Republic headed by president
Head of state
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
Egypt's Ambassador to the UK
H.E. Mr Tarek Adel
Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt, 26 South Street, London, W1K 1DW
UK's Ambassador to Egypt
H.E Mr Gareth Bayley OBE
British Embassy Cairo, 7 Ahmed Ragheb Street, Garden City, Cairo, Egypt
The name Egypt comes from the ancient Greek name for the country, “Aigyptos.” In Arabic, the country is called “Misr”. Egypt lies on the northwest edge of Africa and borders Libya to its west, Sudan to its south, and the Gaza Strip to its east. It has two coastlines, its northern Mediterranean coast and its eastern Red Sea coastline.
The bridge between Africa and the Middle East
The Sinai Peninsula is in the far north east of Egypt, and is divided from the mainland by the Suez Canal. The Peninsula acts as the bridge between Africa and the Middle East. Approximately, 95% of the country’s population is found along the Nile River or in its delta. The rest of the country is largely uninhabited desert. While the Nile is the country’s essential water source, there are numerous communities that have established themselves around Egypt’s oases, often with their own distinct cultural identities.
Population - most numerous in the Arab world
The population of Egypt is an estimated 104 million people, making it the 14th largest national population globally and the most populous country in the Arab world. 99.7% of the population are Egyptian with 0.3% being classed as other. Egypt is an example of the challenge posed by growing, young populations in MENA, especially given the prospect of overcrowding in the two major cities of Egypt, Cairo and Alexandria, which make up just 5% of its landmass.
The median age in Egypt is 24 years old. The rate of population growth is 2.28%, with life expectancy as 73.7 years old. The literacy rate is just above 72% and youth unemployment stands at 29.6%.
The Arab Republic of Egypt is a presidential republic with 27 governates. Its capital is Cairo, which derives from the Arabic word al-Qahira (the Conqueror- literal meaning.)
Egypt became a presidential republic in 1952, following a revolution that ended its status as a British protectorate. Egypt’s latest constitution was approved in December 2013 by committee and then again in January 2014 by referendum. It was ratified days after the referendum on the 19th January 2014.
Presidential elections take place every 6 years. The vote must be determined by an absolute majority and a president can be in office for 3 consecutive terms.
The legislative branch in Egypt is the House of Representatives, which holds a total of 450 seats. Members of the House serve 5-year terms. The Senate was reinstituted in a recent referendum, and acts as an upper house of 180 seats, 60 of which are appointed by the president with the remainder being elected.
Egypt’s legal system combines Napoleonic civil and penal law, Islamic law and a few aspects of colonial-era law.
The history of Egyptian civilisation starts with the ancient Egyptians, who were among the earliest people to urbanise and develop a literate society.
The period was one of societies ruled by pharaohs and lasted 3,000 years. As time passed, pharaonic culture gradually became more exposed to the Hellenic world, particularly after Alexander the Great’s conquest of the region in 323 BC. Alexander's general Ptolemy I Sofer was awarded the satrapy of Egypt and later went on to become Pharaoh. From the early 300s BC, the Ptolemaic dynasty kept Egypt at the forefront of world affairs from its base in Alexandria for the next 270 years or so.
Antony and Cleopatra
Octavian, the future Emperor Augustus, brought the rule of the Ptolemies to an abrupt end after defeating Queen Cleopatra and Mark Antony at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC. The couple committed suicide following their final defeat at Alexandria. Then, Augustus promptly annexed Egypt. Egypt would soon become a crucial grain supplier to Rome itself. Later, Egypt was absorbed by the successor to the Roman Empire in the East, Byzantium. Egypt became an early Muslim conquest shortly after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD.
Egypt was one of the first territories to be conquered by early Arab invaders, starting the process by which Islam would replace Christianity as the primary religion in the country. After the fall of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad, the Mamluk dynasty established themselves as key leaders in the Islamic world.
The Mamluks and Ottomans
The Mamluks were originally slave soldiers of a wide variety of Slavic, Turkic, Albanian and Circassian origins. Their dynasty became renowned for its culture, particularly its architecture. However, it was not strong enough to withstand the Ottomans, who finally destroyed the Mamluk Sultanate in 1517, and then held power over Egypt until Napoleon’s occupation of the country in 1798.
Napoleon and Ali Pasha
Although lasting only three years, Napoleon’s occupation of Egypt marks the moment European powers began to have an increasingly major role in Egypt. Following Napoleon’s departure, a power struggle ensued in which Muhammad Ali Pasha – for many modern Egyptians an important symbol of their independence – managed to carve out an independent state to be ruled by him, under the tacit approval of the Ottoman Sultan in Istanbul. In 1848, Muhammad Ali was considered too old to carry on ruling. What followed was an uncertain period which ended in 1882 this concluded with the British occupation.
A major preoccupation for powers during the colonial era was the protection of shipping routes. The Suez Canal was officially opened in November 1869 and immediately became a crucial waterway for the global economy, as it remains today. The canal was built by the French engineer, Ferdinand de Lesseps, and came under French and British control.
