣāliḥ ‘Abd al-Qādir, who was transferred there from Khartoum, set up a new branch of the League and began sending telegrams and organizing demonstrations. Upon his arrest, a series of demonstrations of increasing gravity shook the city, from July 27 to the middle of August.10 In Atbara, a stop between Port Sudan and Khartoum, Egyptian men from the Railways Battalion and Sudanese artisans began protesting. There, too, the situation became increasingly riotous; eventually, the police shot at protesters, and four of them died.11 While these events were occurring in Atbara, all 51 cadets of the Khartoum Military College decided, on August 9, to leave their barracks and demonstrate; all were arrested.12 One week later, perhaps the largest demonstration of 1924 was organized in Khartoum.13 Abortive demonstrations were also organized in smaller centers, such as Wad Medani and El Obeid.

In September, as the Anglo-Egyptian negotiations began, a tense calm reigned. Hundreds of activists had been arrested and were awaiting trial in inhumane conditions in Kober, the main prison in Khartoum North, which was overcrowded by this stage. In the meantime, more disturbances occurred in Wau and Malakal in Southern Sudan, although they were swiftly quelled.14 By October, the Anglo-Egyptian negotiations had broken down without reaching any satisfactory agreement. The atmosphere in Sudan remained overwrought, future developments were unclear, and the situation was at an impasse.

It was then that the climactic event of 1924 took place: on November 19, the Governor-General of Sudan, Sir Lee Stack, was assassinated in Cairo by Egyptian political extremists. In retaliation, the British High Commissioner of Egypt, Viscount Allenby, launched his famous ultimatum, in which he demanded the withdrawal of the Egyptian Army from Sudan. Evacuation orders were immediately carried out. On November 27, the 11th Sudanese battalion attempted to join Egyptian battalions gathered near the train station. The mutiny was led by six Sudanese officers: Sayyid Faraḥ, ‘Abd al-Faḍīl al-Māẓ, Ḥassan Faḍl al-Mūlā, ‘Alī al-Bannā, Sulaymān Muḥammad, and Thābit ‘Abd al-Raḥīm. They were stopped on their march by British troops led by Acting Governor-General Huddleston. When they refused to take orders from anybody but an Egyptian authority, Huddleston’s troops opened fire. A desperate two-day confrontation ensued, during which the mutinous officers and soldiers put up exceptional resistance, but the mutiny was eventually quashed. Sayyid Faraḥ managed to escape to Egypt, and ‘Abd al-Faḍīl al-Māẓ was killed in action. The other four were condemned to death. Three of them, Thābit ‘Abd al-Raḥīm, Ḥassan Faḍl al-Mūlā, and Sulaymān Muḥammad, were executed on December 5, 1924, and one, ‘Alī al-Bannā, was pardoned at the last minute.15

Nationalism in Sudan after the First World War: Transnational Perspectives

The nationalist movement that blossomed in Sudan after the First World War has long been considered a sort of by-product of either Egyptian or British machinations, or the struggle between the two co-domini, all the more so because the White Flag League was not asking for the independence of Sudan but for unity with Egypt. Some historians considered that the movement was not truly representative of the Sudanese and was mostly an Egyptian import.16 In contrast to this approach, this section returns the 1924 Revolution to a broader transnational perspective and casts light on the peculiarities of the “global moment” of anticolonial nationalism at the end of the First World War.

After the Great War, the colonial world was swept by a wind of political unrest of such intensity that the period deserves to be called the “spring of the colonial nations.” It would be impossible to offer a comprehensive list of these anticolonial nationalist disturbances; a few examples will have to suffice.17 Besides Sudan, these include the Egyptian Revolution of 1919, the Great Iraqi Revolt of 1920, the Great Syrian Revolt between 1925 and 1927, and last but not least, the wars from 1919 to 1923 that led to the creation of the independent Republic of Turkey.18 Moving eastwards, in 1920, Gandhi launched the movement of the Ahimsaa, and in 1922, millions of Koreans protested against the Japanese occupation in the name of Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination.19 In Europe, the Irish Free State became independent in 1922, after a bloody war of liberation. In Africa, the National Congress of British West Africa was formed in Accra, in 1920, to ask for reforms for the Gold Coast;20 in Kenya, in 1921, Harry Thuku founded the Young Kikuyu Association (to be renamed the East African Association), demanding more political rights for Kenyans.21

While recognizing the heterogeneity of these episodes, which varied from elite groups with little contact with the rest of the population—as in Ghana—to mass movements that included millions of protesters—as in Egypt—and in spite of the entirely different contexts, there is no doubt that these movements shared an isomorphic transnational language:22 they asserted that the inhabitants of the colonies were national citizens with a right to self-determination; that they had to become masters of their own destiny, both political and economic; and that they, and not their colonial rulers, knew best how to protect the interests of their own people.

The “spring of the colonial nations” was triggered by the political opportunities that opened up after the Great War as a consequence of the historical conjuncture that saw the Russian revolution of 1917, with its theory of international revolution, the enunciation of Wilson’s Fourteen Points, and the birth of the League of Nations. In this context, nationalism became a powerful resource of political mobilization and gave people who were dissatisfied with colonial and semi-colonial situations a particularly powerful toolkit of ideas, strategies, and structures for political action. The outcome of the Great War transformed the way in which the relations between colonial subjects and colonial powers were framed. When anticolonial activists asked for self-determination, they were able to make the point that they were merely demanding what was by now an established principle of international relations. Wilson’s Fourteen Points and, after he had left the scene, the creation of the League of Nations, reinforced the sense that a new international order was in place.23

Sudanese activists were exposed to these anticolonial winds in various ways: first, through the Egyptian press; second, by reading or hearing about political materials that had been smuggled into Sudan and were being spread through the postal service; and finally, through interactions with other radicals. This allowed them to appropriate for themselves forms of protest that had been circulating in different places of the world for decades, such as setting up secret societies, sending circulars and petitions to international authorities, and organizing demonstrations. The transnational nature of this repertoire is described here.

Wires, Newspapers, and Politics

Nationalist ideas did not circulate in thin air: they were carried by people, by the telegraph, and by newspapers. They crossed oceans and continents, spreading unevenly and yet ubiquitously. One of the most important technological innovations of the 19th Century, the telegraph wire, prompted the time-space compression of political intelligence.24 This was an advantage not only for the imperial powers, but also for anticolonial nationalist movements. Indeed, one of the repercussions of this time-space compression was the way it affected the political press. In Sudan, although the only vernacular paper, Ḥaḍārat al-Sūdān, was close to the colonial government, it carried occasional references to the international situation. The real window on anticolonial struggles abroad was, however, the Egyptian press. A number of 1924 activists recounted that they were avid readers of Egyptian newspapers: for example, Port Sudan activist Aḥmad Ṣabrī Zāyd recalled that “We were influenced by the Egyptian revolution of 1919, and we read a lot about that, and we learnt that Egypt and Sudan should be like a united body. We used to read Egyptian newspapers continuously.”25

The crucial point here is that the Egyptian press not only fed Sudanese readers with news about international anticolonial events, but also offered a way to interpret them. For example, the Gezira scheme, a large irrigation scheme whose planning was under way in Sudan during this period, was described not as an agricultural project, but as a capitalist, imperialist scheme, developed to steal resources from the Sudanese.26 Moreover, news bounced back and forth from one newspaper to the other: for instance, Egyptian radicals wrote articles—read by Sudanese—in which they praised international militants for certain anticolonial activities in places like India, Ireland, and so on.27 In this way, Sudanese were exposed through the Egyptian press to a flow of international anticolonial discourses.

It is no coincidence that four of the five founders of the White Flag League were, or had been, employees of the colonial department of the Post and Telegraph. In their capacity as wire and telephone operators, with access to a technology that made news move extremely fast, but also as civil servants and officers who were frequently transferred from one administrative center to another, they carried subversive news and concepts with them. The time-space compression of political intelligence provides a partial explanation of why anticolonial nationalism in Sudan reached not only large and central cities, but also peripheral medium to small provincial centers so rapidly.

Delegations, Petitions, and Circulars

One of the most important forms of political protest after the Great War was the formation of delegations by politicians who considered themselves as representatives of the nation. This form of protest took shape during the various peace conferences organized after the Great War. The fact that some delegations had been admitted to the peace conferences, and that the countries they represented had subsequently succeeded in being granted independence had such an impact on the political imagination of the time that delegations became one of the modular forms of nationalist protests virtually everywhere, as evidenced by the delegation of two Sudanese who attempted to travel to Egypt to present a bagful of signed petitions. It is no coincidence that Zaghlūl’s party was called “the Delegation” (the Wafd).28

Sudanese people had very limited opportunities to travel abroad, however, and yet they took from the concept of “delegation” the idea that it was necessary to become visible and to express their national demands to international constituencies. As they could not travel, they sought to make their words heard internationally by collecting pro-Egyptian petitions, sending articles to the Egyptian press, and later, during 1924, sending political telegrams.

Another form of political protest in Sudan, typical of the period between 1919 and 1923, consisted of the spread of anonymous circulars and letters. One historian, Gafaar Bakheit, has called this phase the era of “patriotism by post.”29 These included letters to leading Sudanese notables, circulars posted or scattered across the main urban centers of northern Sudan, and anti-British pamphlets. They were sent by mail, in the form of personal letters, or hung in public places. Even though the majority of people in Sudan were not able to read and write, the hung leaflets would be read by those who could and repeated to others. If they were received in the form of letters, the recipient, if he were interested, could talk about them to a circle of friends and intimates. They were carried by merchants, ex-officers, and civil servants. They were printed in Khartoum or smuggled through Egypt. As Ḥaḍārat al-Sūdān offered no space for anti-British articles, anti-colonial activists were left with little choice but to write their own clandestine circulars. According to one witness, their frequency dramatically increased in the years between 1919 and 1923: “not a single day passes without civilians receiving circulars about colonial intrigues and despotism.”30 Two recurring topics were denunciations of British machinations and the importance of joining forces with Egypt. In May 1921, for example, a pamphlet signed by “the Society to Promote the Deliverance of the Country” condemned the Gezira scheme as exploitative and alerted the Sudanese to its “development under British auspices or with British capital.”31 In January 1921, a pamphlet incited a “revolt against the British Government in Egypt and the Sudan.”32 It is worth noting that the texts that have been recovered never pleaded for the fusion of Egypt and Sudan, but rather for a joint struggle against the common enemy.

