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State

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Egypt

Al Kahira

Misr

Cairo

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Egyptian pound

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Space Impact

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Levant

Nile

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History

The most ancient civilization in the Mediterranean area. See BBC summary" Egypt has profoundly affected the civilization of Europe to the north and Africa to the south and west. The people of present day Egypt seem to be a mixture of people from the south, north and east. That is, some of them are genetically similar to the other Mediterranean peoples of north Africa and southern Europe. Others are related to the Africans of the south. Most are a mixture. The earliest Egyptians were probably closer to those of the south.

Were ancient Egyptians African?
By definition and location they were. At the time of classical Egypt African populations were much smaller than today. It is difficult to tell where the different human types were mainly to be found, and how far North Africans were related to Central Africans. The Sahara was probably not as arid as it is now so that it may have been easier to cross than later. It is probable that ancient Egyptians had contact with the peoples of the whole Nile valley, including modern Ethiopia, as well as the peoples of adjacent Asia. Several of the peoples further south include in their traditional mythology tales of connection with ancient Egypt. These include the Abaluhya of Kenya and the Yoruba of west Africa.

The ancient Egyptian language, now represented by the Coptic texts used by the Egyptian Christians, was related to the other north African languages now represented by the Berber languages of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia and the Tuareg of the Sahara. It is classified as an Afro-Asiatic language. Modern Egyptians speak a variety of Arabic.

First civilization
The first dynasties of Egypt, c3400 BC, appear to have developed an advanced civilization very rapidly, which suggests it was introduced from somewhere else. From where? This civilization certainly included quite advanced mathematical knowledge, and the ability to erect complex buildings, such as the pyramids and temples. It is usually divided into three main periods: The First Kingdom; the Middle Kingdom; and the later Kingdom. The first Kingdom may have been terminated (about 2200 BCE) by a famine caused by a space object hitting southern Iraq, and reducing the rainfall of east Africa.

Influences from Egypt
Ancient Egypt passed some of its culture to the Greeks. (Solon the Athenian lawgiver brought basic knowledge from Egypt). The typical Greek temple architecture contains Egyptian motifs, modified. The Jews came out of Egypt with many cultural influences acquired there - the story of Exodus and Passover, and circumcision. The African kingdoms as far south as northern Tanzania show signs of Egyptian influences, perhaps acquired via transmission through Meroe in Sudan or through Ethiopia. The Yorubas of Nigeria believe they gained their culture from Egypt.

The Egypt of the Pharaohs was a Great Power in its area for several thousand years and controlled from time to time areas of Asia through Palestine and parts of Syria. (To the surrounding nomadic peoples Egypt must have seemed like the modern United States - an advanced rich country with a highly organised culture and government. It would not be surprising if they came there during times of famine looking for a handout.).

Fake History
Ancient Egypt attracts the interest of fantasists.

On the one hand we have extensive written evidence for life in ancient Egypt. On the other there are many things we do not know. Ancient peoples were amazed at this example of a highly bureaucratic state with Government and an Army, paid for by a very productive agricultural system of irrigation. Possibly they didn't realise that the source of Egypt's wealth was the agricultural system, productive enough to maintain a large community of priests and government officials, with a surplus enough to finance huge constructions. They may have attributed the power and wealth to "magic".

There seems little need to postulate unknown sciences, though we continue to find out new things about what they did know. For example the Lotos flower, so common a motif in Egyptian art, seems to have been a psychoactive plant in use for many purposes. There probably was the equivalent of "science" within the Egyptian religious system. At the time of its flourishing the whole culture must have seemed a marvel to the nomadic people visiting the country.

