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Summary Article: Egypt
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Country in northeast Africa, bounded to the north by the Mediterranean Sea, east by the Palestinian-controlled Gaza Strip, Israel, and the Red Sea, south by Sudan, and west by Libya.

Government Since the 2011 ‘Egyptian revolution’, Egypt's political system has been a state of flux. In February 2011, the military took control to oversee a transition to democracy. A constituent assembly framed a new constitution which was approved in December 2012. But this was suspended in July 2013 when the military removed President Mohammed Morsi and a new constitution was framed and approved in a referendum in January 2014. Until the revolution, Egypt had a directly elected presidential executive and was dominated by a single ruling party. Changes made in March 2011 to the 1971 constitution reduced the presidential term from six years to four years, with a two-term limit. Under the 2014 constitution, political parties may not be based on ‘religion, race, gender or geography'’ and while Islam is the state religion, equality between the sexes and freedom of belief is guaranteed. The constitution gives the military control over appointment of the defence minister until at least 2022. Egypt's two-chamber legislature, comprising a 596-member lower house, the People's Assembly, and a 264-member upper house, the Shura Council (‘consultative council’), was dissolved by the armed forces in 2011, but new elections were held in late 2015. The People's Assembly comprised 448 members elected as independents, 120 elected on party lists, and 28 presidential appointees.

History For the history of Egypt from the earliest times through to the end of Byzantine rule in 639, see Egypt, ancient.

The Arab conquest In 639, during the caliphate of Umar, the second caliph of Islam, an Arab army of 4,000 men was sent to take Egypt, then a part of the Byzantine Empire. They defeated the Byzantines at Heliopolis in 640, and the conquest of Egypt proceeded with very little difficulty, being complete by 642. That part of the population that had adhered to the old gods embraced the faith of Islam, but the Copts remained Christians. The Arabic language gradually superseded Egyptian; it eventually replaced Greek as the official administrative language in 706. In 661 Egypt came under the Umayyad dynasty, that took over the caliphate in that year. They were succeeded by the Abbasid dynasty in 750.

The Christian Copts of Egypt were generally tolerated, although there was the occasional persecution. In 829–30 the Copts raised a serious revolt, and Motasin, the local feudal lord, failed to suppress them. The caliph Ma'mun came to Egypt to assist and the Copts were defeated, and subjugated with great cruelty. Conversion to Islam accelerated after this, although Copts have continued to hold important government posts in Egypt right up to the present day. In 868 Egypt was given as a fief to a Turkish general called Bayikbeg, the son of a slave, who had risen in the caliph's service. In the same year a virtually autonomous local dynasty, that of the Tulunids (868–905), was established by Ahmad ibn Tulun, who even managed to take advantage of Abbasid distractions over a slave revolt in Iraq to annex Syria in 879–80. Following a period of strong government, Egypt declined into a period of instability and power struggles until the appointment of Muhammad Ibn Tughj as governor (896–935). He was followed by the briefly successful rule of the Ikshidid dynasty (until 968), and then in 969 the Shiite Fatimids conquered Egypt. They founded Al-Azhar university in 972 and the present-day city of Cairo (Al-Qahirah, ‘the Victorious’) in 973, and under the Fatimids Egypt thrived as a centre of literature, philosophy, and science. International trade also flourished, encouraged by the political stability of the country and the laissez-faire policy of the Fatimid rulers.

Saladin and his dynasty In the 1160s the Fatimids were eclipsed by the power struggles between various government officials, who summoned the aid of foreign armies. Thus in 1164 a Christian army from the Crusader states of Syria and Palestine joined a usurper called Shawar, but they were defeated in 1169 by a Syrian army led by Shirguh and his nephew Saladin. Saladin overthrew the Fatimid caliphate in 1171, took the title of sultan, and restored Sunni Islam and allegiance to the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad. He took for himself the title of sultan, and established his own Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt as well as in Syria, being succeeded by his son Othman.

The Mamelukes The later years of the Ayyubid dynasty are marked by various power struggles. During this period freed Turkish slaves known as Mamelukes formed the sultan's bodyguard and, after the death of the Ayyubid sultan Nagm-al-din, they seized power in 1250, forming a dynasty that was to rule Egypt and Syria for nearly 300 years. Under the Mamelukes Egypt became the centre of power and of Arabic culture, distinguished by major achievements in architecture and literature, in the eastern Mediterranean world. A Mameluke army decisively defeated the Mongols in 1260, at Ayn Jalut in Palestine, stopping the Mongol advance in southwest Asia, and in 1291 the Mamelukes completed their rule over Syria with their capture of Acre, the last possession of the crusaders in the region. However, a variety of factors, including the Black Death, the devastating campaigns of Tamerlane, and the emergence of the Portuguese as rivals in the trade with India, helped to weaken the Mameluke state.

The Ottoman conquest There had long been a rivalry between the Ottoman Turks and the Mamelukes over the control of the region to the north of Syria, and in 1516 the Ottoman sultan Selim I invaded Syria. Selim defeated the Mamelukes and incorporated Egypt into the Ottoman Empire in 1517.

As a Turkish province, Egypt became something of a backwater, and entered a period of economic and cultural decline. It was governed by Turkish viceroys (pashas), although many Mamelukes still held important posts in both the government and the army. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Mamelukes of this informal elite, known as beys, entered a period of factional strife among themselves. Although the Mamelukes continued to acknowledge the suzerainty of the Turkish sultan in Constantinople, by the later 18th century they had achieved autonomous rule over Egypt. An Ottoman army attempted to end Mameluke rule in Egypt in 1786, but was unsuccessful.