Secret Societies

Organization of secret societies is another aspect of this isomorphic political repertoire. In the period between 1919 and 1923, in Sudan, their structure reveals striking similarities with secret societies working elsewhere. In 1924, the White Flag League was largely inspired by them, albeit with important differences.

The best-known secret society from this period is the Society of the Sudan Union.33 It operated through a system of hierarchically organized cells, the members of which who were not among the leadership were not supposed to know who belonged to other parallel, inferior, or superior cells. Colonial and oral records have revealed, however, that there was a plurality of nebulous secret societies, though information about them is scarce.34 The only partial exception is a secret society based in Wad Medani that was mostly composed of officers, and of which ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf was apparently a member.35 The very nature of secret societies at the time—highly volatile, fissiparous, and mutually porous, with participation in one not excluding membership of another—contributes to the blurriness of the picture. For instance, it is possible that ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf belonged to both the Medani society and the Khartoum Sudan Union.36

British officers believed that Sudanese secret societies were the result of Egyptian political infection; there is little doubt, in fact, that some Egyptians working in Sudan were not only strongly anti-British, but also had their own political associations. For instance, future Egyptian Free Officer Muḥammad Najīb—who took power briefly in 1952, before Jamāl ’Abd al-Nāṣir—served in the Egyptain Army in Sudan during his youth and recalled in his memories: “I made contact with our secret society [in Khartoum] again, and started to write leaflets addressed to Sudanese politicians and leaders, staying up late at night to distribute them.”37 It is likely that Sudanese activists learned a great deal from their Egyptian colleagues. Secret societies were widespread in Egypt as a type of political organization: the special bureau that dealt with secret societies, created in Egypt after the assassination of Buṭrus Ghālī in 1909, discovered no fewer than twenty-six.38

Far from being specific to the Egyptian or Sudanese contexts, they blossomed in a number of countries that were characterized by political repression and colonization, such as Greater Syria, Iraq, China, and India.39 Although they have not been the subject of any systematic comparative study, one anecdote clearly shows the circulation of this type of militant organization. According to the Rowlatt Committee Report on unrest in India, published in 1918, during the arrest of Indian radicals in London, authorities discovered a copy of Thomas Frost’s Secret Societies of European Revolution, 1776–1876.40 The book was viewed as a user’s manual for secret societies and was an essential text for Indian and Egyptian nationalists in exile. Its 660 pages are dedicated entirely to the history and organization of secret societies in Europe and Russia. It is possible that this work was also the inspiration for the organization of secret societies in Egypt, and it reached Sudan indirectly in this way.41

The Organization and Spread of the National Movement

On May 15, 1924, the five founding leaders of the White Flag League sent their first protest telegram, and the first demonstration was organized about a month later. On July 4, 1924, ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf was arrested. The imprisonment of the League members continued throughout July, and by the end of the month the League had been dismantled. Herein lies one of the most visible paradoxes of 1924: the largest demonstration and the most critical events, from the riots in Port Sudan and Atbara, to the demonstration by the cadets of the military school and the great demonstration of Khartoum, to the mutiny of November 1924, all occurred after the League proper had been eradicated. The second enigmatic element is the speed with which the movement spread to the provinces, and the number of centers involved, including (besides the major urban centers of Khartoum, Port Sudan, El Obeid, Wad Medani, and Atbara) a wealth of medium or small towns and hamlets (i.e., Berber, Shendi, Dilling, El Dueim, El Fasher, El Nuhud, Hassahissa, Malakal, Umm Ruwaba, Hillet Shiqayla, Khashem el Girba, Renk, Taqali, and so on).42 The key to this riddle must be sought in two places: the structure of the organization and the way it functioned, which is the focus of this section, and the forms and repertoires of protest, which are the subject of the next one.

Inside and Outside the White Flag League

The first element to be noted is that only a small number of the people who participated in protests were White Flag League members. In Khartoum, for example, among the 302 people who were seen by the Intelligence Department participating in some form of protest, only 59 were known as members of the White Flag League.43 For instance, none of the 51 cadets who demonstrated on August 8 were League members, nor were any of the officers who mutinied in November. Similarly, in El Obeid, only one of the many activists who came to the attention of the Department of Intelligence was a known “agent” of the League.44 It is precisely this definition of League members as agents that should put us on the right track.

A second important element to observe is the composition of the leadership of the White Flag League.

The 1924 Revolution in SudanClick to view larger

Figure 2. List of White Flag Members, 1924. Photo taken by the author in ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf’s family home in Thawra, Omdurman, on February 28, 2005, by permission of Durriyya ‘Abdallāh Rīḥān, grand-daughter of ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf and al-‘Āzza Muḥammad ‘Abdallāh

It is possible to find the names of the first members of the League in a private document that was recovered by the wife of ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf, al-‘Āzza Muḥammad ‘Abdallāh (Figure 2).45

The first committee, formed by the five founders of the League, was composed as seen by civil servants of the Post and Telegraph Department, with the exception of ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf, who was a discharged military officer. The second committee, which was to act on behalf of the first in case they were arrested, had a far more heterogeneous composition: it included two telephone operators, a religious man from a notable Northern Sudanese family—described as unemployed, a carpenter—depicted by the British as a person “of no standing or position”—and finally the contractor for the canteen of the 9th Battalion of the Egyptian army, who was probably of Southern Sudanese origin.46

From the start, therefore, the League included men from different professional backgrounds and social classes, with government employees being in a slight majority, but with a strong working class element as well. If one looks at the backgrounds of the people who were members of the League and who were arrested for leading demonstrations, the working class component is even more visible, including people with professions such as carpenter, tailor, and small merchant.47 Only men were accepted into the League. The participation of women in politics was seen to be premature or even downright inappropriate. Some women did participate in 1924, but from home, for instance by sewing flags or concealing documents for their absent revolutionary husbands, brothers, and friends.48 The only exception was al-‘Āzza, the wife of ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf, recorded as the first woman to have participated to a political demonstration.49

Membership in the League was restricted, and rules for exclusion and inclusion were drawn up. For example, when Ṭayyib Bābikr created his own branch in Shendi, he agreed with his companions on “the number of members and the oath to be sworn.”50 To become a member of the White Flag League, a candidate had to swear an oath.51 By making this pledge, he accepted the risk of being arrested and losing his job, and he consented to dedicating himself entirely to the activities of the League. Secrecy was essential, as many activists attested to in their recollections, and breaking their oath was considered so dishonorable that some took their secrets to their graves, as the present author discovered when interviewing their families. Members of the League trusted no one and did not disclose their plans to anyone unless they had taken the oath.52

At all demonstrations and protests, however, League members worked—and were arrested—side by side with activists who were not members of the League. This was the case, for instance, at the demonstration of June 26. The British had issued an ordinance prohibiting demonstrations in Khartoum, and in line with its strategy of abiding by the law, the White Flag League had stopped calling for demonstrations. Nevertheless, among the people arrested was the carpenter who belonged to the second committee mentioned together with people who were not members.53 This becomes understandable if one takes account of the fact that the League’s main objective was to convince as many people as possible to join the struggle against colonial rule. As such, the first task of members was to trigger protests. Some members led demonstrations; others organized them behind the scenes—notably the five founders of the League; others scattered and sent political circulars, gathered colonial intelligence, or contacted other groups to spread the protest further afield. With this aim in mind, the League sought to include people from different backgrounds, so that it could target the widest possible spectrum of social groups. Last but not least, everybody had to agree to be held accountable for their political actions. This is the essential distinction from societies of the period before 1924: even though it was structured as a secret society, the League’s members agreed to be visible to the authorities, which made imprisonment a certainty for them.

The League deliberately avoided granting membership to certain people who needed to remain safe for strategic reasons. Typically, officers of the Egyptian Army were kept outside the League, and with few exceptions, the association included only discharged officers. As an officer put it in an interview, “soldiers are not allowed to know about politics . . . because army laws forbid officers and soldiers from constituting or participating in political societies.”54 Other people kept outside were notables, mamurs, or well-off traders.55 The latter were very important for the smuggling of political materials from Egypt to Sudan, and more rarely for funding the movement.

For the League, the objective of spreading unrest was best served not by its own expansion, but by igniting a spark among other groups, riding on the back of the frustrations different social constituencies were feeling towards colonial rule. To achieve this objective, there was one final task associated with being a member: to spread the anticolonial cause by creating new circles of protesters. This explains both the geographical spread of unrest and the limited number of members of the League: the League decentralized unrest. By delegating the organization of protest to other organizations of a different scale and type, the League’s founders ensured the survival of the movement beyond their own arrest. By creating a system of delocalized and decentralized organizations, they were more efficient at reaching different geographical areas and co-opting dissimilar socio-professional communities.

Branches

The organizations created by agents of the League were of very different types, from small and ineffective committees to fully-fledged branches of the League. This depended on a number of factors, such as their success in co-opting a certain group of people and the level of repression they encountered. Small branches, as in Shendi, were able to spread because they were not repressed, while large political associations remained passive because of very high levels of repression, as was the case in El Obeid and Wad Medani.56

There are many examples of the way the League’s agents prompted the formation or reactivation of political associations. Ṭayyib Bābikr, one of the early members of the White Flag League in Khartoum, set up a new branch of the League in Shendi, where he lived.57 The disturbances that broke out in Port Sudan, after the end of June, were provoked by the creation of a branch of the League by Ṣāliḥ ‘Abd al-Qādir. In both locations, the leaders replicated the organization of the White Flag League in Khartoum by creating a first committee and a second, shadow committee.58 In the majority of cases, however, groups of activists did not replicate the League structure, but established their own operating methods, bylaws, and structures. Finally, there was no relationship of subordination between these associations and the League in Khartoum, because the Khartoum branch was dismantled at a very early stage.