Perhaps the biggest area of speculation is the significance of the religious revolution associated with the Pharaoh Akhnaten. Was this connected with the rise of the Jews and the subsequent doctrines of monotheism? Sigmund Freud certainly thought so. Was that family of Pharaohs who propagated "new religious practices" a foreign family from outside Egypt? These questions are probably not resolvable by historians as the Egyptians themselves tried to wipe out the historical record of Akhnaten, who moved the capital to a new site and tried to "dissolve" the old temples, rather like Henry the eighth in 16th century England. Following his death or assassination the previous order was restored. Was this the occasion of the biblical Exodus? Did the losing party migrate to the Egyptian dependent territory in Palestine? The Exodus does not seem to have been noticed by the official Egyptian records, rather like the elephant not noticing what a mosquito is up to.

Another unresolved problem about Egypt is the origin of the Hyksos, a foreign group who ruled part of Egypt for a period. Could they have been Indo-European speakers, even early Greeks or Hittites?

Hellenistic and Roman period
Egypt lost its independence when conquered by Persia.
From the time of Alexander's conquest (he founded Alexandria) Egypt was part of the Mediterranean political world later becoming part of the Roman, then Byzantine, Empire before being conquered by the Muslims and adopting Arabic. During this period Alexandria was one of the most important cultural centers of the Roman world, with its Library (really a University). Here the rise of Christianity brought to an end the study of philosophy and science (famous for the Steam Engine of Hero). See the life of Hypatia murdered by a mob urged on by the local bishop "saint" Kyril. Science did not return until the Muslim conquest.

Under Rome the agricultural surplus was appropriated by Rome as a tax or tribute, sucking the wealth out of Egypt itself.

Arab period
Egypt was conquered by Muslims in 642. They gave it the name Misr, originally one province.

It is believed that Arabs were not new to Egypt when the Muslims conquered the country. Arabs had long had contact with the river valley and had wandered as Beduin in the deserts to the east. (The Hebrews had entered Egypt as a Beduin clan of Arabs.) It is quite likely that Arabic had been spoken by many people in the desert areas of Egypt, to the west as well, before the conquest. The Muslims built a new capital city inland from the delta at Fustat.

Fatimite state (909-1171)
There is a belief among Muslims, not strictly orthodox, that a Messiah will come to lead Muslims back to the reality of the first believers in Islam. He is called the Mahdi. Many preachers have claimed to be this person. One such arose in Tunisia in the 9th century, claiming (probably falsely) to be a descendant of Mohammed's daughter Fatima, and conquered Sicily and much of North Africa. He founded an empire known as the Fatimite Khalifate. In 969 it moved from Tunisia to Egypt where these Khalifs founded Cairo (El Kahira) and especially the university of Al Azhar, the world's oldest university still in operation. Muslim Egypt has been one of the centers of Islamic culture through Al Azhar and its schools of law and theology which have had the prestige to give authoritative answers to theological and legal questions and therefore influenced the whole Islamic world.

(The Aga Khan and his Ismaili sect is descended from the Fatimites, and some say the Catholic Jesuits also).

The Fatimites were followed by the Ayubids from Syria (of whom the famous ruler was the Kurd Salah ud Din - Saladin) from 1171-1250.

The Crusaders occupied a small part of Egypt at Damietta about 1229.

The Mamelukes (1257-1517)
The Mameluke state of Egypt and some of the surrounding area is one of the more bizarre political organizations known to history. The Sultan and the ruling group always consisted of soldier slaves - Caucasian Circassians - brought from the area now known as Turkey and Soviet Central Asia. The sons of these rulers were not allowed to join the army or become rulers. Egyptians were excluded from the government. Thus the state avoided Ibn Khaldun's law of decay

By 1517 when the Ottomans conquered Egypt it was becoming more difficult to get raw Circassian slaves to maintain the ruling group, as Central Asia had become settled again. The Ottomans ruled until 1798 when Napoleon invaded Egypt, no doubt with the intention of controlling the route to India and thus regaining Franch influence in India. There was a restoration of Ottoman rule from 1800 until 1805 when Mohammed Ali, an Albanian soldier, became viceroy (Khedive). He increased his independence of the Sultan in Istanbul so that Ottoman power faded away.

In the 1820s Egypt began to expand southward into Sudan and along the Red Sea coast. Egypt met British power in the Indian Ocean and was beginning to extend along the East African coast when the European powers put a stop to it by dividing Africa among themselves. The Suez Canal opened in 1869.