Napoleon's expedition to Egypt Napoleon's military expedition to Egypt in 1798 was ostensibly to suppress the Mamelukes and restore the authority of the Turkish sultan in Constantinople. However, Napoleon's real ambition was to conquer Egypt and establish a strong French presence between the UK and India. After taking Alexandria, Napoleon defeated the Mameluke army of Murad Bey and Ibrahim Bey at the Battle of the Pyramids. He then established a municipal council in Cairo, and the French exercised dictatorial power. The French fleet was destroyed by Nelson and the British in the Battle of Aboukir Bay in 1798.

Napoleon set off on an expedition to Syria, from where any Turkish attack on Egypt was likely to come. He left French governors in Cairo, Alexandria, and Upper Egypt (the Nile valley south of the delta). The Syrian expedition was unsuccessful, and Napoleon returned to France. The Turks sent a double expedition to recover Egypt by force. The French general Jean-Baptiste Kléber defeated the Turks, and a certain amount of order was restored. Kléber was assassinated, and Gen (Baron) Abd Allah Jacques de Menou, a former French aristocrat who had become a convert to Islam, succeeded in command. His declaration of a French protectorate over Egypt convulsed the country again.

In 1801 the British landed at Aboukir and occupied Alexandria. The combined British and Turkish armies under Hely Hutchinson and Yusuf Pasha marched to Cairo, and Gen Belliard, the French commander, finding himself overwhelmed, agreed to evacuate Cairo and leave Egypt with his troops. De Menou in Alexandria was compelled to accept the same conditions, and both left for France, thus terminating the French occupation of Egypt.

Mehmet Ali comes to power Troubles arose almost at once. The Turks tried to exterminate the Mamelukes, and the Albanian soldiers in the Ottoman army rebelled against the Turks successfully, forcing Muhammad Khosrev, the Turkish viceroy of Egypt, to flee. Mehmet Ali (or Muhammad Ali), an Albanian commander, allied himself to the Mamelukes. This was the beginning of further struggles. One faction of the Albanians put Ahmed Pasha Khorshidin (Khorshid Pasha, or Khurshid Pasha) in the seat of government, and Kurdish troops were sent from Syria to Cairo to strengthen Khorshid. However, the Kurds behaved with such ferocity that Mehmet Ali was hailed by the people as their leader and saviour. A furious and bloody struggle took place between the forces of the two rivals. Khorshid was recalled to Turkey, and Mehmet Ali made himself pasha of Egypt.

When the beys (Mamelukes) disputed his authority, Mehmet Ali had them massacred. In 1807 a UK force arrived in Egypt. The troops entered Rosetta without opposition, but were trapped in the narrow streets and suffered heavy casualties. Mehmet Ali allied himself to his enemies, the beys, for the purpose of driving out the British, and marched to Cairo, and the British were forced to retire. Mehmet Ali then massacred the remaining beys and made himself sole undisputed possessor of Egypt. He recognized the suzerainty of the Ottoman sultan, and complied with the command of the Ottoman government in Constantinople to send an army against the Wahabis in Arabia in a war that lasted from 1811 until 1818. In 1820 Mehmet Ali extended his rule into Sudan, intending to control and profit from slave trading and to use Sudan as a source of new army recruits.

Egypt under Mehmet Ali Mehmet Ali now turned his attention to Egyptian domestic affairs. He created for himself a monopoly of the industries of the country, and by nationalizing the land became the owner of all the cultivated soil of Egypt. He started and encouraged the cotton-growing industry in the delta, and ordered the digging of the new canal between Cairo and Alexandria, at a cost of 20,000 labourers' lives. He set up a modern agricultural and educational system, made the first important cultural contacts with Europe, and reorganized the army, with Arabs and black Africans replacing Turks and Albanians.

The Ottoman sultan also appointed Mehmet Ali as governor of Crete, where he crushed the revolt by the Greeks in 1822. In 1824 a fleet of 60 Egyptian vessels sailed to mainland Greece to assist the Turks against the Greek insurgents. Such was their success that the European powers intervened and defeated a combined Turkish-Egyptian fleet at the Battle of Navarino. In 1833, two years after an invasion led by his son Ibrahim, the sultan appointed Mehmet pasha of Syria and the district of Adana, so that Mehmet now became the sole ruler of a large empire, while he was only responsible for a small tribute to the sultan. In the view of the European powers Mehmet was becoming too strong and too aggressive, and in 1841 they compelled him to submit to certain restrictions. He died in 1849 at the age of 80.

Mehmet's successors Mehmet's son Ibrahim was already dead, so Mehmet was succeeded by his grandson Abbas I. During his reign the railway from Alexandria to Cairo was commenced at the suggestion of the UK government. Abbas was murdered by his own slaves after only six years' rule. He was succeeded by Said, the fourth son of Mehmet. During his rule the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps obtained the concession for the construction of the Suez Canal (completed in 1869). The UK secured the right to start the Telegraph Company and established the Bank of Egypt. The national debt was commenced under Said, who died in 1863.

Ismail, who succeeded Said, did a great deal to reorganize the government. In 1867 he was awarded the title of khedive by the Turkish sultan, a title also borne by his successors up to 1914. However, his extravagance landed him in bankruptcy, and he sold his shares in the Suez Canal to the UK government in 1875, thereby paving the way for Anglo-French control of the khedive's affairs. He was compelled to submit to a constitutional government, but he soon found means of getting rid of it. Ismail was immediately deposed by the sultan in 1879 at the request of the French and UK, and his son Tewfik (or Tawfiq) succeeded him as khedive.

