Total: 1,001,450 sq km
Land: 995,450 sq km
Water: 6,000 sq km
Total: 2,612 km
border countries (6):
Gaza Strip 13 km
Israel 208 km
Libya 1,115 km
Sudan 1,276 km
Coastline: 2,450 km
Total: 4,477 km
Hot, dry summers
Vast desert plateau interrupted by Nile valley and delta
Mean elevation: 321 m
Lowest point: Qattara Depression -133 m
Highest point: Mount Catherine 2,629 m
Petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, phosphates,
Manganese, limestone, gypsum, talc,
Asbestos, lead, rare earth elements, zinc
Agricultural land: 3.6%
Arable land 2.8%; permanent crops 0.8%; permanent pasture 0%
36,500 sq km (2012)
Population – distribution:
Approximately 95% of the population lives within 20 km
of the Nile River and its delta; vast areas of the country
remain sparsely populated or uninhabited
Frequent earthquakes; flash floods; landslides
Hot, driving windstorms called khamsin to occur in spring
Dust storms; sandstorms
People and Society
Egypt is the most populated country in the Middle East, and the third most populous on the African continent, with about 97 million inhabitants as of 2017. Its population grew rapidly from 1970 to 2010 due to medical advances and increases in agricultural productivity enabled by the Green Revolution. Egypt’s population was estimated at 3 million when Napoleon invaded the country in 1798.
Egypt society in 1990 reflected both ancient roots and the profound changes that have occurred since Napoleon Bonaparte invaded the country in 1798. Land tenure, crops, and cultivation patterns had all been transformed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and the country had become increasingly urbanized and industrialized. Nevertheless, approximately half the population still lived in rural areas where settlement patterns remained defined, as they had been since pharaonic times, by the Nile River and irrigated agriculture. Villages were clustered along both banks of the Nile and along myriad irrigation canals in the Delta.
The land-reform measures implemented by the government in the 1950s and 1960s led to the redistribution of nearly 15 percent of the arable land to about 10 percent of the rural population. Land reform limited individual landownership to twenty-one hectares, thus forcing the wealthiest landed families to sell most of their holdings. Small peasant proprietors were the main beneficiaries of the redistribution. By the early 1980s, however, continued population growth and rising production costs had eroded many of the accomplishments of land reform.
Massive urbanization beginning after World War II has had a pervasive and accelerating impact on the nation ‘s cities, especially Cairo and Alexandria. These cities, which were once the enclaves of the relatively prosperous and privileged, have attracted millions of rural migrants, including landowning families ‘ children who wanted to pursue an education and illiterate sons and daughters of poor, landless peasants who were willing to work as unskilled laborers. The migrants have adapted to urban life by attempting to replicate the social organization found in villages. Residential patterns, employment practices, and socializing have tended to reflect and to reinforce relationships formed in the countryside.
Egypt is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country with Islam as its state religion. The percentage of adherents of various religions is a controversial topic in Egypt. An estimated 85 – 90% are identified as Muslim, 10 – 15% as Coptic Christians, and 1% as other Christian denominations. Although Egypt was a Christian country before the 7th Century, after Islam arrived, the country was gradually Islamised into a majority-Muslim country. It is not known when Muslims reached a majority variously estimated from 1000 A.D. to as late as the 14th century. Egypt emerged as a center of politics and culture in the Muslim world under Anwar Sadat, Islam became the official state religion and Sharia the main source of law. It is estimated that 15 million Egyptians follow Native Sufi orders, with the Sufi leadership asserting that the numbers are much greater as many Egyptian Sufis are not officially registered with a Sufi order.
Egyptian Arab 84.1%, Sudanese Arab 5.5%, Arabized Berber 2.2%, Bedouin 2.0%, Rom (Gypsy), and other 4.8%
Arabic (official), English and French widely understood by educated classes
Muslim (predominantly Sunni) 90%, Christian (majority Coptic Orthodox, other Christians include Armenian Apostolic, Catholic, Maronite, Orthodox, and Anglican) 10% (2015 est.)
Approximately 95% of the population lives within 20 km of the Nile River and its delta; vast areas of the country remain sparsely populated or uninhabited
The deserts of Egypt contain nomadic, seminomadic, and sedentary but formerly nomadic groups, with distinct ethnic characteristics. Apart from a few non-Arab tribal groups and the mixed urban population, the inhabitants of the Sinai and the northern section of the Eastern Desert are all fairly recent immigrants from Arabia, who bear some physical resemblances to Arabian Bedouin. Their social organization is tribal, each group conceiving of itself as being united by a bond of blood and as having descended from a common ancestor. Originally, tent dwellers and nomadic herders, many have become seminomads or even totally sedentary, as in the northern Sinai Peninsula.
The southern section of the Eastern Desert is inhabited by the Beja, who bears a distinct resemblance to the surviving depictions of predynastic Egyptians. The Egyptian Beja are divided into two tribes—the ʿAbābdah and the Bishārīn. The ʿAbābdah occupy the Eastern Desert south of a line between Qinā and Al-Ghardaqah; there are also several groups settled along the Nile between Aswān and Qinā. The Bishārīn live mainly in Sudan, although some dwell in the ʿIlbah Mountain region, their traditional place of origin. Both the ʿAbābdah and Bishārīn people are nomadic pastoralists who tend herds of camels, goats, and sheep.
The inhabitants of the Western Desert, outside the oases, are of mixed Arab and Amazigh (Berber) descent. They are divided into two groups, the Saʿādī (not to be confused with the Saʿīdī, Upper Egyptians) and the Mūrābiṭīn. The Saʿādī regard themselves as descended from Banū Hilāl and Banū Sulaym, the great Arab tribes that migrated to North Africa in the 11th century. The most important and numerous of the Saʿādī group are the Awlād ʿAlī. The Mūrābiṭīn clans occupy a client status in relation to the Saʿādī and may be descendants of the original Amazigh inhabitants of the region. Originally herders and tent dwellers, the Bedouin of the Western Desert have become either seminomadic or totally sedentary. They are not localized by clan, and members of a single group may be widely dispersed. Many peoples have since mixed with them, including Egyptians from the Nile valley, Arabs, Sudanese, Turks, and sub-Saharan Africans.
