Officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Egypt is in North Africa. Its Sinai Peninsula acts as a land bridge in Southwest Asia. This makes Egypt a transcontinental country. Egypt is a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean, and the Islamic world. Its area is about 1,010,000 sq. km and is bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel in the northeast, the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, Libya to the west, and the Mediterranean Sea to the north.
Egypt has 99,375,741 million people, making it one of Africa’s most populous nations. Most live near the Nile River’s banks. This is where the agricultural land is found. The Sahara Desert areas are not populated. Half of the country’s population lives in urban areas, the largest of which are Cairo and Alexandria.
Egypt’s ancient civilization is well known and produced famous monuments like the Great Sphinx and the Giza pyramids. Archaeologists study ancient ruins such as Memphis, Thebes, the Valley of the Kings, and Karnak. The world’s major museums contain artifacts from these sites. Egypt is one of the Middle East’s important cultural and political nations.
The economy is one of the Middle East’s most diversified and includes tourism, industry, agriculture, and service at almost equal rates in productions. The economy is developing due to stability, trade, market liberalization, and law encouraging investment.
Kemet is the country’s original name. This means “black land” and refers to the Bile flood plains fertile soil. This is distinct from the deshret, the red desert sands. In the Coptic stage of the Egyptian language, it is kimi and kima and Xnuia in early Greek. Ta-Sheme’aw and Ta-Mehew were the names of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Misr is the official, modern name of Egypt. This comes directly from Semitic words meaning “the two straits.” Egypt, the English name, comes from Middle French, Latin, ancient Greek, and Lenear, an earlier language.
Rock carvings exist along the terraces of the Nile and in desert oases. A culture of hunter-gatherers replaced a grain grinding culture in the 10th millennium BC. Around 8,000 BC, lands began to deteriorate due to climate changes or overgrazing, forming the Sahara. Tribal people then migrated to the Nile River and began an agricultural economy.
Neolithic culture was based in the Nile Valley in 6,000 BC. Several predynastic cultures existed around this time in Upper and Lower Egypt. The precursors to the Egyptian dynastic civilization are the Badarian culture and the Nagada. Merimda is the earliest Egyptian site and predates the Badarian by 700 years. The Upper and Lower civilizations coexisted but remained mostly separate. They did frequently trade. The first hieroglyphic inscriptions are dated from the predynastic period on Naqada III pottery dating to 3200 BC.
Around 3150 BC, King Menes founded a unified kingdom. This led to a series of ruling dynasties that lasted the next 3,000 years. The unified country was known as tawy, meaning two lands. Later, the term kemet referred to the black soil of deposited by the Nile River. Culture flourished at this time. Egypt was united by the first two ruling dynasties and set the stage for the Old Kingdom period from 2700-2200 BC. This era was famous for its pyramids, especially the Third Dynasty’s pyramid of Djoser and the Giza Pyramids in the Fourth Dynasty. The Great Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza are the basis of Egypt’s modern tourist industry.
150 years of political upheaval began with the First Intermediate Period. Prosperity came back after stronger Nile floods and government stabilization during the Middle Kingdom around 2040 BC. This peaked during Pharaoh Amenemhat III’s reign. An additional period of upheaval led to the first foreign dynasty, the Semitic Hyksos, ruling Egypt. Around 1650 BC, the invaders conquered much of Lower Egypt. They founded a new capital at Avaris. Ahmose I led an Upper Egyptian force that pushed them out. The Eighteenth Dynasty was then founded and the capital was moved to Thebes from Memphis.
The Eighteenth Dynasty began the New Kingdom and Egypt became a world power as it extended the empire south to Tombos in Nubia. It lasted from 1550-1070BC. The most well known pharaohs ruled during this period, such as Thutmose III, Akhenaten, Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Tutankhamin, and Ramesses II. Atenism was the first historically known expression of monotheism. Contact with other areas brought the New Kingdom new ideas. The Libyans, Assyrians, and Nubians later invaded Egypt, but were driven out eventually.
