Prehistory and Ancient Egypt
Along the terraces of the Nile, in the desert oases, there is evidence of rock carvings. In the 10th millennium BC, the culture of hunters and fishermen was replaced by that of grain milling. Climate change or overgrazing around 8000 BC began to dry up the grasslands of Egypt, creating the Sahara desert. The first tribal peoples migrated to the Nile, where they developed a sedentary agricultural economy and a more centralised society.
Around 6000 BC, a Neolithic culture was established in the Nile valley. During the Neolithic period, a number of indigenous communities developed autonomously in Upper and Lower Egypt. The Badarian culture and the subsequent Naqada series are generally considered to be the precursors of dynastic Egypt. The oldest known site in Lower Egypt, Merimda, predates Badarian by about seven hundred years. The modern communities of Lower Egypt, though culturally distinct, maintained frequent contact through trade and coexisted with their southern counterparts for the remaining 2,000 years or more. The first known evidence of Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions appeared during the Predynastic period on ceramic vessels of Naqada III, dating from around 3200 BC.
Around 3150 BC a unified kingdom was founded by King Menes, followed by a series of dynasties that ruled Egypt for the next three centuries. Egyptian culture flourished during this long period and remained typically Egyptian in its religion, art, language and customs. The first two ruling dynasties of unified Egypt paved the way for the period of the Old Kingdom (around 2700-2200 BC), during which many pyramids were built, including the Djoser Pyramid of the Third Dynasty and the Giza Pyramids of the Fourth Dynasty.
The first interim period marked the beginning of a period of political upheaval lasting about 150 years. However, increased flooding of the Nile and a stabilization of government brought new prosperity to the country in the Middle Kingdom around 2040 BC, which reached its peak during the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhat III. A second period of disunity heralded the arrival of the first foreign dynasty in power in Egypt, the Semitic Hyksos. The Hyksos invaders took large parts of Lower Egypt around 1650 BC and established a new capital at Avaris. They were driven out by a force from Upper Egypt led by Ahmose I, who founded the 18th dynasty and moved the capital from Memphis to Thebes.
The New Kingdom around 1550-1070 BC began with the 18th Dynasty and marked the rise of Egypt as an international power, extending to its maximum extent to an empire as far east as Tombos in Nubia and including parts of the Levant to the east. Some of the most famous pharaohs date from this period, including Hatshepsut, Thutmes III, Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti, Tutankhamun and Ramses II. The first historically attested expression of monotheism appeared during this period under the name Atenism. Constant interaction with other nations brought many new ideas to the New Kingdom. The country was then invaded and conquered by Libyans, Nubians and Assyrians, but the native Egyptians finally drove them out and regained control of their lands.
The mighty Achaemenid Persians, led by Cambyses II, began their conquest of Egypt in 525 BC, eventually capturing Pharaoh Psamtik III at the Battle of Pelusium. The whole of the Twenty-seventh Dynasty of Egypt, from 525 BC to 402 BC, was a purely Persian period, with the exception of Petyubastis III, during which the Achaemenid kings all received the title of pharaoh. Some revolts against the Persians, temporarily successful, marked the fifth century BC, but Egypt was never able to overthrow the Persians definitively.
The thirtieth dynasty was the last indigenous dynasty to rule during the Pharaonic era. It fell to the Persians in 343 BC after the defeat in battle of the last indigenous pharaoh, King Nektanebo II. This thirty-first dynasty of Egypt did not last long, however, as the Persians were overthrown by Alexander the Great a few decades later.
Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt
The Ptolemaic kingdom was a powerful Hellenistic state that extended from southern Syria in the east to Cyrene in the west and south to the border with Nubia. Alexandria became the capital and a centre of Greek culture and trade. To be recognised by the native Egyptian population, they called themselves the successors of the pharaohs. Later, Ptolemy incorporated Egyptian traditions, expressed in public monuments in Egyptian styles and clothing, as well as taking part in the religious life of Egypt.
The last Ptolemaic ruler of the dynasty was Cleopatra VII, who killed herself ( from a stab wound caused by her own hand) shortly after Octavian’s conquest of Alexandria and the flight of his mercenary troops, and after burying her lover Mark Antony.