In some cases, League agents were sent to work among societies that pre-existed the League. This continuity is well documented by memories of activists in El Obeid and Wad Medani.59 Above all, the arrival of agents meant that protest techniques were transferred. The case of El Obeid show a detailed case of how a provincial association began redefining its bylaws, modifying its rules of inclusion and exclusion of members, and so forth. Activists there also planned demonstrations, sent protest telegrams, collected petitions, and involved individuals from different socio-economic backgrounds.

Finally, another type of branch that should be mentioned was based on occupation. Although it is impossible to know the details of these associations as the research currently stands, there were two main organizations in Khartoum that were either created by League members or had existed previously but worked in close contact with the League. The first was a totally secret society composed of army officers, known emblematically as the Society of the Sudan Union, not to be confused with the organization that had been active in Khartoum before 1924.60 A list of members was discovered by the Intelligence Service in late August, and it is very likely that the officers who organized the November mutiny were members. The second association was known as the Workmen’s League, but its organization and structure are unknown.61 These societies reflected the social composition of protesters in Khartoum: the three principal sections of society that participated in protests were civil servants, army officers, and urban workers.

To conclude, the spread of political agitation in 1924 functioned through an underground network of agents whose aim was to spread the movement. In some cases they created, and in others revived, a constellation of political associations based in the provinces that were sometimes organized along professional lines, but worked independently from the League. This explains the significant discrepancy between the limited number of White Flag members and the hundreds of people noted in the records of the British Intelligence Department: being a member of one of these associations did not necessarily mean being a member of the White Flag League, taking its oath, or obeying its by-laws. The League’s accomplishment was that it prompted the creation of dozens of different political groups, which survived the breakdown of the League after July.

The lasting heritage of the League can be read at other levels as well: first, it marked the beginning of the politicization of new and larger strata of Sudanese population, as non-elite elements began to claim their right to participate in the major political decisions of their country. Second, as Kurita has remarked, various former members of the League would later resume their political careers, most joining radical parties.62 They made decisive contributions to an important but overlooked intellectual heritage in Sudan, based on an idea of a unity in diversity, but from below, carried by non-elite social elements.

Repertoire of Protest

The second element that is essential for an understanding the broad spread of the unrest is the League’s protest strategy. Roughly speaking, protest was made visible in two ways: by telegrams and by demonstrations. Although they differed as to their form and the recipients to whom they were addressed, they shared the same objectives: to express the desire of the Sudanese nation to unite with Egypt, and to reveal the evils of colonialism. In this sense, the arrests of League members must also be considered to be a protest strategy. All of this cast light on the movement’s ideology, which was expressed not only in the words of the telegrams but—perhaps more powerfully—in non-textual messages such as demonstrations and arrests.

There has been a revival of interest in the power of emotions to move people in the sociology of social movement.63 One of the fundamental targets of any political movement, in particular those that develop in situations of oppression, is to convince people to participate in it, even at great personal risk. This framework is particularly pertinent to the 1924 Revolution. The question of feelings is pervasive in the narratives of participants and supporters alike, as well as in the texts written by the League. As one League supporter put it, reflecting on the youth of 1924, “their feelings for demanding their rights was great.”64 Activists relate that they experienced shock, fear, and anxiety on witnessing British repression, followed by a sense of solidarity, pride, and empowerment from their participation in demonstrations. This theme recurs in the telegrams and circulars that were sent at the time, which stated that the Sudanese wished to express their “feelings of loyalty” for Egypt and their country. Therefore, instead of describing the practices of protest, I shall proceed the other way around, and start with the emotions the League sought to arouse among the Sudanese.

Solidarity and Empowerment

The League strove mightily to convince Sudanese people that they were equal to, if not better than, the British, that they should not accept being humiliated or intimidated by them, and that they should stand up for their rights. “Every [Sudanese] should realize that he is as important as any Englishman on earth, and wherever he meets an Englishman, he should show him as much by his conduct” recited one circular.65 From the League’s viewpoint, the events that represented the moments when people fought the humiliation of the colonial situation and demanded more rights were demonstrations. To use the words of Gelvin, they were ceremonies of the masses that simultaneously celebrated “individuals in society both as they [were] and as they ought to be.”66

Demonstrations were intended to be dramatic events, for both participants and spectators. Visual accounts of how demonstrations were run are lacking, with the exception of the cadets’ demonstration, which is worth describing in some detail.67 In the early morning, the cadets announced their demonstration to the authorities. Their march was orderly and peaceful, and they halted several times. They went to the home of ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf and later to Kober, his prison, to honor him as the leader of the revolution; they went to the train station, which was very crowded at that hour, to ensure that the news would be spread by people leaving the city (Figure 3). They moved on to colonial buildings such as the Governor-General’s palace, to express their opposition to colonization. Finally, they marched to cheer the Egyptian battalions stationed in Khartoum North, to show their loyalty to Egypt. Every act was charged with symbolism.

The 1924 Revolution in SudanClick to view larger

Figure 3. The Parade of the Cadets of the Military School, August 8, 1924. Durham Archive, W. J. R. Andrews collection, SAD. 1/21/14.

The very number of people taking part communicated a visually powerful message. With the exception of the first large demonstration of June 19, others that were staged in the same month were composed of a few hundred people, and yet by their frequency, they shook the spectators and stimulated a great deal of discussion, as witnessed by the angry articles in al-Ḥaḍāra.68 The August demonstrations in both Khartoum and the provinces, however, were much larger. In Port Sudan, the demonstration held on July 27 was made up of approximately 1,000 people, a sizeable number for a city of only about 15,000.69 At the demonstration in Atbara, the British authorities counted 500 civilians and 120 soldiers, but the city was much smaller than Port Sudan.70 The largest demonstration was held in Khartoum on the afternoon of August 15, one week after the demonstration of the Military School cadets, and according to the authorities it brought out between 2,000 and 3,000 protesters.71

Finally, demonstrations were also dramatic events for their outcomes. They always ended with people being arrested; in many cases, there were small clashes either with the police or with the ansār (followers) sent by sayyid ‘Abd al-Raḥman al-Mahdī. With the exception of Atbara and the final mutiny in November, there were no fatalities, but people were beaten with sticks and swords, sometimes quite badly, as in Khartoum on June 23 and in Port Sudan on August 10.

Indeed, these peaceful demonstrations challenged the image of the Sudanese as minor, passive subjects, as the colonizers portrayed them. One can make a parallel with the Indian non-cooperation movement and the ahimsaa (non violence), which was popularized by Gandhi for the first time in 1920, and later epitomized by the Salt march of 1930. Stories narrated by 1924 participants give evidence that they were well aware of what had happened in India, and Gandhi’s strategies of activism represented another powerful example for them.72 In Sudan as well, the aim of the demonstrations was to induce solidarity, dignity, and unity by presenting the Sudanese as active citizens who were aware of their political rights and ready to struggle for them within the limits of what was legally acceptable. For the British, there was something dangerous and subversive in this mass of people demanding their rights. Their lack of preparedness to accept the Sudanese as responsible citizens is clear from the derogatory language consistently used to describe the protesting masses, as in the following quote: “a rabble of nobodies, led by shady characters and followed by naughty little boys.”73

Moral Outrage and Shock

The short life of the White Flag League as an association has been seen by various historians as evidence of its political immaturity. This viewpoint does not take account, however, of the fact that imprisonment may have been a conscious political strategy, with the objective of arousing insupportable emotions and pushing people to take to the streets and act. Sociologist James Jasper writes: “activists work hard to create moral outrage and anger and to provide a target against which these can be vented.”74 He also makes the point that moral affront and feelings of injustice are different from grievances such as the forms of deprivation that may induce people to take part in a protest.

Indeed, denouncing illegal imprisonments after demonstrations or other actions the activists considered to be legal—shouting for King Fu’ād, signing telegrams, and so on—was an important strategy for the White Flag League. This is clear from many testimonies, such as that of ‘Alī Malāsī, one of the protagonists of the agitations in Port Sudan: “we worked like that: we demonstrated and after the British beat us and arrested us, we sent protest telegrams.”75 A study of the spread of demonstrations from Khartoum to the provinces reveals that there was a real feedback between imprisonments and demonstrations in a number of locations: in Atbara, for instance, people began demonstrating to protest against the “illegal” arrest of Ṣāliḥ ‘Abd al-Qādir, whom they tried to meet during his stop in Atbara while he was being sent from Port Sudan to Khartoum prison. In Port Sudan, the number of demonstrations increased after his arrest, more imprisonments followed, which in turn prompted more demonstrations; and the city literally fell into the hands of the demonstrators for a dozen days, to the point where order was only restored by sending a warship.

The importance of arrests as a strategy lies in their expressive capacity and symbolic meaning. People were not simply being arrested. They were sacrificing themselves for the nation. By allowing themselves to be arrested, the League’s members wanted to make clear who was the villain of the piece, and to make people recognize that British colonization was an illegal and violent rule.

The Telegrams of the White Flag League

The Form: Expressing Justice to a Transnational Public

The telegrams sent by the White Flag are a hallmark of the 1924 Revolution and deserve to have a section dedicated to them alone. They lay at the core of the League’s strategy, as shown in the statement by ‘Alī Malāsī. For the historian, telegrams are also an invaluable source because they are the only surviving material written by White Flag League members while the events were taking place.

This form of protest differed because it did not so much target the Sudanese as it did an imagined international community that had to protect Sudanese interests. This connects to the earlier discussion on nationalism as a transnational force and international relations “from below”: Sudanese activists sent telegrams (and demonstrated) because they believed that someone out there would hear them and help them, as after the war, the masses of the “oppressed nations” had suddenly become a force that carried weight in international diplomacy.76 This was particularly important during the Anglo-Egyptian negotiations over Sudan, to which no Sudanese representatives were invited. Indeed, the overwhelming majority of telegrams were sent to the Egyptian parliament, the Egyptian press syndicate, and the Governor-General of Sudan, in order to assist Egypt in the negotiations. Moreover, by addressing the Egyptian press syndicate, the nationalists hoped to reach the Egyptian and other international public opinions. Their idea was that the Egyptian press would galvanize its readers in favor of Sudan by publishing Sudanese telegrams, and this in turn would put pressure on Egyptian politicians to continue engaging with the Sudan question.

