Egypt - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
This article is about the country of Egypt. For other uses of the term, see Egypt (disambiguation).
Ǧumhūriyyat Miṣr al-ʿArabiyyah
Arab Republic of Egypt
Anthem: Bilady, Bilady, Bilady
Egypt (Arabic: مصر, romanized Misr, in Egyptian Arabic Máṣr, listen (help·info)), officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a Middle Eastern country in North Africa. While the country is geographically situated in Africa, the Sinai Peninsula, east of the Suez Canal, is a land bridge to Asia.
Covering an area of about 1,001,450 square kilometres (386,560 mi²), Egypt borders Libya to the west, Sudan to the south, and Israel and the Gaza Strip to the northeast; on the north and the east are the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, respectively.
Egypt is the fifteenth most populous country in the world. The vast majority of its 78.8 million population (2006) live near the banks of the Nile River (about 40,000 km² or 15,450 mi²), where the only arable agricultural land is found. Large areas of land are part of the Sahara Desert and are sparsely inhabited. About half of the Egyptian people today are urban, living in the densely populated centers of greater Cairo, the largest city in Africa, and Alexandria.
Egypt is famous for its ancient civilization and some of the world's most ancient and important monuments, including the Giza Pyramids, the Karnak Temple, the Valley of the Kings and the Great Sphinx of Giza; the southern city of Luxor contains a particularly large number of ancient artifacts. Today, Egypt is widely regarded as the main political and cultural centre of the Arab and Middle Eastern regions.
Miṣr, the Arabic and official name for modern Egypt, is of Semitic origin directly cognate with the Hebrew מִצְרַיִם (Mitzráyim), meaning "the two straits", and possibly means "a country" or "a state". The ancient name for the country, kemet, or "black land," is derived from the fertile black soils deposited by the Nile floods, distinct from the 'red land' (deshret) of the desert. This name became keme in a later stage of Coptic. The English name "Egypt" came via the Latin word Aegyptus derived from the ancient Greek word Αίγυπτος (Aiguptos). This word may in turn be derived from the ancient Egyptian phrase ḥwt-k3-ptḥ ("Hwt ka Ptah") meaning "home of the Ka (part of the soul) of Ptah," the name of a temple of the god Ptah at Memphis.
The Great Sphinx of Giza, with the Pyramid of Khafre in the background are at the heart of Egypt's thriving tourism industry.
The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development of one of the world's great civilizations. A unified kingdom was founded circa 3100 BC by King Narmer, and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty, known as the Thirtieth Dynasty, fell to the Persians in 343 BC who dug the predecessor of the Suez canal and connected the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. Later, Egypt fell to the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Persians again.
It was the Muslim Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the seventh century to the Egyptians, who gradually adopted both. Muslim rulers nominated by the Islamic Caliphate remained in control of Egypt for the next six centuries. A local military caste, the Mamluks took control about 1250 and continued to govern even after the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517.
Following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt became an important world transportation hub; however, the country also fell heavily into debt. Ostensibly to protect its investments, the United Kingdom seized control of Egypt's government in 1882, but nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914.
Almost fully independent from the UK since 1922, the Egyptian Parliament drafted and implemented a new constitution in 1923 under the leadership of the popular revolutionary Saad Zaghlul. Between 1924-1936, there existed a short-lived but successful attempt to model Egypt's constitutional government after the European style of government; known as Egypt's Liberal Experiment. The British, however, retained a degree of control which led to continued instability in the government. In 1952, a military coup d'état forced King Farouk I, a constitutional monarch, to abdicate in support of his son King Ahmed Fouad II.
Egypt's capital Cairo is the largest city in Africa and the Middle East.
Finally, the Egyptian Republic was declared on 18 June 1953 with General Muhammad Naguib as the first President of the Republic. After Naguib was also forced to resign in 1954 by Gamal Abdel Nasser, the real architect of the 1952 movement, the latter assumed power as President and nationalized the Suez Canal leading to the 1956 Suez Crisis. Nasser came out of the war an Arab hero, and Nasserism won widespread influence in the region though was met with mixed reactions amongst Egyptians, many of whom had previously been indifferent to Arab nationalism.
Between 1958 and 1961, Nasser undertook to form a union between Egypt and Syria known as the United Arab Republic. This attempt too was met with mixed reactions, and it was clear that many Egyptians resented finding that the name of their country, which had endured for thousands of years, was suddenly eliminated. Three years after the 1967 Six Day War, in which Egypt lost the Sinai to Israel, Nasser died and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat, who presented his takeover in terms of a Corrective Revolution. Sadat switched Egypt's Cold War allegiance from the Soviet Union to the United States, expelling Soviet advisors in 1972, and launched the Infitah economic reform, while violently clamping down on religious and secular opposition alike. Egypt's name was also restored.