Anglo-French control In the same year the UK and French established direct financial and political control, the two countries being represented in Egypt by Evelyn Baring (afterwards Lord Cromer) and de Blignières respectively. A movement now began among Arab troops in the Egyptian army to remove the foreigners. The nationalist movement was led by an Arab officer, Ahmed Arabi (better known as Arabi Pasha or Urabi Pasha), who was made undersecretary for war, and then a member of the cabinet. At the instigation of an Arab faction a massacre took place in Alexandria in 1882, and, fearing a serious revolt, both Britain and France sent fleets.

The UK government decided to employ military force. The French declined to share the responsibility and the UK acted alone. Troops were landed under the command of Sir Garnet Wolseley, and the revolt was crushed at the Battle of Tall al-Kabir. The khedive returned to Cairo, and a fresh ministry was formed. Arabi was sentenced to death, but his life was spared and he was banished. The task of restoring the country to order fell to Lord Dufferin, the high commissioner, and the practical carrying out of this general scheme was undertaken by Evelyn Baring, who was appointed consul general in 1883.

Development under the UK The most difficult problem that Baring faced was that of finance. The Convention of London (1885) enabled Egypt to raise a loan of £9 million. In 1892 the khedive Tewfik died, and his son Abbas Hilmi succeeded. Egypt began to increase in prosperity. In 1907 Baring (now Lord Cromer) resigned, having restored solvency, improved irrigation, and arranged the construction of the first Aswan dam, thereby building up a country that was steadily progressing and prospering. The British also helped the Egyptians to suppress a number of rebellions in Sudan, the last being crushed at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 (see Omdurman, Battle of) by Gen Horatio Kitchener, and from 1899 Sudan was administered as an Anglo-Egyptian condominium.

The Entente Cordiale of 1904 between the UK and France recognized the UK occupation of Egypt. Baring was succeeded by Eldon Gorst in 1907, and the resignation of Gorst in 1911 was followed by the appointment of Kitchener as UK agent and consul general. Under Kitchener the policy of his predecessor was to a certain extent reversed, and any measure of independence that Egyptian ministers had previously enjoyed was withdrawn.

Egypt in World War I World War I brought Kitchener back to the UK, and in August 1914 he became secretary of state for war. the UK declared war on Turkey in November. This was followed in December by the UK declaring Egypt to be a UK protectorate. The khedive Abbas Hilmi was deposed and his uncle, Hussein Kamil (or Kamel), was proclaimed sultan of Egypt, so ending Turkey's nominal sovereignty over Egypt. In October 1917 Hussein Kamil died and was succeeded by his brother, Ahmed Fuad. Throughout the war Egypt was used as a base for UK military operations against the Turks in the Middle East, and the Suez Canal was successfully defended against a Turkish attack in 1915.

Nominal independence Following World War I there was a resurgence of Egyptian nationalism led by Saad Zaghlul Pasha, a former minister of education and minister of justice, who in 1918 demanded complete independence for Egypt. The UK government recalled the high commissioner and exiled Zaghlul and other leading nationalists. Rioting and strikes followed, but Field Marshal Allenby, who had been appointed special high commissioner, succeeded in restoring order, and Zaghlul and his fellow exiles were allowed to return to Egypt. Acting on Allenby's recommendation, the UK government proclaimed the end of the UK protectorate, and Egypt was recognized as an independent sovereign state in February 1922.

This proclamation was subsequently ratified by the UK Parliament, but Egypt's independence was qualified by the reservation of certain points for later settlement. Thus the UK retained control over Sudan and the defence of Egypt against foreign attack, and also retained the right to protect European interests and to protect the security of communications between various parts of the British Empire (most importantly the Suez Canal). The sultan Ahmed Fuad became King Fuad I. In April 1923 the constitution of the kingdom of Egypt as a hereditary constitutional monarchy was proclaimed.

Nationalist agitation and further autonomy In the following period there was a struggle for power between the king, the nationalist Wafd party (led by Zaghlul Pasha and then by Nahas Pasha), and the UK. It led to violence, and in November 1924 Gen Sir Lee Stack, governor general of Sudan, was assassinated by Egyptian nationalists in Cairo. The UK government insisted on the withdrawal of detachments of Egyptian troops from Sudan.

Four years later, in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood was founded by Hasan al-Banna as an Islamic revivalist movement. It was to become an increasingly politicized and activist Arab nationalist movement after 1938, calling for the establishment of a Muslim state governed by Islamic law. It was eventually banned after an assassination attempt on Prime Minister Gamal Nasser in 1954. It continued to be very powerful through the social programmes it operated among the poor.

Egyptian nationalism continued to increase during the interwar years among the people, but as yet the movement was largely unorganized and unstable and could only express itself in isolated acts of violence. The accession of an inept monarch, Farouk, in 1936 was to give this nationalism a left-wing direction that would transform it completely.

In August 1936 an Anglo-Egyptian treaty of alliance was signed, by which Britain agreed to recognize Egypt's full independence, announcing a phased withdrawal of UK forces over 20 years, except from the Suez Canal Zone, Alexandria, and Port Said, where Britain had naval bases. By the Convention of Montreux of May 1937, Britain recognized that the responsibility for the lives and property of foreigners in Egypt belonged to the Egyptian government.

