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. 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 with the overthrow of the British-backed monarchy 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 growing population through economic reform and massive investment in communications and physical infrastructure.
78,866,635 (July 2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 16
Egyptian 99.6%, other 0.4% (2006 census)
Muslim (mostly Sunni) 90%, Coptic 9%, other Christian 1%
Arabic (official), English and French widely understood by educated classes
Occupying the northeast corner of the African continent, Egypt is bisected by the highly fertile Nile valley, where most economic activity takes place. Egypt's economy was highly centralized during the rule of former President Gamal Abdel NASSER but has opened up considerably under former President Anwar EL-SADAT and current President Mohamed Hosni MUBARAK. Cairo from 2004 to 2008 aggressively pursued economic reforms to attract foreign investment and facilitate GDP growth, but is postponing further economic reforms because of global economic turmoil. The international economic downturn slowed Egypt's GDP growth to 4.5% in 2009, predominately affecting export-oriented sectors, including manufacturing and tourism. Unemployment is rising. In 2009 the government implemented a $2.7 billion stimulus package favoring infrastructure projects and export subsidies, and is considering up to $3.3 billion in additional stimulus spending in 2010 to mitigate the slowdown in economic growth. The government of Prime Minister Ahmed NAZIF will need to restart economic reforms to attract foreign investment, boost growth, and improve economic conditions for the broader population. Despite high levels of economic growth over the past few years, living conditions for the average Egyptian remain poor.
*Source: Central Intelligence Agency