The Ptolemies had to face rebellions by native Egyptians, often triggered by an undesirable regime, and were embroiled in civil and foreign wars that led to the decline of the empire and its annexation by Rome. Nevertheless, Hellenistic culture continued to flourish in Egypt after the Muslim conquest.
Christianity was introduced to Egypt by Saint Mark the Evangelist in the 1st century. The reign of Diocletian (284-305 AD) marked the transition from the Roman to the Byzantine period in Egypt, when many of the Egyptian Christians were persecuted.The New Testament had already been translated into Egyptian at that time. After the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, an independent Egyptian Coptic Church was firmly established.
Middle Ages (7th -15th)
The Byzantines were able to regain control of the country after a brief Sassanid invasion at the beginning of the 7th century, in the midst of the Byzantine-Asian War of 602-628, during which they established a new short-lived province for ten years, known as Sassanid Egypt until 639-42, when Egypt was invaded and conquered by the Islamic Empire through the Muslim Arabs. When they defeated the Byzantine armies in Egypt, the Arabs introduced Sunni Islam into the country. These first rites had survived the period of Coptic Christianity.
Muslim rulers appointed by the Caliphate retained control of Egypt for the next six centuries, with Cairo being the seat of the Fatimid Caliphate. With the end of the Ayyubid Kurdish dynasty, the Mamelukes, a Turkic-Circassian military caste, took control around 1250. At the end of the 13th century, Egypt linked the Red Sea, India, Malaysia and the East Indies. The Black Death, in the mid-14th century, killed about 40% of the country’s population.
Ottoman Egypt (1517-1867)
In 1517 Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Turks and later became a province of the Ottoman Empire. Its defensive militarism took a heavy toll on both its civil society and its economic institutions. Portuguese merchants took over its trade. Between 1687 and 1731, Egypt experienced six famines. The 1784 famine cost the country about one-sixth of its population.
Egypt has always been a difficult province for the Ottoman sultans to control, partly because of the continuing power and influence of the Mamelukes, the Egyptian military caste that ruled the country for centuries.
Egypt remained semi-autonomous under the Mamelukes until it was captured by Napoleon Bonaparte’s French forces in 1798 (see French Campaign in Egypt and Syria). After the defeat of the French against the British, a power vacuum was created in Egypt and a three-way power struggle ensued between the Ottoman Turks, the Egyptian Mamelukes who had ruled Egypt for centuries and the Albanian mercenaries in the service of the Ottomans.
Foundation of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty
Following his expulsion from France, Muhammad Ali Pasha, commander of the Ottoman Albanian army of Egypt, gained power in 1805. Although he bore the title of viceroy of Egypt, his subordination to the Ottoman gate was only nominal. Muhammad Ali established a dynasty that would rule Egypt until the revolution of 1952.
The introduction of long-fibre cotton in 1820 transformed agriculture into a cash monoculture by the end of the century, concentrating land ownership and shifting production to international markets.
Muhammad Ali had annexed northern Sudan (1820-1824), Syria (1833) as well as parts of Arabia and Anatolia, however in 1841 the European powers, concerned with Muhammad Ali’s own attempts to overthrow the Ottoman Empire, forced him to return the majority of his conquests to the Ottoman Empire. His military ambition forced him to modernise the country: he built industries, a system of canals for irrigation and transport, and reformed the civil service.
He built a military state in which about four percent of the population served in the army to elevate Egypt to a powerful position in the Ottoman Empire in a way that bears several similarities to Soviet (non-communist) strategies in the 20th century.
Muhammad Ali Pasha developed the army from one that had gathered in the tradition of drudgery to a large modernised army. He introduced conscription into the male peasantry in 19th century Egypt and took an innovative approach to creating his great army by strengthening it in numbers and capabilities. There was no provision for the training and education of new soldiers; the new concepts were also reinforced by isolation. Men were kept in barracks so as not to be distracted from their growth as a military unit to be reckoned with. Eventually, the disgust with the military way of life faded and a new ideology of nationalism and pride took hold. It was with the help of this newly reborn military unit that Muhammad Ali asserted his reign over Egypt.
The policies pursued by Mohammad Ali Pasha during his reign partly explain why computing power in Egypt has increased at a remarkably low rate compared to other countries in North Africa and the Middle East, with investment in training being limited to the military and industrial sectors.