Around mid-August, when the level of repression became too great, the activists stopped writing telegrams signed in their own name and resorted to the protest strategies that were used in the period before 1924, which consisted of anonymous petitions and circulars. Thus, the sending of telegrams was a distinctive characteristic of the White Flag League, and only members of the League wrote and sent them.77

There were a number of reasons, both practical and symbolic in nature, why the 1924 protesters chose telegrams as a medium of protest. In the first place, telegrams were a relatively easy and safe way of expressing political discontent, not least because no law explicitly prohibited them, and they could sometimes be sent free of charge with the help of other employees of the Post and Telegram Department who sympathized with, or were members of, the movement. Second, as the historian Watenpaugh has remarked, this kind of communication was particularly effective at bypassing spatial and social hierarchies.78 The ordinary Sudanese had little or no opportunity to communicate with the British authorities if they wished to do so, or to travel to Egypt and meet ministers. Finally, as the historian Nickles has noted in his work on the impact of the telegraph on international diplomacy, “because of such characteristics as expensiveness, rapidity, and association with scientific progress,” telegrams also expressed the modernity of their senders.79 Nickles’ work focuses on Europe, but his observation carries even greater weight in the colonial context. By using the same medium of communication as that favored by international diplomacy at the time, the nationalists were making a statement that they were “modern enough” to participate in the arena of international politics, from which the Sudanese had been systematically excluded.

Content: A Dramatic Struggle for the Nation

In their highly emotional vocabulary, the telegrams imagined the relationship of the Sudanese with colonialism as a form of dramatic struggle between the activists and colonial rule. The topic of the dramatic injustice imposed on the Sudanese by colonial rule is perhaps the most pervasive theme in these texts, including petitions sent after August. Two examples, which are draft colonial translations of Arabic originals that are now lost, are examined. Both are taken from telegrams sent to Egypt:

24.6.1924: Whilst the officer Zein el Abdin was taking a picture of the demonstration he was arrested and imprisoned. We protest against this and against the imprisonment of four employees, and the beating of those who were shouting “Long live the King of Egypt and the Sudan” by swords.80

30.6.1924: The peaceable demonstrators have been tried and sentenced to six months for shouting long live the King—It is an insult and it would please us [sic], and we the people of the Sudan shall wait to see how and when the noble Egyptian nation would come forward to wash it.81

In contrast, the nationalists depicted themselves as the positive alter ego of the colonial rulers. Demonstrations by nationalists were “peaceful,” they were “strong washouts [sic] but . . . in good order.”82 The nationalists were “liberals,” and their actions “legal,” “lawful,” non-violent, and harmless (such as shouting and taking pictures). It was unjust, the telegrams maintained, to arrest somebody merely for shouting or taking pictures of a demonstration in the street: “The persecution of our principles, and imprisonment of our brethren who express our feelings is an encroachment on our rights, which we are claiming by legal and peaceful means—and we did not expect you would obstruct us in doing this.”83 Thus, the telegrams played on the contrast between the peaceful initiatives of the nationalists and the “acts of terror” and “persecutions” of the colonizers.84

The texts often evoked an imagined international community of European powers, whose task was to safeguard the principles of universal justice. The “civilized nations” of Europe were portrayed as being shocked and horrified by the injustices of the British colonizers. For example, after the arrest of ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Latīf, one telegram warned the British that they would be “held responsible before the European Governments for his arrest.”85 Another stated “Let the advanced European nations bear witness to their treatment of humanity in the 20th Century.”86 The texts established a parallel between the lawfulness and morality of the Sudanese nationalists and the lawfulness and morality of the international community, compared with the immoral and unlawful actions of “uncivilized” Britain. They portrayed the Sudanese activists as being a part of the modern world of high politics, sharing the same political language and belonging to the same international political and moral system that espoused the concept of the right to national self-determination.

The telegrams painted the national struggle in intensely ethical terms. Another common theme of the texts is that independent of its outcome, the struggle itself was already a form of liberation. It represented a chance for every individual to become a patriot, a martyr for his country, and as such a true human being and national citizen, as here: “Our dignity will not permit us to be bought and sold like animals who have no voice in their disposal.”87 Colonization was a condition that limited not only a person’s freedom, but also his or her humanity.

Sacrifice is another pervasive topic in these texts, especially after the first wave of arrests. The nationalists depicted themselves as a sacrificed generation who had given themselves to the national struggle. For instance, a telegram praised “the flower of young men . . . sentenced to three years’ imprisonment by the tyrannical power.”88 Just as the nationalists had sacrificed themselves, they called on the people to do the same.

From what has been seen up to this point, that there is something different from the League’s nationalist discourse compared with that of other versions of nationalism, in particular those rooted in the idea that nations were an expression of an “ethnos,” of one people. Although Sudan was emphatically described as a nation, what remained rather vague was what really made it one. In particular, the theme of the Sudanese as Arabs and the topic of ancestry were conspicuous by their absence. Instead, the texts insisted on the importance of overcoming all types of differences and working together: “Pay no attention to your races or religions, do not be traitors, do not be spies, but be united like brothers.”89 For the 1924 activists, the origins of Sudan were not to be found in the past, but were being created in and through the present. What united people was a sort of anti-colonial humanism: the idea that every human being and every nation deserved to be free, that such freedom had to be fought for, and that the nation itself would be born in this struggle.

The final point to be discussed is the topic of unity between Egypt and Sudan. The texts describe Sudan as a part of the Nile Valley, and unity with Egypt was seen as natural on the basis of two main arguments: the cultural ties between the two countries (based on their common religion, language, and history) and Egypt’s responsibility for Sudan within the framework of their common struggle. What is puzzling, however, is that the argument of ties between the two was not taken very far, and these texts always portrayed Sudan as a nation distinct from Egypt. Instead, the argument raised in many telegrams was that Egypt had a moral responsibility for Sudan. The subtlety of this argument was that it pushed Egypt into an ethical impasse. The telegrams called on Egypt to help and support Sudan because the Sudanese had entrusted Egypt with the responsibility of representing their interests, as in this example: “the whole Egyptian nation is responsible before History for any calamity that befalls the servants of the Egyptian Crown, wherever they are found.”90

This is significant in the light of the reconceptualization of nationalism in the 1920s. The Egyptians did not manipulate the Sudanese intelligentsia to take action; the reverse was true, or at least this is what the 1924 activists tried to achieve. Egypt had already obtained many victories in its battle against the British, and in the Anglo-Egyptian negotiations the Sudan question was becoming burdensome. League members therefore depicted the situation in dramatic tones, to trap Egyptian politicians in a moral bind, to move the Egyptian masses and press so that they would push politicians to intervene, so that “complete independence [may] come for Egypt and the Sudan.”91

Sources, Historiography and . . . Race

In the eyes of many families of 1924 activists, the 1924 revolution was lost in two different ways. The first was politically, because it was heavily repressed and eventually bloodily crushed, and the kind of nationalism that the White Flag League was proposing was brought to a brutal halt. In the words of Baily, the Deputy Governor of Khartoum, “there is only one thing to do with people whose mentality is so constituted as is that of the people of this country, and that is—when individuals give trouble, to hit and hit and go on hitting,” and this is what the British did.92 However, the revolution was also lost in another way: that is, in the memory. Even though there have been different phases of the “history of the memory” of 1924 in the 20th century, with some political regimes putting more effort into recovering it than others, the 1924 revolution always seems to be on the brink of being forgotten, relegated to the status of a minor event in the history of the country. In other words, it has never really become a stable element of the national master narrative.

A few excellent works on 1924 do exist, such as those by Jafaar Bakheit, Hasan Abdin, and Aḥmad Ibrāhīm Diyāb, and in particular the groundbreaking work on ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf by Yoshiko Kurita,93 but they do not seem to have challenged the prevalent take on the events of 1924. If we consider one of the classics, Holt and Daly’s A History of the Sudan, which is the first essential reading for anyone who is interested in Sudanese history, the verdict is clear. After narrating the events of 1924, the authors conclude: “The White Flag League and its shadowy counterparts had a very limited appeal, and were composed mainly of minor officials and ex-officers.”94 According to another important historian of modern Sudan, Gabriel Warburg, “the leaders of the White Flag League had little support outside the small and politically immature intelligentsia and the handful of Sudanese Army Officers who founded it.”95 As for Sudanese historians, there is a significant gap between the nationalist and left-wing historiography, which includes authors such as Mohamed Omer Beshir and Muḥammad Sayyid al-Qaddāl, who considered 1924 to be a crucial event in the march to independence and the first manifestation of a sort of working-class consciousness,96 and another kind of nationalist historiography that does not conceal its hostility towards the events of 1924. Not only do they consider the activists of 1924 as immature politicians, but they also claim that they were responsible for a negative turn in the history of the country.97 It is interesting to compare this with a third strand of historiography made up of historians from Southern Sudan, who consider that 1924 has been downplayed and neglected because of racism on the part of the Northern Sudanese intelligentsia.98 Their argument is that this history has been forgotten because the movement was led by slave descendants such as ‘Alī’ Abd al-Laṭīf. It is probably this question that lies at the heart of the “memory problem of 1924.”

It must be said that the nationalist movements that spread in the African continent after the First World War generally suffer from the same lack of recognition, including Chilembwe’s “protonationalism” in Malawi, or the East African Association of Harry Thuku.99 However, some of the reasons why 1924 has not been taken seriously by historiography are specific to the dramatic history of 20th century Sudan: the politics of representation in the North that define any southern genealogy as a sign of social inferiority; the failure of the Northern Sudanese to acknowledge the demands of the Southerners; the identity struggle between a north that sees itself as a part of the Arab world and an “African” south, and consequently the explosion of one of the most murderous civil wars on the African continent (1962–1972; 1983–2005; with the Darfur crisis exploding in 2003).