Persian, Greek, and Roman Occupation
The last native ruling dynasty was the 13th. The Persians defeated it in 343 BC after King Nectanedo II failed to defend Egypt. Egypt later fell to Greco-Macedonians and Romans. This began 2,000 years of foreign rule. Cleopatra VII was the last ruler from the Ptolemaic line. She committed suicide with Marc Antony, her lover, after being captured by Caesar Augustus.
Saint Mark the Evangelist brought Christianity to Egypt before Byzantine rule in the 1st century AD. Roman rule transitioned to Byzantine during Diocletian’s rule. A number of Egyptian Christians were persecuted around this time. By then, there had been a translation of the New Testament into Egyptian. In 451 AD, an Egyptian Coptic Church was established after the Council of Chalcedon.
Arab and Ottoman Conquest
In the 7th century, the Byzantines were able to regain control after a Persian invasion. Egypt was absorbed into the Islamic Empire by Muslim Arabs in 639 AD. After the Byzantine defeat, the Arabs brought Sunni Islam to Egypt. Egyptians began to combine Islam with their indigenous practices. This led to various Sufi sects that survive to this day.
Muslim rulers controlled Egypt for another six centuries. They were nominated to lead by the Islamic Caliphate. Cairo was the seat of the Fatimids’ Caliphate. When the Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty ended, the Mamluks, a Turco-Circassian military caste, controlled the country in 1250 AD. Around that time, the country linked India, Malaya, the Red Sea, and the East Indies. A productive economy resulted from the strategic positioning. The Ottoman Turks conquered the country in 1517 and incorporated it into the Ottoman Empire. 40 percent of the country died in the 14th century’s black death.
The Egyptian system declined after the 15th century due to threats from Mongols and European Crusaders. Militarization strained the economy and civil society. The effects of the Black Death and economic decline left the country open to invasion. From 1687 to 1731, there were six famines. A famine in 1784 killed one-sixth of Egypt’s population.
Napoleon Bonaparte briefly invaded Egypt in 1798. Mamluks, along with the British, repelled the invasion in 1801. Four years followed where Mamluks, Albanians, and Ottomans fought for power. An Albanian commander, Mohammad Ali became the dominant figure. The Sultan in Istanbul recognized him as viceroy in 1805. Despite the recognition, Ottomans no longer had power in Egypt. Muhammad Ali established a ruling dynasty that lasted until 1952.
He annexed Northern Sudan, Syria, and parts of Anatolia and Arabia. In 1841, European powers stopped his conquests. He was forced to return the new lands to the Ottomans. He kept Sudan and his title was made hereditary. Muhammad Ali sent out students to learn Western military techniques. This led to development including canals, transportation, and other industries.
Cotton was introduced in 1820 and the Egyptian variety became famous. This changed Egypt to a cash crop culture by the end of the century. This led to land concentration in the hands of a few large landowners and an influx of foreigners came to Egypt to exploit commodity production.
Muhammad Ali’s son, Ibrahim, succeeded him and was followed shortly after by Abbas I, his grandson. He was followed by Said and Isma’il. While Abbas I was a cautious leader, Said and Isma’il developed ambitiously and ended up spending beyond their means. In 1869, the Suez Canal was completed in partnership with the French. This cost led to debt and caused unrest due to higher taxes. Isma’il was forced to sell the canal to the British in 1875. This ultimately led to French and British in the Egyptian cabinet. Their financial control made them the true power in the country.
Nationalist groups formed in 1879 due to dissatisfaction with Isma’il and the Europeans. Ahmad Urabi became a prominent figure and in 1882 he headed a nationalist ministry that desired democratic reforms, including parliamentary budget control. The British and French intervened with their military, eventually defeating the Egyptian army at the battle of Tel el-Kebir. The Europeans installed Isma’il’s son, Tewfik, as a figurehead leader. The British were effectively in control.
