Egypt - A Brief History

Published on 23rd August 2005

Egypt has endured as a unified state for more than 5,000 years, and archeological evidence indicates that a developed Egyptian society has existed for much longer. Egyptians take pride in their \"pharaonic heritage\" and in their descent from what they consider mankind\'s earliest civilization. The Arabic word for Egypt is Misr, which originally connoted \"civilization\" or \"metropolis.\"


Archeological findings show that primitive tribes lived along the Nile long before the dynastic history of the pharaohs began. By 6000 B.C., organized agriculture had appeared. In about 3100 B.C., Egypt was united under a ruler known as Mena, or Menes, who inaugurated the 30 pharaonic dynasties into which Egypt\'s ancient history is divided--the Old and the Middle Kingdoms and the New Empire. The pyramids at Giza (near Cairo), which were built in the fourth dynasty, testify to the power of the pharaonic religion and state. The Great Pyramid, the tomb of Pharaoh Khufu (also known as Cheops), is the only surviving monument of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ancient Egypt reached the peak of its power, wealth, and territorial extent in the period called the New Empire (1567-1085 B.C.).


Persian, Greek, Roman, and Arab Conquerors in 525 B.C., Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, led a Persian invasion force that dethroned the last pharaoh of the 26th Dynasty. The country remained a Persian province until conquered by Alexander the Great in 322 BC, ushering in Ptolemeic rule Egypt that lasted for nearly 700 years.


Following a brief Persian reconquest, Egypt was invaded and conquered by Arab forces in 642 ensuing Arabization and Islamization. Although a Coptic Christian minority constituting about 10% of the population remained the Arab language inexorably supplanted the indigenous Coptic tongue. For the next 1,300 years, a succession of Arab, Mameluke, and Ottoman caliphs, beys, and sultans ruled the country.


The Ottoman Turks controlled Egypt from 1517 until 1882, except for a brief period of French rule under Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1805, Mohammed Ali, commander of an Albanian contingent of Ottoman troops, was appointed Pasha, founding the dynasty that ruled Egypt until his great-great grandson, Farouk I, was overthrown in 1952. Mohammed Ali the Great ruled Egypt until 1848, writing the first chapter in the modern history of Egypt. The growth of modern urban Cairo began in the reign of Ismail (1863-79). Eager to Westernize the capital, he ordered the construction of a European-style city to the west of the medieval core. The Suez Canal was completed in his reign in 1869, and its completion was celebrated by many events, including the commissioning of Verdi\'s \"Aida\" for the new opera house and the building of great palaces such as the Omar Khayyam (originally constructed to entertain the French Empress Eugenie, which is now the central section of the Cairo Marriott Hotel).


In 1882, British expeditionary forces crushed a revolt against the Ottoman rulers, marking the beginning of British occupation and the virtual inclusion of Egypt within the British Empire. In deference to growing nationalism, the U.K. unilaterally declared Egyptian independence in 1922. British influence, however, continued to dominate Egypt\'s political life and fostered fiscal, administrative, and governmental reforms.


During World War II, British troops used Egypt as a base for Allied operations throughout the region. British troops were withdrawn to the Suez Canal area in 1947, but nationalist, anti-British feelings continued to grow after the war. On July 22-23, 1952, a group of disaffected army officers (the \"free officers\") led by Lt. Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew King Farouk, whom the military blamed for Egypt\'s poor performance in the 1948 war with Israel. Following a brief experiment with civilian rule, they abrogated the 1923 constitution and declared Egypt a republic on June 19, 1953. Nasser evolved into a charismatic leader, not only of Egypt but of the Arab world, promoting and implementing \"Arab socialism.\"


Nasser helped establish the Non-aligned Movement of developing countries in September 1961, and continued to be a leading force in the movement until his death in 1970. When the United States held up military sales in reaction to Egyptian neutrality vis-a-vis Moscow, Nasser concluded an arms deal with Czechoslovakia in September 1955. After Nasser\'s death, another of the original \"free officers,\" Vice President Anwar el-Sadat, was elected President. In 1971, Sadat concluded a treaty of friendship with the Soviet Union but, a year later, ordered Soviet advisers to leave. In 1973, he launched the October war with Israel, in which Egypt\'s armed forces achieved initial successes but were defeated in Israeli counterattacks.


On October 6, 1981, President Sadat was assassinated by Islamic extremists. Hosni Mubarak, Vice President since 1975 and air force commander during the October 1973 war, was elected President later that month and subsequently confirmed by popular referendum for three more 6-year terms. Mubarak maintained Egypt\'s commitment to the Camp David peace process, while at the same time re-established Egypt\'s position as an Arab leader. Egypt was readmitted to the Arab League in 1989. Egypt also played a moderating role in such international fora as the UN and the Non aligned Movement.


Since 1991, Mubarak has undertaken an ambitious domestic economic reform program to reduce the size of the public sector and expand the role of the private sector. There has been less progress in political reform. The November 2000 People\'s Assembly elections saw 34 members of the opposition win seats in the 454-seat assembly, facing a clear majority of 388 ultimately affiliated with the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). The opposition parties have been weak and divided and are not yet credible alternatives to the NDP.




The buildings of Egypt that impress people the most are probably the pyramids. All of them were built to contain the tombs of pharaohs. The Fourth Dynasty (3766 - 3633 BCE) saw the dawn of the age of paramids, some 800 years after the Egyptian Calendar was invented (4241 BCE). In the 27th century BC, the first pyramid was built and pyramids became the most popular way to bury royalty.


So far, 46 pyramids have been found. Others may still be discovered, lying in the ruins, under the desert sands. Though these monuments were important to maintaining the cult of the pharaoh, one cannot ignore the huge amount of forced labor over generations that were involved in completing these structures. One reason why the pyramids were so fascinating was that they were the earliest buildings ever to be made by precisely cutting and putting together great blocks of stone.


Below is an analysis of Egypt according to the 2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal

Rank: 103

Score: 3.38

Category: Mostly Unfree

Population: 66,372,000

Total Area: 1,001,450 sq. km

GDP: $82.9 billion

GDP growth rate: 3.0%

GDP per capita: $1,250

Major exports:  petroleum, cotton yarn and garments, textiles, aluminum

Exports of goods and services: $14.2 billion

Major export trading partners: US 18.4%, Italy 13.8%, UK 8.5%, France 3.9%

Major imports: consumer goods, foodstuffs, machinery and equipment

Imports of goods and services: $16.2 billion

Major import trading partner: US 16.1%, Germany 7.5%, Italy 6.4%, France 6.2%

Foreign direct investment (net): $619 million




2005 Index of Economic Freedom, The Heritage Foundation and Wall Street Journal



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