| The history of Egypt
is one of the oldest, richest and most varied of any country in
the world and the country’s place in the Middle East
is as central now as it was during the fourth millennium BC.
The unification of the Lower and the Upper Kingdoms, in approximately
3180 BC, marks a good starting point for Egyptian history. This
dynamic, culturally sophisticated and powerful kingdom located on
the banks of the Nile grew into one of the greatest civilisations
in the ancient world. The pre-Hellenic period is
counted in Kingdoms (Old, Middle and New) and subdivided into dynasties.
The IVth dynasty saw the construction of architectural
masterpieces such as the Great Pyramid, while the
XIth and XIIth saw the zenith
of Egyptian power at the start of the 2nd millennium.
whose very famous tomb was discovered in 1922, ruled briefly in
the XVIIIth dynasty.
From the XXth dynasty onwards, the power of Egypt
was declining and the country was overrun on several occasions by
The latest and most permanent of these invasions, which brought
the Pharaonic period to a close, was that of Alexander
the Great, in 332 BC. Throughout the Hellenic and
Augustan Roman period (circa AD 30), the emergence of law
and literature in Alexandria allowed for 7 centuries of comparative
peace and the economic stability.
From the middle of the fourth century, Egypt was part of the Eastern
Empire. Then, in AD 642, an invading Arab army – 1 manifestation
of the rapid Islamic conquests that followed the death of Muhammad
– was welcomed by the Coptic Christians in
inclination to their Greek rulers. The Fatamids
obtained control of the country in the late 10th century, however,
their power declined. The subsequent revival of Muslim fortunes
and the reawakening of the spirit of Jihad (holy
war) was hugely associated with the career of Saladin,
whose control enabled him to reunite much of the Muslim world.
Under Ottoman rule, Egypt became a somewhat neglected
part of a large and gradually declining empire. The arrival of Napoleon
in AD 1798 brought Egypt once more into vicious contact with a European
power. By 1805, the fight for independence had been won, with Muhammad
Ali being recognised as Sultan. This was
a period of great rivalry between European powers, during which
Egypt was battered between them.
The Suez Canal was opened in 1869, although consequent
financial problems and internal struggles led to British occupation
during 1882, which lasted until 1936. Egypt was formally independent
but severely constrained by the British, who maintained ultimate
political and economic control. Discontentment against the Government
culminated during the 1952 revolution, arranged by young army officers
led by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser. After securing
his position as President of the new Government, Nasser took the
Suez Canal into public ownership with all revenues
directed to the Egyptian treasury and this led to the Suez Crisis
of 1956, in which a combined Anglo-French-Israeli military operation
challenged to seize and depose Nasser.
The failure of that operation greatly enhanced Nasser’s standing
and inspired supporters throughout the Middle East who shared his
vision of a united Arab world and free from foreign interference.
Disputes between Arab countries scuppered the plans. The defeat
of Arab forces by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War deprived
Egypt of the Sinai peninsula and the Gaza Strip, land that was recovered
only after an additional defeat by the Israelis in the Yom
Kippur War of 1973 and the subsequent Egyptian-Israeli
peace initiative, which culminated in the 1979 Camp David
accord. The treaty was signed on the Egyptian side by Nasser’s
successor, Anwar El-Sadat, and this, along with
the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt after the Iranian revolution,
accounted for his elimination during 1981. Sadat was succeeded by
his deputy, Hosni Mubarak, who practiced similar
policies. However, the rapprochement with the Arab world at the
Amman Summit in 1987 initiated a new phase of diplomatic
relations within the Middle East and marked the rehabilitation of
the Mubarak government into the wider Arab community.
Egypt was involved in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations during
the early 1990s and largely supportive of the 1994 Oslo
agreement between the two sides and since then, it has
played a largely back-seat role in the Arab-Israel dispute. Not
least, this is because it is disinclined to do anything to disturb
relations with the United States of America, after Israel, Egypt
is the world’s largest single recipient of US aid. More immediate
concern has been the domestic rise of militant Islam.
Mubarak is aware that Egypt’s deep-rooted social
and economic problems render fundamentalism an attractive option
for several young Egyptians. The government’s strategy has
been to resolve the movement by holding controlled elections, at
which selected Islamic candidates are allowed to stand (although
the pro-government National Democratic Party won the October 2000
elections to the Majlis) coupled with fierce domination of Islamic
paramilitaries. Several of the leading militants have since left
Egypt: a number of these, including senior figures in Jema’a
Islamiya, the most prominent of the militant groups, subsequently
linked up with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organisation.
President Mubarak, in power for 24 years, won with
88.6% of the votes - in the 1st presidential election held in September
2005. The election was marked by a low turnout of just 23%. Mr Mubarak,
who beforehand had been elected only in single-candidate referendums,
changed the system under pressure from the United States and domestic