In 1973, Egypt, along with Syria, launched a surprise attack on Israel in the October War (known also as the Yom Kippur War), which, despite not being a complete military success, was by most accounts a political victory. Both the United States and the USSR intervened, and a cease-fire was reached between Egypt and Israel. In 1979, Sadat made peace with Israel in exchange for the Sinai, a move that sparked enormous controversy in the Arab world and led to Egypt's expulsion from the Arab League (it was readmitted in 1989). Sadat was murdered by a religious fundamentalist in 1981, and succeeded by Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt has been a republic since 18 June 1953. President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak has been the President of the Republic since October 14, 1981, following the assassination of former-President Mohammed Anwar El-Sadat. Mubarak is currently serving his fifth term in office. He is the leader of the ruling National Democratic Party. Prime Minister Dr. Ahmed Nazif was sworn in as Prime Minister on 9 July 2004, following the resignation of Dr. Atef Ebeid from his office.
Egypt is regarded by many as being ruled by a military dictatorship. Although power is ostensibly organised under a multi-party semi-presidential system, whereby the executive power is theoretically divided between the President and the Prime Minister, in practice it rests almost solely with the President who traditionally has been elected in single-candidate elections for more than fifty years. Egypt also holds regular multi-party parliamentary elections. The last presidential election, in which Mubarak won a fifth consecutive term, was held in September 2005 (see below).
In late-February 2005, Mubarak announced in a surprise television broadcast that he had ordered the reform of the country's presidential election law, paving the way for multi-candidate polls in the upcoming presidential election. For the first time since the 1952 movement, the Egyptian people had an apparent chance to elect a leader from a list of various candidates. The President said his initiative came "out of my full conviction of the need to consolidate efforts for more freedom and democracy." However, the new law placed draconian restrictions on the filing for presidential candidacies, designed to prevent well-known candidates such as Ayman Nour from standing against Mubarak, and paved the road for his easy re-election victory.
Concerns were once again expressed after the 2005 elections about government interference in the election process through fraud and vote-rigging. In addition, violence by pro-Mubarak supporters against opposition demonstrators and police brutality were evident during the elections. This poses major questions about the government's purported commitment to democracy.
As a result, most Egyptians are skeptical about the process of democratisation and the role of the elections. A very small proportion of those eligible to vote actually turned out for the 2005 elections. Newspapers, however, have exhibited an increasing degree of freedom in criticizing the president, and the results of the recent parliamentary elections, which saw Islamist parties such as the banned Muslim Brotherhood winning many seats, genuinely indicate that a change of some sorts is underway.
The permanent headquarters for the League of Arab States (The Arab League) is located in Cairo.The Secretary General of the League has traditionally been an Egyptian. Former Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa is the present Secretary General of the Arab League. The Arab League briefly moved out of Egypt to Tunis in 1978 as a protest at the peace treaty with Israel, but returned in 1989.
Egypt was the first Arab state to establish diplomatic relations with the state of Israel, after the signing of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty at the Camp David Accords. Egypt has a major influence amongst other Arab states, and has historically played an important role as a mediator in resolving disputes between various Arab nations, and in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Most Arab nations still give credence to Egypt playing that role, though its effects are often limited.
Former Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Boutros Boutros-Ghali served as Secretary General of the United Nations from 1991 to 1996.
A territorial dispute with Sudan over an area known as the Hala'ib Triangle, has meant that diplomatic relations between the two remain strained.
The Egyptian military is perhaps the strongest military power on the African continent, and amongst the largest in the Middle East. The Egyptian Armed forces have also had more battle-field experience than most armies in the region. The Egyptian Armed forces has a combined troop strength of around 450,000 active personnel.
The Supreme Commander is the President, currently Hosni Mubarak, who is also wartime Field Marshal of the army, Admiral of the navy, Chief Air Marshal (Colonel General) of the Air Forces and Air Defence Forces. During peacetime, the title of Supreme Commander is ceremonial.
Conscription is compulsory for Egyptian men of 19 years of age. Full-time students may defer their service until the age of 28. The length of the service depends on the level of education achieved by the conscripted.
Military cooperation between the United States and Egypt is strong, and covers a number of strategic areas, including cooperation in the ongoing process of modernising Egyptian armaments and training the Egyptian armed forces.
Egypt takes part regularly in military exercises with the US and other European and Arab allies, including the manoeuvres that take place in Egypt every two years.
