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Egypt: A Brief History

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Egypt, a concise history

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History of Egypt

Ami Isseroff

Egypt is one of the cradles of civilization in the Middle East. Traces of early man were found in Egypt dating back as early as 700,000 years ago. Egypt and ancient Canaan to the north probably served as the bridges by which successive waves of humans: homo erectus, homo habilis, homo neanderthalensis and homo sapiens, evidently migrated out of Africa and into Mesopotamia and Europe. Ancient Egyptians used a phonetic-pictograph writing called hieroglyphics by the Ancient Greeks. This system evolved from portrayal of pictures of objects to using stylized representation of objects to represent sound combinations and compose words, to a phonetic alphabet much like our own. Ancient Egypt boasted considerable achievements in art, medicine, astronomy and literature, and was the hub of civilization in much of the Near East and North Africa.

Egypt: Heiroglyphics in ancient Egypt

The unique history of ancient Egypt and visible monuments to that history helped Egyptians to preserve a distinct national consciousness, and to remain a separate entity during the years of Arab, Mameluke and Ottoman conquest.


Until the conversion to Christianity, Egyptian polytheistic religion centered around the after life. Pharaohs and rich Egyptians built elaborate tombs in caves or in Pyramids, decorated with elaborate art on the interior and containing jewelry and objects that would be needed in the after-life, and in some cases servants and slaves who were interred with their master. The walls of pyramids were decorated with elaborate stylized frescos such as the one at right, in which noble persons were shown as larger than slaves, and subjects were drawn in profile. In other periods, all subjects were shown in frontal view only. The king or noble person had his or her body embalmed, wrapped in linen, and enclosed in an elaborate carved coffin as a mummy.


Egypt: Map of Ancient Egypt

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote that Egypt is the gift of the Nile, meaning that it flourished on the top soil that was formed from silt brought by the recurrent floods of the Nile. Indeed, Egypt is the gift of the Nile, and it was founded and developed around that river, for there is no rain in Egypt. The Ancient Egyptians developed an elaborate irrigation system to distribute the waters of the Nile, and convert their arid land into the breadbasket of the Near East. Egypt was divided into a "lower" kingdom in the north of the Nile, and a southern kingdom that extended into modern Sudan (Nubia).

Egyptian history to the time of the Arab conquest is organized into several dynasties and periods. The ancient periods are dated differently by different authors, and the numbering of dynasties is somewhat controversial. In what follows, we shall attempt to telescope 5000 years of history into a relatively brief account.

Map of Ancient Egypt

Predynastic Period - 3400 BC, includes Naqada and other sites excavated by Flinders Petrie and others, who found objects like the one at right, indicative of a highly developed civilization.

The Archaic or Early Dynastic Period 3100 BC; First and Second Dynasty - Unification of the Lower Kingdom by Menes (Hor'aha). The emblem of Hor'aha is shown at right.

pyramids at giza

Pyramids at Giza

The Old Kingdom 2600 BC - 3d - 6th dynasty. This was the period of great pyramid building, beginning with the Pharaoh Djoser, who built the step pyramid. The pyramid tombs rapidly evolved into much more sophisticated structures built by Senefru Khufu (Cheops), Menkaure and others and visible today at Giza and elsewhere.

The First Intermediate Period 2200 BC - 7th- 10th dynasty. A period of great confusion when numerous Pharaohs reigned in succession.

The Middle Kingdom - 2100 BC - 11th and 12 dynasty - The 11th dynasty ruled from Thebes. Mentuohotep I succeeded in reuniting the kingdom. The Pharoahs of the 12th dynasty all built pyramids, evidence of relative prosperity.

The Second Intermediate Period 1800 BC 13th - 17th dynasty - A second period when the kingdom was fragmented. There were simultaneous rulers at Memphis and Thebes, and the Hyksos, an invading, possibly Semitic people who had domesticated horses, apparently ruled Egypt at this time. One Pharoah of this period was called Yakobaam or Yakbim, possibly a Semitic variant of Ya'akov (Jacob).