The power arrangement was made official in 1914. The head of state’s title was changed to sultan. This specifically repudiated the claimed power of the Ottoman sultan, who was part of the Central Powers in World War I. Abbas II was deposed and his uncle, Hussein Kamel, became sultan.
Many neutral Egyptians became nationalists after the Dinshaway Incident in 1906. After World War I, the Egyptian nationalist movement was led by the Wafd Party. It gained a majority in the legislature. The British expelled Saad Zaghlul, the Wafd Party leader, and his supporters to Malta on March 8, 1919. The country then experienced its first modern revolution. Due to near constant revolts, Britain declared Egypt’s independence on February 22, 1922.
A new constitution was drafted in 1923 and based it on a parliamentary representative system. Zaghlul was elected Prime Minister. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty was finished in 1936. Continued British control and the king’s involvement in politics destabilized the country and led to a coup in 1952. The monarchy was ousted and parliament dissolved. The military leaders, known as the Free Officers Movement, forced the king to abdicate in support of his son Fuad.
A republic was declared on June 18, 1953 with General Muhammad Naguib as its President. In 1954 he was forced to resign and placed under house arrest. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who truly formulated the coup, assumed the presidency in 1956. The British fully withdrew from the Suez Canal Zone that same year. Nasser’s nationalization of the canal prompted the 1956 Suez Crisis.
Nasser died three years after the 1967 Six Day War with Israel. Anwar Sadat succeeded him. Sadat changed Egypt’s cold war alliance from the U.S.S.R. to the United States. He clamped down on secular and religious opposition and started the Infitah economic reforms.
Egypt and Syria launched a surprise attack against Israel in 1973 focused on the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Sadat wanted to initially take territory lost in the prior war and regain the rest diplomatically. Both Cold War powers intervened and two separate U.N. ceasefires brought the war to a halt. While Israel won a military victory, Sadat was able to regain the Sinai from Israel in exchange for peace.
After Sadat’s historic visit to Israel in 1977, Israel agreed to withdraw from the Sinai in exchange for a peace treaty in 1979. This was controversial and led to Egypt’s expulsion from the Arab League. Most Egyptians supported the treaty. In 1981, a fundamentalist military soldier assassinated Sadat. Hosni Mubarak succeeded him. In 203, greater democracy and civil liberties were sought by the Egyptian Movement for Change, better known as Kefaya.
Protests against Mubarak began on January 25, 2011 to remove him from power. Civil resistance followed which was supported by a large number of the population. The army did not intervene significantly for either side.
Mubarak fled Cairo and resigned on February 11, 2011. The Egyptian military assumed short-term control. Two days later the military dissolved the parliament and the constitution. A constitutional referendum took place on March 19, 2011 and parliamentary elections were held November 28, 2011. There were few reports of irregularities and turnout was very high. Mohamed Morsi became the new president.The current president is Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, elected in 2014.
Spanning three thousand years, the Nile Valley is home to one of the world’s oldest cultures. Each successive foreign occupation after 343 BC left marks on the cultural landscape. National identity accommodated Islam, Christianity, and the Arabic language.
In the last century, questions of Egypt’s identity came to the forefront due to the country’s attempts to free itself from foreign rule. Three competing ideologies were secular Arab nationalism, Islamism, and ethno-territorial Egyptian nationalism. Under Nasser, Arab nationalism peaked. The current Muslim brotherhood supports Islamism.
Rifa’a et-Tahtawi’s work in the early 19th century started an Egyptian Renaissance. This marked the transition to modern Egypt. His worked revived world interest in Egypt’s antiquity. He co-founded a native Egyptology school along with Ali Mubarak.
This renaissance reached its height in the early 20th century due to people like Ahmed Lufti el-Sayed, Muhammad Abduh, Taha Hussein, Muhammad Loufti Goumah, Tawfiq el-Hakim, Louis Awad, Qasim Amin, Salama Moussa, and Mahmoud Mokhtar. Their liberal path was committed to secularism, personal freedom, and faith in science.
