Pharaohs, pyramids, the Sphinx, the Luxor and vast deserts of immense beauty—all this and more from one of the world’s most ancient civilizations, Egypt. There is enough here to lure anyone with an intrepid heart and an soul full of wonder for the mysteries of humankind. But ancient enigma is not all there is to Egypt.
With the second-largest economy in the Arab world, Egypt is not only a financial strong contender in the region, its long-standing history of relations with the West also make it a social and cultural leader in the Middle East. Egypt also plays a key role in efforts to resolve the Middle East conflict. However, high unemployment and low standards of living as well as consistent terrorist attacks are some of the battles that Egypt is fighting on home ground.
The capital of Egypt is Cairo, which is the most populous metropolitan area in Africa. The city is the hub of education and educational services not only for Egypt but also for the Arab and African world. It is also the country’s cultural and commercial center.
The world’s oldest civilization rose on the banks of the Nile around 5000 years ago when the the first dynasty of pharaohs came to power under Narmer. The first pyramid was built in the 27th century BC and the 4th dynasty was the most powerful, when Khufu, Khafre and Mycerinus built the Pyramids of Giza. Between 51 and 48 BC, Egypt was ruled by Ptolemy XIII and his sister Cleopatra VIII. The Roman empire turned their sights on Egypt and there were continual skirmishes. Following the defeat of their naval forces at the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, Antony and Cleopatra committed suicide, after which Egypt became part of the Roman Empire.
Egypt aligned itself with the Allies in WWI and afterwards, the Wafd national political party was formed. The Arab League was founded after WWII by seven Arab countries, including Egypt, but the war had left Egypt in a shambles. In 1952, Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser led a group of military officers and pulled off a coup. The British and French invaded but the United Nations-deployed peacekeepers insisted that the invaders should leave.
President Hosni Mubarak was elected to serve his fifth term as president in Egypt's first contested presidential race in 2005. Periodic attacks on tourists resumed in Sinai in 2005 and 2006 but are generally assumed to be one-off events rather than a sustained terrorist campaign.
The Culture of Egypt
Egypt is one of the most ancient civilizations known to human beings. Besides the Pharaonic era, at different points in time, Egypt has been influenced by Hellenism, Christianity, Arabic and Islamic cultures as well as modern, Western culture. What has emerged as a result is something unique, novel and altogether fascinating. Ancient Egyptian art and architecture captures the imagination of scholars and tourists even today. And no world traveler can consider his voyages complete without seeing the Pyramids.
Egyptian novelists and poets are bold and experiment with modern styles of Arabic literature. Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz was the first Arabic-language writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and his Cairo Trilogy is a deep and haunting insight into the rhythms of daily life is Egypt. Other prominent Egyptian writers include Nawal El Saadawi, well known for her feminist works and activism, and Alifa Rifaat who also writes about women. Vernacular poetry is perhaps the most popular literary genre amongst Egyptians, represented most significantly by Bayram al-Tunisi, Ahmed Fuad Nigm (Fagumi) and Abdel Rahman el-Abnudi.
Egyptian music is a rich mixture of indigenous Egyptian, Arabic, African and Western influences with a strong tradition of percussion and vocal music. Cairo is known as the "Hollywood of the Middle East" and the annual Cairo International Film Festival is renowned.
Egypt's climate is hot and dry most of the year. During December to February, average daily temperatures are around 20°C (68°F) on the Mediterranean coast and 26°C (80°F) in Aswan. Maximum temperatures get to 31°C (88°F) and 50°C (122°F) respectively. Winter nights can drop to 8°C. Alexandria receives the most rain, with 19cm (7.5in) each year. Between March and April the khamsin blows in from the Western Desert at up to 150kmph (93mph).
Interesting locations in Egypt
The Arab Republic of Egypt borders Libya to the west, Sudan to the south, the Gaza Strip and Israel to the east. The northern coast borders the Mediterranean Sea and the eastern coast borders the Red Sea.
The capital city, Cairo, is Egypt’s hub in many ways. It is also the center for the government offices governing the Egyptian educational system, has the largest number of educational schools, and higher learning institutes among other cities and governorates of Egypt.
Alexandria is the second-largest city in Egypt, and its largest seaport. A coastal city, it is home to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the New Library of Alexandria, and is an important industrial centre because of its natural gas and oil pipelines from Suez.
The Government in Egypt
Egypt is a democratic republic. The Egyptian Constitution provides for a strong executive. Authority is vested in an elected president who can appoint one or more vice presidents, a prime minister, and a cabinet. Egypt's legislative body, the People's Assembly, has 454 members, of whom 444 are popularly elected and 10 are appointed by the president. The constitution reserves 50% of the assembly seats for "workers and peasants."
There also is a 264-member Shura (consultative) Council, in which 88 members are appointed and 174 elected for 6-year terms. Below the national level, authority is exercised by and through governors and mayors appointed by the central government and by popularly elected local councils.
Power is concentrated in the hands of the President and the National Democratic Party majority in the People's Assembly and those institutions dominate the political system.
Muhammad Hosni Mubarak is the Prime Minister of Egypt and its longest-serving ruler since Muhammad Ali. He is also one of the longest-serving leaders in the Arab world.
The Economy of Egypt
Egypt is bisected by the highly fertile Nile valley, where most economic activity takes place. In the last 30 years, the government has reformed the highly centralized economy and in 2005, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif reduced personal and corporate tax rates, reduced energy subsidies, and privatized several enterprises. The stock market boomed, and GDP grew about 5% per year in 2005-06.
Despite these achievements, the government has failed to raise living standards for the average Egyptian, and has had to continue providing subsidies for basic necessities. Twenty percent of the population remains below the poverty line. Egypt still exhibits extreme differences between rich and poor, and is still considered a poor country. However, a growing number of the inhabitants can be considered as middle class or rich.
Foreign direct investment remains low but Egypt's economy spectrum has diversity, including involvement with agriculture, textiles and some industry. Some export sectors such as natural gas have bright prospects.
Currency of Egypt
The currency of Egypt is the Egyptian Pound.