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Egypt has one of the longest recorded histories of any nation on Earth.

Prehistoric Egypt

In the 10th millennium BCE, a culture of hunter-gatherers and fishers replaced a grain-grinding culture. Climate changes and/or overgrazing around 8000 BCE began to desiccate the pastoral lands of Egypt, forming the Sahara. Early tribal peoples migrated to the Nile River where they developed a settled agricultural economy and more centralized society.[1]

By about 6000 BCE the Neolithic culture rooted in the Nile Valley.[2] During the Neolithic era, several predynastic cultures developed independently in Upper and Lower Egypt. The Badarian culture and the successor Naqada series are generally regarded as precursors to Dynastic Egyptian civilization. The earliest known Lower Egyptian site, Merimda, predates the Badarian by about seven hundred years. Contemporaneous Lower Egyptian communities coexisted with their southern counterparts for more than two thousand years, remaining somewhat culturally separate, but maintaining frequent contact through trade. The earliest known evidence of Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions appeared during the predynastic period on Naqada III pottery vessels, dated to about 3200 BCE.[3]

Ancient Egypt

tAwy ('Two Lands')
in hieroglyphs
N16
N16
Abydos sethi

Image of Pharaoh Seti I from his temple in Abydos.

A unified kingdom was founded circa 3150 BCE by King Menes, giving rise to a series of dynasties that ruled Egypt for the next three millennia. Egyptians subsequently referred to their unified country as tawy, meaning "two lands", and later kemet (Coptic: kīmi), the "black land", a reference to the fertile black soil deposited by the Nile river. Egyptian culture flourished during this long period and remained distinctively Egyptian in its religion, art, language and customs. The first two ruling dynasties of a unified Egypt set the stage for the Old Kingdom period, c.2700−2200 BC., famous for its many pyramids, most notably the Third Dynasty pyramid of Djoser and the Fourth Dynasty Giza Pyramids.

The First Intermediate Period ushered in a time of political upheaval for about 150 years.[4] Stronger Nile floods and stabilization of government, however, brought back renewed prosperity for the country in the Middle Kingdom c. 2040 BCE, reaching a peak during the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhat III. A second period of disunity heralded the arrival of the first foreign ruling dynasty in Egypt, that of the Semitic Hyksos. The Hyksos invaders took over much of Lower Egypt around 1650 BCE and founded a new capital at Avaris. They were driven out by an Upper Egyptian force led by Ahmose I, who founded the Eighteenth Dynasty and relocated the capital from Memphis to Thebes.

The New Kingdom (c.1550−1070 BCE) began with the Eighteenth Dynasty, marking the rise of Egypt as an international power that expanded during its greatest extension to an empire as far south as Tombos in Nubia, and included parts of the Levant in the east. This period is noted for some of the most well-known Pharaohs, including Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti, Tutankhamun and Ramesses II. The first historically attested expression of monotheism came during this period in the form of Atenism. Frequent contacts with other nations brought new ideas to the New Kingdom. The country was later invaded and conquered by Libyans, Nubians and Assyrians, but native Egyptians eventually drove them out and regained control of their country[5].

Persian, Greek and Roman occupation

Cairo, Old Cairo, Hanging Church, Egypt, Oct 2004

The Hanging Church of Cairo, first built in the third or fourth century CE, is one of the most famous Coptic Churches in Egypt.

The Thirtieth Dynasty was the last native ruling dynasty during the Pharaonic epoch. It fell to the Persians in 343 BC after the last native Pharaoh, King Nectanebo II, was defeated in battle. Later, Egypt fell to the Greco–Macedonians and Romans, beginning over two thousand years of foreign rule. The last ruler from the Ptolemaic line was Cleopatra VII, who committed suicide with her lover Marc Antony, after Caesar Augustus had captured them.

Before Egypt became part of the Byzantine realm, Christianity had been brought by Saint Mark the Evangelist in the first century. CE Diocletian's reign marked the transition from the Roman to the Byzantine era in Egypt, when a great number of Egyptian Christians were persecuted. The New Testament had by then been translated into Egyptian. After the Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE, a distinct Egyptian Coptic Church was firmly established.[6]

Arab and Ottoman Era

Yavuz Sultan I. Selim Han

Sultan Selim I (1470-1520) conquered Egypt.