The New Kingdom 1570 BC - 18th - 20th Dynasty - The New Kingdom represents the high tide of Egyptian history and empire, and the historical record is fairly complete, including wonderfully preserved mummies of most of the rulers.

Thutmose III was noteworthy for engaging and defeating a Canaanite coalition in the battle of Megiddo about 1480 BC. The map at right shows the disposition of troops and the possible routes. Thutmose ignored advice to take circuitous southern or northern routes and attacked through the direct Aruna route.

The Egyptians  expanded into Palestine and even as far as the Euphrates river during this period, ruling mostly by a system of client kings, and garrisoning roads to ensure passage of trade caravans and of troops in time of need.


Akhnaton (Amenophis IV or Amenhotep IV) reigned from about 1379 to 1362 BC. He attempted to suppress the ancient religion of Egypt and to institute a monotheistic worship of the Sun God. He ruled for about 15 years from his capital at Amarna. Akhnaton largely neglected the tasks of empire, and Egyptian fortunes suffered accordingly. After he died or was killed, he was replaced by his queen, Nefertiti. After Akhnaton, the old gods were reinstated and most traces of sun worship were obliterated.

Aknaton, Nefertiti and Sun God

 Ramses II ruled from 1279 to 1212 BC and is known for his prodigious building projects, which raised temples, statues and other monuments throughout Egypt. He fought the battle of Qadesh (Kadesh) with the Hittites about 1275 and signed the first Peace Treaty to be recorded in history with the Hittites, in 1259. He is thought to be the Pharoah of the biblical Exodus story who built cities such as pi-Ramses as recorded in the Old Testament, using a conscripted labor system. Among other sites, Ramses II built the magnificent temple at Abu Simbel, near Aswan. When the Aswan high dam was built, it created a lake that would have flooded Abu Simbel under water forever. A prodigious engineering project sponsored by Unesco saved the temple by moving it to high ground and reconstructing it.

Egypt: Abu Simbel

The temple at Abu Simbel

The Third Intermediate Period - 1069 - 21-25th Dynasty was very long period that featured a mostly divided Egypt ruled by Nubian and Libyan kings. The Pharoah Sheshonq who tried to besiege or aid Jerusalem and was carried off as a captive apparently, was one of the most important rulers of this period.

The Late Period - This period includes the Persian invasion and sometimes includes Ptolemaic Egypt. Alexander conquered Egypt in the autumn of 332 BC. He founded Alexandria in 331 BC and it became a major center of civilization and trade in the Hellenistic ancient world,. with a famous library and intellectual life. The Ptolemy dynasty succeeded Alexander. The Ptolemies apparently founded the custom of marrying their sisters and ruling jointly with them as king and queen. Theyruled Egypt until 31 BC, when Cleopatra's fleet, defending the Roman consul Marcus Antonius, was defeated at Actium by his rival, Octavian, later to become Augustus Caesar. Augustus annexed Egypt as a province of the Roman empire and it was ruled by the Romans until 642 AD. During the Roman period, Christianity came to Egypt. The Egyptian branch of the Christian church, known as Coptic, is one of the oldest in the world. During Roman times Egypt apparently prospered at times, but was burdened by heavy Roman taxation. In particular, Egypt, together with North Africa, supplied a large portion of the grain of the Roman Empire, including the grain given out free to citizens on the dole in Rome.