Egypt continues to contribute regularly to United Nations peacekeeping missions, most recently in East Timor, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
Egypt is divided into 26 governorates (Muhafazat; singular – Muhafazah) and the city of Al Uqsur (Luxor), which is classified as a city rather than a governorate.
Al-Bahr Al-Ahmar (Red Sea)
Bur Sa'id (Port Said)
Ganub Sina (South Sinai)
El Gizah (Giza)
Kafr El Shaykh
Al Qahirah (Cairo)
Shamal Sina' (North Sinai)
El Wadi El-Gedid (New Valley)
Al Uqsur (Luxor)
Egypt's economy depends mainly on agriculture, media, petroleum exports, and tourism; there are also more than 5 million Egyptians working abroad, mainly in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf area like UAE, and Europe. The United States as well has a large population of Egyptian immigrants.
The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 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 (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress the economy.
The government has struggled to prepare the economy for the new millennium through economic reform and massive investments in communications and physical infrastructure, much financed from U.S. foreign aid (since 1979, an average of $2.2 billion per year). Egypt is the third-largest recipient of such funds from the United States following the Iraq war. Economic conditions are starting to improve considerably after a period of stagnation due to the adoption of more liberal economic policies by the government, as well as increased revenues from tourism and a booming stock market. In its annual report, the IMF has rated Egypt as one of the top countries in the world undertaking economic reforms.
Egypt is the second most populous country in Africa, at nearly 79 million people. Almost all the population is concentrated along the banks of the Nile (notably Alexandria and Cairo) and in the Delta and near the Suez Canal. Approximately 90% of the population adheres to Islam and most of the remainder to Christianity (primarily the Coptic Orthodox denomination). Apart from religious affiliation, Egyptians can be divided demographically into those who live in the major urban centers and the fellahin or farmers of rural villages.
Since ancient times, particularly before the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt, North African and Eastern Mediterranean influences have come to predominate in the north, while Egyptians in the south are also related to Nubians and Ethiopians. Despite these differences, the bulk of modern Egyptians are more closely related to one another and are descended from ancient Egyptian society, which has always been rural and quite populous compared to neighboring regions , . The Egyptian people have spoken only languages from the Afro-Asiatic family throughout their history starting with Old Egyptian to modern Egyptian Arabic.
The Arabization of Egypt was a cultural process that began with the introduction of Islam and the Arabic language following the Arab Muslim conquest in the 7th century AD. In the centuries to follow, a social hierarchy was created whereby Egyptians who converted to Islam acquired the status of mawali or "clients" to the ruling Arab elite, while those who remained Christian, the Copts, became dhimmis. The privilege enjoyed by the Arab minority continued in a modified form into the modern period in the countryside, where remnants of Bedouin Arab tribes lived alongside Egyptian farmers. One author describes the social demographics of rural Upper Egypt as follows:
Upper Egypt comprises the country's eight southernmost governorates. ... the region's history is one of isolated removal from the center of national life. The local relationships resulting from this centuries-old condition gave Upper Egypt an identity of its own within the modern Egyptian state. Alongside the even more ancient presence of Copts, tribal groupings dating from the Arab conquest combined to form a hierarchical order that placed two [minority] groups, the ashraf and the arab, in dominating positions. These were followed by lesser tribes, with the [Egyptian] fellah at the bottom of the social scale(28) [...] Religion was central to the development of Upper Egyptian society. The ashraf claimed direct descent from the Prophet, while the Arabs traced their lineage to a group of tribes from Arabia. On the other hand, the status of the fellahin rested on the belief that they descended from Egypt's pre-Islamic community and had converted to Islam, a history that placed them inescapably beneath both the ashraf and Arabs. [...] In Muslim as well as Christian communities, and particularly at the lower socio-economic levels, religious practices are strongly imbued with non-orthodox folk elements, some of pharaonic origin. 
Fellah means "tiller", "farmer" or "peasant" in English, and it is the Arabic appellation by which the indigenous rural peoples of the lands conquered by Arabs came to be known. Comprising 60 percent of the Egyptian population , the fellahin lead humble lives and continue to live in mud-brick houses like their ancient ancestors. Their percentage was much higher in the early 20th century, before the large influx of fellahin into urban towns and cities. In 1927, anthropologist Winifred Blackman, author of The Fellahin of Upper Egypt, conducted ethnographic research on the life of Upper Egyptian farmers and concluded that there were observable continuities between the cultural and religious beliefs and practices of the fellahin and those of ancient Egyptians .
