Since gaining independence in 1956, military regimes have dominated national politics.
Sudan is in northern Africa, bordering the Red Sea, between Egypt and Eritrea. It has a land area of 2376m sq km.
Northern Sudan, also known as ancient Nubia, was settled by Egyptians in approximately 2500BCE.
A succession of independent kingdoms was established in Nubia.
The most powerful, Makuria, a Christian state centred at Old Dunqulah and founded in the sixth century, lasted until the early 14th century until invasion by the Egyptian Mamluks.
In 1500, the vicinity of present day Khartoum was overwhelmed by the Funj, – Muslims of uncertain origin – who established a sultanate at Sennar which became one of the great cultural centres of Islam.
In the late 1870s, British general and proconsul administrator Charles George Gordon was dispatched as governor to what was then Egyptian Sudan.
However, the perilous state of affairs that had developed under British rule culminated in revolution in 1882, led by Muhammad Ahmad, who had proclaimed himself the Mahdi (a person who, according to Islamic theology, would rid the world of evil).
He won many victories, including the capture of Khartoum in 1885. But four years later, his movement was defeated at the hands of an Anglo-Egyptian army led by General Horatio Kitchener.
Modern political history
In 1953 Sudan gained independence from joint British-Egyptian rule.
Four years later Lieutenant General Ibrahim Abbuud, the commander in chief of the armed forces of Sudan, overthrew the transitional government. He dismissed parliament, suspended the constitution, declared martial law and established himself as prime minister.
He set the trend of political authority in Sudan for decades to come.
In 1969 a group of army officers led by Colonel Jaafar Muhammad al-Nimairy, seized power and set up a government under a revolutionary council.
After 16 years in power, he was overthrown in a bloodless coup on 6 April 1985. Elections were held in April 1986, and a transitional military council turned over power to a civilian government as promised. After a year of military rule, Sadiq al-Mahdi (the great grandson of Muhammad Ahmad) was elected prime minister in the first free election in 18 years.
On 30 June 30 1989, however, military officers under then Col Umar Hassan al-Bashir replaced the Mahdi government with the Revolutionary Command Council for National Salvation (RCC) – a junta initially comprised of 12 military officers assisted by a civilian cabinet.
General al-Bashir became president, prime minister and chief of the armed forces. His government, a mixture of military elite and Islamic party, has held executive authority in Khartoum ever since.
Apart from an 11-year period of peace, Sudan has been torn by civil war between the mainly Muslim north and the Animist and Christian south since independence.
A guerrilla war led by southern rebels known as the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which was formed in the 60s has been fighting for greater political participation and rights.
The conflict, fought with equal savagery on both sides (and with the interference of neighbouring countries), has led to severe food shortages, mounting debt, political unrest within the ruling elite and other problems which have critically weakened the government’s power.
A comprehensive but tentative peace agreement was signed after much international pressure in May 2004, formally ending the civil war.
Simultaneously, a crisis has developed in the northern province of Darfur, between militia and the civilian population.
Whether wider peace will hold, is yet to be seen.
Official name: Republic of the Sudan
Form of government: Republic
Gained independence: 1 January 1956
Sudan’s main resources are agricultural, but oil production and export have taken on greater importance since October 2000.
Currency: Dinar (SDD) – 1 USD = (app) 258.5 SDD
Natural resources: Oil, iron ore, copper, chromium ore, zinc, tungsten, mica, silver, gold, hydropower
Major industries: Oil, cotton-ginning, textiles, cement, edible oils, sugar, soap distilling
GDP: $52.9bn (2002 est)
GDP annual growth rate: 5.5% (2002 est)
Per capita GDP: $1.420 (2002 est)
Imports: 12.7% of GDP (2002 est)
Exports: 14.5% of GDP (2002 est)
Sudan’s military consists of the Sudanese People’s Armed Forces (SPAF), navy, air force and Popular Defence Forces.
Military budget: $387m (2002 est)
Army size: 117,000 active troops
Sudan has two distinct major cultures, Arab and African, with hundreds of ethnic and tribal divisions and diverse language groups, which sometimes makes effective collaboration among them a major problem.
Languages: Arabic (official), Nubian, Ta Bedawie, Nilotic, Nilo-Hamitic, Sudanic dialects, English
Religions: Sunni Muslim 70%, indigenous beliefs 25%, Christian 5%
Ethnic diversity: Black 52%, Arab 39%, Beja 6%, foreigners 2%, other 1%
Literacy Rate: 61.1%
Important media: Sudan National Broadcasting Corporation (SNBC) (government-run), Al-Ra’y al-Amm (widely-distributed, privately-owned newspaper), Al-Ayam, Khartoum Monitor (privately-owned), Sudan National Radio Corporation (government-run), Voice of Democracy and Peace (operated by opposition National Democratic Alliance)
Sources: World Bank, countryreports.org, MSN Encarta, politinfo.com, The World Almanac