The Moslem Conquest - Between 639 and 642, Egypt was conquered by the Arabs under 'Amr ibn-al-Asi in the reign of the Caliph Umar. A contemporary account:

'Amr kept his way until he arrived in Alexandria whose inhabitants he found ready to resist him, but the Copts in it preferred peace. Al-Mukaukis communicated with 'Amr and asked him for peace and a truce for a time; but 'Amr refused. Al-Mukaukis then ordered that the women stand on the wall with their faces turned towards the city, and that the men stand armed, with their faces towards the Moslems, thus hoping to scare them. 'Amr sent word, saying, "We see what you have done. It was not by mere numbers that we conquered those we have conquered. We have met your king Heraclius, and there befell him what has befallen him." Hearing this, al-Mukaukis said to his followers, "These people are telling the truth. They have chased our king from his kingdom as far as Constantinople. It is much more preferable, therefore, that we submit." His followers, however, spoke harshly to him and insisted on fighting. The Moslems fought fiercely against them and invested them for three months. At last, 'Amr reduced the city by the sword and plundered all that was in it, sparing its inhabitants of whom none was killed or taken captive. He reduced them to the position of dhimmis like the people of Alyunah. He communicated the news of the victory to 'Umar through Mu'awiyah ibn-Hudaij al-Kindi (later as-Sakuni) and sent with him the fifth.

(Source: Al-Baladhuri, at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/642Egypt-conq2.html )

The last Arab dynasty to rule Egypt were the Ayoubids, founded by the great Salah Eddin (Saladin) about 1171. Salah Eddin is famous for driving the crusaders out of Palestine, concluding treaties with them that were eventually broken. He and his successors fought against the crusaders until their expulsion.

The Mamelukes - The last Ayubbid ruler died in battle against the Crusaders in 1248. The Mamelukes, a slave caste imported into Egypt, took the opportunity to seize power and ruled in Egypt, Palestine and Syria for several hundred years, fighting and defeating the Mongols and preventing them from entering the Middle East. At the end of the year 1260, the Egyptian Mameluke General Emir Zahir Baybars halted the Mongols of Houlagou at Ayn Jalut (Goliath's Spring), handing the Asians their first defeat. Baybars then proceded to kill the reigning Sultan and become Sultan in his place.

The Mamelukes were a feudal-slave society. Children and wives did not usually inherit and so many Mamelukes passed into Egyptian society. Two groups of Mamelukes, the Bahri and the Burgi (named after the location of their barracks) ruled Egypt in succession until 1517, when their reign ended with the Ottoman conquest of Egypt under Sultan Selim.

Ottoman Rule - The Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt in 1517, and inaugurated a long but mostly undistinguished period in Egyptian history. The Ottomans ruled through a mixture of Janissary and Mameluke soldiers. Copts and Jews found a place in Egypt as merchants and intellectuals, clerks and civil servants. Ottoman rule deteriorated considerably in the 18th century. In 1796, Egypt revolted against the Ottomans and achieved a semi-independent status within the Ottoman empire. However, conditions did not improve. According to some historians, a laborer earned about one-seventh of a piaster per day. The leading Mameluke, Murad Bey, took in fifteen hundred piasters daily for expenses. Coptic villages in Upper Egypt refused to pay their taxes, and in the anarchy of the time, apparently no one tried to collect from them.

Napoleon - The arrival of Napoleon Bonaparte to Egypt on July 2nd 1798, initiated a new phase in Egypt's history and in the history of the Middle East, shocking the Egyptians and the Ottoman Turks out of their complacency. The Egyptians were hitherto totally uninformed about European culture and technical achievements. Murad Bey sent a poorly equipped and poorly trained force to meet the Napoleonic army of 40,000. After being roundly defeated, he left Cairo in haste and ordered the city to be burnt.

Napoleon brought with him a number of scientists who made a complete encyclopedic survey of Egypt, known as "Description de l'Egypte". The expedition contributed significantly to the study of ancient Egyptian history through the discovery of the Rosetta Stone and the consequent deciphering of Hieroglyphics.