Egypt has the largest overall education system in Africa, and it has grown rapidly since the early 1990s. In recent years the Government of Egypt has given greater priority to improving the education system. According to the Human Development Index (HDI), Egypt is ranked 108 in the HDI, and 9 in the lowest 10 HDI countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa, in 2014. With the help of the World Bank and other multilateral organizations, Egypt aims to increase access in early childhood to care and education and the inclusion of ICT at all levels of education, especially at the tertiary level. The government is responsible for offering free education at all levels. The current overall expenditure on education is about 12.6 percent as of 2007. The Ministry of education is also tackling with a number of issues: trying to move from a highly centralized system to offering more autonomy to individual institutions, thereby increasing accountability.
The public education system in Egypt consists of three levels: the basic education stage for 4–14 years old: kindergarten for two years followed by a primary school for six years and preparatory school (ISCED Level 2) for three years. Then, the secondary school (ISCED Level 3) stage is for three years, for ages 15 to 17, followed by the tertiary level. Education is made compulsory for 9 academic years between the ages of 4 and 14. Moreover, all levels of education are free within any government-run schools. According to the World Bank, there are great differences in educational attainment of the rich and the poor, also known as the “wealth gap.” Although the median years of school completed by the rich and the poor are only one or two years the wealth gap reaches as high as nine or ten years.
Promotional examinations are held at all levels except in grades 6 and 9 at the basic education level and the grade 12 in the second stage, which applies standardized regional or national exams. The Ministry of Education is responsible for making decisions about the education system with the support of three Centers: the National Center of Curricula Development, the National Center for Education Research, and the National Center for Examinations and Educational Evaluation. Each center has its own focus in formulating education policies with other state-level committees. On the other hand, the Ministry of Higher Education supervises the higher education system.
Egypt launched its National Strategic Plan for Pre-University Education Reform (2007 – 2012). The Strategic Plan (which has the subtitle ‘Towards an educational paradigm shift’), which is a comprehensive, sustainable, and collective approach towards ensuring an education of quality for all and developing a knowledge society. Its key elements are access and participation; teachers; pedagogy; curriculum and learning assessment; textbooks and learning materials; management and governance; and a quality improvement strategy.
Egypt’s economy depends mainly on agriculture, media, petroleum imports, natural gas, and tourism; there are also more than three million Egyptians working abroad, mainly in Libya, Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf and Europe. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1970 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honored place of the Nile River in the agriculture and ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population, limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress the economy.
The government has invested in communications and physical infrastructure. Egypt has received United States foreign aid since 1979 (an average of $2.2 billion per year) and is the third-largest recipient of such funds from the United States following the Iraq war. Egypt’s economy mainly relies on these sources of income: tourism, remittances from Egyptians working abroad and revenues from the Suez Canal.
However, the economy has continued to face many hurdles. The general standard of living in Egypt remains rather low, and in relation to the size of its population, its economic resources are limited. Land remains its main source of natural wealth, but the amount of productive land is insufficient to support the population adequately. Increases in population have put pressure on resources, producing chronic underemployment, and many Egyptians have sought employment abroad.
Since 2000, the pace of structural reforms, including fiscal, monetary policies, taxation, privatization and new business legislation, helped Egypt to move towards a more market-oriented economy and prompted increased foreign investment. The reforms and policies have strengthened macroeconomic annual growth results which averaged 8% annually between 2004 and 2009 but the government largely failed to equitably share the wealth and the benefits of growth have failed to trickle down to improve economic conditions for the broader population, especially with the growing problem of unemployment and underemployment.
Despite Egypt’s mixed record for attracting foreign investment over the past two decades, poor living conditions and limited job opportunities have contributed to public discontent. These socioeconomic pressures were a major factor leading to the January 2011 revolution that ousted MUBARAK. The uncertain political, security, and policy environment since 2011 has restricted economic growth and failed to alleviate persistent unemployment, especially among the young.
In late 2016, persistent dollar shortages and waning aid from its Gulf allies led Cairo to turn to the IMF for a 3-year, $12 billion loan program. To secure the deal, Cairo floated its currency, introduced new taxes, and cut energy subsidies – all of which pushed inflation above 30% for most of 2017, a high that had not been seen in a generation. Since the currency float, foreign investment in Egypt’s high-interest treasury bills has risen exponentially, boosting both dollar availability and central bank reserves. Cairo will need to make a sustained effort to implement a range of business reforms, however, to induce foreign and local investment in manufacturing and other labor-intensive sectors. Since Al Sisi took office, the Standard & Poor’s credit rating for Egypt stands to return back to B- with a positive outlook.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$1.199 trillion (2017 est.)
$1.152 trillion (2016 est.)
$1.104 trillion (2015 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate):
$332.3 billion (2017 est.)
GDP – real growth rate:
4.1% (2017 est.)
GDP – per capita (PPP):
$13,000 (2017 est.)
$12,800 (2016 est.)
$12,400 (2015 est.)
Gross national saving:
9.7% of GDP (2017 est.)
9.1% of GDP (2016 est.)
10.7% of GDP (2015 est.)
GDP – composition, by sector of origin:
services: 55.7% (2017 est.
Agriculture – products:
cotton, rice, corn, wheat, beans, fruits, vegetables; cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats
textiles, food processing, tourism, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, hydrocarbons, construction, cement, metals, light manufactures
Population below poverty line:
25.2% (2016 est.)
revenues: $35.54 billion
expenditures: $55.09 billion (2017 est.)
About 96 percent of Egypt’s total area is desert. Lack of forests, permanent meadows, or pastures places a heavy burden on the available arable land, which constitutes only about 3 percent of the total area. This limited area, is, however, highly fertile and is cropped more than once a year. That is why Agriculture remains an important sector of the Egyptian economy. It contributes nearly one-seventh of the GDP, employs roughly one-fourth of the labor force, and provides the country—through agricultural exports—with an important part of its foreign exchange.
