Saturday, May 15, 2021

Egypt | Introduction

AfricaEgyptEgypt | Introduction

Egypt, which is formally known as the Arab Republic of Egypt, is a trans-continental nation stretching over the north-eastern corner of Africa as well as the south-western region of Asia through a land bridge shaped by the Sinai Peninsula. This Mediterranean nation is bordered to the north-east by Gaza and Israel, the Gulf of Aqaba in the east, as well as the Red Sea to the east and south, Sudan in the south and Libya on the west. Jordan lies on the other side of the Gulf of Aqaba and Saudi Arabia lies on the other side of the Sinai Peninsula, although Jordan and Saudi Arabia do not share a land border with Egypt. It is the only coherent African-Asian nation in the world.

Egypt has one of the oldest histories of a modern world and it was one of the first countries as it was founded in the 10th millennium BC. Considered the cradle of civilisation, ancient Egypt has witnessed many of the earliest developments in writing, as well as agriculture, urbanisation, and the organised religion and central administration. Legendary monuments including the Giza Necropolis and its Great Sphinx, the remains of Memphis, Thebes, Karnak as well as the Valley of the Kings are a reflection of this heritage which remains an important centre for archaeological studies and for public interest worldwide. The rich cultural heritage of Egypt constitutes an integral part of the Egyptian national identity, which has been influenced and sometimes assimilated by many foreign influences, such as Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab, Ottoman and European. As one of the earliest Christian centres, Egypt became Islamised in the 7th century and continues to be a predominantly Muslim country, although with a significant Christian population.

With more than 90 million inhabitants, Egypt is the most populous country in North Africa and the Arab world, the third most populous country in Africa (after Nigeria and Ethiopia) and the 15th most inhabited nation in the world. Today, the large majority of the population is living close to the banks of the Nile, a region of about 40,000 square kilometres (15,000 square miles) that contains the only arable land. The large areas of the Sahara desert, which make up most of Egypt’s territory, are sparsely populated. About half of the Egyptian population lives in urban areas, most of them in the densely populated centres of Greater Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities in the Nile Delta.

It is considered a regional and middle power with significant cultural, political and military influence in North Africa, the Middle East and the Muslim world. Egypt’s economy is one of the largest and most diversified in the Middle East and is expected to become one of the most important of the 21st century. Egypt are members of the UN, NAM, the Arab League, as well as the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation and the African Union.

Tourism in Egypt

For Egypt, tourism is one of the most significant economic sectors. In 2008, more than 12.8 million tourists visited Egypt and generated revenues of almost US$ 11 billion. The tourism sector employs about 12% of the Egyptian labour force. Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou has told industry experts and reporters that in 2012 tourism generated approximately $9.4 billion, which is slightly increased from $9 billion in 2011.

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The necropolis of Giza is the most iconic site in Egypt. Giza is also Egypt’s most famous tourist destination since the Ancient World and it was made popular in Hellenistic periods during which the Great Pyramid was listed as one of the 7 Wonders of the World by the Antipater of Sidon. Today it is the only one of these wonders of the world that still exists.

Egypt has a large number of Mediterranean and Red Sea beaches, stretching over more than 3,000 km. The Red Sea has calm waters, colourful coral reefs, rare fish and beautiful mountains. The beaches of the Akba Gulf also offer opportunities for water sports. With its beautiful location on the Gulf of Suez, Safaga is the top of the Red Sea zone. Not to be missed are Sharm El Sheikh, Hurghada, Luxor ( well known as the largest open-air museum of the world), Dahab, Ras Sidr, Marsa Alam, Safaga as well as the north coastline of the Mediterranean Sea which are important destinations for leisure tourism.

With many tourist activities in Egypt, it is considered an entertaining place for historical, religious, medical and entertainment tourism. To enter Egypt, a valid passport and in most cases a visa is required.

Geography

Egypt lies mainly between latitudes 22° and 32°N, and longitudes 25° and 35°E. With 1,001,450 square kilometers, it is the 30th largest country in the world. As a result of Egypt’s extremely dry climate, the major concentration of population is along the narrow valleys as well as the Nile Delta, with approximately 99% of the population occupying about 5.5% of its total land area. 98% of Egyptians are living in 3% of the country’s territory.

It is bordered by Libya on the west, Sudan on the south and Israel with the Gaza Strip on the east. Egypt, a transcontinental country, is linked by a land bridge ( Straits of Suez) between Africa and Asia, and by a waterway ( Suez Canal) connecting the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean through the Red Sea.

Except for the Nile Valley, most of the Egyptian landscape is desert, with a few scattered oases. The wind creates vast sand dunes more than 30 meters high. The Sahara Desert and parts of the Libyan Desert are part of Egypt. These deserts protected the empire of the pharaohs from western threats and were called “red earth” in ancient Egypt.