Egypt in World War II During World War II Germany and Italy made every effort to persuade Egypt to betray Britain, but Egypt as a whole stood by its treaty obligations. Until the middle of 1942 there was no definite military threat to Egypt proper, although in 1940 the Italian forces of Gen Graziani had reached Sidi Barrani. But at the beginning of July 1942 German and Italian forces under Erwin Rommel were actually marching on the Nile delta, and for some days the military position was precarious. However, the Axis advance was held by the British 8th Army at the First Battle of El Alamein, and the tide turned after the Second Battle. For more details of the North Africa Campaign, see World War II.

Although Egypt did not take an active military part in the war, it severed diplomatic relations with the Axis powers. Under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 it was not obliged to make active war upon Britain's enemies, and the Egyptian army was not in a condition to take on the Italians or the Germans. Moreover it was an open secret that some of the Egyptian army leaders with good connections in the palace favoured the Axis, whose political principles appealed to them more than those of the Western democracies. Indeed, it was from the palace that the chief opposition came to cooperation with the Allies throughout the war.

The crisis came in February 1942 when the British 8th Army had just been driven back from Libya into Egypt for the second time. It was then that the UK ambassador demanded an audience with King Farouk and supported his demands by surrounding the Abdin Palace with UK troops. It was on the ambassador's insistence that the king appointed Nahas Pasha as premier. Although Nahas was the leader of the nationalist Wafd, the UK calculated that as Nahas had signed the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty he might be most relied upon to uphold its terms. Nahas continued in power for the ensuing two years, in face of increasing political and economic difficulties, until a corruption scandal gave the king an opportunity to dismiss him and his party.

Agitation for UK withdrawal In December 1945 the Egyptian government demanded a revision of the 1936 treaty, stating that it had been made in the midst of an international crisis and that the war had exhausted the treaty's principal objectives. The Egyptian government also declared that the presence of foreign troops was wounding to national dignity and could only be interpreted by public opinion as a tangible sign of mutual mistrust. Britain expressed its willingness to discuss the matter, but things did not move swiftly enough for the nationalists, who were now far stronger and more organized and articulate than in pre-war days. There were serious anti-UK riots, with loss of life and property, in Cairo and Alexandria.

In January 1947 the Egyptian government broke off negotiations with Britain, and later appealed to the Security Council of the United Nations (UN) to instruct Britain to withdraw troops from Egypt and Sudan, and also to withdraw the existing administrative regime in Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The Security Council, however, did not make any recommendation. Nevertheless the British government evacuated its troops from Alexandria and Cairo early in 1947.

The First Arab–Israeli War Egypt was involved in the Arab–Jewish struggle over the partitioning of Palestine, which had been administered by the UK under a League of Nations mandate since the end of World War I. Partition of the territory between Arabs and Jewish settlers was recommended in November 1947 by a committee appointed by the General Assembly of the UN, but the Arab League refused to recognize partition. Following the termination of the UK mandate and the declaration by Jewish settlers of the state of Israel, Egyptian troops invaded the territory in the south, while the Transjordan Arab Legion and Syrian and Lebanese troops invaded from the north and east in May 1948. A truce was agreed in June, by which date the Egyptian army had reached Isdud, 32 km/20 mi south of Tel Aviv, and occupied positions running southeast from Magdala through Faluja to Beersheba and linked up with the Arab Legion at Bethlehem.

When hostilities were resumed the Arabs sustained several defeats and accepted a renewal of the ceasefire in July. Israeli troops then decided to take the offensive against Egypt and a large Egyptian force was surrounded at Faluja, 32 km/20 mi northeast of Gaza. Egypt then became the sole target of Israeli pressure. Israeli troops entered Egyptian territory in December but were driven back and a truce was finally arranged for January 1949, and a general armistice was signed in Rhodes in February.

Nasser comes to power In effect the Egyptian army had been decisively defeated in the war, in part because of an arms scandal. King Farouk was blamed for his failure to prevent the creation of Israel, and his position was undermined. Anti-British demonstrations reached a climax in January 1952 with violent riots in Cairo, and in July 1952 a group of radical army officers, calling themselves the Free Officers, carried out a bloodless coup. The coup had popular backing, and resulted in the abdication of King Farouk. The 1923 constitution was suspended and all political parties were banned.

For a short time Farouk's infant son Ahmed Fuad II reigned, but in June 1953 Gen Muhammad Neguib proclaimed Egypt a republic with himself as president and prime minister. In less than a year (April 1954) he was compelled to resign his official offices by the Revolutionary Council after a power struggle with Lt Col Gamal Abdel Nasser, the real leader of the coup, and ceased to be president. A council of ministers carried on the affairs of state until March 1956, when a government was formed with Nasser as prime minister. The same year the presidency was strengthened by a new constitution, and Nasser was elected president, unopposed.

Towards the Suez Crisis In February 1953 an Anglo-Egyptian agreement was signed, ending the condominium of Sudan. In October 1954 another agreement was signed for the withdrawal of UK troops from the Suez Canal Zone (which took place in 1956). At home Nasser embarked on a programme of social reform, which included setting close limits on land-holding to benefit the cultivator class and expanding educational opportunities, saddling the country with a vast student population and an inflated bureaucracy to provide them with employment. Abroad he began to assert his position both in the Arab and the developing world, becoming a major force for Arab unity and a leader of the non-aligned movement.

Meanwhile, in December 1955 it was announced that the USA and the UK would give Egypt financial support for the construction of the proposed Aswan High Dam. There were formal qualifications regarding ratifications by the governments concerned. Further sums of money in support of the project were expected, and indeed assured, by the World Bank. The initial sum of money involved was estimated at $1,300,000.