Suez crisis and aftermath
In July 1956, President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal, in defiance of the British and French. Both France and Britain were outraged by the move and staged an invasion of Egypt, in collusion with Israel. The operation came an an abrupt end in November 1956 when the UN General Assembly adopted a US proposal calling for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of all forces behind armistice lines, and the re-opening of the canal which had become blocked as a result of the conflict.
It meant humiliation for France and the UK, and led not long afterwards to Anthony Eden's resignation as prime minster in January 1957, a little more than two months after he was forced to announce a ceasefire. Since this pivotal moment, the canal has been a symbol of Egyptian independence. To this day the Egyptian government continues to expand capacity of the canal, using it as a symbol of self-determination and industrial strength.
Nasser and the Cold War
Nasser’s nationalisation of the canal was for many Egyptians the climax of his wider anti-colonial programme. During his time ruling Egypt, nationalisation of land and industry led to a dismantling of old colonial systems and replacing them with more socialist models.
This was the height of the Cold War and Egypt was looked upon increasingly as a natural ally by the USSR and its Eastern European satrapies in the Warsaw Pact. However, President Nasser, despite his apparent anti-Westernism, was much more of a subtle operator than the Soviets expected. Along with other African countries, he came to adopt a the tactic of ‘non-alignment’ in approach both to East and West.
Contemporary problems traced back to Nasser
The huge political achievements of President Nasser are integral to the story of modern Egypt. But nowadays, Nasser critics in Egypt say many of Egypt’s contemporary problems began during the Nasser era. The extent of land nationalisation often meant the disbanding of productive and sophisticated farms, and their break-up into a greater number of smaller plots for subsistence farming, ruining the soil quality of many of Egypt’s fertile areas. The confiscation of such farms, as well as industries such as cotton manufacturing, often from Egyptian Coptic Christian owners, further disrupted a once stable economic bulwark of the country.
A wider targeting of Europeans in Egypt, which particularly affected Egypt’s cosmopolitan centres of Cairo and Alexandria, meant that often in just a matter of days the many Greek, Italian, French, British and Armenian citizens that had made Egypt their home were forced to abandon fully furnished homes and businesses. No community was as drastically reduced as the Egyptian Jewish community, which before Nasser’s ascent had numbered many thousands and according to today’s estimate number under 20.
Disaster in the Six Day War
Nasser resigned after his defeat in the 1967 Six Day War, but reinstated himself after mass popular demonstrations in support of him. Three years later, he suffered a fatal heart attack. It is estimated that his funeral in Cairo drew 5 million mourners. However complicated his record might be, Nasser’s tenure in power saw great development in Egypt, both culturally and economically. Huge projects like the Aswan Dam and the golden era of Egyptian film and music have made him one of the key figures of the Arab world during the 20th century.
Anwar Sadat, a close confidant of Nasser and his vice-president, succeeded him as president. Sadat had been a senior member of the Free Officers, the group which Nasser led in 1952.
Sadat’s presidency saw Egypt change direction from more socialist Nasserism, into a more open economic model often referred to by its Arabic word ‘Intifah’. Despite changes in economic and political directions, many of Egypt’s geopolitical positions remained the same, not least its attitude towards the Israel/Palestine conflict.
Yom Kippur and Sinai regained
In 1973, under Sadat’s leadership, Egypt recaptured the Sinai Peninsula, which had been taken and occupied by Israel in the Six Day War. This victory was enough to convince many in Egypt and the Arab world that victory against Israel was possible, although some notable factions would maintain that anything other than achieving a Palestinian state was defeat.
Sadat and rapprochement with Israel
Sadat further alienated such elements when he entered into negotiations with Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel under US President Carter’s stewardship. These talks resulted in the Camp David Accords and then the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty which would pave the way for a normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel and saw both Sadat and Begin win the Nobel Peace Prize.
However, as Sadat was making peace with Israel, the situation in the Arab League became increasingly fractious. Anger towards Egypt stemmed from the fact that Sadat had pursued a separate peace deal with Israel, not one as part of the entire Arab League. Egypt’s membership of the League was suspended and the country would not re-join for ten years. In 1981 an Egyptian army officer assassinated Sadat, citing Sadat’s signing of the Camp David Accords as the primary reason for doing so.
President Hosni Mubarak was Sadat’s successor and was in power for 30 years. Events such as the Iranian Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War meant Mubarak’s early days in power were characterised by a need for Arab powers to work together, particularly in the Arab League, to challenge Iran and its new claim to being the leader of the Islamic world. Aware that his predecessor had been assassinated, Mubarak pursued policies of securitisation and supported the growth of an increasingly large security apparatus. A number of assassination attempts made against him hastened this process. After 30 years, Egyptians united to oppose Mubarak and his style of ruling during the Arab Spring. His resignation was one of the most significant moments of the Arab Spring, as many deemed Mubarak the archetype of an invincible Middle Eastern dictator.