Since June 18, 1953, Egypt has officially been a republic. With the exception of 18 months in 1980, it has been under emergency law since 1967. Hosni Mubarak ruled the country from 1981 to 2011. Ahmed Shafik became Prime Minister on January 29, 2011.
Nubar Pasha was thus the first Prime Minister of Egypt in the modern sense. Prior to that, Egypt had traditional Muslim-style viziers. The current Prime Minister of Egypt is Mostafa Madbouly, since 7 June 2018 and the President is Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
While technically executive power is divided between the Prime Minister and the President, the President has been in sole control for more than 5 years.
Egypt has a moderate foreign policy. Egypt has extensive influence in Africa. Cairo’s position as a commercial and cultural crossroads has led its institutions to be at the center of the area’s cultural and social development.
The Arab League’s headquarters is in Cairo. The League’s Secretary General is typically an Egyptian. The current Secretary General is Amr Moussa, a former Egyptian Foreign Minister. As a protest against Egypt and Israel’s peace treaty, the headquarters was moved to Tunis in 1978 but it returned in 1989.
The country was the first Arab country to establish relations with Israel. Within Egypt, Israel is still considered an enemy. Egypt often acts as a mediator between Arab states and in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. It is also a major ally of the U.S.
Former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali was an Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister.
Governorates and Regions
There are 29 governorates in Egypt that are divided further into regions. These are formed of towns and villages. Governorates each have a capital.
Cairo and Giza were subdivided in to four governorates in 2008. Luxor was declared an independent governorate in 2009. The governorates are Alexandria, Aswan, Asyut, Beheira, Beni Suef, Cairo, Dakahlia, Damietta, Faiyum, Gharbia, Giza, Helwan, Ismailia, Kafr el-Sheikh, Luxor, Matruh, Minya, Monufia, New Valley, North Sinai, Port Said, Qalyubia, Qena, Red Sea, Sharqia, Sohag, South Sinai, Suez, and 6th of October.
Egypt has a surface area of 1,001,450 sq. km. It is the 38th largest nation in the world. It is approximately four times the U.K.’s size.
Due to the country’s deserts, the major cities are along the Nile Valley and Delta. 99 percent of the population uses 5.5 percent of the country’s land area. Sudan borders it to the south, Gaza Strip and Israel to the east, and Libya to the west. It has a transcontinental land bridge between Africa and Asia, giving it a strategic location. The Suez Canal connects the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
In the desert, winds can create sand dunes more than 100 feet high. The country has parts of the Sahara and Libyan Deserts. These are referred to the “red land” in ancient Egypt.
Egypt received little rain with the exception of the winter. South of the capital, there is only an average of 2 to 5 mm of rainfall per year. There is a very thing strip of coast where ran falls up to 410 mm, mostly between October and March. The Sinai Mountains receive some snow.
Prior to the Aswan Dam’s construction, the Nile River flooded annually. This replenished the spoil and produced consistent harvests. This was known as the Gift of the Nile.
The rising sea levels from climate change could have a major impact in Egypt since its population is mostly in the coastal areas. This could turn millions of Egyptians into refugees.
Egypt is the third most populous African country and the most populous in the Middle East with 78,866,635. The population has increased over the last four decades due to agricultural production and medical advances.
90 percent of the population is Muslim, with most of the rest Christian, primarily Coptic Orthodox. Egyptians may also be divided between those in the cities and the farmers.
Egyptians are the largest ethnic group and are 91 percent of the population. Other minorities are Turks, Abazas, Greeks, Bedouin Arab tribes, Berbers, and Nubians. Beja communities are also concentrated in the southeastern corner of Egypt. Dom clans are mostly in the Nile Delta. 2.7 million Egyptians live abroad. 70 percent live in Arab nations. The remaining 30 percent live in Europe and North America.