Muhammad Ali was briefly replaced by his son Ibrahim (in September 1848), then by a grandson Abbas I (in November 1848), then by Syed (1854) and Isma’il (1863), who promoted science and agriculture and banned slavery in Egypt.
The end of Ottoman Egypt and the European invasion (1867-1914)
During the reign of Muhammad Ali, Egypt remained nominally a province of the Ottoman Empire. In 1867, it received the status of an autonomous vassal state or kedivat, a status that remained in force until 1914.
Suez Canal, constructed in collaboration with France, was finished in 1869. Its construction led to huge debts to European banks and caused resentment among the population because of the heavy taxation it demanded. In 1875, Ismail was forced to sell the Egyptian share of the canal to the British government. This meant that within 3 years the British and French rulers were placed in the Egyptian cabinet and became “the real power in the government, backed by the financial strength of the bondholders”.
Other circumstances, such as epidemic diseases (rinderpest in the 1880s), floods and wars, led to the economic slowdown and further increased Egypt’s dependence on foreign debt.
Later, the dynasty became a British puppet. Together, Ismail and Tewfik Pasha had ruled Egypt as a quasi-independent state under the authority of the Ottoman Empire suzerainty until the British occupation in 1882.
Local discontent with Ismail and European interference led to the formation of the first nationalist factions in 1879, with Ahmad Urabi as a leading figure.
The Khedivat of Egypt remained a de jure Ottoman province until 5 November 1914, when it was declared a British protectorate in response to the decision of the young Turks of the Ottoman Empire to join the Central Powers in World War I. The Khedivat of Egypt remained a de jure Ottoman province until 5 November 1914, when it was declared a British protectorate in response to the decision of the young Turks of the Ottoman Empire to enter World War I alongside the Central Powers.
In 1914, the protectorate was formalised and the title of Head of State was changed to Sultan to reject the continued supremacy of the Ottoman Sultan, who had supported the central powers during the First World War. Abbas II abdicated as Khettaib and his uncle Hussein Kamel took over as Sultan.
After the First World War, Saad Zaghloul and his Wafd party led the Egyptian nationalist movement to a majority in the local councils. When the British exiled Zaghlul and his comrades-in-arms to Malta on 8 March 1919, the country rose up in its first modern revolution. The uprising prompted the British government to unilaterally declare Egypt’s independence on 22 February 1922.
In 1923, the new government drafted and implemented a constitution based on a parliamentary system. Saad Zaghlul was popularly elected Prime Minister of Egypt in 1924. In 1936, the Anglo-Egyptian treaty was concluded. The remaining influence of the British and the increasing political involvement of the king led to instability and the dissolution of the parliament in a military coup d’état called the Revolution of 1952. The Free Officers’ Movement forced King Faroukt to abdicate in favour of his son Fuad. The military presence of the British in Egypt remained until 1954.
After the revolution of 1952 by the Free Officers’ Movement, power in Egypt passed into the hands of the military. On 18 June 1953, the Egyptian Republic was proclaimed, with General Muhammad Naguib as the first President of the Republic.
Rule of President Nasser (1956-1970)
In 1954 Naguib was forced to step down by Gamal Abdel Nasser (a real master architect of the 1952 movement) and was subsequently put under house arrest. On 13 June 1956, British forces completed their withdrawal from the occupied area of the Suez Canal. On 26 July 1956, it nationalised the Suez Canal, triggering the Suez Crisis of 1956.
In 1958, Egypt and Syria established a a sovereign union, known as the United Arab Republic. The union was short-lived and ended in 1961 with the secession of Syria, thus ending the union. During most of its existence, the United Arab Republic has also been in close alliance with North Yemen ( aka the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen), also known as the United Arab States. In 1959, the all-Palestinian government of the Gaza Strip, an Egyptian client state, was absorbed by the United Arab Republic under the pretext of Arab union and was never restored.
In the early 1960s, Egypt became fully involved in the civil war in North Yemen. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser supported the Yemeni Republicans with up to 70,000 Egyptian soldiers and chemical weapons. Despite several military actions and peace conferences, the war has stalled. The Egyptian commitment in Yemen was subsequently seriously compromised.
