officially the Arab Republic of Egypt is a transcontinental country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is a Mediterranean country bordered by the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba to the east, the Red Sea to the east and south, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west.
Egypt emerged as one of the world's first nation-states in the tenth millennium BC. Considered a cradle of civilization, Ancient Egypt saw some of the earliest developments of writing, agriculture, urbanization, organized religion and central government. Iconic monuments such as the Giza Necropolis and its Great Sphinx, as well the ruins of Memphis, Thebes, Karnak, and the Valley of the Kings, reflect this legacy and remain a significant focus of scientific and popular interest. Egypt's long and rich cultural heritage is an integral part of its national identity, which has endured and often assimilated, various foreign influences, including Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab, Ottoman, and Nubian. Egypt was an early and important Centre of Christianity, but was largely Islamised in the seventh century and remains a predominantly Muslim country, albeit with a significant Christian minority.
From the 16th to the beginning of the 20th century, Egypt was ruled by foreign imperial powers: The Ottoman Empire and the British Empire. Modern Egypt dates back to 1922 when it gained nominal independence from the British Empire as a monarchy. However, British military occupation of Egypt continued, and many Egyptians believed that the monarchy was an instrument of British colonialism. Following the 1952 revolution, Egypt expelled British soldiers and bureaucrats and ended British occupation, nationalized the British-held Suez Canal, exiled King Farouk and his family, and declared itself a republic. In 1958 it merged with Syria to form the United Arab Republic, which dissolved in 1961. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Egypt endured social and religious strife and political instability, fighting several armed conflicts with Israel in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, and occupying the Gaza Strip intermittently until 1967. In 1980, Egypt signed the Camp David Accords, withdrawing from the Gaza Strip and recognizing Israel. The country continues to face challenges from terrorism, political unrest, and economic underdevelopment.
Islam is the official religion of Egypt and Arabic is its official language. With over 95 million inhabitants, Egypt is the most populous country in North Africa and the Arab world, the third-most populous in Africa (after Nigeria and Ethiopia), and the fifteenth-most populous in the world. The great majority of its people live near the banks of the Nile River, an area of about 40,000 square kilometers (15,000 sq. mi), where the only arable land is found. The large regions of the Sahara desert, which constitute most of Egypt's territory, are sparsely inhabited. About half of Egypt's residents live in urban areas, with most spread across the densely populated centers of greater Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities in the Nile Delta.
Egypt is considered to be a regional power in North Africa, the Middle East and the Muslim world, and a middle power worldwide. Egypt's economy is one of the largest and most diversified in the Middle East and is projected to become one of the largest in the 21st century. In 2016, Egypt overtook South Africa and became Africa's second largest economy (after Nigeria). Egypt is a founding member of the United Nations, Non-Aligned Movement, Arab League, African Union, and Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The English name Egypt is derived from the Ancient Greek Aígyptos (Αἴγυπτος), via Middle French Egypte and Latin Aegyptus. It is reflected in early Greek Linear B tablets as a-Ku-pi-ti-yo. The adjective aigýpti -, aigýptios was borrowed into Coptic as Egyptians, and from there into Arabic as qubṭī, back formed into qubits, whence English Copt. The Greek forms were borrowed from Late Egyptian (Amarna) Hikuptah "Memphis", a corruption of the earlier Egyptian name
(⟨ḥwt-kȝ-ptḥ⟩), meaning "home of the ka (soul) of Ptah", the name of a temple to the god Ptah at Memphis. Strabo attributed the word to a folk etymology in which Aígyptos (Αἴγυπτος) evolved as a compound from Aigaiou huptiōs (Aἰγαίου ὑπτίως), meaning "below the Aegean".
Miṣr is the Classical Quranic Arabic and a modern official name of Egypt, while Maṣr is the local pronunciation in Egyptian Arabic. The name is of Semitic origin, directly cognate with other Semitic words for Egypt such as the Hebrew מִצְרַיִם (Mitzráyim). The oldest attestation of this name for Egypt is the Akkadian mi-iṣ-ru miṣru, related to miṣru/miṣirru/miṣaru, meaning "border" or "frontier".
The ancient Egyptian name of the country was
km.t, which means black land, likely referring to the fertile black soils of the Nile flood plains, distinct from the deshret (⟨dšṛt⟩), or "red land" of the desert. This name is commonly vocalized as Kemet but was probably pronounced [kuːmat] in ancient Egyptian. The name is realized as kēme and kēmə in the Coptic stage of the Egyptian language and appeared in early Greek as Χημία (Khēmía). Another name was ⟨tꜣ-mry⟩ "land of the riverbank". The names of Upper and Lower Egypt were Ta-Sheme'aw (⟨tꜣ-šmꜥw⟩) "sedgeland" and Ta-Mehew (⟨tꜣ mḥw⟩) "Northland", respectively.