Cities include Alexandria, the second largest city; Aswan; Assiut; Cairo, the capital and largest city of modern Egypt; El Mahalla El Kubra; Giza, the site of the Pyramid of Cheops; Hurghada; Luxor; Kom Ombo; Port Safaga; Port Said; Sharm El Sheikh; Suez, where the southern end of the Suez Canal is located; Zagazig; and Minya. Oases include Bahariya, Dakhla, Farafra, Kharga, and Siwa. Protected areas include Ras Mohamed National Park, Zaranik Protectorate, and Siwa.

On March 13, 2015, plans for a new capital of Egypt were announced.

Demographics in Egypt

In 2015, with a population of around 88 million, Egypt was the most populated nation in the Middle East and the 3rd most populated country in the African continent. Its population grew rapidly from 1970 to 2010 due to medical advances and the increase in agricultural productivity made possible by the Green Revolution. The population of Egypt was estimated at 3 million when Napoleon invaded the country in 1798.

The Egyptian population is highly urbanised and concentrated along the Nile (particularly in Cairo and Alexandria), in the delta and near the Suez Canal. Demographically, the Egyptians are divided between those who live in the large urban centres and the Fellahin or farmers from the rural areas.

An estimated 2.7 million Egyptians live abroad. Most of these Egyptian migrants, about 70%, are living in Arab countries ( Saudi Arabia with 923,600, Libya with 332,600, Jordan with 226,850, Kuwait with 190,550 while the rest are living in other parts of the region) while the remaining 30% live predominantly in Europe and North America (318,000 in the US, 110,000 are in Canada) as well as 90,000 in Italy.

Of all people in the ancient Middle East, only the Egyptians have remained to be where they have been and they have remained what they were, despite having changed their language once as well as their religion twice. In a way, they represent the oldest nation in the world. For most of its history, Egypt has been a state, but only in recent years it has become a true nation state, having a national government which claims the allegiance of its citizens at the basis of a common identity.

Ethnic groups in Egypt

With 91% of the total population, ethnic Egyptians represent the largest ethnic group in the country. Minorities include the Abazas, Turks, Greeks, Arab Bedouins living in the Eastern Desert and Sinai Peninsula, Berber-speaking Siwis in the Siwa Oasis and also the Nubian populations based alongside the Nile. There are also tribal communities of the Bejacunities, which are concentrated in the most south-eastern corner of the country, and a number of cathedral clans, especially in the Nile Delta and Faiyum, which are gradually being assimilated as urbanisation progresses.

Egypt is also home to an unknown number of refugees and asylum seekers, estimated at between 500,000 and 3 million. There are about 70,000 Palestinian refugees and about 150,000 recently arrived Iraqi refugees, but the number of the largest group, the Sudanese, is controversial. The once vibrant and ancient Greek and Jewish communities in Egypt have almost disappeared, and only a small number have remained in the country, but many Egyptian Jews visit the country for religious or other reasons and for tourism. Several important Jewish archaeological and historical sites are located in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities.

Religion in Egypt

With Islam as the state religion, Egypt is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country. The proportion of followers of different religions is a controversial issue in Egypt. An estimated 90% are identified as Muslims, 9% as Coptic Christians and 1% as other Christian denominations.  Non-denominational Muslims make up about 12% of the population.

Despite being a predominantly Christian country before the 7th century, Egypt gradually became a predominantly Muslim country after the arrival of Islam and developed into a political and cultural center of the Muslim world. During Anwar Sadat’s reign, the Islam has become the official national religion while Sharia law has become the main source of law. Approximately 15 million Egyptians followed the orders of the indigenous Sufis, however the Sufi leadership has claimed that this number is much higher, since many Egyptian Sufis are not formally registered as members of a Sufi order.

There is also a Shiite minority. According to the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, there are between 1 and 2.2 million Shiites, potentially as many as 3 million. The population of Ahmadiyya is assumed to be less than approximately 50,000, while the Salafi (ultraconservative) population was estimated to be 5-6 million. Famous for its numerous mosqueminarets, Cairo is known as the “city of 1,000 minarets”.

Of the Christian minority in Egypt, over 90% belong to the indigenous Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, an Oriental Orthodox Christian church. Other native Egyptian Christians are followers of the Coptic Catholic Church, the Evangelical Church of Egypt and various other Protestant denominations. Christian communities are mainly concentrated in the urban areas of Cairo and Alexandria, among them are the Syro-Lebanese, who are Greek Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Maronite Catholics.

In the past, ethnic Greeks also represented a large Greek Orthodox population. Similarly, Armenians formed the then larger Armenian Orthodox and Catholic communities. Egypt, used to have a very large Roman Catholic community, mostly made up of Italians and Maltese. This non-native community had been much larger in Egypt before Nasser’s regime and nationalization.