In mid-May 1967, the Soviet Union warned Nasser of an imminent Israeli attack on Syria. Although Chief of the General Staff Mohamed Fawzi verified that this claim was “unfounded”, Nasser took three successive steps that made war virtually inevitable: on 14 May, he moved his troops into the Sinai near the border with Israel; on 19 May, he expelled the UN peacekeepers stationed in the Sinai peninsula on the border with Israel; and on 23 May, he closed the Strait of Tiran to Israeli shipping. On 26 May, Nasser said: “The battle will be general and our main objective will be the destruction of Israel. “
Israel reiterated that the closure of the Strait of Tiran was a casus belli. During the 1967 Six-Day War, Egypt was attacked by Israel, resulting in the occupation of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, which had been occupied by Egypt during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. During the 1967 war, an emergency law was enacted, which remained in force until 2012, with the exception of an 18-month interruption in 1980/81. Under this law, police powers were extended, constitutional rights were suspended and censorship was legalised.
During the fall of the Egyptian monarchy at the beginning of the 1950s, less than 500,000 Egyptians were regarded as upper class and wealthy, while 4 million were regarded as middle class and 17 million as lower class and poor. Fewer than half of primary school-age children are enrolled in school, and most are boys. Nasser’s policy changed this. Agrarian reform and land distribution, the dramatic growth of university education and government support for domestic industries have greatly improved social mobility and flattened the social curve. From the school year 1953-54 to 1965-66, total enrolment in public schools more than doubled. Millions of previously poor Egyptians joined the middle class through education and public sector jobs. Under Nasser, doctors, engineers, teachers, lawyers and journalists formed the bulk of Egypt’s growing middle class. In the 1960s, the Egyptian economy went from lethargy to the brink of collapse, society became less free and the appeal of Nasser weakened considerably.
The reign of President Sadat (1970-1981)
In 1970, President Nasser died and was replaced by Anwar El-Sadat. Sadat shifted Egypt’s Cold War allegiance from the Soviet Union to the United States, expelling Soviet advisers in 1972. He implemented a policy of economic reform while suppressing religious and secular opposition. In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched the October War, a surprise attack to retake part of the Sinai region that Israel had seized six years earlier. This gave Sadat a victory that later allowed him to retake Sinai in exchange for peace with Israel.
In 1975, Sadat changed Nasser’s economic policy and tried to use his popularity to reduce government regulations and encourage foreign investment through his Infitah programme. Thanks to this policy, incentives such as reduced taxes and import duties attracted some investors, but investments were mainly directed towards low-risk and profitable businesses such as tourism and construction, thus abandoning Egypt’s infant industries. Although Sadat’s policies aimed to modernise Egypt and support the middle class, they mainly benefited the upper class and led to the Egyptian bread riots of 1977 due to the removal of subsidies for basic foodstuffs.
In 1977, Sadat made a historic visit to Israel that led to the 1979 peace treaty in exchange for Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai. Sadat’s initiative caused enormous controversy in the Arab world and led to Egypt’s expulsion from the Arab League, but was supported by most Egyptians. In October 1981, Sadat was killed by Islamist extremists.
President Mubarak (1981-2011)
Hosni Mubarak gained power following the assassination of Sadat by a referendum where he was the only candidate.
Hosni Mubarak reaffirmed Egypt’s relations with Israel, but eased tensions with its Arab neighbours. Domestically, Mubarak faced serious problems. Although agricultural and industrial production developed, the economy could not keep pace with the demographic explosion. Poverty and mass unemployment drove families out of the countryside and into cities such as Cairo, where they found themselves in overcrowded slums and struggled to survive.
In the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, terrorist attacks in Egypt became more numerous and more serious and began to target Christian Copts, foreign tourists and government officials. In the 1990s, an Islamist group, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, carried out an extensive campaign of violence, ranging from assassinations and attempted assassinations of prominent writers and intellectuals to repeated attacks on tourists and foreigners. Serious damage was done to the largest sector of the Egyptian economy – tourism – and thus also to the government, but the livelihoods of many people on whom the group depended were also destroyed.