The argument that the nationalist movement failed because of the slave ancestry of its participants is as old as the revolution itself. A Sudanese contributor to the journal Ḥadārat al-Sūdān in June 1924 scornfully commented that “low is the nation if it can be led by ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf.”100 ‘Alī’s father was originally from the Nuba Mountains and was captured as a slave during Turco-Egyptian rule, and ‘Alī’s mother was originally from the Dinka, in Southern Sudan. Besides ‘Alī, several of the mutinous officers of the Egyptian Army were descendants of slave families. Later on, a section of the nationalist intelligentsia adopted a contemptuous attitude towards ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf, as witnessed by statements such as the following: “[Judge M. S.] Shangetti [a prominent politician and speaker of the Legislative assembly] boasted that the Sudanese had come from Arabia. He spoke very contemptuously of Abdel Latif (now in an insane asylum). He said his mother was a Negress, his father was unknown, and that he, Latif, had at one time collected old tins from barracks.”101

Paradoxically, it is exactly this perception of 1924 as a peculiar and unjustly forgotten episode of Sudanese history that renders it one of the best-documented episodes of the colonial period. While the events were taking place, thousands of documents were produced by a worried colonial government that was not able to understand what was going on and was trapped in a sort of “knowledge panic,” to use an expression of the late historian Christopher Bayly.102 It reflected a precise moment in history in which British categories of understanding broke down, as anticolonial activists stopped talking politics in the language of what was disparagingly defined as religious fanaticism and tribalism and began to claim that they had the right to decide on their own government in the name of the principle of self-determination. This rhetoric did not fit a country that was considered by its administrators to be extremely backward. Because what was happening was so difficult to explain, it elicited a massive production of knowledge about the insurgency. These documents represent a unique opportunity to obtain fragments of stories of people who were otherwise invisible to the colonial state.

After 1924, a tremendous amount of knowledge about the 1924 revolution continued to be produced by participants seeking to save its memory. By 1973, the Index for Primary and Secondary Sources on the 1924 Revolution in the Sudan already included hundreds of references to newspaper articles and books.103 In the same period, a large-scale effort to collect the memories of people who had been militants in 1924 was undertaken by oral historians at the beginning of the Numayrī dictatorship (published in Al-Riwāyāt al-Shafawiyya li-Thuwwār 1924). Even during the past fifteen years, articles and books have been published by people who claim to have found—or are willing to reveal—new evidence about the insurgency. It is this that makes the revolution of 1924 perhaps the best-documented episode in Sudan’s colonial history.

It is precisely this wealth of sources that has revealed a number of things. First, the sources disprove the way most classical historiography has treated the event. One example will suffice here: in historiography, most of the works repeat that the White Flag League was composed of only around 120 people, which demonstrates its limited appeal to the masses.104 In reality, the colonial archive yields many lists of members, to the point where a database of activists has been built that includes slightly more than 900 names, all from colonial sources (if we also include a list kept in private hands, the number rises to about 1,100). In spite of all the limitations of this database, produced as it was from judicial and intelligence records, it has been fundamental for uncovering the complex structure of the national movement, its regional spread and variations, and its broad social participation. Second, the sources clearly indicate that revolution was definitely not an issue only for non-Arab “detribalized negroids,” as they were called in some sources, or “Black Sudanese”: that is people of Southern and/or slave descent.105 Although they were present at all key events and occupied crucial positions, they were still a minority in a movement that included a rainbow of people of different origins and professions, comprised of officers and officials, wage-workers, artisans, and traders, as well the sons and relatives of those notables who were indispensable for British rule in Sudan.

Instead of simply rebutting the view that the 1924 revolution was led by Black Sudanese, however, it is important to ask why this interpretation emerged. A key to solving this riddle lies in the fact that, after the revolution was quelled, the British officials did not punish all activists in the same way: for example, they quite systematically forgave the renegade sons of notable families, giving them light sentences or more frequently placing them in the custody of their families. This pattern is evident, for instance, in the differing punishments given to the cadets of the Military School who demonstrated in August.106 From 1925 onward, the participation of “noble Arabs” in 1924 was silently erased from colonial reports on the insurgency,107 while Black Sudanese and people of Egyptian origin became the scapegoats for the revolution. They were punished harshly, and their presence in the country’s political life was brought to a halt for a long period. The upward social mobility through the army, which had been available to some people of slave descent, was hampered by the closure of the Military School and by making access to colonial schools more difficult for them. By treating them as being mainly responsible for the 1924 revolution, the British offered an interpretation of the revolution that has had a lasting influence on the historiography of the country until today.

And yet, the countless records on 1924 attest to the heterogeneity of the insurgents in terms of geographical origin, family background, status, education, and profession. They also confirm that groups that had previously been untouched by nationalist ideas, as well as those in remote provinces of the country, were moved by the idea that the Sudanese were one nation, endowed with a certain set of rights, and able to choose their own destiny. To this day, participants remember it as a thawra, a revolution, and as this article has hopefully demonstrated, it was a revolutionary departure in Sudanese history.

Primary Sources

There are two main types of source on 1924: documents produced while the events were taking place and recollections produced subsequently.

The former includes British colonial sources almost exclusively. The majority of this type of records of the 1924 Revolution are kept in two archives: the National Archives in London and the National Records Office in Khartoum. The National Archives mostly keep the official correspondence between London and Cairo, which is filed in the Foreign Office collection. The National Records Office contains materials relating to ordinary administration produced by the various departments and provinces. In reality, the two archives are relatively similar in relation to 1924, because the agency that centralized the information, the Intelligence Department, informed London daily of the episodes of unrest in Sudan.

The National Records Office has not allowed the open consultation of records since 2011; the management of the archive determines which records researchers are allowed to see, and nowadays access is extremely limited and arbitrary. A good, detailed grasp on 1924 can be gained, however, from the London archives. Another archive famous for its Sudan records is the Sudan Archive of the University of Durham.108 These records, however, only offer a limited view of the events, often expressive of British contempt for the 1924 insurgents, and do not have the same breadth as can be found elsewhere. A fourth archive that keeps records of 1924 is the National Archive of Cairo, but similar to Khartoum, it is the administration that chooses which records one may consult. The majority of archival work for this article was completed in Khartoum between 2004 and 2008, as the National Records Office allowed researchers to consult any record at that time. It is to be hoped that the situation will change in the future, because this archive is precious for historians who are interested in the social history of Sudan.

As to the second type of sources, most are in Arabic (unlike the colonial records in English), and they consist of published books, newspapers articles, and recorded interviews. For an overview of the published sources in Arabic, a very useful aid is the Index for Primary and Secondary Sources on the 1924 Revolution in the Sudan. However, it is not exhaustive and does not include anything published since 1974. The first place to start research on oral and local records is the Afro-Asian Institute at the University of Khartoum. There one can locate the audiotapes, which have been transcribed and published in the volume Al-Riwāyāt al-Shafawiyya li-Thuwwār 1924 [oral witnesses of 1924 revolutionaries]. This is one of the most fundamental sources on 1924, which includes interviews with dozes of 1924 activists. The library also keeps some tapes that have not been included in Al-Riwāyāt, probably for reasons of space. Other published primary sources on 1924 can be accessed in the Sudan Library, the most important university library in Sudan. Among the wealth of publications, three works stand out: the quoted Al-Riwāyāt al-Shafawiyya li-Thuwwār 1924, Malāmiḥ Min al-Mujtama‘ al-Sūdānī [features of the Sudanese society], which gives an important account of the intellectual history of the period 1918–1923, and the bilingual The White Flag Trials, which includes the statements of 1924 insurgents during trials. Finally, there is rich secondary literature about activists such as ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf, Ṣāliḥ ‘Abd al-Qādir or Tawfīq Ṣāliḥ Jibrīl, most of which can also be found at the Sudan Library.109 Old newspapers articles on 1924 can be freely accessed at the National Records Office of Khartoum. There is no restriction on this type of source, and newspapers can also be photographed. Finally, some documents and memoirs can be found with the families of 1924 activists, many of whom are relatively famous and easy to find in Omdurman.

Further Reading

Abdin, Hasan. Early Sudanese Nationalism, 1919–1925. Khartoum: Institute of African & Asian Studies, University of Khartoum, 1985.Find this resource:

Bakheit, Jafaar. “British Administration and Sudanese Nationalism 1919-1939.” PhD diss., University of Cambridge, 1965.Find this resource:

Beshir, Mohamed Omar. Revolution and Nationalism in the Sudan. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1974.Find this resource:

Daly, Martin W. British Administration and the Northern Sudan, 1917–1924: The Governor-Generalship of Sir Lee Stack in the Sudan. Leiden, The Netherlands: Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul, 1980.Find this resource:

Daly, Martin W. Empire on the Nile: The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1898–1934. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000.Find this resource:

Jankowski, James P., and Israel Gershoni. Rethinking Nationalism in the Arab Middle East. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.Find this resource:

Khan, Noor-Aiman I. Egyptian-Indian Nationalist Collaboration and the British Empire. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.Find this resource:

Kurita, Yoshiko. “The Concept of Nationalism in the White Flag League Movement.” In The Nationalist Movement in the Sudan. Edited by Mahasin Abdel Gadir Hag Al-Sa, 14–63. Khartoum, Sudan: Institute of African & Asian Studies, University of Khartoum, 1989.Find this resource:

Kurita, Yoshiko. ‘Alī ‘Abd Al-Laṭīf Wa-Thawrat 1924: Baḥth Fī Maṣādir Al-Thawra Al- Sūdāniyya. Cairo, Egypt: Markaz al-Dirasāt al-Sūdāniyya, 1997.Find this resource:

Kurita, Yoshiko. “The Role of ‘Negroid but Detribalized’ People in Modern Sudanese History.” Nilo-Ethiopian Studies, 8–9(2003): 1–11.Find this resource:

Lamothe, Ronald M. Slaves of Fortune: Sudanese Soldiers and the River War, 1896–1898. Rochester, NY: James Currey, 2011.Find this resource:

Manela, Erez. The Wilsonian Moment: Self-determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.Find this resource:

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Sharkey, Heather J. “Arab Identity and Ideology in Sudan: The Politics of Language, Ethnicity, and Race.” African Affairs 107.426 (2007): 21–43.Find this resource:

Sikainga, Ahmad A. Slaves into Workers: Emancipation and Labor in Colonial Sudan. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996.Find this resource:

Spaulding, Jay, and L. Kapteijns. “The Orientalist Paradigm in the Historiography of the Late Precolonial Sudan.” In Golden Ages, Dark Ages: Imagining the Past in Anthropology and History. Edited by Jay O’Brien and William Roseberry, 139–151. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991.Find this resource:

Watenpaugh, Keith D. Being Modern in the Middle East: Revolution, Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Arab Middle Class. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Vezzadini, Elena. Lost Nationalism: Revolution, Memory, and Anti-Colonial Resistance in Sudan. Rochester, NY: James Currey, 2015.Find this resource:

Vezzadini, Elena, “Spies, Secrets, and a Story Waiting to Be (Re)Told: Memories of the 1924 Revolution and the Racialization of Sudanese History.” Northeast African Studies 13.2 (2013): 53–92.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1.) The literature in English on the 1919 Revolution in Egypt and the Wafd of Sa‘d Zaghlūl is not very extensive. See: Marius Deeb, Party Politics in Egypt: The Wafd and Its Rivals, 1919–1939 (London: Ithaca Press, 1979); Ellis Goldberg, “Peasants in Revolt: Egypt 1919,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 24, no. 2 (1992): 261–280; and W. J Berridge, “Imperialist and Nationalist Voices in the Struggle for Egyptian Independence, 1919–22,” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 42, no. 3 (27 May, 2014): 420–439. On the contrary, there is a very rich literature in Arabic. For example (but this cannot be exhaustive): ‘Abd al-Raḥman al-Rafi‘ī, Fi ā‘qāb al-thawra al-miṣriyya: Thawrat sanat 1919 (al-Qāhira: Dār al-Ma‘ārif, 1987); ʻAbd al-ʻAẓīm Muḥammad Ibrāhīm Ramaḍān, Thawrat 1919 fī ḍawʼ mudhakkirāt Saʻd Zaghlūl (Al-Qāhira: al-Hayʼah al-Miṣrīyah al-ʻĀmma lil-Kitāb, 2002); ʻAbd al-Khāliq Muḥammad Lāshīn, Saʻd Zaghlūl wa-dawrihi fī al-siyāsa al-Miṣrīya (Bayrūth, al-Qāhira: Maktabat Madbūlī, 1975); Anīs Muḥammad, Dirāsāt fī wathāʼiq Thawrat 1919 (al-Qāhira: Maktabat al-Anjilū al-Miṣrīya, 1963); and Bishrī Ṭāriq, Saʻd Zaghlūl yufāwiḍ al-istiʻmār: dirāsa fī al-mufawwaḍāt al-Miṣrīya al-Brīṭānīya, 1920–1924 (Al-Qāhira: Dār al-Shurūq, 2012).

(2.) Address of the Sudan Delegation, annex from Lee Stack to the High Commissioner for Egypt, 28.6.1919, FO 141/582/3, The National Archive (NA), London.

(3.) The most important accounts of the period between 1919 and 1923 are: Ḥassan Najīla, MalāmiḥMin al-Mujtama‘ al-Sūdānī [features of Sudanese society] (Bayrut: Dār Maktabat al-Ḥayāh, 1964); Martin W. Daly, British Administration and the Northern Sudan, 1917–1924: The Governor-Generalship of Sir Lee Stack in the Sudan (Leiden, The Netherlands: Historisch-Archaeologisch Instituut te Istanbul, 1980); and Jafaar Bakheit, “British Administration and Sudanese Nationalism 19191939” (PhD diss., University of Cambridge, 1965).

(4.) A nickname referring to his profession, “the Printer.”

(5.) Translation of an Arabic telegram [here and below, Arabic names from English documents are not transliterated and are quoted as in the source], Saleh Abdel Gadir, Ali Abdel Latif, Hassan Sharif, Hassan Saleh, Obeid El Haj El Amin to Governor-General, Khartoum, 15.5.1924, FO 141 806 1, NA.

(6.) Sudan Agent to the First Secretary, Cairo, 19.6.1924, FO 141/806/1, NA. Intelligence Notes, Director of Intelligence, Khartoum, 11.7.1924, FO 141/806/1, NA.

(7.) Sudan Agent to the First Secretary, The Residency, Ramleh, Cairo, 19.6.1924, FO 141/806/1, NA.

(8.) Telegram from Director of Intelligence, Khartoum to Sudan Agent, Cairo, 20.6.1924, FO 141/806/1, NA.

(9.) Chronicle of the events during the period of political excitement in Khartoum, FO 141/805/2, NA. However, see all the files FO 141/806/1, FO 141/805/2, and FO 141/810/3.

(10.) Proceedings of the court of inquiry held to inquire into recent events at Port Sudan as far as they affect the Army, from G. D. Yeatman, Kaimakam, OC Troops Port Sudan, to the CSO & AG, Egyptian Army, Khartoum, 19.8.1924, Palace 4/9/45, National Records Office Khartoum (NRO); Copies of correspondence regarding demonstration at Port Sudan 27.7.1924 on occasion of the transfer of political prisoners from Khartoum to Port Sudan, Port Sudan, 30.7.1924, Palace 4/10/50, NRO.

(11.) Memorandum on events at Atbara from August 9, 1924 onward, Palace 4/10/52, NRO. Atbara: Narrative of Events, Enclosure 3 in no. 154 Sterry to Allenby, Khartoum, 21.8.1924, FO 407/199, NA. See also Ahmad A. Sikainga, City of Steel and Fire: A Social History of Atbara, Sudan’s Railway Town, 1906–1984 (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2002).

(12.) Demonstration by cadets of Khartoum Military School, Encl. 2 in Sterry to Allenby, Khartoum, 21.8.1924, FO 407/199, NA. Demonstration by cadets of Khartoum Military School, August 9, Encl. 2 in Mr. Kerr to Mr. MacDonald, 31.8.1924, FO 141/199, NA. A number of witness accounts collected in Al-Riwāyāt al-Shafawiyya li-Thuwwār 1924 (Al-Khurṭūm: Ma‘had al-Dirāsāt Ifrīqiyya al-Āsīwiyya, 1974) also recount the episode of the mutiny. As to the aftermath, see also Gov. Khartoum Prov. to Private Secretary, the Palace, 18.8.1924, Palace 4/10/48, NRO.

(13.) Sudan Monthly Intelligence Report (SMIR) No. 361 August 1924, WO 33/999, NA.

(14.) SMIR No. 361 August 1924, WO 33/999, NA. On Malakal, see SMIR No. 362, September 1924, WO33/999, NA. For a full list of sources about this and other episodes of insurgencies, however, see Elena Vezzadini, Lost Nationalism: Revolution, Memory, and Anti-Colonial Resistance in Sudan (Rochester, NY: James Currey, 2015).

(15.) Diary of Events Affecting the Sudan subsequent to the Murder of Sir Lee Stack, 19th to 29th November 1924, Appendix 1 to SMIR No. 364, November 1924, WO 33/999, NA. C. A. Willis, the Mutiny of 27th and 28th November 1924, Khartoum, 22.12.1924, Northern Prov., 2/21/211, NRO. Statement by Mulazim Awal Suleiman Effendi Mohammed, Camel Corps, in Notes of information given to the Director of Intelligence, Sudan Govt., Khartoum, on 2nd December 1924, FO 141/494/3. NA. See also the Proceeding of a Summary Court-Martial on Active Service held at Khartoum on December 3rd 1924, Sterry to Allenby, Khartoum, 7.12.1924, FO 141/9494/3, NA. Finally, the whole of Palace 4/11/54, NRO, is dedicated to this mutiny.

(16.) See in particular the work of Mohammed Nuri El Amin, who is an excellent historian of the 1924 revolution: Mohammed Nuri El-Amin, “Was There an Alliance between the Watanist (Nationalist) Party, International Communism, and the White Flag League in the Sudan?” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 19, no. 2 (1992): 177–185; and Mohammed Nuri El-Amin, “Britain, The 1924 Sudanese Uprising, and the Impact of Egypt on the Sudan,” The International Journal of African Historical Studies 19, no. 2 (1986): 235–260.

(17.) A useful starting point on the African continent is Jonathan Derrick, Africa’s “Agitators”: Militant Anti-Colonialism in Africa and the West, 1918–1939 (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

(18.) A study of the Iraqi and the Syrian situation has proved particularly useful for this research. For Iraq: Michael Eppel, “The Elite, the Effendiyya, and the Growth of Nationalism and Pan-Arabism in Hashemite Iraq, 1921–1958,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 30, no. 2 (1998): 227–250; Orit Bashkin, The Other Iraq: Pluralism and Culture in Hashemite Iraq (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009); and Hanna Batatu, The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1978). For Syria, see Michael Provence, The Great Syrian Revolt and the Rise of Arab Nationalism (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005); Keith D. Watenpaugh, Being Modern in the Middle East: Revolution, Nationalism, Colonialism, and the Arab Middle Class (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006); and James L. Gelvin, Divided Loyalties Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

(19.) For a comparison of the different anticolonial nationalist movements at the time, see Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

(20.) Derrick, Africa’s “Agitators” andDavid Killingray, “Repercussions of World War I in the Gold Coast,” The Journal of African History 19, no. 1 (1978): 39–59.

(21.) Keith Kyle, “Gandhi, Harry Thuku, and Early Kenya Nationalism,” Transition 27 (1966): 16-22; and J. M. Lonsdale, “Some Origins of Nationalism in East Africa,” Journal of African History 9, no. 1 (1968): 119–146.

(22.) James L. Gelvin, “Arab Nationalism”: Has a New Framework Emerged? (question posed by James L. Gelvin): Pensée 1: Arab Nationalism Meets Social Theory, International Journal of Middle East Studies 41, no. 1 (2009): 10–21; James L. Gelvin, Divided Loyalties: Nationalism and Mass Politics in Syria at the Close of Empire (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

(23.) Erez Manela, The Wilsonian Moment: Self-determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

(24.) This concept was first developed by the geographer David Harvey in The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990); Daniel R. Headrick, The Tools of Empire: Technology and European Imperialism in the Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981); and Menahem Blondheim, News over the Wires: The Telegraph and the Flow of Public Information in America, 1844–1897 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994).

(25.) Al-Riwāyāt, 262.

(26.) SMIR 351, October 1923, WO 33/999, NA.