Refugees numbering between 500,000 and 3 million live in Egypt. 70,000 are Palestinian. Greek and Jewish communities have largely disappeared.
International organizations have criticized Egypt’s human rights record. Mubarak’s 2005 crackdown received criticism. Human Rights Watch has indicated torture and arbitrary detention had occurred.
Women are at a disadvantage legally. Coptic Christians are restricted in their church-building and open worship, but these rules were recently relaxed. Attacks on Christians do still occur. There is also intolerance of Sufis, Shi’a, and Baha’is. The legal system only recognizes Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
In a Freedom House rating the country was rated “Not Free.” The organization did note changes were occurring. The press was deemed “Partly Free.”
One of Egypt’s longest-standing bodies defending human rights is the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR). The National Council for Human Rights was established by the government in 2003. It has a headquarters in Cairo and is led by Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former U.N. Secretary General. Outside organizations claim is serves as a government propaganda tool.
In Egypt, Coptic Christians are persecuted at many levels. At the state level there is organized persecution. There are discriminatory laws and judges. There are laws requiring the government’s approval before building a church and the state governor’s approval before any renovations.
Equal opportunities for their promotion and recruitment are denied. Few are appointed to government positions. There are restrictions on the number of Copts in police and military institutions.
In the last 40 years, violence against Copts has increased. Since Mubarak became president there have been 1,500 attacks, leaving thousands of Copts dead or injured. Rarely to the attackers face justice. In 2000 in Elksheh, 20 Copts were killed in the most significant attack. All the assailants were freed.
The economy depends on media, oil, agriculture, exports, and tourism. The Aswan High Dam’s completion in 1970 changed the Nile’s place in the economy.
The government has not prepared the economy for modern times. Egypt has received an average of $2.2 billion in foreign aid per year from the U.S.
Egypt’s energy market is based on oil, coal, natural gas, and hydroelectric power. In the northeast Sinai there are substantial coal deposits. This is mined at the rate of 600,000 metric tons per year. In the western desert, oil and gas are produced. Egypt’s gas reserves are large.
There has been considerable economic improvement since the government adopted liberal economic policies. The IMF ranked the country one of the worlds best in undertaking economic reforms. Tariffs, customs, and corporate taxes have been reduced.
Foreign investment has increased due to this liberalization. In 2006 it was $6 billion.
Egyptians often criticize the government because basic goods increase in price while their purchasing power stagnates. They often blame corruption as an impediment to wealth. The government has planned infrastructure improvement.
Orascom Group is a good example of an Egyptian company that has expanded globally. Another improving sector is IT, with many start-ups outsourcing to the U.S. and Europe.
The media is influential in the Arab World. The constitution guarantees freedom of the press, but many laws restrict it. After 2005 elections more freedom was declared. Egyptian talk shows air on private channels. Even state channels are criticizing the government.
Egypt’s state religion is Islam and 90 percent of the population practices the religion. Most of these are Sunni. There are a significant number that follow Sufi orders. A minority of Shi’a live in Egypt.
The call to prayer is heard five times a day in Egypt and regulates business, media, and entertainment activities. The number of mosques in Cairo is well known. There has been some extremism. A court ruling essentially forbids the practice of any religion other than Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
This ruling forced other religions to either lie or be denied identification cards.
Christians, mostly practicing the Coptic Orthodox Church, are 10 percent of the population. The constitution requires all laws agree, at least implicitly, with Islamic law. It also bans political parties affiliated with religion. Under the Mubarak government in 2002, Coptic Christmas was recognized as a holiday. There are still few Coptic Christians in the government or police.
Like the Coptic Christians, the Shi’a minority are often discriminated against. Shi’a students are not admitted into the al-Azhar University in Cairo.
There are two main Shia branches, Ismailis and Imami. There is no way to know the number of Shia due to the hostility against them Egyptian sources admit to only a few thousand in the country. Interestingly, Cairo was founded by Ismaili Shia Fatimids in AD 968.