In July 1956 the offer of assistance was suddenly withdrawn by both the USA and the UK as ‘not being feasible in the present circumstances’. These ‘circumstances’ were presumably associated with Egypt's acceptance of military equipment and military advice from the Communist bloc and Nasser's changing role from that of a conventional president to that of a dictator. Nasser's reaction was decisive. In July, in Alexandria, he announced that the Egyptian government had nationalized the Suez Canal Company.

Suez and the Second Arab–Israeli War The seizure of the canal was regarded as illegal in Western Europe and the USA, but it was soon obvious that no effective joint action by the protesting states against Egypt was possible. Only in the UK and France was there any serious demand for stern action against Egypt.

Israel, provoked by frequent Egyptian raids into its territory, reached a secret understanding with the UK and France, and invaded Egypt in October 1956, advancing into Sinai with the avowed purpose of destroying Egyptian strong points and other places from which the raids were taking place. The Egyptian forces in Sinai were defeated, although the political gains for Egypt were considerable, as Israel was seen as the aggressor.

France and the UK called on both belligerents to cease fighting, and when this did not occur a joint Anglo-French force invaded Egypt from the air and occupied Port Said (5–6 November). The British and French governments claimed their main objective was the protection of the Suez Canal, free navigation of which was threatened by the invading Israeli forces. The Egyptian air force suffered crippling destruction on the ground, and, although there was some organized resistance to the Anglo-French force, the latter could probably have occupied the whole length of the canal. The Anglo-French action resulted in Egypt's blocking the Suez Canal and making it impassable, the very thing that the UK and France had tried to avoid.

World opinion, with which both the USA and USSR concurred, was ranged against this use of force by the UK and France, and Western influence in the Middle East was destroyed for several years as the result of their action. The UK, France, and Israel were branded as aggressors at the UN and called upon to cease their military activities. US pressure brought about an Anglo-French withdrawal in December, and Israeli forces withdrew in March 1957. A UN force was organized to safeguard the canal from further attacks and to prevent further outbreaks of violence between Israel and Egypt in Sinai. The blockships sunk by Egypt in the canal were later removed by engineers acting under orders from the UN, and the canal was reopened in March 1957.

The apparent success of Nasser's policy in the UN, and the fait accompli of his seizure of the canal, more than outweighed the effect of Egypt's military defeats. Nasser's, and thus Egypt's, prestige soared within the Arab world. The Anglo-French action pushed Egypt into closer dependence on the Soviet bloc, obliging the USA to realign its policy in the Middle East. Another consequence was the confiscation of property owned by British and French nationals in Egypt.

Attempts at union In February 1958 Egypt and Syria proclaimed the union of their two countries, under the name of the United Arab Republic (UAR), and with Nasser as president. Yemen subsequently joined the union. Egypt retained the name ‘United Arab Republic’ until 1971, when it became the ‘Arab Republic of Egypt’. The UAR collapsed with Syria's withdrawal in 1961, due to Syrian resentment of Egyptian domination in the centralized state that they had created. After its failure Nasser attempted to create a second merger, but this time on federal lines. In April 1963 an agreement signed in Cairo between the UAR, Iraq, and Syria appeared to do this, but the new federation never had any reality.

Relations with the Arab world and in Africa Nevertheless, despite these setbacks, Nasser's position as leader of Arab nationalism remained virtually unchallenged. Gradually, however, his left-wing and interventionist attitudes alienated several other Arab states. Jordan had never been on good terms with him, and Saudi Arabia became increasingly hostile. When Nasser supported the republican side in the civil war in North Yemen, Saudi Arabia countered by aiding the Yemeni royalists. This produced a stalemate that was most damaging to UAR interests and prestige. It seriously bogged down a whole army and contributed to the defeat in the 1967 war with Israel. In addition, Morocco and Tunisia were not prepared to accept the implications of Nasser's anti-Israel policies, and Iraq embarked on policies that were independent of the UAR, whose influence appeared increasingly confined to the ‘left fringe’ of Arab politics.

The UAR used both the UN General Assembly and the Organization of African Unity (OAU; later African Union) to propagate its views, and for some years held a unique position in African affairs. Nasser established close personal links with President Nkrumah of Ghana, and this alliance long seemed formidable. But Nkrumah's overthrow in 1966 and Ghana's subsequent immediate withdrawal from the UAR orbit illustrated the weakness of this connection; few other African political leaders were prepared to subscribe fully to the UAR's particular interpretation of pan-Africanism. The majority of African states did not follow the UAR in breaking off diplomatic relations with the UK over the Rhodesia issue in December 1965 (see Zimbabwe).

Domestic affairs under Nasser Nasser carried through many social reforms in Egypt, redistributing land, nationalizing the economy, and establishing in 1962 the sole political organization, the Arab Socialist Union (ASU). The Aswan High Dam, on which work began in January 1961, was intended to revolutionize Egypt's economy and to solve some of the country's serious energy and agricultural problems (it also created unforeseen ecological problems for the future). But by the end of 1966 the state of the country had deteriorated badly, not least because of Egypt's rapidly growing population (nearing 60 million). Another factor was Egypt's involvement in the North Yemen civil war, which was a major economic and military drain on Egypt's energies until troops were finally withdrawn in 1967.