Ethnic minorities in Egypt include the small number of Bedouin Arab tribes living in the eastern and western deserts and the Sinai Peninsula, the Berber-speaking Siwis of the Siwa Oasis, and the ancient Nubian communities clustered along the Nile in the southernmost part of Egypt. Egypt also hosts some 90,000 refugees and asylum seekers, made up mostly of 70,000 Palestinian refugees and 20,000 Sudanese refugees. The once-vibrant Jewish community in Egypt has virtually disappeared, with only a small number remaining in Egypt and those who visit on religious occasions. Several important Jewish archaeological and historical sites also remain.
Over seven million Egyptians follow the Christian faith as members of the Coptic Church
According to the constitution, any new legislation must implicitly agree with Islamic (Arabic: الإسلام) laws. Egypt is predominantly Muslim, at approximately 90% of the population, with the majority being adherents of the Sunni branch of Islam . Christians represent about 10% of the population, with the largest being the Coptic denomination at 9%, while the remaining 1% include Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, and Armenian Orthodox, largely found in Alexandria and Cairo.
There also remains a small Jewish community, of an estimated three hundred Egyptians.
There are Egyptians who identify as atheist and agnostic, but their numbers are largely unknown as openly advocating such positions risks legal sanction. In 2000, an openly atheist Egyptian writer, who called for the establishment of a local association for atheists, was tried on charges of insulting Islam and its prophet in four of his books .
The mainstream Hanafi school of Sunni Islam is largely organised by the state, through Wizaret Al-Awkaf (Ministry of Religious Affairs). Al-Awkaf controls all mosques and overviews Muslim clerics. Imams are trained in Imam vocational schools and at Al-Azhar University. The department supports Sunni Islam and has commissions authorised to give Fatwa judgements on Islamic issues.
Egypt hosts two major religious institutions. Al-Azhar University (Arabic: جامعة الأزهر) is the oldest Islamic institution of higher studies (founded around 970 A.D). Egypt also has a strong Christian heritage as evidenced by the existence of the Coptic Orthodox Church headed by the Patriarch of Alexandria, which has a following of approximately 50 million Christians worldwide (one of the famous Coptic Orthodox Churches is Saint Takla Haimanot Church in Alexandria ).
Bahá'ís in Egypt, whose population ranges between several hundred and a few thousand, have their institutions and community activities banned; they are also not allowed to hold identity cards. In April 2006 a court case recognized the Bahá'í Faith, but the government has decided to appeal the court decision. One member of parliament, Gamal Akl of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, said the Bahá'ís were infidels who should be killed on the grounds that they had changed their religion .
Egypt is bordered by Libya on the west, Sudan on the south, and on Israel on the northeast. Egypt's important role in geopolitics stems from its strategic position: a transcontinental nation, it possesses a land bridge (the Isthmus of Suez) between Africa and Asia, which in turn is traversed by a navigable waterway (the Suez Canal) that connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea.
Towns and cities include Alexandria, one of the great ancient cities, Aswan, Asyut, Cairo, the modern Egyptian capital, El-Mahalla El-Kubra, Giza, the site of the Pyramid of Khufu, Hurghada, Luxor, Kom Ombo, Port Safaga, Port Said, Sharm el Sheikh, Shubra-El-Khema, Suez, where the Suez Canal is located, Zagazig, and Al-Minya.
Deserts: Egypt includes parts of the Sahara Desert and of the Libyan Desert. These deserts were referred to as the "red land" in ancient Egypt, and they protected the Kingdom of the Pharaohs from western threats.
Oases include: Bahariya Oasis, Dakhleh Oasis, Farafra Oasis, Kharga Oasis, Siwa Oasis. An oasis is a fertile or green area in the midst of a desert.
Egypt's capital city, Cairo, is Africa's largest city and has been renowned for centuries as a center of learning, culture and commerce. The Egyptian Academy of the Arabic Language is responsible for regulating the Arabic Language (Arabic:اللغة العربية ) throughout the world.
Egypt has had a thriving media and arts industry since the late 19th century, today with more than 30 satellite channels and over 100 motion pictures produced each year. Cairo in fact has long been known as the "Hollywood of the East." To bolster its media industry further, especially with the keen competition from the Persian Gulf Arab States and Lebanon, a large media city was built. Egypt is also the only Arab country with an opera house.
Some famous Egyptians include:
Saad Zaghlul (leader of first modern Egyptian revolution)
Gamal Abdel Nasser (former president)
Anwar Sadat (former president and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize)
Boutros Boutros-Ghali (former Secretary General of the United Nations)
Naguib Mahfouz (Nobel Prize-winning novelist)
Umm Kulthum (singer)
Omar Sharif (actor)
Ahmed Zewail (Nobel Prize-winning chemist)
Mohamed ElBaradei (Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency; 2005 Nobel Peace Prize Winner)