Other Religious Minorities
A small but significant Baha’i population numbering about 2,000 is present. A small number of Jews also live in Egypt. There are few atheists.
There is 6,000 years of recorded cultural history. Egypt’s culture influenced later European civilizations and those in Africa and the Middle East. Parts of Egypt’s culture interact with newer influences.
Cairo is Africa’s largest city and is a renowned learning center. The country has the highest number of Nobel Laureates in the Middle East and Africa. Contemporary Arab culture is influenced by Egyptian music, film, television, and literature.
Art and Architecture
Egypt was one of the first civilizations to codify their art and architecture design elements. The wall paintings followed codes of visual rules and meanings. Its pyramids, tombs, and colonnades are renowned. The Pyramid at Djoser is a well-known example and was designed by Imhotep. Others are the Sphinx and the temple of Abu Simbel. There are also diverse modern art works. This includes architecture from Hassan Fathy and Ramses Wissa, sculptures from Mahmoud Mokhtar, and iconography of Isaac Fanous.
Cairo’s Opera House is the main Egyptian performing arts venue. Since the late 19th century, the arts and media industries have grown and there are now more than 30 television channels and over one hundred movies produced yearly. The country is known as the “Hollywood of the Middle East. The Cairo International Film Festival is well respected in the world. Well-known actors, including Omar Sharif, were born in Egypt.
Egyptian novelists were some of the first to experiment with modern Arabic styles. Their forms have been imitated throughout the Middle East. In 1913, Muhammad Husayn Haykal wrote the first modern Egyptian novel, Zaynab. The first Arabic writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature was Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz. There are also well-known Egyptian women writers like Nawal El Saadawi and Alifa Rifaat.
Poetry is one of the most well known Egyptian literary genres. Famous poets are Ahmed Fouad Negm, Abdel Rahman el-Abundi, and Salah Jaheen.
The country’s music is a mix of many styles, including indigenous, African, Western, and Mediterranean. Ancient Egyptians played flutes and harps. The ney and oud were indigenous instruments. Vocals and percussion also became important.
Modern music began with the works of Abdu-I Hamuli, Almaz, and Mahmud Osman. These influenced later artists like Umm Kulthum, Sayed Darwish, Abdel Halim Hafez, and Mohammed Abdel Wahab. The country’s pop music has been popular since the 1970s and folk music is used during festivities like weddings. Modern pop artists include Mohamed Mounir and Amr Diab.
Egypt’s religious carnivals, known as mulid, and its festivals are well-known. While usually associated with a Coptic or Sufi saint, most Egyptians celebrate them regardless of faith. Ramadan is a particularly large celebration, with Muslim tourists from the region traveling to Egypt to celebrate. Sham en Nisim is an ancient spring festival celebrated for thousands of years.
Football is the country’s most popular sport. It has many private clubs and has a reputation as a regional powerhouse. Rivalries energize the streets when games are played. The Cairo Derby is one of the fiercest in the world. The country has won many championships, including the Africa Cup of Nations seven times, more than any other country.
Tennis and squash are other popular Egyptian sports. Since the 1930s, the squash team is a well-known international competitor. The best player and three time world open winner is Amr Shabana.
Handball is very popular and its team has won first place in the African Handball Nations Championships five times. It has won second place five times, third place four times, and fourth place twice. In the World Men’s Handball Championships, the team has also placed well.
In 2007, Omar Samra became the first Egyptian to climb Mount Everest. He climbed the mountain from its South face, the same route Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing took in 1953.
Egypt’s military has a total troop strength of approximately 450,000. It has nearly the same number of warplanes as Israel. The number of tanks, warships, artillery, and anti-aircraft batteries far exceeds Israel’s.
Recently, the military has modernized. Egypt is considered to be the second strongest Middle Eastern power behind Israel.