The Napoleonic invasion caused a drastic revision in the thinking of Egyptian and Ottoman rulers, who finally understood the industrial and technical superiority of the West, and some of its implications. French technology, military techniques and culture were adopted as models, and French instructors were imported to train modern armies. However, the reform was not thorough. Weapons were imported, but the means of achieving an independent industrial capability were not imported. The printing press was not introduced until very late and literacy was low. It was inevitable that these poor societies, including Egypt, would bankrupt themselves trying to pay for the imported Western industrial goods.

Mohamed Ali - After the French were defeated by the British, Mohamad Ali, who was an officer in the Ottoman Army, rose to power with the support of the Egyptian people. His rule extended from 1805 to 1849 was an eventful period in Egypt's modern history. He is regarded as the father of modern Egypt who set the country on the march towards modernization. He was an efficient ruler and was able to supplant the Ottoman Turks in Palestine, and withdrew only when forced to do so by the British.

Khedive Ismail, a member of Mohamad Ali's dynasty, rose to power in 1863. If Mohamad Ali had started the process of modernization, it was Ismail who completed it. He had boundless ambitions to bring Egypt up to the same level of culture, civilization and development which was enjoyed by most nations of Europe. It was during his reign, in 1869, that the modern Suez Canal  was inaugurated. The Canal was built by a British and French company, and was vital to the maintenance of the British Empire in India, as well as to Western trade.

Unfortunately, Ismail and other Khedives overspent, and Egypt very nearly went bankrupt. They were forced to allow Great Britain and France an increasing role in their government in order to protect the investments made by those countries in Egypt. At the same time, the Khedives requested the intervention of the British, or were induced to request their intervention, to protect their rule in the south of Egypt and Sudan. The British were extremely unpopular because they banned the lucrative slave trade.

The Mahdi

The Mahdi and the British Occupation - A very gifted renegade and religious fanatic, Mohammed Ahmed-Ibn-el-Sayed, proclaimed himself to be the Mahdi, or 12th Caliph (Muslim equivalent of Messiah in some beliefs) and routed Egyptian and British forces sent to put down his rebellion. In 1884, after a long siege, he defeated and beheaded General Gordon, who had been sent with an inadequate force of 7,500 to oversee the safe evacuation of British troops. The Mahdi died in the following year of an illness, and Kitchener successfully pacified the Sudan.

Egypt became a British protectorate until 1922, with British troops guarding the Suez canal and other vital British interest. Mustafa Kamel, Sa'ad Zaghloul, Mustafa El Nahas and many others were prominent figures who strove to achieve two national objectives; independence and constitutional reform. After repeated riots and unrest, the British formally terminated the protectorate and declared Egypt independent. In 1923, the first Constitution was promulgated and Sa'ad Zaghloul formed the first representative government of Egypt. However, British troops continued to guard the Suez Canal. In 1936, 16 year old Farouk came to power, in place of his father Fuad. An Anglo-Egyptian treaty signed in that year regulated the size of British forces in Egypt and guaranteed that Britain would be able to continue to safeguard its interest in the canal, a vital strategic asset.

World War II - British reoccupied Egypt during WW II, and used it as a base to fight Rommel's Afrika Corps. The Nazis came close to conquering Egypt after reaching El-Alamein, but the "Desert Fox," General Erwin Rommel, had outrun his meager supplies and was defeated by Viscount Montgomery at the battle of El-Alamein in November of 1942. Though it was portrayed as a great allied victory, Rommel in fact had about 20 tanks in working condition at the time, and the British had amassed a huge force. Many Egyptians openly sympathized with the Nazis, hoping they would drive out the British. Late in the war, Egypt led other Arab countries j in formulating the Alexandria Protocol,  leading to formation of the Arab League, to pressure the British for independence and to ensure

