Past Cities

Al-Ubayyid, North Kordofan, Sudan

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Al-Ubayyid, also known as El Obeid, is a historic city located in the state of North Kordofan in Sudan. With a rich and diverse history that spans centuries, Al-Ubayyid has witnessed significant political, cultural, and social transformations that have shaped its development and influenced the lives of its inhabitants.

Al-Ubayyid, the capital of North Kordofan, is situated in central Sudan, approximately 550 kilometers southwest of the capital city, Khartoum. Its geographical location played a vital role in shaping its history, as it served as a strategic crossroads for trade routes connecting various regions of Sudan, including Darfur and the northern Nile Valley. Its position along these trade routes facilitated the exchange of goods, ideas, and cultures, contributing to its cultural diversity.

The population of Al-Ubayyid has fluctuated throughout its history. As of the 2021 census, it was estimated to be around 400,000 people. Over the centuries, the city has been inhabited by various ethnic and tribal groups, including the Fur, Baggara, Nuba, and others. This diverse population has resulted in a rich cultural heritage and a vibrant social fabric within the city.

The history of Al-Ubayyid can be traced back to ancient times, with evidence of human settlement dating back to the Neolithic period. However, the city gained prominence during the rise of the Sultanate of Darfur in the 17th century. At that time, Al-Ubayyid served as the capital of the Sultanate and played a crucial role in trade and administration.

In the 19th century, Al-Ubayyid became embroiled in the struggle between the Mahdist movement and the ruling Turco-Egyptian administration. The Mahdists, led by Muhammad Ahmad, sought to establish an Islamic state and launched a rebellion against the Egyptian occupation. Al-Ubayyid became a stronghold of the Mahdists, and the city played a pivotal role in their campaign. In 1883, the Mahdists successfully captured the city, marking a turning point in Sudanese history.

Under Mahdist rule, Al-Ubayyid experienced significant political and social changes. The Mahdi's successor, the Khalifa Abdullahi, established a strict Islamic state, imposing his authority over the city and implementing a series of religious and social reforms. The city became a center of Islamic learning, attracting scholars and religious leaders from across Sudan and beyond.

However, Al-Ubayyid's position as a center of Mahdist power did not last long. In 1898, the Mahdist state was overthrown by the Anglo-Egyptian forces led by General Kitchener, marking the end of Mahdist rule and the beginning of British colonial control over Sudan.

During the colonial era, Al-Ubayyid, like many other Sudanese cities, experienced limited economic development and political marginalization. The British focused their efforts on exploiting Sudan's natural resources, particularly cotton, and established a railway line connecting Al-Ubayyid to the Nile Valley, further facilitating the extraction of resources. However, the city itself remained relatively isolated and underdeveloped.

The post-colonial period brought new challenges and opportunities to Al-Ubayyid. Following Sudan's independence in 1956, the city became part of the newly established Sudanese state. The central government's policies and neglect of the periphery, including North Kordofan, led to a sense of marginalization and discontent among the local population.