The area of agricultural land in Egypt is confined to the Nile Valley and Delta, with a few oases and some arable land in Sinai. The total cultivated area is 7.2 million feddans (1 feddan = 0.42 ha). The entire crop area is irrigated, except for some rain-fed areas on the Mediterranean coast. Over the past four decades, an area of 900 000 feddans of newly reclaimed land has been added to the agricultural area. The landholdings are fragmented, with the average size of farm units being 2.5 feddans. The total area cropped annually is about 11.5 million feddans, which represents a cropping ratio of about 2:1. Egypt has an arid climate with an annual average rainfall ranging from 60 to 190 mm along the Mediterranean coast to 25 to 60 mm in the Nile delta, and less than 25 mm in upper Egypt and adjacent areas. The climate is generally very uniform with good sunshine. In addition, the Nile is an exceptional source of water, and soil near the Nile is generally of excellent quality.
Egypt’s total agricultural crop production has increased by more than 20 percent in the past decade. During the same period, the rate of population growth has increased at a slightly higher rate than the increase in crop production. The most important crops grown in Egypt are discussed briefly below.
Cereals: Rice is one of the major field crops, grown on nearly 500 000 feddans, and is considered the second most important export crop after cotton. Wheat is the major winter cereal grain crop and the third major crop in terms of area planted (about 600 000 feddans). Maize is the second most important crop (750 000 feddans), but at least 50 percent of its production is used for livestock and poultry feed.
Fiber crops: Cotton has traditionally been the most important fiber crop in Egypt and the leading agricultural export crop.
Sugar crops: Sugarcane is the main sugar crop in upper Egypt. About 90 percent of the yield is used for sugar extraction. Sugar beet also grows in large areas in the Nile delta and contributes to the sugar industry in Egypt.
Food Legumes: These include a number of bean crops that are used for human consumption, such as broad beans and soybeans.
Forage crops: Egyptian clover, berseem, is the major winter forage crop cultivated in the Nile Valley and Delta. It is the most widely grown field crop and occupies an area which totals 1.2 million feddans.
Fruits: Citrus, primarily oranges that represent 85 percent of total citrus production, makes up 50 percent of total fruit production. The fruit-planted area has expanded over the last three decades to reach about 200 000 feddans. Other subtropical fruits are also grown in Egypt, including grapes, stone fruits, and some fruits.
Vegetable: Tomatoes are grown in three seasons – winter, summer, and autumn – on about 3 percent of Egypt’s total planted area. Losses in tomato crops have been large as a result of tomato leaf curl virus, early and late blight, and nematodes. Potatoes are the second most important vegetable after tomatoes, both in terms of cash value and total tonnage produced.
population without electricity: 300,000
electrification – total population: 99.6%
electrification – urban areas: 100%
electrification – rural areas: 99.3% (2013)
Electricity – production:
171.9 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – consumption:
150.4 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – exports:
1.158 billion kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – imports:
43 million kWh (2015 est.)
Electricity – installed generating capacity:
38.88 million kW (2015 est.)
Electricity – from fossil fuels:
90.5% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Electricity – from nuclear fuels:
3.9% of total installed capacity (2015 est.)
Telephones – fixed lines:
total subscriptions: 6,118,250
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 6 (July 2016 est.)
Telephones – mobile cellular:
subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 101 (July 2016 est.)
Internet country code:
percent of population: 39.2% (July 2016 est.)
The first systematic effort in modern Egyptian history to create a manufacturing sector was undertaken during Muhammad Ali ‘ s rule in the first half of the nineteenth century. Although that attempt failed to achieve the ambitious goals set for it, the rudiments of modern manufacturing were put in place. These consisted primarily of food processing, such as rice milling and sugar refining, and textile production, including cotton ginning and production of linen and woolen fabrics. Little was accomplished, however, for about ninety years afterward, and the economy remained essentially dependent on cotton exports.
During the 20th century, manufacturing grew to be one of the largest sectors of Egypt’s economy, accounting (along with mining) for roughly one-fourth of the GDP by the 21st century. Domestic manufacturers were weak from the late 19th century until about 1930 because of free trade policies that favored importing foreign products. Motivated by the need to increase national income, to diversify the economy, and to satisfy the aspirations of nascent nationalism, the government imposed a customs tariff on foreign goods in 1930 that promoted the development of Egyptian manufactures. The Bank of Egypt also extended loans to Egyptian entrepreneurs in the 1920s and ’30s to help stimulate Egyptian domestic production. A succession of companies was founded that engaged in printing, cotton ginning, transport, spinning and weaving (linen, silk, and cotton), vegetable oil extraction, and the manufacture of pharmaceuticals and rayon. Egypt was a major Allied base during World War II (1939–45) but was largely cut off from European imports; this situation further fueled the development of manufacturing, particularly of textile products.
Industries were located mainly in the urban governorates. Cairo and Giza accounted for about 37.5 percent of all industries and Alexandria for more than 23 percent. Industrial location was governed by factors such as population density, as in the case of food processing, and by the availability of skilled labor, as in the case of electronics in Cairo, Giza, and Alexandria, as well as in the case of furniture in Damietta and Al Qalyubiyah, north of Cairo. The concentration of industries both expressed and reinforced regional disparities as well as the skewed population distribution.
Textiles and clothing is one of the largest manufacturing and exporting processes in the country and a huge employment absorber. The Egyptian apparel industry is attractive for two reasons. First, its proximity to European markets, whose rapidly changing fashions requires quick replenishment. Egypt’s geographical proximity to style-conscious Europe is a logistical advantage. Second, the production of garments is a low-capital and high-labor-intensive industry, and the local population of 66 million provides a ready workforce as well as a natural local consumer market that acts as a springboard for exports. The textile industry contributes with one-quarter of Egypt’s non-oil export proceeds, with Cotton textiles comprising the bulk of Egypt’s TC export basket.
By the beginning of the 21st century, most large manufacturing enterprises were still owned or operated by the state, although the government had begun to sell substantial holdings to the private sector. Major manufactures included chemicals of all sorts (including pharmaceuticals), food products, textiles and garments, cement and other building materials, and paper products as well as derivatives of hydrocarbons (including fuel oil, gasoline, lubricants, jet fuel, and asphalt). Iron, steel, and automobiles were of growing importance to the Egyptian economy.