British occupation 1882-1952
Egypt came under European control in 1879 when the government was unable to repay money borrowed from the European powers. They set up a committee to get their money back by the usual means of controlling the Customs revenues. The building of the Suez Canal had also brought foreign control as the British regarded the canal as a necessary link with India. The British government acquired a dominant control of the Anglo-French canal company by buying the KhediveÕs shares. In 1882 British troops landed ostensibly to safeguard the financial control, against an Egyptian revolt. The British ruled indirectly by way of a Consul General. Thus Egypt was like a Native State in India.

On the Ottomans' entering the war on the side of Germany in 1914 Egypt was made a formal British protectorate. This lasted until 1922. At that time an "independent" government under king Fuad was formally in charge of the country, but in practice the British High Commissioner remained the real power, as by the "independence" agreement Britain continued to be responsible for Defense, British Imperial communications (that is, the Canal), Treatment of minorities, the Sudan and relations with foreigners (non-Egyptian courts). This left the Egyptian government only with the powers of a municipal government. In 1938 Egypt joined the League of Nations, but this was still not full independence though some powers, mainly those over foreigners, were restored. During the second world war Britain again exercised full powers.

Useful site for history of Egypt in the British Empire.

King Farouk ruled from 1936 to 1952 when he was overthrown by a military coup. The coup leaders said that the king was actually controlled by the British.

Egypt attacked Israel in 1948 and occupied the Gaza strip (formerly part of Palestine).

Gamal Abdul Nasser was one of a group of Army officers who wished to remove both British influence from Egypt and that of the British-supported government of king Farouk. They overthrew the king in 1952. Nasser wanted to develop the country and wanted to use the revenues of the Suez Canal Company, a mainly French and British owned company, to pay for a high dam on the Nile to generate electricity. The nationalization of the canal in July 1956 led to an attack in November 1956 on Egypt by Israel, Britain and France secretly allied. This incident is notable for being the last aggressive act of the British Empire and for being stopped by the action of the United States. Under Nasser the economy did not take off as it remained largely state controlled. In 1967 there was another war with Israel in which Israel occupied the Egyptian Sinai and blocked the canal which remained closed until 1979.

Nasser had accepted aid from the Soviet Union to build the High Dam at Aswan and also to supply weapons to defend against Israel.

Anwar Sadat, the vice President, inherited the presidency when Nasser died in 1970. He loosened the economy and changed his alliance from the Soviet Union to the United States.

There was a war with Israel in 1973 in which Egypt was not defeated as in previous wars. Although Israel continued to hold the Sinai, the Israeli army had been held by Egyptian troops when they crossed the canal and an Egyptian force had re-crossed the canal into the eastern sector. This was a basis for what followed.

Sadat made peace with Israel in 1979 after a surprise visit to Jerusalem in 1977 followed by the 1978 talks at Camp David in the United States, refereed by President Carter. Egypt was expelled from the Arab League but regained the Sinai and was able to reopen the canal. United States aid replaced Soviet and Arab aid but the mass of Egyptians remained poor. Attempts to remove subsidies on food provoked riots and they had to remain. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Muslim Brotherhood members angry at his peace with Israel.

Hosni Mubarak his vice president came to power and received back the last of the occupied Sinai from Israel.

Arab Spring On 25 January 2011, a campaign of civil resistance, known in the West as the Arab Spring, began against Mubarak's government. On 11 February 2011, Mubarak resigned and fled. A constitutional referendum and parliamentary election were held.

Egypt continues to be allied with the United States, and to some extent dependent for food and weapons. Egyptian troops went to the Gulf to confront Iraq in 1990 and fought in the war. It was re-admitted to the Arab League in 1989. The large foreign debt to the United States was canceled as a result of Egyptian troops being sent to the Kuwait war.

Many Egyptians were working in Iraq and badly treated (there were reports of murders before the war). Egypt seems likely to be an important Arab power, but as long as it is dependent on foreigners for food and aid its independence must be an illusion.