Under Mubarak’s reign, the political scene was dominated by the National Democratic Party, founded by Sadat in 1978. It adopted the Trade Union Law of 1993, the Press Law of 1995 and the Law on Non-State Associations of 1999, which restricted freedom of association and expression through new regulations and draconian sanctions for violations. As a result, parliamentary politics had become virtually meaningless by the late 1990s, and other means of political expression were also curtailed.
61 people, mainly tourists, have been slaughtered on 17 November 1997 in the vicinity of Luxor.
At the end of February 2005, Mubarak announced a reform of the law on presidential elections, paving the way for multi-candidate elections for the first time since the 1952 movement. However, the new law restricted the number of candidates and made it easy for Mubarak to win re-election. Voter turnout was less than 25%. Election observers also accused the government of interfering in the election process. Shortly after the election, Mubarak has jailed his runner-up, Ayman Nour.
Human Rights Watch’s 2006 report on Egypt detailed serious human rights violations, including systematic torture, arbitrary detention and trials before military and state security courts. In 2007, Amnesty International published a report stating that Egypt has become an international torture centre where other nations send suspects for interrogation, often in the context of the war on terrorism. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs quickly refuted the report.
Constitutional amendments adopted on 19 March 2007 banned parties from using religion as a basis for political activity, allowed a new anti-terrorism law to be drafted, gave police broad powers of arrest and surveillance, and gave the President the power to dissolve Parliament and end judicial oversight of elections. In 2009, Dr Ali El Deen Hilal Dessouki, Media Secretary of the National Democratic Party (NDP), described Egypt as a “pharaonic” political system and democracy as a “long-term goal”. Dessouki also said that “the real centre of power in Egypt is the army”.
The revolution and its consequences
Large-scale demonstrations against the Mubarak government began on 25 January 2011. Mubarak resigned and fled Cairo on 11 February 2011. In Cairo’s Tahrir Square, there were shouts of jubilation. Subsequently, the Egyptian army has taken control of the government. Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, President of the Supreme Council of Military Affairs, became the de-facto interim state leader. On 13 February 2011, the military dissolved parliament and suspended the constitution.
On 19 March 2011, a constitutional referendum is being held. On 28 November 2011, Egypt held its first parliamentary elections since the previous regime came to power. Voter turnout was high and no major irregularities or violence were reported. Mohammed Morsi has been elected as President on the 24th of June 2012. On 2 August 2012, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil announced the composition of his 35-member cabinet with 28 new members, including four from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Liberal and secular parties have left the Constituent Assembly as they consider it an imposition of rigid Islamic practices, while Muslim Brotherhood followers have joined Mr Morsi. On 22 November 2012, President Morsi issued a preliminary statement that shielded his decrees from challenge and sought to protect the work of the Constituent Assembly.
This movement led to massive protests and violent actions throughout Egypt. On 5 December 2012, tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of President Morsi clashed in what has been described as the largest violent battle between Islamists and their opponents since the country’s revolution. Mohamed Morsi proposed a “national dialogue” with opposition leaders, but refused to cancel the constitutional referendum in December 2012.
On 3 July 2013, the military ousted President Morsi in a coup d’état and set up an interim government. This decision was taken three days after mass demonstrations for and against the Morsi regime were held throughout Egypt.
On 4 July 2013, Adly Mansour, 68, president of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt, was sworn in as interim president of the new government after Morsi’s ouster. Egyptian authorities, backed by the military, cracked down on the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters, imprisoning thousands and killing hundreds of demonstrators in the streets. Many Muslim Brotherhood leaders and activists were sentenced to death or life imprisonment in a series of mass trials.
On January 18, 2014, a new constitution was introduced by the administrator government, which was approved by 98.1% of voters in a referendum. Turnout was low, with only 38.6% of registered voters voting, although this figure is higher than the 33% who participated in a referendum during Mursi’s term in office. On 26 March 2014, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the head of the Egyptian armed forces, which controlled the country at the time, resigned from the army and announced that he will be standing as a potential candidate in the 2014 presidential elections.The election, held between 26 and 28 May 2014, resulted in a landslide for el-Sisi.. The Muslim Brotherhood and some liberal and secular activist groups boycotted the election. Although military-supported authorities extended the election to a third day, voter turnout was 46%, lower than the 52% turnout for the 2012 election.