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Country profile: Egypt PDF Print E-mail

While best known for its pyramids and ancient civilisations, Egypt has played a central role in Middle East politics in modern times.

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

Overview


But the historic step taken by President Anwar Sadat in the Camp David agreement with Israel saw the expulsion of Egypt from the Arab League until 1989, and in 1981 Mr Sadat was assassinated by Islamic extremists angry at his moves to clamp down on their activities.

Since then, President Hosni Mubarak has taken a more moderate line, but Islamic groups have continued their campaigns sporadically, being responsible for deadly attacks that have often targeted tourists and resort areas.

Campaigners for political reform have become more vocal in recent times and have taken to the streets in defiance of an emergency law, in force since 1981. Activists say the law restricts political expression.

Although Egypt has changed its constitution to allow the opposition to contest presidential polls, potential candidates must meet strict criteria for participation. A ban remains on religious political parties.

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 means that it is seen by many as the intellectual and cultural leader in the region. The head of Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque is one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam.

Egypt's teeming cities - and almost all agricultural activity - are concentrated along the banks of the Nile, and on the river's delta. Deserts occupy most of the country.

Long known for its pyramids and ancient civilisation, Egypt is the largest Arab country and has played a central role in Middle Eastern politics in modern times.

In the 1950s President Gamal Abdul Nasser pioneered Arab nationalism and the non-aligned movement, while his successor Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel and turned back to the West.

The protests that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 raised the hopes of those seeking democratic reform and an end to decades of repressive rule.

But it was the Islamists who initially benefited, before they were themselves swept away by the military and secularist protesters, prompting speculation about a return to authoritarianism.

Regional importance

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 have given it a claim to be the intellectual and cultural leader in the region. The head of Cairo's Al-Azhar Mosque is one of the highest authorities in Sunni Islam.

Protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo, in early 2012A popular uprising in early 2011 forced President

Mubarak from power, ushering in a long period of instability.

But the historic step by President Anwar Sadat to make peace with Israel in the 1979 Camp David agreement led to Egypt being expelled from the Arab League until 1989, and in 1981 Mr Sadat was assassinated by Islamic extremists angry at his moves to clamp down on their activities.

President Hosni Mubarak took a more conciliatory approach, but Islamic groups continued their campaigns sporadically. They have been responsible for deadly attacks that often targeted tourists and resort areas, and began to harass Egypt's Coptic Christian community.

While providing stability and a measure of economic progress, Mr Mubarak's rule was repressive. An emergency law in force nearly continuously since 1967 muzzled political dissent, and the security forces became renowned for brutality. Corruption was widespread.

 

Encouraged by the protests that overthrew the long-term leader of Tunisia, mounting popular anger burst to the surface in huge anti-government demonstrations in January 2011 that eventually ended President Mubarak's long rule.

The protesters' hoped-for transition democracy proved elusive, however, as post-revolutionary politics became polarised between the newly ascendant Islamists on the one hand and the military as well as liberal and secular forces on the other. A growing Islamist militant insurgency has also shaken Egypt's stability.

Following a year of interim military rule, the first presidential elections in half a century were won by Islamist Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi in 2012.

But a year on, growing dismay at the government's actions among many Egyptians - primarily secularists, liberals and Coptic Christians - boiled over in another wave of protests. Siding with the demonstrators, the military ousted Mr Morsi and violently suppressed the protest sit-ins held by the Brotherhood in response.

The new authorities outlawed the Brotherhood, started drafting a new constitution and curbed media freedom. The army chief, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, won the presidency in the May 2014 elections. His rise has left some fearing an effective return to military rule.

Geography and economy

Egypt's teeming cities - and almost all agricultural activity - are concentrated along the banks of the Nile, and on the river's delta. Deserts occupy most of the country.

The economy depends heavily on agriculture, tourism and cash remittances from Egyptians working abroad, mainly in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.

However, rapid population growth and the limited amount of arable land are straining the country's resources and economy, and continuing political turmoil has paralysed government efforts to address the problems.

 

Facts


  • Full name: Arab Republic of Egypt
  • Population: 75.5 million (UN, 2007)
  • Capital: Cairo
  • Area: 1 million sq km (386,874 sq miles)
  • Major language: Arabic
  • Major religions: Islam, Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 69 years (men), 74 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Egyptian Pound = 100 piastres
  • Main exports: Petroleum, petroleum products and cotton
  • GNI per capita: US $1,580 (World Bank, 2007)
  • Internet domain: .eg
  • International dialling code: +20

Media


Egypt is a major regional media player. Its press is one of the most influential and widely-read in the region, and its TV and film industry supplies much of the Arab-speaking world with shows from its Media Production City, an enterprise which was set up to create the "Hollywood of the East".

Media criticism of the government is commonplace, but press laws which allow prison sentences for libelling the president, state institutions and foreign heads of state remain in place.

There are two state-run national TV channels and six regional channels, but many viewers turn to pan-Arab channels for their news. Egypt is a big force in satellite TV; its Space Channels are popular across the Arabic-speaking world. Broadcasters can tap into a major programme-making industry and have access to a large film archive.

Egypt was the first Arab nation to have its own satellite, Nilesat 101. Private satellite TV stations include Dream 1, Dream 2 and Al-Mihwar TV. The state's radio monopoly was broken with the arrival of private, commercial music stations in 2003.

Six million Egyptians were online by 2007 (InternetWorldStats.com). Bloggers have made their presence felt, some of them emerging as a force of political opposition.

Media freedom body Reporters Without Borders added Egypt to its list of "internet enemies" in 2006 over the arrests of bloggers during pro-democracy demonstrations.

The press

Television

  • Egypt Radio Television Union (ERTU) - state-run, operates domestic and satellite networks, including Nile TV International and Nile TV thematic channels
  • Dream TV - privately-owned satellite network, operates Dream 1 targeting young viewers and Dream 2, an entertainment channel
  • Al-Mihwar - private, via satellite

Radio

News agency

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