Banking and Finance
Modern banking activities date from the mid-19th century. The Bank of Egypt opened in 1858 and the Anglo-Egyptian Bank in 1864. The French bank Crédit Lyonnais began operations in Egypt in 1866, followed by the Ottoman Bank (1867) and then other French, Italian, and Greek banks. The National Bank of Egypt (1898) and the Agricultural Bank of Egypt (1902) were founded with British capital. The first purely Egyptian Bank was the Banque Misr (1920).
From its inception, the National Bank of Egypt assumed the main functions of a central bank, a status that was confirmed by law in 1951. In 1957 all English and French banks and insurance companies were nationalized and taken over by various Egyptian joint-stock companies; thereafter, all shareholders, directors, and managers of those financial institutions were bound by law to be Egyptian citizens. Banque Misr, long responsible for controlling a number of industrial companies in addition to conducting ordinary banking business, was nationalized in 1960. As of 1961 the National Bank of Egypt—which had also been nationalized in 1960—was divided into a commercial bank that maintained the original name and the Central Bank of Egypt, which functioned as a central bank. Later that year, all remaining financial institutions were nationalized, and their operations were concentrated in five commercial banks, in addition to the central bank, the government-sponsored Public Organization for Agricultural Credits and Co-operatives, the Development Industrial Bank, and three mortgage banks. The national currency, the Egyptian pound (Arabic: ginīh), is issued by the central bank.
The government again reorganized the banking system in the early 1970s, merging some of the major banks and assigning special functions to each of the rest. Two new banks were created, and foreign banks were again permitted in the country as part of a program aimed at liberalizing the economy. Of particular interest were joint banking ventures between Egyptian and foreign banks. In 1980 Egypt’s first international bank since the revolution was opened and a national investment bank was established. Islamic banks have been set up in Egypt, paying dividends to their investors instead of interest, which is proscribed under Islamic law. In 1992 the stock exchanges at Cairo (1903) and Alexandria (1881), which had been closed since the early 1960s, were reopened, and in 1997 they were fully merged as the Cairo and Alexandria Stock Exchange.
The supply of money has, in general, followed the development of the economy; the authorities have aimed at tolerable increases in the price level, although some prices soared during the 1970s and ’80s. Long pegged to the U.S. dollar, the pound was allowed to float in January 2003.
Egypt is a member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Since World War II the international liquidity of the Egyptian economy, including the Special Drawing Rights, added in 1970, has been depressed. In the late 1970s, both internal and external debts rose, primarily because of large government subsidies to the private sector. In the 1980s and ’90s, the government gradually introduced price increases on goods and services, effectively reducing (though not eliminating) subsidies for food and fuel. In 1991 Egypt signed an agreement with the IMF and the World Bank called the Economic Reform and Structural Adjustment Program, which reduced the fiscal deficit, removed consumer subsidies, eliminated price controls, liberalized trade, reformed labor laws, and privatized state-owned enterprises. Although the program strengthened Egypt’s economy during the 1990s, economic growth slowed in the early 21st century. In late 2016, persistent dollar shortages and waning aid from its Gulf allies led Cairo to turn to the IMF once again for a 3-year, $12 billion loan program.
Tourism is one of the leading sources of income, crucial to Egypt’s economy. At its peak in 2010, the sector employed about 12% of Egypt’s workforce serving approximately 14.7 million visitors Egypt and providing revenues of nearly $12.5 billion, as well as contributing more than 11% of GDP and 14.4% of foreign currency revenues. The Giza Necropolis is one of Egypt’s most well-known tourist attractions; it is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still in existence.
The number of tourists in Egypt stood at 0.1 million in 1951. Tourism became an important sector of the economy from 1975 onwards, as Egypt eased visa restrictions for almost all European and North American countries and established embassies in new countries like Austria, Netherlands, Denmark, and Finland. In 1976, tourism was a focal point of the Five Year Plan of the Government, where 12% of the budget was allocated to upgrading state-owned hotels, establishing a loan fund for private hotels, and upgrading infrastructure (including road, rail, and air connectivity) for major tourist centers along the coastal areas. Tourism reached a pinnacle in 2010 by reaching 14.7 million visitors. Since then the number of tourists has significantly declined (down to 9.5 million in 2013) and revenue down to $5.9 billion due to security threats and civil unrest.
During the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, the number of visitors plummeted by over 37% that year falling from 14 million in 2010 to 9 million by the end of 2011. This has impacted a diverse range of businesses directly or indirectly dependent on tourism, from travel accommodation and tourist attractions to car rental and air transportation, as well as health and wellness industries. Tour operators offering heavy discounts to encourage tourists back have been somewhat successful at the Red Sea resorts where prices remain lower compared to 2011.
Major tourist destinations include the millennia-old monuments in the Nile Valley. Principal among them is the Pyramids and Great Sphinx at Giza, the Abu Simbel temples south of Aswan and the Karnak Temple Complex and Valley of the Kings near Luxor.
Attractions in Cairo include the Cairo Museum and the Mosque of Muhammad Ali Pasha. The coast of the Sinai Peninsula has well-visited seaside resorts, in addition to Hurghada city on the Red Sea coast and the Famous El Gouna Resort 25 km Hurghada.
Giza, 20 km southwest of Cairo, Luxor, about 500 km south of Cairo, Abu Simbel, about 850 km south of Cairo, Alexandria is the main summer resort, Sinai Peninsula, Ain Sukhna, about 110 km east of Cairo, and Assiut in the south of Egypt are the other major tourist destination.
Egypt’s beaches on the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, which extend to over 3,000 kilometers (1,900 miles), are also popular tourist destinations; the Gulf of Aqaba beaches, Safaga, Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada, Luxor, Dahab, Ras Sidr, and Marsa Alam are popular cites.
