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August 2013



Egypt, slightly more than three times the size of the state of New Mexico, lies in northeastern Africa. It borders the Mediterranean Sea, Libya, the Gaza Strip, and the Red Sea north of Sudan, and includes the Asian Sinai Peninsula. Arabic is the official language, while English and French are also widely understood. Its people are Muslim (mostly Sunni) 90%, Coptic 9%, other Christian 1%. The two largest cities are Cairo (capital) with 11 million people and Alexandria with 4 million people.

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 circa 3200 B.C., and a series of dynasties ruled in Egypt for the next three millennia. The last native dynasty fell to the Persians in 341 B.C., 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.

Completion of the Suez Canal in 1869 elevated Egypt as an important world transportation hub. 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 from Britain in 1952. The completion of the Aswan High Dam in 1971 and the resultant Lake Nasser have altered the time-honored place of the Nile River in the agriculture and 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 meet the demands of Egypt's population through economic reform and massive investment in communications and physical infrastructure. Inspired by the 2010 Tunisian revolution, Egyptian opposition groups led demonstrations and labor strikes countrywide, culminating in President Hosni Mubarak's ouster. Egypt's military assumed national leadership until a new parliament was in place in early 2012. The same year Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Mursi, won the presidential election and a new constitution was affirmed.

The constitution passed by referendum 15-22 December 2012 and was signed by the president 26 December 2012. Egypt has a mixed legal system based on Napoleonic civil law and Islamic religious law; judicial review is provided by the Supreme Court and Council of State. The bicameral parliament consists of the Shura Council that traditionally functions mostly in a consultative role; the House of Representatives has 350 seats (as stated in the 2012 constitution) elected for five-year terms.

Egypt's desert climate is hot and dry summers with moderate winters. Its terrain is a desert plateau interrupted by Nile valley and delta. The natural resources of the country include: petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, phosphates, manganese, limestone, gypsum, talc, asbestos, lead, rare earth elements, and zinc. The natural hazards facing Egypt are: periodic droughts; earthquakes; flash floods; landslides; hot, driving windstorms, as well as dust and sandstorms.

CIA World Factbook, 7/2013

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