Egypt (Egyptian Arabic: “مصر” Masr; officially, the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: جمهورية مصر العربية) is a transcontinental country in North Africa and the Middle East with its capital located in its largest city, Cairo. Egypt also extends into Asia by virtue of holding the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt is bordered by Israel and the Gaza Strip to the north-east, by Sudan to the south and by Libya to the west. The country is bounded by the Mediterranean and Red Seas (to the north and east respectively) and geographically dominated both by the Nile River and its fertile well-watered valley, and by the Eastern and Western deserts.
Egypt is perhaps best known as the home of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with its temples, hieroglyphs, mummies, and – visible above all – its pyramids. Less well-known is Egypt’s medieval heritage, courtesy of Coptic Christianity and Islam – ancient churches, monasteries and mosques punctuate the Egyptian landscape. Egypt stimulates the imagination of western tourists like few other countries and is probably one of the most popular tourist destinations world-wide.
Ever since the 2011 revolution, tourism (which provides about 15% of employment in Egypt, so one-sixth of the population are reliant upon it) has taken a major hit. Because of the downturn in tourism, expect more persistent and aggressive touts, but prices are lower and you can avoid the gigantic crowds that, at other periods, were typically overflowing the marvellous sites.
The more recent counter-revolution and Military putsch, like many events of its sort, has brought repression, death sentences and imprisonment for many Egyptians (and foreign journalists) but has resulted in lower crime and reduced disruption for well-heeled foreign tourists.
The regularity and richness of the annual Nile River flood, coupled with semi-isolation provided by deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development of one of the world’s great civilizations. A unified kingdom arose around 3200 BC and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 BC, who in turn were replaced by the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines. It was the Arabs who introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the 7th century and who ruled for the next six centuries. A local military caste, the Mamluks, took control about 1250 and continued to govern after the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt became an important world transportation hub, but also fell heavily into debt. Ostensibly to protect its investments, Britain seized control of Egypt’s government in 1882, but nominal allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. Partially independent from the UK in 1922, Egypt acquired full sovereignty following World War II. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honoured place of the Nile River in agriculture and the ecology of Egypt. A rapidly growing population (the largest in the Arab world), limited arable land, and dependence on the Nile all continue to overtax resources and stress society. The government has struggled to prepare the economy for the new millennium through economic reform and massive investment in communications and physical infrastructure.