Prehistory and Ancient Egypt
There is evidence of rock carvings along the Nile terraces and in desert oases. In the 10th millennium BC, a culture of hunter-gatherers and fishers was replaced by a grain-grinding culture. Climate changes or overgrazing around 8000 BC began to desiccate the pastoral lands of Egypt, forming the Sahara. Early tribal peoples migrated to the Nile River where they developed a settled agricultural economy and more centralized society.
By about 6000 BC, a Neolithic culture rooted in the Nile Valley. During the Neolithic era, several predynastic cultures developed independently in Upper and Lower Egypt. The Badarian culture and the successor Naqada series are generally regarded as precursors to dynastic Egypt. The earliest known Lower Egyptian site, Merimda, predates the Badarian by about seven hundred years. Contemporaneous Lower Egyptian communities coexisted with their southern counterparts for more than two thousand years, remaining culturally distinct, but maintaining frequent contact through trade. The earliest known evidence of Egyptian hieroglyphicinscriptions appeared during the predynastic period on Naqada III pottery vessels, dated to about 3200 BC.
A unified kingdom was founded c. 3150 BC by King Menes, leading to a series of dynasties that ruled Egypt for the next three millennia. Egyptian culture flourished during this long period and remained distinctively Egyptian in its religion, arts, language, and customs. The first two ruling dynasties of a unified Egypt set the stage for the Old Kingdom period, c. 2700–2200 BC., which constructed many pyramids, most notably the Third Dynasty pyramid of Djoser and the Fourth Dynasty Giza Pyramids.
The First Intermediate Period ushered in a time of political upheaval for about 150 years. Stronger Nile floods and stabilization of government, however, brought back renewed prosperity for the country in the Middle Kingdom c. 2040 BC, reaching a peak during the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhat III. The second period of disunity heralded the arrival of the first foreign ruling dynasty in Egypt, that of the Semitic Hyksos. The Hyksos invaders took over much of Lower Egypt around 1650 BC and founded a new capital at Avaris. They were driven out by an Upper Egyptian force led by Ahmose I, who founded the Eighteenth Dynasty and relocated the capital from Memphis to Thebes.
The New Kingdom c. 1550–1070 BC began with the Eighteenth Dynasty, marking the rise of Egypt as an international power that expanded during its greatest extension to an empire as far south as Tombos in Nubia, and included parts of the Levant in the east. This period is noted for some of the most well known Pharaohs, including Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti, Tutankhamun and Ramesses II. The first historically attested expression of monotheism came during this period as Atenism. Frequent contacts with other nations brought new ideas to the New Kingdom. The country was later invaded and conquered by Libyans, Nubians, and Assyrians, but native Egyptians eventually drove them out and regained control of their country.
In 525 BC, the powerful Achaemenid Persians, led by Cambyses II, began their conquest of Egypt, eventually capturing the pharaoh Psamtik III at the battle of Pelusium. Cambyses II then assumed the formal title of pharaoh, but ruled Egypt from his home of Susa in Persia (modern Iran), leaving Egypt under the control of a satrapy. The entire Twenty-seventh Dynasty of Egypt, from 525 BC to 402 BC, save for Petubastis III, was an entirely Persian ruling period, with the Achaemenid Emperors all being granted the title of pharaoh. A few temporarily successful revolts against the Persians marked the fifth century BC, but Egypt was never able to permanently overthrow the Persians.
The Thirtieth Dynasty was the last native ruling dynasty during the Pharaonic epoch. It fell to the Persians again in 343 BC after the last native Pharaoh, King Nectanebo II, was defeated in battle. This Thirty-first Dynasty of Egypt, however, did not last long, for the Persians were toppled several decades later by Alexander the Great. The Macedonian Greek general of Alexander, Ptolemy I Soter, founded the Ptolemaic dynasty.
Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt
The Ptolemaic Kingdom was a powerful Hellenistic state, extending from southern Syria in the east, to Cyrene to the west, and south to the frontier with Nubia. Alexandria became the capital city and a center of Greek culture and trade. To gain recognition by the native Egyptian populace, they named themselves as the successors to the Pharaohs. The later Ptolemies took on Egyptian traditions, had themselves portrayed on public monuments in Egyptian style and dress, and participated in Egyptian religious life.
The last ruler from the Ptolemaic line was Cleopatra VII, who committed suicide following the burial of her lover Mark Antony who had died in her arms (from a self-inflicted stab wound) after Octavian had captured Alexandria and her mercenary forces had fled. The Ptolemies faced rebellions of native Egyptians often caused by an unwanted regime and were involved in foreign and civil wars that led to the decline of the kingdom and its annexation by Rome. Nevertheless, Hellenistic culture continued to thrive in Egypt well after the Muslim conquest.