In 2017, Bloomberg said Egypt has “shed its years of social and political unrest” and makes the top 20 list of 2017 travel destinations. The latest United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has revealed that Egypt is one of the world’s fast-growing tourist destination for 2017, it raised to 8 million compared to the prior year which was about 5.26 million.
The Roots of Egypt civilization go back more than 6,000 years to the beginning of settled life along the banks of the Nile River. The country has an unusual geographical and cultural unity that has given the Egyptian people a strong sense of identity and a pride in their heritage as descendants of humankind ‘s earliest civilized community.
The Predynastic Period (6000-2686 B.C.), during this period people first began to settle along the banks of the Nile (Nahr an Nil) and to evolve from hunters and gatherers to settled, subsistence agriculturalists. Egypt developed the written language, religion, and institutions that made it the world ‘s first organized society. Through pharaonic Egypt, Africa claims to be the cradle of one of the earliest and most spectacular civilizations of antiquity.
One of the unique features of ancient Egyptian civilization was the bond between the Nile and the Egyptian people and their insinuations. The Nile caused the great productivity of the soil, for it annually brought a copious deposit of rich silt from the monsoon- swept tableland of Ethiopia. Each July, the level of the Nile began to rise, and by the end of August, the flood reached its full height. At the end of October, the flood began to recede, leaving behind a fairly uniform deposit of silt as well as lagoons and streams that became natural reservoirs for fish. By April, the Nile was at its lowest level. Vegetation started to diminish, seasonal pools dried out, and the game began to move south. Then in July, the Nile would rise again, and the cycle was repeated.
Because of the fall and rise of the river, one can understand why the Egyptians were the first people to believe in life after death. The rise and fall of the flood waters meant that the ” death ” of the land would be followed each year by the ” rebirth ” of the crops. Thus, rebirth was seen as a natural sequence to death. Like the sun, which ” died ” when it sank on the western horizon and was ” reborn ” in the eastern sky on the following morning, humans would also rise and live again.
Sometime during the final Paleolithic period and the Neolithic era, a revolution occurred in food production. Meat ceased to be the chief article of diet and was replaced by plants such as wheat and barley grown extensively as crops and not gathered at random in the wild. The relatively egalitarian tribal structure of the Nile Valley broke down because of the need to manage and control the new agricultural economy and the surplus it generated. Long- distance trade within Egypt, a high degree of craft specialization, and sustained contacts with southwest Asia encouraged the development of towns and a hierarchical structure with power residing in a headman who was believed to be able to control the Nile flood. The headman ‘s power rested on his reputation as a ” rainmaker king. ” The towns became trading centers, political centers, and cult centers. Egyptologists disagree as to when these small, autonomous communities were unified into the separate kingdoms of Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt and as to when the two kingdoms were united under one king.
Nevertheless, the most important political event in ancient Egyptian history was the unification of the two lands: the Black Land of the Delta, so-called because of the darkness of its rich soil, and the Red Land of Upper Egypt, the sunbaked land of the desert. The rulers of Lower Egypt wore the red crown and had the bee as their symbol. The leaders of Upper Egypt wore the white crown and took the sedge as their emblem. After the unification of the two kingdoms, the pharaoh wore the double crown symbolizing the unity of the two lands.
Pyramid Building in the Old and Middle Kingdoms
With the Third Dynasty, Egypt entered into the five centuries of high culture known as the Pyramid Age. The age is associated with Chancellor Imhotep, the adviser, administrator, and architect of Pharaoh Djoser. He built the pharaoh ‘s funerary complex, including his tomb, the Step Pyramid, at Saqqarah. Imhotep is famed as the inventor of building in dressed stone. His architectural genius lay in his use of durable, fine-quality limestone to imitate the brick, wood, and reed structures that have since disappeared.
The first true pyramid was built by Snoferu, the first king of the Fourth Dynasty. His son and successor, Kheops, built the Great Pyramid at Giza (Al Jizah); this, with its two companions on the same site, was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. It contained well over 2 million blocks of limestone, some weighing fifteen tons apiece. The casing stones of the Great Pyramid were stripped off to build medieval Cairo (Al Qahirah).
The building and equipping of funerary monuments represented the single largest industry through the Old Kingdom and, after a break, the Middle Kingdom as well. The channeling of so much of the country ‘s resources into building and equipping funerary monuments may seem unproductive by modern standards, but pyramid building seems to have been essential for the growth of pharaonic civilization.
As Egyptologists have pointed out, in ancient societies innovations in technology arose not so much from deliberate research as from the consequences of developing lavish court projects. Equally important, the continued consumption of so great a quantity of wealth and of the products of artisanship sustained the machinery that produced them by creating fresh demand as reign succeeded reign.
The pyramids of the pharaohs, the tombs of the elite, and the burial practices of the poorer classes are related to ancient Egyptian religious beliefs, particularly belief in the afterlife. The Egyptian belief that life would continue after death in a form similar to that experienced on earth was an important element in the development of art and architecture that was not present in other cultures. Thus, in Egypt, a dwelling place was provided for the dead in the form of a pyramid or a rock tomb. Life was magically recreated in pictures on the walls of the tombs, and a substitute in stone was provided for the perishable body of the deceased.
Around the year 1600 B.C., a semi-autonomous Theban dynasty under the suzerainty of the Hyksos became determined to drive the Shepherd Kings out of the country and extend its own power. The country was liberated from the Hyksos and unified by Ahmose (ruled 1570-1546 B.C.), the son of the last ruler of the Seventeenth Dynasty. He was honored by subsequent generations as the founder of a new line, the Eighteenth Dynasty, and as the initiator of a glorious chapter in Egyptian history.
During the New Kingdom, Egypt reached the peak of its power, wealth, and territory. The government was reorganized into a military state with an administration centralized in the hands of the pharaoh and his chief minister. Through the intensive military campaigns of Pharaoh Thutmose III (1490-1436 B.C.), Palestine, Syria, and the northern Euphrates area in Mesopotamia were brought within the New Kingdom. This territorial expansion involved Egypt in a complicated system of diplomacy, alliances, and treaties. After Thutmose III established the empire, succeeding pharaohs frequently engaged in warfare to defend the state against the pressures of Libyans from the west, Nubians and Ethiopians (Kushites) from the south, Hittites from the east, and Philistines (sea people) from the Aegean-Mediterranean region of the north.