The Byzantines were able to regain control of the country after a brief Persian invasion early in the seventh century, until in 639 CE, Egypt was absorbed into the Islamic Empire by the Muslim Arabs. When they defeated the Byzantine Armies in Egypt, with the help of some revolutionary Egyptians, the Arabs brought Sunni Islam to the country. Early in this period, Egyptians began to blend their new faith with indigenous beliefs and practices that had survived through Coptic Christianity that was expanded in Egypt by the Byzantines, giving rise to various Sufi orders that have flourished to this day.[7] Muslim rulers nominated by the Islamic Caliphate remained in control of Egypt for the next six centuries, with Cairo as the seat of the Caliphate under the Fatimids. With the end of the Ayyubid dynasty, the Mamluks, a Turco-Circassian military caste, took control about 1250 CE. By late 13th century, Egypt linked the Red Sea, India, Malaya, and the East Indies.[8] The strategic positioning "assured importance in productive economy".[8] They continued to govern the country until the conquest of Egypt by the Ottoman Turks in 1517, after which it became a province of the Ottoman Empire. The mid-14th-Century Black Death killed about 40% of the country's population.[9] After the 15th century, the threat of military European Crusaders and Central Asian Mongols set the Egpytian system into decline.[8] The defensive militarization challenged the civil society and economic institutions.[8] The weakening of the economic system combined with the effects of Black Death left Egypt vulnerable to foreign invasion which can be seen with the Portuguese taking over their trade.[10] The famine that afflicted Egypt in 1784 cost it roughly one-sixth of its population.[11]

Modern history

Napoleon-in-Egypt-(1868)-Gerome

Napoleon in Egypt, 1868 painting by Jean-Leon Gerome.

The brief French invasion of Egypt led by Napoleon Bonaparte began in 1798. The expulsion of the French in 1801 by Ottoman, Mamluk, and British forces was followed by four years of anarchy in which Ottomans, Mamluks, and Albanians who were nominally in the service of the Ottomans, wrestled for power. Out of this chaos, the commander of the Albanian regiment, Muhammad Ali (Kavalali Mehmed Ali Pasha) emerged as a dominant figure and in 1805 was acknowledged by the Sultan in Istanbul as his viceroy in Egypt; the title implied subordination to the Sultan but this was in fact a polite fiction: Ottoman power in Egypt was finished and Muhammad Ali, an ambitious and able leader, established a dynasty that was to rule Egypt (at first really and later as British puppets) until the revolution of 1952.[12]

His primary focus was military: he annexed Northern Sudan (1820–1824), Syria (1833), and parts of Arabia and Anatolia; but in 1841 the European powers, fearful lest he topple the Ottoman Empire itself, checked him: he had to return most of his conquests to the Ottomans, but he kept the Sudan and his title to Egypt was made hereditary. A more lasting consequence of his military ambition is that it made him the moderniser of Egypt. Anxious to learn the military (and therefore industrial) techniques of the great powers he sent students to the West and invited training missions to Egypt. He built industries, a system of canals for irrigation and transport, and reformed the civil service.[12]

For better or worse, the introduction in 1820 of long-staple cotton, the Egyptian variety of which became famous, transformed Egyptian agriculture into a cash-crop monoculture before the end of the century. The social effects of this were enormous: it led to the concentration of agriculture in the hands of large landowners, and, with the additional trigger of high cotton prices caused by the United States' civil war production drop, to a large influx of foreigners who began in earnest the exploitation of Egypt for international commodity production.[12]

Muhammad Ali was succeeded briefly by his son Ibrahim (in September 1848), then by a grandson Abbas I (in November 1848), then by Said (in 1854), and Isma'il (in 1863). Abbas I was cautious. Said and Ismail were ambitious developers; unfortunately they spent beyond their means. The Suez Canal, built in partnership with the French, was completed in 1869. The expense of this and other projects had two effects: it led to enormous debt to European banks, and caused popular discontent because of the onerous taxation it necessitated. In 1875 Ismail was forced to sell Egypt's share in the canal to the British Government. Within three years this led to the imposition of British and French controllers who sat in the Egyptian cabinet, and, "with the financial power of the bondholders behind them, were the real power in the Government."[13]

Local dissatisfaction with Ismail and with European intrusion led to the formation of the first nationalist groupings in 1879, with Ahmad Urabi a prominent figure. In 1882 he became head of a nationalist-dominated ministry committed to democratic reforms including parliamentary control of the budget. Fearing a diminishment of their control, Britain and France intervened militarily, bombarding Alexandria and crushing the Egyptian army at the battle of Tel el-Kebir.[14] They reinstalled Ismail's son Tewfik as figurehead of a de facto British protectorate.[15]

Egyptian First pound bill

First Egyptian pound banknote, issued in 1898.

In 1914 the Protectorate was made official, and the title of the head of state, which had changed from pasha to khedive in 1867, was changed to sultan, to repudiate the vestigial suzerainty of the Ottoman sultan, who was backing the Central Powers in World War I. Abbas II was deposed as khedive and replaced by his uncle, Hussein Kamel, as sultan.[16]

In 1906, the Dinshaway Incident prompted many neutral Egyptians to join the nationalist movement. After the First World War, Saad Zaghlul and the Wafd Party led the Egyptian nationalist movement, gaining a majority at the local Legislative Assembly. When the British exiled Zaghlul and his associates to Malta on 8 March 1919, the country arose in its first modern revolution. Constant revolting by the Egyptian people throughout the country led Great Britain to issue a unilateral declaration of Egypt's independence on 28 February 1922.[17]

Egypt flag 1922

The flag of Egypt from 1922 to 1958.

