Sudan Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Even though the more ethnically diverse part of Sudan, South Sudan, split from the rest of the country, Sudan still has a great deal of different ethnic groups that demand attention.

Ethnicity in Sudan

Over the past decade or so, ethnicity has been an important aspect of life in Sudan. In fact, it led the country to split in two, with the largely-Arab northern portion of the country and the more diverse southern half separating in 2011. Despite no longer being associated with the more diverse southern territories now known as South Sudan, the Republic of Sudan still has a number of ethnic groups within its borders. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the largest ethnic group, Sudan's continuing conflict in Darfur, and other groups within the country.

Sudan is below Egypt on the northeastern tip of Africa. Notice how there is now Sudan and South Sudan.
African Countries


Like many other North African countries, the largest ethnic group in Sudan are the Arabs. They make up around 70% of the population and hold much of the political power. The Arabs originally came from across the Red Sea as well as from Egypt via the Nile River. Many of the Arabs in Sudan are Afro-Arabs because there was considerable intermarriage between the existing African populations of Sudan.

Additionally, there is considerable diversity within the Arab population. Two of these groups, in particular, are the Nubians, who have lived in what is now Sudan for thousands of years, and the Copts. The Copts are Christian Arabs, originally from Egypt, who have moved south. Only around 1% of the population of Sudan is Coptic. That said, as more puritanical versions of Islam become more popular in the country, this population could diminish further.

Flag of Sudan


One population in Sudan that is diminishing quickly is that of the Fur people in the west of the country. Almost one million Fur people live in Sudan. In many ways, the Fur people who live in a region known as Darfur, are similar to the Arabs of the rest of the country. After all, they speak Arabic. However, in many other ways, they have not adapted to other Sudanese cultural ideals. For a number of reasons, not the least of which is existing tensions with Sudan's western neighbors, Arab militias known as janjaweed, as well as Sudanese army units, have harassed the Fur people in what many observers have referred to as ethnic cleansing and genocide.

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