Art and Architecture in the New Kingdom
As historian Cyril Aldred has said, the civilization of the New Kingdom seems the most golden of all the epochs of Egyptian history, perhaps because so much of its wealth remains. The rich store of treasures from the tomb of Tutankhamen (ruled 1347-1337 B.C.) gives us a glimpse of the dazzling court art of the period and the skills of the artisans of the day.
One of the innovations of the period was the construction of rock tombs for the pharaohs and the elite. Around 1500 B.C., Pharaoh Amenophis I abandoned the pyramid in favor of a rock-hewn tomb in the crags of western Thebes (present-day Luxor). His example was followed by his successors, who for the next four centuries cut their tombs in the Valley of the Kings and built their mortuary temples on the plain below. Other wadis or river valleys were subsequently used for the tombs of queens and princes.
Another New Kingdom innovation was temple building, which began with Queen Hatshepsut, who as the heiress queen seized power in default of male claimants to the throne. She was particularly devoted to the worship of the god Amun, whose cult was centered at Thebes. She built a splendid temple dedicated to him and to her own funerary cult at Dayr al Bahri in western Thebes.
One of the greatest temples still standing is that of Pharaoh Amenophis III at Thebes. With Amenophis III, statuary on an enormous scale makes its appearance. The most notable is the pair of colossi, the so-called Colossi of Memnon, which still dominate the Theban plain before the vanished portal of his funerary temple.
Ramesses II was the most vigorous builder to wear the double crown of Egypt. Nearly half the temples remaining in Egypt date from his reign. Some of his constructions include his mortuary temple at Thebes, popularly known as the Ramesseum; the huge hypostyle hall at Karnak, the rock-hewn temple at Abu Simbel (Abu Sunbul); and his new capital city of Pi Ramesses.
During the New Kingdom, the cult of the sun god Ra became increasingly important until it evolved into the uncompromising monotheism of Pharaoh Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV, 1364-1347 B.C.). According to the cult, Ra created himself from a primeval mound in the shape of a pyramid and then created all other gods. Thus, Ra was not only the sun god, he was also the universe, having created himself from himself. Ra was invoked as Aten or the Great Disc that illuminated the world of the living and the dead.
The effect of these doctrines can be seen in the sun worship of Pharaoh Akhenaten, who became an uncompromising monotheist. Aldred has speculated that monotheism was Akhenaten ‘s own idea, the result of regarding Aten as a self-created heavenly king whose son, the pharaoh, was also unique. Akhenaten made Aten the supreme state god, symbolized as a rayed disk with each sunbeam ending in a ministering hand. Other gods were abolished, their images smashed, their names excised, their temples abandoned, and their revenues impounded. The plural word for god was sup- pressed.
Sometime in the fifth or sixth year of his reign, Akhenaten moved his capital to a new city called Akhetaten (present-day Tall al Amarinah, also seen as Tell al Amarna). At that time, the pharaoh, previously known as Amenhotep IV, adopted the name Akhenaten. His wife, Queen Nefertiti, shared his beliefs.
Akhenaten ‘s religious ideas did not survive his death. His ideas were abandoned in part because of the economic collapse that ensued at the end of his reign. To restore the morale of the nation, Akhenaten ‘s successor, Tutankhamen, appeased the offended gods whose resentment would have blighted all human enterprise. Temples were cleaned and repaired, new images made, priests appointed, and endowments restored. Akhenaten ‘s new city was abandoned to the desert sands.
Alexander the Conqueror
The Persian occupation of Egypt ended when Alexander the Great defeated the Persians at the Battle of Issus (near present-day Iskenderun in Turkey) in November 333 B.C. The Egyp-tians, who despised the monotheistic Persians and chafed under Persian rule, welcomed Alexander as a deliverer. In the autumn of 332 B.C., Alexander entered Memphis, where, like a true Hellene, he paid homage to the native gods and was apparently accepted without question as king of Egypt. Also like a true Hellene, he celebrated the occasion with competitive games and a drama and music festival at which some of the leading artists of Greece were present. From Memphis, Alexander marched down the western arm of the Nile and founded the city of Alexandria. Then he went to the oasis of Siwa (present-day Siwah) to consult the oracle at the Temple of Amun, the Egyptian god whom the Greeks identified with their own Zeus.
After Alexander ‘s death of the malarial fever in 323 B.C., the Macedonian commander in Egypt, Ptolemy, who was the son of Lagos, one of Alexander ‘s seven bodyguards, managed to secure for himself the satrapy (provincial governorship) of Egypt. In 306 B.C., Antigonus, citing the principle that the empire Alexander created should remain unified, took the royal title. In reaction, his rivals for power, Ptolemy of Egypt, Cassander of Macedonia, and Seleucus of Syria, countered by declaring themselves kings of their respective dominions. Thus came into existence the three great monarchies that were to dominate the Hellenistic world until, one by one, they were absorbed into the Roman Empire.
The dynasty Ptolemy founded in Egypt was known as the line of Ptolemaic pharaohs and endured until the suicide of Cleopatra in 30 B.C., at which time direct Roman control was instituted. The early Ptolemies were hardheaded administrators and business people, anxious to make the state, that they created stable, wealthy, and influential. The Ptolemies had their eyes directed outward to the eastern Mediterranean world in which they sought to play a part. Egypt was their basis of power, their granary, and the source of their wealth.
Under the early Ptolemies, the culture was exclusively Greek. Greek was the language of the court, the army, and the administration. The Ptolemies founded the university, the museum, and the library at Alexandria and built the lighthouse at Pharos. A canal to the Red Sea was opened, and Greek sailors explored new trade routes.