The new Egyptian Government drafted and implemented a new constitution in 1923 based on a parliamentary representative system. Saad Zaghlul was popularly elected as Prime Minister of Egypt in 1924. In 1936 the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty was concluded. Continued instability in the Government due to remaining British control and increasing political involvement by the king led to the ousting of the monarchy and the dissolution of the parliament in a military coup d'état known as the 1952 Revolution. The officers, known as the Free Officers Movement, forced King Farouk to abdicate in support of his son Fuad.

On 18 June 1953, the Egyptian Republic was declared, with General Muhammad Naguib as the first President of the Republic. Naguib was forced to resign in 1954 by Gamal Abdel Nasser – the real architect of the 1952 movement – and was later put under house arrest. Nasser assumed power as President in June 1956. British forces completed their withdrawal from the occupied Suez Canal Zone on 13 June 1956. His nationalization of the Suez Canal on 26 July 1956 prompted the 1956 Suez Crisis.

Three years after the 1967 Six-Day War, during which Israel had invaded and occupied Sinai, Nasser died and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. Sadat switched Egypt's Cold War allegiance from the Soviet Union to the United States, expelling Soviet advisors in 1972. He launched the Infitah economic reform policy, while violently clamping down on religious and secular opposition alike.

In 1973, Egypt, along with Syria, launched the October War, a surprise attack against the Israeli forces occupying the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. It was an attempt to liberate part of the Sinai territory Israel had captured 6 years earlier. Sadat hoped to seize some territory via military force, and then regain the rest of the peninsula by diplomacy. The conflict sparked an international crisis between the two world superpowers: the US and the USSR, both of whom intervened. Two UN-mandated ceasefires were needed to bring military operations to a halt. While the war ended in a military stalemate, it presented Sadat with a political victory that later allowed him to regain the Sinai in return for peace with Israel.[18]

Anwar Sadat cropped

Anwar Sadat.

Sadat made an historic visit to Israel in 1977, which led to the 1979 peace treaty in exchange for the complete Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. Sadat's initiative sparked enormous controversy in the Arab world and led to Egypt's expulsion from the Arab League, but it was supported by the vast majority of Egyptians.[19] A fundamentalist military soldier assassinated Sadat in Cairo in 1981. He was succeeded by the incumbent Hosni Mubarak. In 2003, the Egyptian Movement for Change, popularly known as Kefaya, was launched to seek a return to democracy and greater civil liberties.

References

  1. Midant-Reynes, Béatrix. The Prehistory of Egypt: From the First Egyptians to the First Kings. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
  2. "The Nile Valley 6000-4000 BC Neolithic". The British Museum. 2005. http://www.worldtimelines.org.uk/world/africa/nile_valley/6000-4000BC. Retrieved 2008-08-21. 
  3. Bard, Kathryn A. Ian Shaw, ed. The Oxford Illustrated History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. p. 69.
  4. "The Fall of the Egyptian Old Kingdom". BBC - History.
  5. "The Kushite Conquest of Egypt". AncientSudan.org.
  6. Kamil, Jill. Coptic Egypt: History and Guide. Cairo: American University in Cairo, 1997. p. 39
  7. El-Daly, Okasha. Egyptology: The Missing Millennium. London: UCL Press, 2005. p. 140
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Before European Hegemony The World System A.D. 1250-1350. New York: Oxford UP, USA, 1991. PP. 243
  9. Egypt - Major Cities, U.S. Library of Congress
  10. Abu-Lughod, Janet L. Before European Hegemony The World System A.D. 1250-1350. New York: Oxford UP, USA, 1991. PP. 244
  11. "Icelandic Volcano Caused Historic Famine In Egypt, Study Shows". ScienceDaily. November 22, 2006
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Nejla M. Abu Izzeddin, Nasser of the Arabs, published circa 1973, p 2.
  13. Nejla M. Abu Izzeddin, Nasser of the Arabs", p 2.
  14. Anglo French motivation: Derek Hopwood, Egypt: Politics and Society 1945-1981. London, 1982, George Allen & Unwin. p 11.
  15. De facto protectorate: Joan Wucher King, Historical Dictionary of Egypt. Metuchen, New Jersey, USA; 1984; Scarecrow. p 17.
  16. James Jankowski, Egypt, A Short History, p. 111
  17. Jankowski, op cit., p. 112
  18. USMC Major Michael C. Jordan (1997). "The 1973 Arab-Israeli War: Arab Policies, Strategies, and Campaigns". GlobalSecurity.org. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/report/1997/Jordan.htm. Retrieved 2009-04-20. 
  19. Vatikiotis, p. 443

See also

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This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at History of Egypt. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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