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Historical Background

Civilization has existed in Egypt for approximately 5,000 years. In the Neolithic period, nomad hunters settled in the Nile valley. In early Pharaonic times there were two kingdoms of Lower and Upper Egypt. Menes (approx. 3000 BC) was able to unite the kingdoms and wore the double crown of north and south. The Old Kingdom (2757 2134 BC) had a strong central government based in Memphis, which was also the religious centre and was characterised by the age of the pyramids, of which the Giza pyramids and the step pyramid of Sakkara are the most famous. The Middle Kingdom (approx. 2040 1640 BC) collapsed with the invasion of the Hyksos. The New Kingdom (approx. 1550 1070 BC) established its capital in Thebes (Luxor). During this period, Egypts rule extended to parts of Syria and Palestine. However a deterioration of the power of the pharaohs and a rise in the power of the priests weakened the central government. Egypt was successively invaded by Libyans, Ethiopians, Assyrians and Persians.

In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt and made it part of the Greek Empire. Upon Alexanders death, his Macedonian general, Ptolemy I, became the ruler of Egypt. The Ptolemies ruled Egypt for three hundred years during which the country was the centre of Greek culture. The last Ptolemy, Cleopatra the Seventh was defeated by the armies of the Romans and Egypt became part of the Roman Empire.

In 642, Egypt was conquered by the Arabs and became an Islamic country. In 969, the Fatimids decided to move their caliphate from Tunis to Egypt and built Cairo as their capital. The Fatimid dynasty ruled from Cairo until 1171 when Salah El Din El-Ayubi (Saladin) took power and established the Ayubid dynasty. In 1250, with the murder of the Ayubid Turanshah, the Mameluks came to power and established the Mameluk dynasty. In 1517, with the defeat of the last Mameluk Sultan Tuman Bey at the hands of the Ottoman army, Egypt became part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1798, Napoleons French expedition to Egypt placed the country under French rule for a brief period (1798 1801). After the French withdrew from Egypt, it returned to the status of semi-autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire. In 1805, Mohamed Ali Pasha, an Albanian soldier, was appointed governor wali by Istanbul. Mohamed Ali got rid of the remaining Mameluk princes and leaders and set about establishing an Egyptian army and modernising the country. During his reign, Egypt controlled Sudan as well as parts of Arabia. Ali Pashas grandson, Khedive Ismail, saw the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. In 1882, British military troops landed in Egypt to quell a rebellion and remained as occupying forces. In 1914, Egypt was declared a British protectorate. In 1936, Egypt gained its independence but the British retained its troops in the country.

In 1952, an army officer, Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew King Farouk, and in 1953 Egypt was declared a republic. The last British troops withdrew completely from Egypt in 1956. In 1958, Egypt and Syria united briefly to form the United Arab Republic, a union which disintegrated in 1962. Tensions between Israel and its neighbours - Egypt, Syria and Jordan - led to the outbreak of the Six Day War in June 1967 during which Israel inflicted heavy losses on the Arab armies. Nasser ruled until his death in 1970 and was succeeded by his vice president, Anwar Sadat. In 1977, Sadat shocked the world by flying to Israel as an overture for peace and in 1979 Egypt signed the Egyptian Israeli Peace Treaty. Sadat was killed by army officers in 1981 and was succeeded by the current president, Hosni Mubarak.


According to the Egyptian Constitution, the country is a social democracy and Islam is the state religion. The President is elected every six years. President Mubarak has been in power since 1981. There are two governing bodies: the Legislative Peoples Assembly and the consultative Shura Council which are made up of elected as well as presidentially-appointed members. The President also appoints the Cabinet as well as the countrys 26 Governors. Egypt has fought four wars with its neighbour Israel and in 1979 was the first Arab country to sign a peace agreement with the Israeli state. The Emergency Law has been in place in Egypt since 1981 and has been extended every three years, the last time being in 2003.

US State Department Report on Human Rights Practices 2002

Geography, Society, and Economy

Egypts population is largely concentrated in the Nile Valley while the rest of the country is mostly desert. The main cash crop is cotton. Egypt is self sufficient in energy, having petroleum and natural gas reserves. Main revenue sources are tourism, petroleum remittances from Egyptians working abroad and the Suez Canal (Central Bank of Egypt). Unemployment in Egypt is currently at 10.7%. Egypt has a high birth rate with a child birth every 23.6 seconds. Egypts population is expected to reach 96 million by 2026. Egypt is an emigration country with 1.9 million migrant workers, most of whom are working in Saudi Arabia, Libya, Jordan and Kuwait (Al-Ahram, 2004).

Central Bank of Egypt
Al-Ahram Newspaper

Historical Asylum

Egypt reputedly extended refuge to the Holy Family; according to the Bible an angel appeared to St. Joseph in a dream and instructed him to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt and to remain there until it was safe to return to Palestine. Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you. -Matthew 2:13.

Last updated Aug 17, 2011