Egypt’s official name is the Arab Republic of Egypt. The country is situated in the north-east part of Africa, although the Sinai Peninsula forms a land bridge with south-west Asia, and so Egypt is also called a Middle East country. Therefore it’s a transcontinental country, which helps it in being a major power in Africa, the Middle-East, the Mediterranean, and the Muslim world.
In Arabic, Egypt is called مصر, or Miṣr, and in ancient times the country was known as Kemet, or the black land, due to the alluvial soil deposited during the Nile’s annual flooding. This yearly event gave Egypt the fertile land that enabled it to expand along the length of the river, especially in the delta where many various crops were, and still are, harvested.
Egypt covers an area of approximately 1,001,450km2 (386,662 miles²) and is bordered by Israel and the Gaza Strip in the north-east; the Red Sea in the east; Sudan in the south; Libya in the west; and the Mediterranean Sea in the north. It is the 3rd most populous country in Africa and the most populous in the Middle-East with the majority of its estimated 99 million people living on, or near, the banks of the Nile. Only 5.5% of the total land area is actually used by the population, the area that borders the River Nile as well as a few cases, the other 94.5% being an uninhabitable desert.
The Nile River runs vertically through the Sahara Desert and the area to the west is known as the Western Desert, or the Libyan Desert, with the area to the East, as far as the Red Sea, being called the Eastern Desert. The desert itself is very sparsely inhabited with relatively small population centers growing up around oases such as the Fayoum, Siwa, Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla, and Kharga to the west and any areas of habitation being restricted to the many wadis (or valleys) to the east.
The Libyan Desert is home to an enormous area of sand known as the Great Sand Sea, and located within this area are several depressions that fall below sea level. These include the Qattara Depression, which covers an area of approximately 18,000km2 (7,000 miles2) and reaches a depth of approximately 133m (436 ft) below sea level: the lowest point in Africa.
Most of the Eastern Desert lies on a plateau that gradually rises from the Nile Valley to heights of approximately 600m (2,000 ft) in the east. Along the Red Sea coast are many jagged peaks that reach as high as 2,100m (7,000 ft) above sea level. The Nubian Desert lies to the extreme south of the Eastern Desert, along the border with Sudan, and it is an extensive area of dunes and sandy plains.
The Sinai Peninsula primarily consists of sandy desert in the north with rugged mountains in the south; the summits here towering more than 2,100m (7,000 ft) above the Red Sea. Mount Catherine, or Gebel Katherina, at 2,629m (8,625 ft) high, is the highest point in Egypt, slightly dwarfing the nearby Mount Sinai, or Moses Mountain (Gabal Musa), at 2,285m (7,497 ft). According to Islamic, Christian and Jewish beliefs, the biblical Mount Sinai was the place where Moses received the Ten Commandments, though not everyone agrees that this particular mountain is actually the biblical one.
Today, the Nile is considered as the longest river in the world, and it enters Egypt from Sudan and flows north for about 1,545km (960 miles) until it exits into the Mediterranean Sea. From the Sudanese border to Cairo, the Nile flows through a narrow cliff-lined valley, which, south of Edfu, is hardly more than 3km (2 miles) wide. From Edfu to Cairo, it is about 23km (14 miles) in width, with most of the arable land lying on the western side. Just north of Cairo, the valley merges with the Delta before the River Nile joins the Mediterranean Sea.
The Delta is a triangular plain bordering the Mediterranean coastline for approximately 250km (155 miles). Silt has been deposited here by the many tributaries of the Nile river Rosetta knewn or the city of Rashid] and Damietta or Dumyat and others) and this has made the Delta the most fertile area of Egypt. The Aswan High Dam, however, has reduced the flow of the Nile, putting an end to the annual flooding, and this has caused the salty waters of the Mediterranean Sea to erode most of the land along the coast. Nowadays a series of four shallow, salty, lakes extend along the seaward extremity of the delta.
Lake Nasser, the world’s largest man-made reservoir, was formed by the building of the Aswan High Dam in 1970. It is approximately 480km (300 miles) long and 16km (10 miles) across at its widest point. Almost two-thirds of this lake is situated in Egypt, and it extends southwards across the Sudanese border.
From ancient times, right through to the modern era, the Nile Valley has been divided into two separate regions, Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt. Lower Egypt, where the Pharaohs wore the red crown, is the area of the Delta, whilst Upper Egypt, where the Pharaohs wore the white crown, is the entire valley south of Cairo (or Memphis during the Pharaonic period).
The land boundaries, which Egypt shares with other countries, are 2,665 km in total and comprise of: Gaza Strip 11 km, Israel 266 km, Libya 1,115 km and Sudan 1,273 km. Its coastline is 2,450 km long which includes the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and the Gulf of Aqaba, though any indentations, which are suitable as harbors, are confined to the delta.
Egypt has one of the most diverse economies in North-Africa and the Middle-East with the various sectors employing the following amounts of people: agriculture 32%; industry 17%; services 39%; and tourism 12%.
A predominantly Sunni Muslim country, Egypt’s state religion is Islam. A genuine estimate of the percentages of the various religions is a controversial topic in Egypt, and no two sets of figures appear to match, but it is generally accepted that 80-90% of the population is Muslim. Five times a day the “Adhan”, the Islamic call to prayer, can be heard being broadcast from the loudspeakers on Cairo’s many minarets. There are so many Mosques in the Egyptian capital that it was once dubbed “The City of 1,000 Minarets”.
Cairo also hosts a considerable number of church towers due to the Christian minority in Egypt, which makes up about 8-18% of the population. Of these, 90% belong to the native Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria with the other 10% comprising of the Coptic Catholic Church; the Evangelical Church of Egypt; and various other Protestant denominations.
The remaining 2% of the population are Jews, with a number of synagogues being sited around Cairo. Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are the only three religions that Egypt officially recognizes.
Egypt, as a unified country, is believed to have been created about 3,200BCE, though it is known that a civilization existed here since the Neolithic period (8,800-4,700BCE) and perhaps as far back as the Palaeolithic period, though much of the dating of this period was done by Non-calibrated radiocarbon dating methods.
Why the ancient people decided to settle on the banks of the River Nile is not known, though it is generally accepted that it is because of the Sahara Desert, which was once fertile, started to change into a sandy expanse, forcing the population to look for water. Once the Nile river was discovered, the regularity and richness of the annual inundation, or flood, coupled with the semi-isolation that was provided by the deserts to the east and west, allowed for the development of one of the world’s greatest civilizations.
The last indigenous dynasty surrendered to the Persians in 341BCE, who were then replaced, in turn, by the Greeks, the Romans, and the Byzantines. In the 7th century, the Arabs introduced Islam, as well as the Arabic language, and ruled for the next six centuries until the Mamelukes, a local military caste, seized control circa 1250, continuing to govern after Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1517. Once the Suez Canal was completed in 1869, Egypt became an important world transportation hub, but this also caused heavy debt. Seemingly, to protect its investments, Great Britain took control of Egypt’s government in 1882, but allegiance to the Ottoman Empire continued until 1914. By 1922, Egypt was partially independent of the UK, and acquired full sovereignty, with the overthrow of the British-backed monarchy, in 1952.
Egypt today is the largest growing population in the Arab world. Its limited arable land and dependence on the Nile have all contributed to the huge over-taxation of resources and has stressed society. The government had struggled to meet the demands of Egypt’s growing population through economic reform, massive investment in communications, and physical infrastructure. This happened until Jan 25th, 2011, when youth-led protests brought down the presidency and the government. Now the world waits to see how this new civilization will pan out.