Egypt is an important cultural influence throughout the Arab world. Its films and television shows make Egyptian Arabic familiar in other countries, just as American English is familiar in all parts of the world. It also exports teachers and other professionals to the Gulf.

Languages

Arabic

Coptic (ritual)

Useful reading

Ian Shaw - Oxford History of Egypt


The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt


The Oxford Illustrated History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford Illustrated Histories)


Das alte Ägypten: Eine kleine Einführung

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Politics

Until 2011 a difficult to classify regime. The Mubarak regime was of military origin, when Nasser's Free Officers took power in the 1950s. It was democratic in the sense that the people acquiesced and voted in elections, but there is suspicion that the elections were managed. It was perhaps as democratic as the French Empire was under Napoleon the third (that is, not very). It did not seem likely that elections could change the government, but the results could influence policy.

However, in the absence of political freedom there seemed to be a rise of Islamic religious politics, sometimes called fundamentalism. Some of the fundamentalists are terrorists. They get money from the Saudi royal family, perhaps to warn the Egyptian government or control it. Conflict between them and the Coptic Christian minority may be a problem.

Could there be an Islamic government in what is a generally tolerant society? Egypt's serious problems of unemployment and rising population put the traditional tolerance under strain.

March 2005 saw President Mubarak (who had previously been thought to have been planning to hand the regime on to his son) suggest that in future an election with more than one candidate might be allowed. This might have been a response to veiled threats from the US that Egypt was one of the regimes that needed democratising.

There were signs that the Muslim Brotherhood might have won a free election. However, they were allowed only a minority of seats in the parliament.

In the election of December 2010 no opposition candidates were permitted to win. (What was the point of having an election?)

Riots and demonstrations in the main cities in the last week of January 2011 were a prelude to the resignation of Mubarak, without appointing his son as successor. What will replace the regime? Although the crowds in the street seemed to support a liberal democratic replacement, will the Muslim Brotherhood be the main beneficiaries of the riots?

Mubarak appointed a vice president on 30 January. This meant that should he flee the country there was a constitutional successor in place. On 1 February he announced that he would not stand for "election" in September 2011. However, the very large crowds in the streets were not satisfied with this and after 18 days of demonstrations Mubarak resigned on 11 February. His vice president Omar Suleyman, former head of "intelligence" (torture) replaced him.

Shortly after, he too was displaced by the Armed Forces Council under Field Marshall Tantawi which is now the main power.

By the end of July 2011 the reality seems to be that a committee of Generals still controls the country, and shows little sign of giving way to an elected parliamentary system. Elections took place from November 2011 to January 2012. Will the Military let a new government take office and power? The Muslim Brotherhood gained a majority of seats. Will they form a government and will it be as moderate as they claim?

Elections were held in four stages from 28 November 2011 until January 2012. However, at the weekend before there were demonstrations in the streets against the possibility that the military rulers want to stay in power, no doubt to retain their large holding in industry and trade. Whereas the military exercised restraint in January 2011 by November they were the chief target of the crowds in the street.

The elections resulted in a majority for Islamist parties. The "moderate" Freedom and Justice party had the largest number of seats, with the extremist Salafist party large enough to be influential, unless the Liberals (including the venerable Wafd), support the Freedom and Justice (Muslim Brotherhood). After parliament assembles it remains uncertain whether the Military will give up power, and what would happen if they refuse.

The Freedom and Justice party seem likely to demand to control the Cabinet. Presidential elections are supposed to occur in May 2012.

The elections were held but the Constitutional Court annulled the parliamentary elections and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces seems to have re-asserted its power by decree. The Revolution, if it was one, may have been annulled. No doubt this process has not reached a conclusion yet.

Wael Ghonim - Revolution 2.0


Revolution 2.0


Revolution 2.0


Revolution 2.0: Wie wir mit der ägyptischen Revolution die Welt verändern


Revolution 2.0

How the revolution occurred.