The Third Arab–Israeli War and its aftermath This period came to a climax with the major miscalculation of the 1967 war with Israel. Mounting tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbours led Egypt into a military alliance with Syria and Jordan. Egypt blocked the Strait of Tiran (Israel's only means of access to the Red Sea) and ordered the withdrawal of the UN Emergency Force in Sinai. Israel's response was a devastating surprise attack, which effectively destroyed the armed forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in six days. Sinai was occupied by Israeli forces up to the Suez Canal.

Nasser offered to resign but was prevented by popular acclaim. He retained his authority in Egypt and the Arab world, although, inevitably, it was somewhat diminished. He was faced with a formidable array of problems: keeping the military pressure on Israel (which involved increasing the Soviet military presence in Egypt); searching for some diplomatic means of obtaining Israel's withdrawal; and domestic political and economic problems. There were serious demonstrations in November 1968 in Alexandria and El Mansûra. Nasser's death in 1970 was an occasion of national grief.

Sadat assumes the presidency In September 1970, Nasser was succeeded as president by his vice-president, Col Anwar Sadat. In 1971 the title Arab Republic of Egypt was adopted. Sadat continued Nasser's policy of promoting Arab unity, but proposals to create a federation of Egypt, Libya, and Syria again failed.

In May 1971 Sadat successfully resisted a challenge to his authority from the vice-president Ali Sabri, supported by the war minister Gen Fauzi. Thereafter Sadat, while publicly maintaining adherence to Nasserism, set about modifying the Egyptian economic and social structure. In 1971 the country's first permanent constitution was introduced, containing measures of liberalization, in particular in the field of civil rights. However Sadat frequently protested that the same year would see decisive action taken against Israel. Considerable unrest followed when nothing happened.

In 1972 Sadat reversed Egypt's dependence on the USSR by dismissing the 20,000 Russian military advisers present in the country. In a deadlocked position of neither war nor peace (which obviously benefited Israel) Sadat faced much criticism and numerous disturbances. In March 1973 Sadat assumed the office of prime minister together with the presidency he already held. Meanwhile he carefully cultivated good relations with Saudi Arabia, and transformed his position within Egypt and the Arab world by launching an unexpected war against Israel in October 1973.

The Fourth Arab–Israeli War On 6 October 1973 Egyptian forces swept across the Suez Canal to attack the Israelis occupying Sinai. Syria immediately joined Egypt and within a few days Jordan, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco announced varying degrees of military support for Egypt and Syria. Two weeks of fierce fighting followed. Egypt established its army on the east bank of the Suez Canal, holding a front about 12 km/7.5 mi east of the canal, but elsewhere the Israelis crossed the canal to establish a bridgehead on the west bank between Ismailia and the Great Bitter Lakes. Yet more important than the military struggle was the political. Israel relied heavily for military supplies on the USA, and Egypt and its allies relied on Soviet equipment. Through the UN the two superpowers were instrumental in effecting an agreement to a ceasefire between Egypt and Israel on 22 October 1973.

The political prestige gained enabled Egypt, through the mediation of the US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, to negotiate two interim withdrawal agreements with Israel in January 1974 and September 1975, accompanied by the establishment of a UN buffer zone separating the rival armies. The shift from Soviet influence was symbolized in the visits made by the US president Richard Nixon to Egypt in 1974 and by Sadat to the USA in 1975. At home, too, Sadat changed direction, releasing political prisoners, and reversing Nasser's economic policies by encouraging foreign investment and activity in the country. This economic liberalism was known as infitah (‘opening’).

The Camp David agreements In 1977 Sadat went to Israel to address the Israeli parliament and plead for peace. Other Arab states were dismayed by this move, and diplomatic relations with Syria, Libya, Algeria, and South Yemen, as well as the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), were severed and Egypt was expelled from the Arab League in 1979. Despite this opposition, Sadat pursued his peace initiative, and at the Camp David talks in the USA he and the Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin signed two agreements.

The first laid a framework for peace in the Middle East, and the second a framework for a treaty between the two countries. In 1979 a treaty was signed and Israel began a phased withdrawal from Sinai. As a consequence, Egypt's isolation in the Arab world grew, and the economy suffered from the withdrawal of Saudi subsidies. US aid became vital to Egypt's survival, and links between the two governments grew steadily closer.

Position in the Arab world In October 1981 Sadat was assassinated by a group of Muslim fundamentalists who opposed him. He was succeeded by Lt Gen Hosni Mubarak, who had been vice-president since 1975. Mubarak continued the policies of his predecessor. In the 1984 elections the National Democratic Party (NDP), formed by Sadat in 1978, won an overwhelming victory in the assembly, strengthening Mubarak's position. Although Egypt's treaty with Israel remained intact, relations between the two countries became strained, mainly because of Israel's pre-emptive activities in Lebanon and the disputed territories. Egypt's relations with other Arab nations improved, and only Libya maintained its trade boycott; the restoration of diplomatic relations with Syria in 1989 paved the way for Egypt's resumption of its leadership of the Arab world. In 2000, Egypt and Sudan formally resumed diplomatic ties, which were broken in 1995 when Egypt accused Sudan of an abortive assassination attempt against President Mubarak.

Mubarak as peace broker Mubarak played a growing role in the search for Middle East peace, acting as an intermediary between the Israelis and Palestinians, and the choice of the country's deputy prime minister, Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, as UN secretary general was regarded as evidence of international respect for Egypt's diplomatic successes. Mubarak took a firm line against the growing challenge of Islamic fundamentalism and was re-elected by referendum for a second term in October 1987. The 1990 general election was boycotted by the main opposition parties, leaving the NDP with 348 of the 444 elected seats. Egypt was a member of the UN coalition forces that sought an economic embargo against Iraq in 1990 for annexing Kuwait, and its armed forces joined in the military action against Iraq in 1991.