Years following the Arab Spring
Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, was a distinct change from the past order given Mubarak’s aversion to Islamists. Morsi’s rule lasted just over a year, before he was ousted by the current president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Morsi’s party won a majority in the 2011-12 election but was soon facing criticism over its attempt to Islamise Egypt to a degree that many citizens were uncomfortable with. The Egyptian military, then led by el-Sisi, eventually became involved in what some Egyptians have labelled a popular revolution and others a military coup.
President Sisi’s grip on power in today’s Egypt seems secure. Supporters of el-Sisi characterise his time in power as bringing stability back to Egypt after the trauma of revolution and a sudden Islamist takeover of the state; critics believe el-Sisi’s time in power has seen an unprecedented level of state oppression and attack on freedoms, with no improvement in the chronic social, environmental and economic difficulties Egypt faces.
Egypt’s culture is one of the oldest in the world. There is in Egypt no longer any living continuity of Ancient Egypt culture, but it is still the only country to contain an extant wonder of the ancient world, the Pyramids of Giza. In recent years, the Egyptian government has invested heavily in programmes to better show tourists such collections and in 2020 Egypt opened the Grand Cairo Museum, which will be the world’s largest archaeological museum displaying 50,000 artefacts.
Heart of Arab movie-making
Egypt has also been a global centre of modern culture. The country was for decades a centre of filmmaking in the Arab world. This has led to the Egyptian dialect of Arabic being understood across the Arab world. Egyptian classical music also contributed to this process with figures like Umm Kulthoum becoming not just cultural figureheads for her native Egypt but for the entire Arab world. Cities like Cairo have been documented heavily in the culture, with films like the 2006 Yacoubian Building charting the history of Egypt by focusing on the life of one particular residential building in Cairo.
Inspiring great art
Authors like Nobel Prize-winning Naguib Mahfouz, perhaps the best-known novelist in the Arab world, have focused on similarly small details: the subject of his Cairo Trilogy is one street in the capital over a period of decades, to tell a larger story about the state of Egypt. Cities like Alexandria have not just contributed to Egyptian culture, but European ones too. During the early 20th century the city was home to European writers such as Constantine Cavafy and Laurence Durrell, who based his most famous work, The Alexandria Quartet, on the city.
Other areas of Egypt have their own distinct cultural heritages. Upper Egypt is a centre of Nubian tradition and culture, while further west, desert areas like the Siwa Oasis have maintained their own distinct culture.
Egypt is a key Sunni state in the Islamic world, with centres like Al-Azhar university which is perhaps the most important centre of Islamic scholarship in the world. While there are virtually no Shia Egyptians, Shia dynasties like the Fatimids have ruled in Egypt and one of the country’s most important mosques, the Hussain mosque, is regularly visited by Shia pilgrims.
An estimated 10% of Egyptians are Coptic Christians, a group that are among the earliest Christians to leave the Holy Land. Part of the Oriental Orthodox Church, Copts split from what would become the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches after the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD. All over Egypt, Coptic monasteries and sites point to a rich and ancient Christian tradition in the country.
Most of Egypt’s economic activity takes place in the fertile Nile Valley and Delta. Agriculture has been present for millennia in the area and in more modern times manufacturing and tourism have also played increasingly important roles in Egypt’s economy. Sectors like tourism have been particularly badly hit by political instability and the Egyptian government continues focus on initiatives to encourage global tourism.
A highly centralised and bureaucratic system emerged under President Nasser. While the economy was opened up considerably under future presidents, many Egyptians still consider bureaucracy an impediment to economic investment and activity. The Egyptian military also plays a significant role in the country's economy, although opinion varies on the extent of its influence.
In 2016, to help with a dollar shortage, Egypt was granted a $12 billion loan on condition it reformed parts of its economy. So far, these measures seem to have provided a welcome increase in foreign investment although some economic observers maintain that further reform will have to take place if such investment is to increase.
A new capital for Egypt
In 2015, Egypt began building a "smart city" currently called the "New Administrative Centre", some 28 miles or so to the east of Cairo. Just 6 years later, in November 2021, President el-Sisi told his government to start moving house from congested Cairo to the new city. The "NAC certainly has a purpose, but is, as yet, without a name.
Occupying some 270 square miles of land, the "NAC" will become the new administrative and financial capital of Egypt, housing the main government departments and foreign embassies. Perhaps, it is destined to be what Ankara and Istanbul are to Turkey: the one, the "NAC", the administrative centre and the other, Cairo, the real capital and soul of the nation.
Hopefully, the "NAC" will also relieve the congestion of Cairo, but it is hoped that it will eventually house some 6.5 - 7 million people. The city will also be home to a new "mega"cathedral, The Nativity of Christ, which it's claimed will be the biggest in the Middle East, and a large new mosque, the Al-Fattah Al-Aleem, which will be the largest of its kind in Egypt.
By any standards, the New Administrative Centre is a remarkable achievement of construction, even in the land of the pyramids!