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Economics

Egypt's economy was traditionally based on the water of the Nile. As a secure source of water in an otherwise rainless area the river sustained a stable civilization in a world where there were few centers of settled life. But the rising population has outgrown the productive capacity of the narrow band of agricultural land.

In the 19th century the Suez Canal made Egypt a vital part of the world's (and especially the British Empire's) transport network. The coming of air transport has reduced this importance somewhat.

Egypt controls a small oil province in the Suez area (exploited and overpumped when it was occupied by the Israelis). It is sufficient for Egypt's own needs and some exports.

Other than the agriculture and the oil, Egypt has few natural resources. (In the future solar power might become a major resource). Egypt has relied on many Egyptians working abroad, especially on the Gulf and in Iraq.

It seems unlikely that the very low GNP per capita can be raised unless the population ceases growing. At present a population of about 55 million is increasing at 1 million per year.

Egypt is a classic case of the problems of third world agriculture. Food to the urban masses, especially bread, is subsidized, which encourages people to leave the land. But income to farmers remains low which discourages them from modernizing. The link between population growth and food price is broken. The International Monetary Fund advises subsidies of this kind to be removed but any government attempt to do so always provokes riots which could lead to the government being overthrown.

Much food has to be imported and is to some extent aid rather than trade. Egypt therefore is dependent on whichever power is providing the food. Should the United States grain lands dry up due to climatic change, Egypt is the country most likely to suffer famine. Moreover, much of the agricultural land in the Nile Delta is vulnerable to sea level rise and the loss of Nile silt in the Aswan dam.

Egypt imports wheat from Russia.

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Green/Ecology

Rapidly increasing population (1 million a year) means that Egypt can no longer feed itself on the land of the Nile Valley. However, the birth rate has dropped, though infant mortality has also dropped. Both need to be reduced further.

The High Dam at Aswan impounds Lake Nasser, one of the world's largest artificial lakes. Many ecologists observe that the benefits are outweighed by the bad effects. These are:

  • 1. The silt (mainly from Ethiopia) which brought fertility to the fields and maintained Egypt for millennia is now trapped in the Lake. Artificial fertilizer has to be used to replace it, and its production uses much of the electricity from the dam. The silt is filling the lake which will reduce its storage capacity.
  • 2. The delta land used to be maintained by the silt and is now eroding away.
  • 3. The Mediterranean fishery was fed by the same silt and has now diminished.
  • 4. Much of the water in the Lake evaporates.

This suggests that in the medium term future it may be necessary to open the dam, empty the lake and allow the silt to pass down the river again. Perhaps this can happen when solar energy is cheap enough to replace electricity from the dam.

But Lake Nasser is used as a waterway route to Sudan and has gained a population, small as yet, who make use of its waters.

Egypt also worries about upstream countries using the waters of the Nile. Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and Tanzania are suspected of wanting to use the waters for irrigation despite there being an international agreement dating back to colonial times when the British controlled the whole Nile Valley (except Ethiopia).

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Human Rights

Mubarak has tried to restore the appearance of the rule of law. However, in practice there was none. There is a Christian minority of about 10% which is pparently under threat from Islamic extremists - but the attackers may have been part of MubarakÕs secutiry forces. The Christians were favored during the British period.

The rule of law, such as it is - not much - may not survive a determined fundamentalist terror campaign.

Bloggers are persecuted. For example this report shows how little free speech there has been.

Torture of political prisoners is reported even to the extent of US prisoners being sent there for torture purposes (see rendition).

Will the rule of law be established after the revolution - if a revolution has actually happened?

One cause of the disturbances in November 2011 is that the ruling military have been using military courts instead of the civilian courts for the hundreds of opposition people arrested in the months before November, with reports of brutality and torture.

Climate effects

The tendency will be for the Delta area to be submerged. There are two reasons. One is the rise in sea level; the other is the lack of solids coming down the Nile, intercepted by the Aswan Dam.

The amount of water coming down the Nile is at risk from drought in its headwaters.


     


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