Christianity was brought to Egypt by Saint Mark the Evangelist in the 1st century. Diocletian's reign (from 284 to 305 AD) marked the transition from the Roman to the Byzantine era in Egypt when a great number of Egyptian Christians were persecuted. The New Testament had by then been translated into Egyptian. After the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451, a distinct Egyptian Coptic Church was firmly established.
Middle Ages (7th century – 1517)
The Byzantines were able to regain control of the country after a brief Sasanian Persian invasion early in the 7th century amidst the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628 during which they established a new short-lived province for ten years known as Sasanian Egypt, until 639–42, when Egypt was invaded and conquered by the Islamic Empire by the Muslim Arabs. When they defeated the Byzantine Armies in Egypt, the Arabs brought Sunni Islam to the country. Early in this period, Egyptians began to blend their new faith with indigenous beliefs and practices, leading to various Sufi orders that have flourished to this day. These earlier rites had survived the period of Coptic Christianity.
The Fatimid Caliphate and the Mamelukes
Muslim rulers nominated by the Caliphate remained in control of Egypt for the next six centuries, with Cairo as the seat of the Fatimid Caliphate. With the end of the Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty, the Mamluks, a Turco-Circassian military caste, took control about 1250. By the late 13th century, Egypt linked the Red Sea, India, Malaya, and East Indies. The mid-14th-century Black Death killed about 40% of the country's population.
Early modern: Ottoman Egypt (1517–1867)
Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1517, after which it became a province of the Ottoman Empire. The defensive militarisation damaged its civil society and economic institutions. The weakening of the economic system combined with the effects of plague left Egypt vulnerable to foreign invasion. Portuguese traders took over their trade. Between 1687 and 1731, Egypt experienced six famines. The 1784 famine cost it roughly one-sixth of its population.
Egypt was always a difficult province for the Ottoman Sultans to control, due in part to the continuing power and influence of the Mamluks, the Egyptian military caste who had ruled the country for centuries.
Egypt remained semi-autonomous under the Mamluks until it was invaded by the French forces of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798 (see French campaign in Egypt and Syria). After the French were defeated by the British, a power vacuum was created in Egypt, and a three-way power struggle ensued between the Ottoman Turks, Egyptian Mamluks who had ruled Egypt for centuries, and Albanian mercenaries in the service of the Ottomans.
The Muhammad Ali dynasty
After the French were expelled, power was seized in 1805 by Muhammad Ali Pasha, an Albanian military commander of the Ottoman army in Egypt. While he carried the title of viceroy of Egypt, his subordination to the Ottoman porte was merely nominal.Muhammad Ali massacred the Mamluks and established a dynasty that was to rule Egypt until the revolution of 1952.
The introduction in 1820 of long-staple cotton transformed its agriculture into a cash-crop monoculture before the end of the century, concentrating land ownership and shifting production towards international markets.
Muhammad Ali annexed Northern Sudan (1820–1824), Syria (1833), and parts of Arabia and Anatolia; but in 1841 the European powers, fearful lest he topple the Ottoman Empire itself, forced him to return most of his conquests to the Ottomans. His military ambition required him to modernize the country: he built industries, a system of canals for irrigation and transport, and reformed the civil service.
He constructed a military state with around four percent of the populace serving the army to raise Egypt to a powerful positioning in the Ottoman Empire in a way showing various similarities to the Soviet strategies (without communism) conducted in the 20th century.
Muhammad Ali Pasha evolved the military from one that convened under the tradition of the corvée to a great modernized army. He introduced conscription of the male peasantry in 19th century Egypt, and took a novel approach to create his great army, strengthening it with numbers and in skill. Education and training of the new soldiers was not an option; the new concepts were furthermore enforced by isolation. The men were held in barracks to avoid the distraction of their growth as a military unit to be reckoned with. The resentment for the military way of life eventually faded from the men and a new ideology took hold, one of nationalism and pride. It was with the help of this newly reborn martial unit that Muhammad Ali imposed his rule over Egypt.
The policy that Mohammad Ali Pasha followed during his reign explains partly why the numeracy in Egypt compared to other North-African and Middle-Eastern countries increased only at a remarkably small rate, as an investment in further education only took place in the military and industrial sector.
Muhammad Ali was succeeded briefly by his son Ibrahim (in September 1848), then by a grandson Abbas I (in November 1848), then by Said (in 1854), and Isma'il (in 1863) who encouraged science and agriculture and banned slavery in Egypt.