For at least 9000 years farmers and herders have lived along the Nile River in what is now Sudan. Ancient fortresses, castles and temples dot the banks of the Nile in the north. The importance of the Nile River has meant that Sudan and Egypt have culturally influenced one another since ancient times. The Kingdom of Cush, which is now the north-east corner of Sudan, was Egypt's rival for over 1000 years.

In the sixth century A.D. the region flourished as the Kingdom of Nubia, gradually embracing Christianity. At this time Nubia was a great source of ivory, gold, gems, aromatic gum and cattle for the Middle East. Later, Islam spread throughout the northern region during the 1400s to 1700s. Other African kingdoms, such as Shilluk and Azande, and herding peoples including the Dinka and Nuer, thrived in southern Sudan.

Ottoman-Egyptian rulers controlled Sudan with British help, from 1821 to 1885. In the 1880s, a Sudanese religious teacher named Muhammad Ahmad ibn Sayyid Abd Allah proclaimed himself the Mahdi, or guided one, and launched a jihad, holy war, against the Ottoman rulers. The Mahdists captured Khartoum in 1885 after a long siege in which British General Charles George Gordon was killed. In 1899 Anglo-Egyptian forces regained military control of Sudan which was under joint British-Egyptian rule for over 50 years.
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Cushite civilization, which reached its peak between 1750 and 1500 B.C., is thought to be the oldest Black civilization in the world. Its capital was Meroe on the Nile.

Sudan proclaimed its independence on January 1, 1956. The civilian and military national governments that followed kept the deep-seated differences between the mainly African south and the Arab north. Sudan's current leader, General Omar Hassan al-Bashir, took power in a military coup in 1989. His government abolished the constitution and all political parties and made Arabic the language of instruction, replacing English.

Sudan has survived famine for more than 10 years and civil war for 40, causing many people to flee. Peace talks have so far been unsuccessful. Most of the south is controlled by rebel forces.