Whereas many Egyptians adopted Greek speech, dress, and much of Greek culture, the Greeks also borrowed much from the Egyptians, particularly in religion. In this way, a mixed culture was formed along with a hybrid art that combined Egyptian themes with elements of Hellenistic culture. Examples of this are the grandiose
The Arab Conquest, 639-41
Perhaps the most important event to occur in Egypt since the unification of the Two Lands by King Menes was the Arab conquest of Egypt. The conquest of the country by the armies of Islam under the command of the Muslim hero, Amr ibn al As, transformed Egypt from a predominantly Christian country to a Muslim country in which the Arabic language and culture were adopted even by those who clung to their Christian or Jewish faiths.
The conquest of Egypt was part of the Arab/Islamic expansion that began when the Prophet Muhammad died and Arab tribes began to move out of the Arabian Peninsula into Iraq and Syria. Amr ibn al As, who led the Arab army into Egypt, was made a military commander by the Prophet himself. Amr crossed into Egypt on December 12, 639, at Al Arish with an army of about 4,000 men on horseback, armed with lances, swords, and bows. The army ‘s objective was the fortress of Babylon (Bab al Yun) opposite the island of Rawdah in the Nile at the apex of the Delta. The fortress was the key to the conquest of Egypt because an advance up the Delta to Alexandria could not be risked until the fortress was taken.
In June 640, reinforcements for the Arab army arrived, increas- ing Amr ‘s forces to between 8,000 and 12,000 men. In July the Arab and Byzantine armies met on the plains of Heliopolis. Although the Byzantine army was routed, the results were in- conclusive because the Byzantine troops fled to Babylon. Final- ly, after a six-month siege, the fortress fell to the Arabs on April 9, 641. The Arab army then marched to Alexandria, which was not pre- pared to resist despite its well-fortified condition. Consequently, the governor of Alexandria agreed to surrender, and a treaty was signed in November 641. The following year, the Byzantines broke the treaty and attempted unsuccessfully to retake the city.
Muslim conquerors habitually gave the people they defeated three alternatives: converting to Islam, retaining their religion with freedom of worship in return for the payment of the poll tax, or war. In surrendering to the Arab armies, the Byzantines agreed to the second option. The Arab conquerors treated the Egyptian Copts well. During the battle for Egypt, the Copts had either remained neutral or had actively supported the Arabs. After the surrender, the Coptic patriarch was reinstated, exiled bishops were called home, and churches that had been forcibly turned over to the Byzantines were returned to the Copts. Amr allowed Copts who held office to retain their positions and appointed Copts to other offices.
Amr moved the capital south to a new city called Al Fustat (present-day Old Cairo). The mosque he built there bears his name and still stands, although it has been much rebuilt. For two centuries after the conquest, Egypt was a province ruled by a line of governors appointed by the caliphs in the east. Egypt provided abundant grain and tax revenue. In time most of the people accepted the Muslim faith, and the Arabic language became the language of government, culture, and commerce.
The Arabization of the country was aided by the continued settlement of Arab tribes in Egypt. From the time of the conquest onward, Egypt ‘s history was intertwined with the history of the Arab world.
Egypt under the Mamlūk and the Ottoman Empire
During the Mamlūk period, Egypt became the unrivaled political, economic, and cultural center of the eastern Arabic-speaking zone of the Muslim world. Symbolic of this development was the reestablishment in 1261 under the Mamlūk rulers of the ʿAbbāsid caliphate—destroyed by the Mongols in their sack of Baghdad three years earlier—with the arrival in Cairo of a youth claiming ʿAbbāsid lineage. Although the caliph enjoyed little authority, had no power, and was of dubious authenticity, the mere fact that the Mamlūks chose to maintain the institution in Cairo is a measure of their determination to dominate the Arab-Islamic world and to legitimize their own rule. It is curious that the Mamlūks—all of whom were of non-Arab (most were Turks and, later, Circassians), non-Muslim origin and some of whom knew little if any Arabic—founded a regime that established Egypt’s supremacy in Arab culture.
In 1517 the Ottoman sultan Selim I (1512-20), known as Selim the Grim, conquered Egypt, defeating the Mamluk forces at Ar Raydaniyah, immediately outside Cairo. The origins of the Otto- man Empire go back to the Turkish- speaking tribes who crossed the frontier into Arab lands beginning in the tenth century. These Turkish tribes established themselves in Baghdad and Anatolia, but they were destroyed by the Mongols in the thirteenth century.
In the wake of the Mongol invasion, petty Turkish dynasties called amirates were formed in Anatolia. The leader of one of those dynasties was Osman (1280-1324), the founder of the Ottoman Empire. In the thirteenth century, his amirate was one of many; by the sixteenth century, the amirate had become an empire, one of the largest and longest-lived in world history. By the fourteenth century, the Ottomans already had a substantial empire in Eastern Europe. In 1453 they conquered Constantinople, the Byzantine capital, which became the Ottoman capital and was renamed Istanbul. Between 1512 and 1520, the Ottomans added the Arab provinces, including Egypt, to their empire.
In Egypt the victorious Selim I left behind one of his most trusted collaborators, Khair Bey, as the ruler of Egypt. Khair Bey ruled as the sultan ‘s vassal, not as a provincial governor. He kept his court in the citadel, the ancient residence of the rulers of Egypt. Although Selim I did away with the Mamluk sultanate, neither he nor his successors succeeded in extinguishing Mamluk power and influence in Egypt.
Only in the first century of Ottoman rule was the governor of Egypt able to perform his tasks without the interference of the Mamluk beys (bey was the highest rank among the Mamluks). During the latter decades of the sixteenth century and the early seventeenth century, a series of revolts by various elements of the garrison troops occurred. During these years, there was also a revival within the Mamluk military structure.
By the middle of the seventeenth century, political supremacy had passed to the beys. As the historian Daniel Crecelius has written, from that point on the history of Ottoman, Egypt can be explained as the struggle between the Ottomans and the Mamluks for control of the administration and, hence, the revenues of Egypt, and the competition among rival Mamluk houses for control of the beylicate. This struggle affected Egyptian history until the late eighteenth century when one Mamluk bey gained an unprecedented control over the military and political structures and ousted the Ottoman governor.