Egypt is home to two major religious institutions, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, founded by St. Mark the Evangelist in the middle of the 1st century AD, and the Al-Azhar University, founded by the Fatimids in 970 AD as the first Islamic school and university in the world.

Egypt only acknowledges 3 religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Other faiths and Muslim minority sects practised by Egyptians, such as the small Bahá’í and Ahmadi community, are not recognised by the state and face persecution because they are branded as extreme right-wing groups that threaten Egypt’s national security.  Individuals, particularly Baha’is and atheists, who wish to state their religion (or lack thereof) on their government-imposed identity cards are denied this opportunity (see the controversy over the Egyptian identity card), and are put in the position of either not receiving the required identity card or lying about their faith. A court decision in 2008 allowed members of non-recognised faiths to be expelled and leave the religious field blank.

Economy of Egypt

Egyptian economy largely depends on agriculture, the media, petroleum imports, natural gas and of course tourism. More than 3 million of Egyptians also works abroad, predominantly in Saudi Arabia, across the Persian Gulf and Europe. The completion of the Aswan Dam in 1970 and the resulting Lake Nasser changed the traditional place of the Nile in Egyptian agriculture and ecology. A rapidly growing population, limited arable land and dependence on the Nile continue to overexploit resources and put the economy under pressure.

Egypt has been receiving foreign aid from the US on average US$2.2 billion per year since 1979 making it the 3rd largest recipient of such aid from the US after the war in Iraq. The Egyptian economy relies mainly on these sources of income: tourism, remittances from Egyptians working abroad and income from the Suez Canal.

Egypt has a developed energy market based on coal, oil, natural gas and hydroelectric power. About 600,000 tonnes (590,000 long; 660,000 short) of coal are extracted each year in the North-East Sinai. The oil and gas is produced in the Western desert regions, in the Gulf of Suez and in the Nile Delta. There are huge gas resources in Egypt, which is estimated at 2,180 cubic kilometres (520 mcf). According to the Egyptian General Petroleum Co (EGPC), the country will reduce its gas exports in 2013 and will ask major industries to cut production this summer to avoid an energy crisis and prevent political unrest, Reuters reported. Egypt is counting on Qatar’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) exporter to provide additional gas volumes during the summer, while encouraging plants to plan annual maintenance for peak demand months, GEPC chairman Tarek El Barkatawy said. Egypt produces its own energy but has been a net importer of oil since 2008 and is rapidly becoming a net importer of natural gas.

After a period of stagnation, economic conditions have improved considerably thanks to the adoption of a more liberal economic policy by the government, as well as increased revenues from tourism and a booming stock market. In its annual report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has ranked Egypt among the countries in the world that are implementing economic reforms.  Among the most important economic reforms that the government has implemented since 2003 is the drastic reduction of customs duties and tariffs. A new tax law introduced in 2005 reduced corporate tax from 40% to 20%, resulting in a reported 100% increase in tax revenues by 2006.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Egypt increased significantly before Hosni Mubarak’s departure and exceeded US$6 billion in 2006 thanks to the economic liberalisation and privatisation measures taken by Investment Minister Mahmoud Mohieddin.  After the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011, there has been a tremendous decrease in foreign investment as well as in tourism revenues, which was followed by a 60 % decrease in the foreign exchange reserves, a decrease in growth of 3 % and the fast devaluation of the Egyptian currency.

Although one of the main obstacles the Egyptian economy continues to face is the limited flow of wealth to the average population, many Egyptians criticise their government for higher commodity prices while their standard of living or purchasing power is relatively stagnant. Corruption is often cited by Egyptians as the main obstacle to further economic growth. The government has promised a complete reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure, the money being used for the newly acquired third mobile phone licence (US$3 billion), which was paid for by Etisalat in 2006. In the Corruption Perception Index 2013, Egypt ranks 114th out of 177.

The most well-known multinational companies in Egypt are the Orascom Group and Raya Contact Center. The information technology (IT) sector has expanded rapidly in recent years. Many start-ups are selling outsourcing services to North America and Europe, working with companies such as Microsoft, Oracle and other large corporations, as well as many small and medium-sized enterprises. Among these companies are Xceed Contact Centre, Raya, E Group Connections and C3. The IT sector has been stimulated by new Egyptian entrepreneurs with the support of the government.

Approximately 2.7 million Egyptians working abroad actively participate in the development of their country by remittances ($7.8 billion in 2009) and through the circulation of both human and social capital and investment. According to the World Bank, remittances, i.e. money earned by Egyptians living abroad and sent home, reached a record level of US$ 21 billion in 2012.

The distribution of income in Egyptian society is moderately unequal, because an estimated 35-40% of the Egyptian population earn less than the equivalent of US$ 2 per day, while only about 2-3% can be considered wealthy.