Best known for its Pyramids, Egypt is considered by many experts to be the longest continuously existing civilisation in the world.
In modern times Egypt has played a leading and influential role in the Arab world, politically as well as culturally.
Egypt is in northern Africa, bordering the Mediterranean Sea between Libya to the west and the Gaza Strip and the Red Sea to the east. Sudan lies at its southern border.
The success of Egyptian civilisation partially lies with the fact that it is on the Nile river, a source of water and life in the desert around it.
A unified kingdom arose approximately 3000BCE, and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia; the height of their political, cultural and economic power was manifested in their system of government: the scriptures and codification of laws as well as their great architectural achievements with the magnificent Pyramids.
It was the Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language to the Egyptians in the seventh century.
Modern political history
Following colonialism under British rule in the 18th century, Egypt acquired full sovereignty after the second world war.
Even though it remained under British occupation, Egypt acquired limited sovereignty in 1922. It was not until 1952 that Egypt became fully independent when a group of army officers overthrew the ruler, King Faruk. The leader of the rebellion, Jamal Abd al-Nasir assumed the presidency four years later.
Nasir energised Egyptian and Arab world politics, becoming a leading figure in the region. His socialist outlook, autocratic style of governing and vocalism led him to be seen as a revolutionary type who could spark Arab assertiveness.
He introduced agrarian reforms, redistributing land and developing the economy (adopting mostly Soviet methods). He was also well-known for cracking down on Islamists and other political opponents. One of his most memorable decisions was re-nationalising the Suez canal, which had been under British-French control for decades.
This last act led to a war against Egypt, in 1956, orchestrated jointly by Britain, France and Israel. It ended with a withdrawal of these forces only after intense US pressure. Egypt perceived the encounter as a great victory for the Arab world.
Egypt fought three wars with Israel, in 1956, 1967 and 1973. The 1967 war was the costliest, since Israel managed to occupy not only the Gaza Strip but much of the Sinai peninsula.
The 1973 war was seen as a limited victory for Egypt. Following the war, president Anwar Sadat – Nasir’s successor – made a decisive turn away from the Soviet Union and aligned his country to the West.
The change in policies led to a historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979 – a first in the Arab world (but also to the assassination of Sadat by Islamists two years later) and has been rewarded by the United States with an annual aid package to the tune of $1bn.
Current president Husni Mubarak’s 23 years in office have been marked by relative stability in the region.
Mubarak maintained friendly ties with Israel – with frequent attempts at peace mediation between Israel and the Palestinian leadership. However, his leadership has been tainted by a repressive style of government, frequent clamp downs on political, religious and civil liberties and a deteriorating economy.
Official name: Arab Republic of Egypt
Form of government: Republic
Gained independence: 28 February 1922
In 1991, comprehensive economic reforms were undertaken with the aim of liberalising price controls, reducing subsidies and opening up trade and investment opportunities. With annual US aid to the tune of $1bn, the Egyptian economy has remained stagnant for much of the past decade, with small successes.
Currency: Pound (EGP) – 1 USD = (app.) 6.17 EGP
Natural resources: Oil, natural gas, iron ore, phosphates, manganese, limestone, gypsum, talc, asbestos, lead, zinc
Major industries: Textiles, food processing, tourism, chemicals, hydrocarbons, construction, cement, metals
GDP: $268bn (2002 est)
GDP annual growth rate: 3% (2002 est)
Per capita GDP: $3900 (2002 est)
Imports: 22.7% of GDP (2002 est)
Exports: 16.2% of GDP (2002 est)
Egypt is one of the major military powers in the Middle East (a large proportion of the annual US aid given to Egypt goes to the military).
The army, navy, air force, and air defence force include conscripts and some volunteers. The average conscript serves three years in the military, although people who have completed higher education can serve shorter terms. Egypt’s military leaders enjoy a reputation for competence and professionalism with many of them gaining advanced training at foreign military institutes.
Military budget: $3bn (2002 est)
Army size: 443,000 active troops
Egypt’s rich cultural heritage is world renowned. It continues to attract millions of tourists each year who flock to the country’s landmarks and the mysteries they still embody. For Muslims worldwide, the head of Cairo’s Al-Azhar mosque is one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam.
Population: 71,931,000 (2003 est)
Languages: Arabic (official), English, French
Religions: Muslim (official; mostly Sunni) 94%, Coptic Christian and other 6%
Ethnic diversity: Arab 99%, other 1%
Literacy Rate: 57.7%
Important Media: Al-Ahram (state-owned daily newspaper), Al-Ahali (opposition newspaper), Cairo Times (English weekly magazine), Middle East Times (English weekly newspaper), Egypt Radio Television Union (ERTU) (state-run domestic and satellite networks), Dream TV (privately-owned satellite network), Nile TV International (satellite station run by ERTU, some programmes in English and Hebrew)
Sources: World Bank, countryreports.org, MSN Encarta, politinfo.com, The Almanac