Fundamentalist violence From May 1992 outbreaks of violence between Muslim and Christian militants became more common, and in 1993 an Islamic militant campaign by the Gama'a el-Islamiya and the Egyptian branch of Islamic Jihad to unseat the government began in deadly earnest, with politicians and other people prominent in public life being targeted. Acts of terrorism have also been directed against foreign tourists, in an effort to destroy Egypt's valuable tourism industry – the massacre of over 60 tourists at Luxor in 1997 had a deeply damaging effect on tourism revenues. A government crackdown began in 1993 and in July, amid continuing violence, Mubarak was re-elected for a third term of office. He survived an assassination attempt in June 1995, and the ruling NDP won a clear victory in the November–December assembly elections of that year.

In January 1996 Kamal Ahmed Ganzouri replaced Atef Sidki as prime minister. In September 1999 President Mubarak was awarded a fourth six-year term in a popular referendum. He went on to appoint Atef Obeid, an economist and former minister in charge of the country's privatisation programme, as his prime minister. Obeid replaced Kamal Ganzouri in what was the most wide-ranging government reshuffle in Muburak's 18 years in power. Obeid sought to accelerate the pace of economic reform but faced the challenges of rapid population growth and inflation.

Violence continued into 2000 when at least 20 people were killed in clashes in southern Egypt in January. It was the worst violence to occur between Christians and Muslims in Egypt in living memory. In elections held in November 2000, opposition parties did much better than usual and the Muslim Brotherhood, banned since 1954 but officially tolerated, won 17 seats, re-establishing their presence in parliament for the first time in a decade. A week later, 15 members of the Brotherhood arrested the previous year were given prison sentences.

Rights for women Egypt's parliament passed a controversial family status law at the end of January 2000 which makes divorce easier for women by allowing them to sue for divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. The previous legislation stated that a woman had to prove ill-treatment before she could apply for divorce. However, the parliament also rejected an article that would have allowed wives to travel without their husband's permission.

Egypt supports US campaign against terrorism Egypt has been a firm supporter of the US-led campaign against terrorism launched in the wake of the 11 September 2001 al-Qaeda attacks on New York. It continued also to be a target for Islamist terrorist attacks. In April 2006 three bomb explosions at the Red Sea resort of Dahab claimed over 20 lives. This persuaded Mubarak to extend emergency legislation which gave the security forces wide powers of detention and arrest.

Mubarak continued to seek to broker a comprehensive settlement between Israel, the Palestinians, and Arab neighbours, hosting a series of Middle East peace process summits 2000–03. At home, he appointed Ahmad Mahmoud Nazif as prime minister in July 2004. But in early 2005 there was a wave of anti-government demonstrations. Mubarak responded by supporting an amendment to the constitution to allow for multi-candidate presidential elections. Mubarak won the first such election, held in September 2005, with 89% of the vote, but turnout was only 23%. The parliamentary elections, in December 2005, saw candidates allied to the Muslim Brotherhood win a record 88 seats, but the ruling NDP retained a clear majority, with 388 seats.

Crackdown against opposition In March 2007, a controversial referendum approved a ban on religious parties and increased the security services' powers of arrest and monitoring of communications. Turnout was 27% or less, as a result of an opposition boycott.

In early 2008, security forces launched a crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting hundreds of its members ahead of municipal elections in April 2008, leaving the NDP unchallenged in over 70% of the contests.

The 2011 ‘Egyptian revolution’ With rising food and fuel prices and youth unemployment, and continuing government corruption and political repression, strikes and unrest became more frequent. Parliamentary elections in 2010 were boycotted by much of opposition and the January 2011 popular overthrow of an authoritarian regime in Tunisia provided the inspiration for a popular revolution across cities in Egypt in January–February 2011. At least 850 people were killed in the unrest and 6,000 injured.

The demonstrators included a mix of students, secular Westernized professionals, and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Protests began on 25 January 2011 and were peaceful, involving millions with civil disobedience, strikes, marches, the setting up of camp in Tahrir Square, in the centre of Cairo, and using Internet social media sites. They demanded the immediate resignation of Mubarak and a swift transition to democracy, with freedom of speech and an end of emergency law. After initial repression by the police and clashes with pro-Mubarak supporters, the army moved in, but it refused to fire on the protesters and forcibly remove them from Tahrir Square. In so doing, it was influenced by external diplomatic pressure from the USA, which had been encouraging Mubarak to reform over recent years.

On 29 January 2011 Mubarak dissolved his government and appointed Ahmed Shafik, a former commander of the air force, as prime minister, and Omar Suleiman, a former intelligence service chief, as vice-president, and, a day later, announced that he would not seek re-election as president. However, this did not stop the protests and, with Cairo and Alexandria paralysed by demonstrations, on 11 February 2011 the army moved against Mubarak. Suleiman announced that Mubarak had stepped down as president and power had been handed over to a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) of 24 generals, headed by the 75-year-old Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. On 13 February the constitution was suspended, parliament dissolved, and the military took over power, pending new elections promised in September.

On 3 March 2011 the SCAF appointed as caretaker prime minister Essam Sharaf, a former transport minister who had backed the Tahrir Square protests. On 19 March a constitutional referendum to limit future presidential terms to four years and ease restrictions on competition for the post was passed overwhelmingly by voters. In May 2011 Mubarak, already banned from leaving the country and having had his financial assets frozen, and his two sons were ordered to stand trial over the deaths of peaceful protesters. A month earlier the former ruling party, the NDP, was also banned and disbanded by the administrative court.

