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Egypt - Introduction

Occupying a focal geographic bridge linking Africa and Asia, contemporary Egypt is the inheritor of a civilization dating back more than 6,000 years. While best known for its Pyramids and Ancient Civilisations, Egypt has played a central role in Middle East politics in modern times.


Egypt is famous for its ancient civilization and some of the world's most famous monuments, including the Giza pyramid complex and the Great Sphinx. The southern city of Luxor contains numerous ancient artifacts, such as the Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Kings.

Egypt's capital city, Cairo, is Africa's largest city and has been renowned for centuries as a center of learning, culture and commerce. Egypt has the highest number of Nobel Laureates in Africa and the Arab World.

Egypt's ancient past and the fact that it was one of the first Middle Eastern countries to open up to the West following Napoleon's invasion. At present the most populous country of Africa is widely regarded as an important political and cultural nation of the Middle East.

The age old nation lies in the north-eastern corner of Africa, a major crossroads between Europe, the Middle East, Africa and west and south Asia, with an area of 386,000 square miles (four times the size of the UK).

The unification of Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt in the third millennium B.C. required the development of administrative and religious structures, and the monuments that remain demonstrate the mathematical, astronomical, and architectural skills attained in constructing rock tombs, temples, and pyramids--the latter dedicated to the divine kings, the pharaohs.

Egypt's strategic location has made it the object of numerous conquests- by the Ptolemies, Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Fatimids, Mamluks, Ottomans, and Napoleon Bonaparte. The most recent conquerors, the British, granted Egypt partial independence in 1922 and withdrew completely in 1954.

For contemporary Egypt, the Free Officers' 1952 Revolution, spearheaded by Gamal Abdul Nasser, has clearly been the formative event. Nasser's charismatic leadership institutionalized the role of the military and created an authoritarian state that pursued goals of "Arab socialism." These goals centered on the implementation of agrarian reform, nationalization of key industries, a one-party state (the Arab Socialist Union--ASU) domestically, and closer ties with the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe internationally.

Some Egyptian born politicians were or are currently at the helm of major international organizations like Boutros Boutros-Ghali of the United Nations and Mohamed ElBaradei of the IAEA.

The head of Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque is one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam. The Cairo Opera House (bottom-right) is the main performing arts venue in the Egyptian capital.

Egypt’s three wars with Israel in 1948, 1967 and 1973, then its eventual peace with its adversary in 1979, have seen the country move from being a warring nation to become a key representative in the peace process.

Last Updated on Monday 17th January 2011