(27.) Two interesting cases in point are Noor-Aiman I. Khan, Egyptian-Indian Nationalist Collaboration and the British Empire (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), and Michael Silvestri, Ireland and India: Nationalism, Empire and Memory (Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

(28.) Manela, The Wilsonian Moment.

(29.) Bakheit, “British Administration and Sudanese Nationalism,” 67.

(30.) Najīla, Malāmiḥ Min al-Mujtama‘ al-Sūdānī, 165

(31.) SMIR 322, May 1921, WO 33/997, NA.

(32.) SMIR 351, October 1923, WO 33/999, NA.

(33.) Some local accounts of this society may be found here: Sulaymān Kisha, Sūq al-Dhikryāt (al-Kharṭūm: sharika al-ṭab’a wal-nasha, 1963); Sulaymān Kisha, Al-Liwā’ al-Abyad (al-Kharṭūm, 1969); Bakheit, “British Administration and Sudanese Nationalism” Najīla, Malāmih. Min al-Mujtama‘ al-Sūdānī. Daly, British Administration and the Northern Sudan; Al-Riwāyāt; and Maḥjūb Muḥammad Bāshirī, Rūwād Al-Fikr Al-Sūdānī (Bayrūt: Dār al-Jīl, 1991).

(34.) Ewart Report on Political Agitation in the Sudan, Khartoum, 21.4.1925, FO 407/201, NA, 157.

(35.) Several witnesses in al-Riwāyāt have spoken of it: see 133, 374; and ‘Alī Mūsā, tape-recorded interview, kept in the archive of the Afro-Asian Institute, University of Khartoum, no. 1163.

(36.) F. C. C. Balfour, Assistant Director of Intelligence to the Private, Civil, Legal Secretaries, Sudan Agent, General Manager SGR&AG, and all Governors and District Commissioner Omdurman, Khartoum 9.7.1922, Darfur 3/2/16, NRO.

(37.) Mohammed Negib, Memorie di Mohammed Negib (1919-1973) (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1976), 4. (original in Italian). There is another version of Najīb’s memoirs (Mohammad Neguib, Egypt’s Destiny [London: Gollancz, 1955]), but the English version does not include this passage.

(38.) On Egyptian secret societies, see Jacob M. Landau, “Prolegomena to a Study of Secret Societies in Modern Egypt,” Middle Eastern Studies 1, no. 2 (1965): 135-186; Malak Badrawi, Political Violence in Egypt, 1910–1924: Secret Societies, Plots, and Assassinations (Richmond: Curzon, 2000); and Eliezer Tauber, “Secrecy in Early Arab Nationalist Organizations,” Middle Eastern Studies 33, vol. 1 (1997): 119–127.

(39.) For Syria, see the discussion of al-Fatat in Gelvin, Divided Loyalties, 55–66; and Eli’ezer Tauber, The Formation of Modern Syria and Iraq (Ilford, U.K.: Frank Cass, 1995), 1–10. For Iraq, see Orit Bashkin, The Other Iraq, 142.

(40.) Thomas Frost, Secret Societies of European Revolution, 1776–1876 (London: Tinsley Bros, 1876).

(41.) See The White Flag Trials (Khartoum: Institute of African & Asian Studies and the Department of Private Law, University of Khartoum, 1974), 48.

(42.) For a comprehensive list, including source references, see Vezzadini, Lost Nationalism, 285–286.

(43.) Sources: Palace 4/9/44, Palace 4/10/46, Palace 4/10/47, Palace 4/10/48, Palace 4/10/49, Palace 4/11/55, Kordofan 1/13/62, Northern Prov. 1/21/207, Northern Prov. 1/21/215, all in NRO. FO 141/806/1, FO 141/810/3, FO 141/805/2, FO 141/669/8, all in NA.

(44.) Letter sent to DI, El Obeid 28.7.1924, Kordofan 1/12/56, NRO. He was subsequently noted in many reports as a prominent member of the League in El Obeid.

(45.) I am grateful to Durriyya ‘Abdallāh Rīḥān, granddaughter of ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf, for showing me this list; interview in Thawra, Omdurman, on 28 February 2005.

(46.) (1), Muḥammad Idrīs Bābikr. His personal record described him as being a Ja‘ali, a graduate of Omdurman Primary School, and employed as a telephone operator in the village of Singa, in the Blue Nile; (2), al-Imām Dūlayb, a religious man, came from a well-known Kordofan religious family; (3), Aḥmad Mudathir Ibrāhīm, a telephone operator at the Government Palace, who was a member of a well-known family that was closely related to the Mahdī (4), Al-Tuhāmī Muḥammad ‘Uthmān, a carpenter; and (5), Ḥusayn Yūsif Ḥusayn, owner of a small bakery and an army contractor. Source: Notes on the Signatories. Enclosed in: Translation of a Telegram to His Excellency the Governor-General, 3.6.1924. FO 141/810/3, NA.

(47.) For a background on the occupation and the origins of all the people arrested as ringleaders for the demonstrations of June and July, see Vezzadini, Lost Nationalism, 289–290.

(48.) Women such as Nafīsa Surūr, friend and relative of activists of 1924, who sewed the flag that the cadets used during their march. Her account is to be found in Al-Riwāyāt, 230–233.

(49.) Al-Riwāyāt, 385

(50.) Al-Riwāyāt, 353.

(51.) Many activists recount that there was an oath (see for example, Ṭayyib Bābikr, Al-Riwāyāt, 337), but they do not give any details of it. An alleged oath is reported in colonial documents, but it is difficult to ascertain the reliability of this report: “the object of the Society is to spread the national ideal in the Sudan and to refuse to allow the Sudan to be separated from Egypt. If any member should commit a crime, all members are to assist him to escape the results of it and if they cannot help him otherwise, they should offer themselves for punishment with him. Every member is to carry out the rules of the Society on condition that nothing is done against the British Government.” Director of Intelligence [Note on the forthcoming Anglo-Egyptian negotiations on the Sudan, Khartoum, 25.6.1924, Palace 4/10/49, NRO].

(52.) During his testimony to the Intelligence Department, ‘Alī Aḥmad Ṣāliḥ recounted that he had not sworn the oath of the League, and so ‘Alī ‘Abd al-Laṭīf and others spoke English in front of him if they needed to discuss League matters. Statement by Ali Ahmed Saleh, 10, 28.7.1924, FO 141/805/2, NA.

(53.) Chronicle of the events during the period of political excitement in Khartoum, FO 141/805/2, NA. Statement of Fuad Ali, Khartoum, 7.9.1924, Palace 4/11/55, NRO.

(54.) Aḥmad ‘Abd al-Farrāj, Al-Riwāyāt, 430–431. This is also confirmed by Cadet Muzammil ‘Alī Dinār, who stated: “We never met the White Flag League, because in the military environment it is forbidden to become involved in politics and such things,” Al-Riwāyāt, 62.

(55.) For instance, Ṭayyib Bābikr stated: “We refused membership only to Aḥmad Effendi al-Shaykh, who wanted to join, but whom we preferred to be outside the League, to support us.|.|.|. Every time we were arrested he went to discuss our situation with Sulaymān ‘Aysā,” Al-Riwāyāt, 352.

(56.) For the organization in El Obeid, see Vezzadini, Lost Nationalism, 132–146. For a study of the Wad Medani branch, see Elena Vezzadini, “The 1924 Revolution: Hegemony, Resistance, and Nationalism in Colonial Sudan” (PhD diss., University of Bergen, 2008), 327–337.

(57.) Intelligence Note on Tayeb Babiker of Shendi, Khartoum, 18.8.1924, Palace 4/10/50, NRO. But see his own account in Al-Riwāyāt, 343ff.

(58.) For the organization of the League in Port Sudan, see Vezzadini, Lost Nationalism, 122–132.

(59.) For El Obeid, see Al-Riwāyāt, 131–132; and Vezzadini, Lost Nationalism, 132–146.

(60.) Telegram From Hakiman, Khartoum, to Stack, London, and More, Cairo, 22.9.1924, and List of members of the “Sudan Union” who are said to have recently taken the oath, Intelligence, 21.9.1924, both in Palace 4/9/45, NRO. Telegram from Director of Intelligence, Khartoum, to Sudan Agent, Cairo, 22.9.1924, FO 141/805/2, NA. Othman Mohammed Hashim, Published in Mokhattam 31.8 Khartoum FO 141/805/2.

(61.) Report from Gov., Khartoum, to DI, Khartoum, 31.8.1924, Palace 4/9/44, NRO. Assistant Director of Intelligence to Private Secretary, Khartoum, 12.9.1924, Palace 4/10/48, NRO, re. the arrest of three people connected to the Workmen’s branch. Statement by Ali Ahmed Saleh, 26, 24.08.1924, FO 141805/2, NA. See also Vezzadini, Lost Nationalism, 237–242; and El-Amin, “A Leftist Labour Movement in the Sudan in the Early 1920s: Fact or Fiction?” Middle Eastern Studies 20, no.3 (1984): 370-378; and El-Amin, “Was There an Alliance between the Watanist (Nationalist) Party, International Communism and the White Flag League in the Sudan?”

(62.) Yoshiko Kurita, “The Concept of Nationalism in the White Flag League Movement,” in The Nationalist Movement in the Sudan, ed. Mahasin Abdel Gadir Hag Al-Safi (Khartoum, Sudan: Institute of African & Asian Studies, University of Khartoum, 1989), 14–63. Yoshiko Kurita, “The Role of ‘Negroid but Detribalized’ People in Modern Sudanese History,” Nilo-Ethiopian Studies 8–9 (2003): 1–11.

(63.) Helena Flam and Debra King, Emotions and Social Movements (London: Routledge, 2005); Jeff Goodwin, James M. Jasper, and Francesca Polletta, Passionate Politics: Emotions and Social Movements (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); James M. Jasper, “Emotions and Social Movements: Twenty Years of Theory and Research,” Annual Review of Sociology 37, no. 1 (2011): 285–303; and James M. Jasper, “The Emotions of Protest: Affective and Reactive Emotions In and Around Social Movements,” Sociological Forum 13, no. 3 (September 1, 1998): 397–424.