Elections for interim assembly From April 2011 there were continuing protests in Cairo, Alexandria, and Suez, with some clashes with the security forces. They were fuelled by frustration at continuing military rule and the slow pace of change and holding to account of corrupt and abusive officials of the Mubarak regime. The instability led to parliamentary elections being delayed until between 28 November 2011 and 11 January 2012, when they were held in several phases. They were preceded on 21 November 2011 by a change of government when Essam Sharaf resigned, in response to protests, and was replaced by Kamal Ganzouri, a reformist former prime minister who had given early support to the 2011 revolution. Ganzouri headed what was termed a ‘salvation government’ and he was given all the powers of the president, except for those relating to the judiciary and military.

The parliamentary elections saw a high turnout and were not marked by violence. The main victors were the Muslim Brotherhood, which contested the election through a newly formed political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), within the umbrella of the Democratic Alliance for Egypt, which captured 38% of the vote, and the Salafist fundamentalist Islamist Bloc, led by the Al-Nour Party, which won 28% of the vote. The new parliament selected a 100-member constitutional assembly to draft a new constitution for approval by referendum.

Muslim Brotherhood's Morsi elected president The May–June 2012 presidential elections were narrowly won by Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, who became the country's first civilian and democratically-elected president. His election was preceded on 31 May 2012 by the military's ending of the state of emergency, in force since 1981, and, on 2 June 2012, with ex-president Mubarak being found guilty in court and sentenced to life imprisonment for complicity in the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising.

In August 2012 President Morsi appointed Hisham Qandil, the irrigation minister, as prime minister in a government which included a mix of technocrats and Islamists but excluded secularists and liberals. Also in August 2012 Morsi strengthened his position by removing Mohamad Hussein Tantawi as defence minister and head of the armed forces, stripping the military of say in legislation, and drafting the new constitution. However, tensions between the new and old regime, the president and judiciary, and Islamists and their opponents continued, causing paralysis that weakened the economy and street protests.

In November 2012, following popular protests, Morsi withdrew a presidential decree that had sought to prevent the judiciary from challenging his decisions. However, in December 2012 the Islamist-dominated constituent assembly and the public approved a draft constitution which increased the role of Islam and restricted freedom of speech and assembly. In June 2013 Morsi appointed Islamist allies as regional leaders in 13 of the country's 27 governorships.

Morsi ousted by the military Opponents accused Morsi of betraying the 2011 revolution by concentrating power in the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. In late June and early July 2013 massive demonstrations in Cairo and other cities called for Morsi to quit. The military set a 48-hour ultimatum for Morsi to reach an agreement with opposition groups. He failed to do so and on 3 July 2013 Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was both head of the army and defence minister, suspended the constitution and Morsi was arrested. Later Morsi went on trial, from November 2013. It also introduced a new law in November 2013 restricting public protests, and in December 2013 outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, declaring it a terrorist group after a bomb blast in Mansoura killed 12 people.

Al-Sisi elected president In January 2014 Egyptian voters approved in a referendum a new constitution which banned parties based on religion. And in March 2014 Ibrahim Mahlab, a former member of Mubarak's NDP, took over as prime minister after the surprise resignation of el-Beblawi.

Presidential elections were held in May 2014 and were won easily by Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who retired from the military in March 2014 and captured 97% of the vote. He defeated the only other candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi, of the Egyptian Popular Current, after other potential candidates decided not to stand. Turnout was 48%. Al-Sisi enjoyed popular support because he promised to bring stability after recent years of turmoil and because Morsi had alienated many Egyptians. However, some feared also that, with curbs on media freedoms in 2013–14, Egypt might return under al-Sisi towards authoritarian rule.

Morsi trial and IS challenge In May 2015 ex-president Morsi and over 100 colleagues were convicted of colluding with foreign militants to organize a mass breakout in 2011 of Muslim Brotherhood prisoners and were sentenced to death. However, their executions did not follow as the al-Sisi government did not wish to escalate tensions. In November 2016 the appeals court overturned the death sentence and ordered a retrial.

Meanwhile, during 2015 the Egyptian army was facing an escalating insurgency in north Sinai led by the Sinai Province (SP) jihadist group which, in November 2014, had allied itself with the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant/Syria (ISIS).

In October 2015 ISIS claimed responsibility for the downing, by a terrorist bomb, of a Russian passenger airliner over the Sinai desert, killing its crew and 224 tourists. Further ISIS atrocities followed, including attacks on tourists at Giza and Hurghada in January 2016 and the bombing of a Christian church in Cairo in December 2016, killing 25 people.

Low turnout in parliamentary elections In September 2015 Ibrahim Mahlab resigned as prime minister and was replaced by Sherif Ismail Mohamed, formerly the oil minister. This was ahead of parliamentary elections that were held in two stages between October and December 2015. Candidates from the banned Muslim Brotherhood were excluded and the pro-Sisi For the Love of Egypt coalition dominated. However, turnout was just 10%, which suggested weak popular support for the al-Sisi regime.


Alexandria, Egypt

Conflicts in the Middle East




Egyptian canopic jars

Egyptian ointment spoon

Egyptian ostracon





Nubian pottery jars


Suez Canal

Suez Canal

Temple of Kom Ombo, Egypt

village, Lower Egypt

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