The French Invasion and Occupation
After the death of Muhammad Bey, there was a decade-long struggle for dominance among the beys. Eventually, Ibrahim Bey and Murad Bey succeeded in asserting their authority and shared power in Egypt. Their dominance in the country survived an unsuccessful attempt by the Ottomans to reestablish the empire ‘s control (1786-91). The two continued in power until the French invasion in 1798.
In addition to the upheavals caused by the Ottoman-Mamluk clashes, waves of famine and plague hit Egypt between 1784 and 1792. Thus, Cairo was a devastated city and Egypt an impoverished country when the French arrived in 1798. On July 1, 1798, a French invasion force under the command of Napoleon disembarked near Alexandria. The invasion force, which had sailed from Toulon on May 19, was accompanied by a commission of scholars and scientists whose function was to investigate every aspect of life in ancient and contemporary Egypt.
The British occupation marked the culmination of developments that had been at work since 1798: the de facto separation of Egypt from the Ottoman Empire, the attempt of European powers to influence or control the country, and the rivalry of France and Britain for ascendancy in the country. Because of the last-minute withdrawal of the French, the British had secured the sole domination of Egypt. William Ewart Gladstone’s liberal government was reluctant, however, to prolong the occupation or to establish formal political control, which it feared would antagonize both the sultan and the other European powers. But the British were unwilling to evacuate Egypt without securing their strategic interests, and this never seemed possible without maintaining a military presence there.
The Khedivate of Egypt remained a de jure Ottoman province until 5 November 1914, when it was declared a British protectorate in reaction to the decision of the Young Turks of the Ottoman Empire to join World War I on the side of the Central Powers.
In 1914, the Protectorate was made official, and the title of the head of state was changed to sultan, to repudiate the vestigial suzerainty of the Ottoman sultan, who was backing the Central powers in World War I. Abbas II was deposed as khedive and replaced by his uncle, Hussein Kamel, as sultan.
After World War I, Saad Zaghlul and the Wafd Party led the Egyptian nationalist movement to a majority at the local Legislative Assembly. When the British exiled Zaghlul and his associates[dubious – discuss] to Malta on 8 March 1919, the country arose in its first modern revolution. The revolt led the UK government to issue a unilateral declaration of Egypt’s independence on 22 February 1922.
The new government drafted and implemented a constitution in 1923 based on a parliamentary system. Saad Zaghlul was popularly elected as Prime Minister of Egypt in 1924. In 1936, the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty was concluded. Continued instability due to remaining British influence and increasing political involvement by the king led to the dissolution of the parliament in a military coup d’état known as the 1952 Revolution. The Free Officers Movement forced King Farouk to abdicate in support of his son Fuad. British military presence in Egypt lasted until 1954
The revolution and the Republic
At mid-century Egypt was ripe for revolution. Political groupings of both right and left pressed for radical alternatives. From an array of contenders for power, it was a movement of military conspirators—the Free Officers led by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser—that toppled the monarchy in a coup on July 23, 1952. In broad outline, the history of contemporary Egypt is the story of this coup, which preempted a revolution but then turned into a revolution from above. For more than five decades, rule by Free Officers brought just enough progress at home and enhancement of standing abroad to make Egypt an island of stability in the turbulent Middle East.
Following the 1952 Revolution by the Free Officers Movement, the rule of Egypt passed to military hands. On 18 June 1953, the Egyptian Republic was declared, with General Muhammad Naguib as the first President of the Republic. The Republic of Egypt was the official name of Egypt from the abolition of the Egyptian and Sudanese monarchy in 1953 until Egypt’s union with Syria in the United Arab Republic in 1958. The declaration of the Republic followed the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, prompted by the unpopularity of King Farouk, who was seen as being too weak in the face of the British, coupled with the defeat in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
Naguib was forced to resign in 1954 by Gamal Abdel Nasser – a Pan-Arabism and the real architect of the 1952 movement – and was later put under house arrest. After Naguib’s resignation, the position of President was vacant until the election of Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956. Nasser assumed power as President in June 1956. British forces completed their withdrawal from the occupied Suez Canal Zone on 13 June 1956. He nationalized the Suez Canal on 26 July 1956, prompting the 1956 Suez Crisis.
In 1970, President Nasser died and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. Sadat switched Egypt’s Cold War allegiance from the Soviet Union to the United States, expelling Soviet advisors in 1972. He launched the Infitah economic reform policy while clamping down on the religious and secular opposition. In 1973, Egypt, along with Syria, launched the October War, a surprise attack to regain part of the Sinai territory Israel had captured 6 years earlier. It presented Sadat with a victory that allowed him to regain the Sinai later in return for peace with Israel.
Hosni Mubarak came to power after the assassination of Sadat in a referendum in which he was the only candidate. Hosni Mubarak reaffirmed Egypt’s relationship with Israel yet eased the tensions with Egypt’s Arab neighbors. Domestically, Mubarak faced serious problems. Even though farm and industry output expanded, the economy could not keep pace with the population boom. Mass poverty and unemployment led rural families to stream into cities like Cairo where they ended up in crowded slums, barely managing to survive.
On 25 January 2011, widespread protests began against Mubarak’s government. On 11 February 2011, Mubarak resigned and fled Cairo. Jubilant celebrations broke out in Cairo’s Tahrir Square at the news. The Egyptian military then assumed the power to govern. Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, became the de facto interim head of state. On 13 February 2011, the military dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution.
On June 24 Mohammed Morsi was declared the winner of the presidential election, and he took office at the end of the month. Although Morsi began his presidency in a state of apparent subordination to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, he moved to take the upper hand in mid-August, announcing the retirement of several senior members of the council and revoking the constitutional declaration of June 17.
On 3 July 2013, after a wave of public discontent with autocratic excesses of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, the military removed President Morsi from power in a coup d’état and installed an interim government. On 18 January 2014, the interim government instituted a new constitution. On 26 March 2014 Abdel Fattah el-Sisi the head of the Egyptian Armed Forces, who at this time was in control of the country, resigned from the military, announcing he would stand as a candidate in the 2014 presidential election. The poll, held between 26 and 28 May 2014, resulted in a landslide victory for el-Sisi. Al Sisi was sworn into office as President of Egypt on 8 June 2014.