(64.) Al-Riwāyāt, 309. It should be mentioned that, although it is often believed that the movement was mostly composed of young Sudanese, it is impossible to obtain definite evidence of this, as its members’ ages are known in only a very few cases. It should be considered that most of the best-known activists had been working for at least ten years and had families.

(65.) Director of Intelligence, Summary of news, Khartoum 25.6.1924, Palace 4/10/49, NRO.

(66.) James L. Gelvin, “Demonstrating Communities in Post-Ottoman Syria.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 25, no. 1 (July 1, 1994): 30.

(67.) Besides a wealth of colonial sources, the two volumes of oral testimonies of the Revolution of 1924, Al-Riwāyāt al-Shafawiyya li-Thuwwār 1924, include as many as eight interviews with mutinous cadets out of a total of thirty-nine.

(68.) Quoted in Jafaar Bakheit, “British Administration and Sudanese Nationalism 1919–1939,” 88.

(69.) Proceedings of the court of inquiry held to inquire into recent events at Port Sudan as far as they affect the Army, from G. D. Yeatman, Kaimakam, OC Troops Port Sudan, to the CSO & AG, Egyptian Army, Khartoum, 19.8.1924, Palace 4/9/45, NRO. About Port Sudan, see Kenneth J. Perkins, Port Sudan: The Evolution of a Colonial City (Boulder, CO: Westview, 1993).

(70.) Fourth witness for the prosecution for Atbara trial, Mohammed Shalabi, 19.8, Palace 4/10/52, NRO. For estimates of the population of Atbara, see Sikainga, City of Steel and Fire, 33.

(71.) Gov. Khartoum Prov. to Private Secretary, the Palace, Khartoum, 18.8.1924, Palace 4/10/48, NRO.

(72.) Al-Riwāyāt, 280; 313. Aḥmad Ṣabrī Zāyd was asked after his arrest whom he wanted as a lawyer, and he told to his prosecutors, ironically, he wanted Gandhi from India. ‘Alī Malāsī recalled that in Port Sudan, the uprising was tamed by a military boat that was heading to India “because of the Gandhi issue.”

(73.) Baily Report, Appendix 7 to Ewart Report on Political Agitation in the Sudan, Khartoum, 21.4.1925, FO 407/201, NA, 184.

(74.) Jasper, “Emotions of Protest,” 409.

(75.) Al-Riwāyāt, 308.

(76.) The expression “community of the oppressed nations” is taken from Lenin: “Mankind can proceed to the inevitable fusion of nations only through a transitional period of complete freedom of all oppressed nations,” Terry D. Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923–1939 (London: Cornell University Press, 2001), 5.

(77.) White Flag Trials, 63.

(78.) Watenpaugh, Being Modern in the Middle East, 103.

(79.) David P. Nickles, Under the Wire: How the Telegraph Changed Diplomacy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003), 188.

(80.) Translation of Arabic telegram, signed by thirty-eight Army officers to the President of the Parliament, the Minister of War and the Press Syndicate, Cairo, 24.6.1924, FO 141/806/1 (copy in FO 141/810/3 with 36 signatures), NA.

(81.) Translation of Telegram, Ali Abdel Latif, to the President of the Parliament and the Press Syndicate, Cairo, 30.6.1924, FO 141/810/3, NA.

(82.) Translation of telegram, Ahmed Omar Bakhreiba, Vice President of the White Flag League in the Blue Nile Province, Wad Medani, to Prime Minister, Members of the House of Representatives, President of the House of Commons, Cairo, 28.6.1924, FO 141/810/3, NA.

(83.) Translation of telegram, Mohammed Hediya, Ebeid Idris, Ahmed Ali, El Tayeb Abdin to His Excellency, the Governor General of the Sudan, Port Sudan, 27.6.1924, FO 141/806/1, NA.

(84.) Obeid El Haj El Amin, Vice President of the League to the Governor-General of the Sudan and the Director of Intelligence, Khartoum, 5.7.1924, FO 141/806/1, NA.

(85.) Party of officers and natives to Acting Governor General of the Sudan, 8.7.1924, Palace 4/10/49, NRO.

(86.) Telegram from Obeid El Haj El Amin, Khartoum, to Prime Minister, President of the Parliament, Press Syndicate, Cairo, 5.7.1924, FO 141/810/3, NA.

(87.) Translation of an Arabic telegram, Khartoum, Saleh Abdel Gadir, Ali Abdel Latif, Hassan Sharif, Hassan Saleh, Obeid El Haj El Amin to Governor General, Khartoum, 15.5.1924, FO 141/806/1, NA.

(88.) Unsigned, to Anisa El Rashidi, President of the Women’s Society, Alexandria, undated, but between 8.7.1924 and 24.7.1924, FO 141/810/3, NA.

(89.) A call to the Sudanese generally and to the natives of Kordofan, signed Head of the Society of el-Helal, Omdurman, 17.8.1924, FO 141/805/2, NA.

(90.) El Tayeb Babikr, Sheik Omar Dafalla, Izzeidin Rashek, Abu El Amin Abu El Gasem, Mohammed Sirr El Khatim, Ali Abdel Latif to Egyptian Newspapers (The Editors of El Balagh, El Akhbar, and El Ahram) and the President of the Chamber, in Director of Intelligence to Sudan Agent Cairo, Khartoum, 19.6.1924, FO 141/806/1, NA.

(91.) Unsigned, to Anisa El Rashidi, President of the Women’s Society, Alexandria, undated, but between 8.7.1924 and 24.7.1924, FO 141/810/3, NA.

(92.) Corbyn, Gov. Khartoum Prov., to Director of Intelligence, Khartoum (wrongly dated 16 June 1924: the correct date is 16.8.1924) FO 141/805/2, NA.

(93.) Bakheit, “British Administration and Sudanese Nationalism 1919–1939” Hasan Abdin, Early Sudanese Nationalism, 1919–1925 (Khartoum: Institute of African & Asian Studies, University of Khartoum, 1985); and Yoshiko Kurita, ‘Alī ‘Abd Al-Laṭīf Wa-Thawrat 1924: Baḥth Fī Maṣādir Al-Thawra Al-Sūdāniyya (Cairo, Egypt: Markaz al-Dirasāt al-Sūdāniyya, 1997).

(94.) P. M. Holt and M. W. Daly, A History of the Sudan: From the Coming of Islam to the Present Day (Harlow, U.K.: Longman, 2000), 113. See also: Daly, Martin W., Empire on the Nile: The Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, 1898–1934 (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 295.

(95.) Gabriel R. Warburg, Islam, Nationalism and Communism in a Traditional Society: The Case of Sudan (London: F. Cass, 1978), 94.

(96.) Muḥammad Sayyid al-Qaddāl, Tārīkh Al-Sūdān Al-Ḥadīth: 1820–1955 (al-Khurṭūm: Markaz ‘Abd-al-Karīm Mīrghanī, 2002); and Mohamed Omar Beshir, Revolution and Nationalism in the Sudan (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1974).

(97.) Maḥāsin ‘Abd al-Qādir Ḥājj al-Ṣāfī, Al-Ḥaraka Al-Waṭaniyya Fī al-Sūdān: Thawra 1924 (Khurṭūm: Ma‘had al-Dirāsāt al-Ifrīqiyya al-Āsīwiyya, Jāmi‘a al-Khurṭūm, 1992).

(98.) Francis M. Deng, Green Is the Color of the Masters: The Legacy of Slavery and the Crisis of National Identity in Modern Sudan, presented at the 6th International Conference of Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition, 2004.

(99.) As for Chilembwe, see: George Shepperson, “The Place of John Chilembwe in Malawi Historiography,” in The Early History of Malawi, ed. B. Pachai (London: Longman, 1972), 405–428.

(100.) Quoted in Jafaar Bakheit, “British Administration and Sudanese Nationalism 1919–1939,” 88.

(101.) Douglas H. Johnson (ed.), Sudan. Part I: 1942–1950, British Documents on the End of Empire, Series B, Volume 5 (London: The Stationery Office, 1998), 235.

(102.) C. A. Bayly, “Knowing the Country: Empire and Information in India,” Modern Asian Studies 27, no. 1 (1993): 38.

(103.) Index for Primary and Secondary Sources on the 1924 Revolution in the Sudan (Documentation Center, Institute of African & Asian Studies, University of Khartoum, 1973).

(104.) See for instance: Beshir, Revolution and Nationalism, 75; and Daly, Empire on the Nile, 293.

(105.) Ewart Report on Political Agitation in the Sudan, Khartoum, 21.4.1925, FO 407/201, NA, 170.

(106.) Although all fifty-one cadets from the Military School marched together, sixteen were released because their parents interceded for them. See the List of Military Cadets who took part in demonstration in August 1924, who were released under guarantee, unsigned, undated, Kordofan 1/11/45, NRO. Several stories in Al-Riwāyāt relate the same thing: see the story of ‘Abdallāh Mabrūk, Al-Riwāyāt, 492.

(107.) See in particular the Ewart Report on Political Agitation in the Sudan, Khartoum, 21.4.1925, FO 407/201, NA. The question is discussed here: Elena Vezzadini, “Setting the Scene of the Crime: The Colonial Archive, History, and Racialisation of the 1924 Revolution in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan,” Canadian Journal of African Studies/La Revue Canadienne Des Études Africaines 49, no. 1 (2015): 1–27.

(108.) See for example the diary of the Deputy Governor of Khartoum, Robin E. Baily, Baily’s diary, 422/13/23, Sudan Archive, Durham University.

(109.) Yoshiko Kurita, ‘Alī ‘Abd Al-Laṭīf Wa-Thawrat 1924: Baḥth Fī Maṣādir Al-Thawra Al-Sūdāniyya. ‘Awāṭif ‘Umar ‘Abdallāh, Ṣāliḥ ‘Abd Al-Qādir: Ḥayātuhu Wa Shi‘ruhu (Bayirūt: Dār al-Jīl, 1991); and Tawfīq Ṣāliḥ Jibrīl, Muḥammad Ibrāhīm Abū Salīm, and Muḥammad Ṣāliḥ Ḥasan, Diwān Ufuq Wa-shafaq (Bayrūt: Dār al-Jīl, 1991).