The 1948 war against Israel - The Egyptian government joined in the war against Israel in 1948 reluctantly, the Prime Minister Nokrashy Pasha predicting defeat. The government perceived that the Egyptian public would not allow it to stand aside and abandon the Palestinian people, and like other Arab governments, the Egyptians responded to the call of the Arab League and attacked Israel. The Egyptian army was not ready for a war however. King Farouk was notorious for his obesity and womanizing, rather than being known for good government. Egyptian forces equipped with tanks and airplanes were stalemated by Israeli forces using makeshift artillery and mortars for the most part. When the Israelis acquired modern weapons during the war, they swept through the Egyptian forces and reached Eilat, reconquering the Negev for Israel.  Gamal Abdel Nasser was among many Egyptian soldiers trapped in the Faluja pocket and exchanged as prisoners of war. Nasser and other officers who witnessed this humiliating defeat, attributed it to the corrupt regime of King Farouk. They formed the Free Officers Movement to overthrow the government.

King Farouk

Nasser - On the 23rd of July 1952, the Free Officer Movement led by Gamal Abd El-Nasser seized power in a bloodless revolution which allowed King Farouk to leave the country with a full royal salute. On the 18th of June 1953, the monarchy ended. Egypt was declared a Republic and Mohamad Naguib was named as the first President. However, in 1954, Nasser arrested Naguib and assumed control as the second president. Nasser inaugurated the policy of pan-Arabism, attempting to unite all of the Arabs under Egypt. He was a very dynamic figure and his portrait adorned almost every cafe in the Arab Middle East.  Nasser was adept at maneuvering Egypt into a position of leadership in the non-aligned bloc that he helped to create.


During Nasser's presidency, extensive agricultural and industrial development projects were carried out including agrarian reform and other socialist projects. Progressive economic and social reforms were implemented, but often grandiose projects such as the Aswan High Dam did not prove to economically beneficial, and economic gains were swallowed up by the burgeoning population. Egypt remained a poor country, plagued by overpopulation and chronic schistasomiasis infections in a large portion of its population. Felahin (peasants) on the Nile farmed the land much as their ancestors had done thousands of years ago.

Rebuffed by the West, Nasser turned to the USSR for aid in building his Aswan High Dam and to communist Czechoslovakia for help in equipping a modern army. Nasser tried to pursue a policy of compromise with Israel, hoping at first to make some territorial gains in the Negev through a US-mediated cessation of hostilities, that would fall short of a peace treaty. In 1954 however, Egyptians uncovered an Israeli plot to blow up the US information agency and other institutions and thereby discredit Nasser with the West. Egyptian Jews were forced to leave Egypt and Egyptian policy toward Israel hardened. A series of border raids by Egyptians or by Palestinians sponsored by Egyptians led to an ever-increasing cycle of violence.

In 1956, angered by Western refusal to finance the Aswan High Dam, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, drawing the ire of Britain and France. Nasser also closed the straits of Tiran and Suez Canal to Israeli shipping. Britain and France, in turn, joined with Israel in plotting the invasion of Sinai and retaking of the Suez Canal. In October of 1956, Israeli troops conquered the Sinai peninsula within 100 hours and inflicted a humiliating military defeat on Egypt. However, Nasser turned the defeat into a diplomatic and moral victory. Pressure by the UN and in particular the USA, forced the British and French to withdraw almost immediately. UN General Assembly Resolution 997 called for immediate withdrawal. Though Israeli troops remained in Sinai for many months, pressure by the USA and guarantees of right of passage brought Israeli withdrawal in 1957.

 Nasser became immensely popular throughout the Arab world as a hero who could stand up to the Western imperialists, and he leveraged on his new success to spread the doctrine of Pan-Arabism and to gain further support from the USSR. He involved Egypt in a long and costly war in Yemen (1962-1967) and made an unsuccessful attempt at creating a United Arab Republic, including Syria and Yemen. The name remained for many years, but only Egypt is part of the United Arabic Republic.

Sinai Campaign - Map

In the 1960s Nasser began the series of moves that was supposed  to guarantee his place in history as liberator of Palestine and to establish Pan-Arabism as the leading ideology of the Arab world, with Egypt at its head. This was to be accomplished by rallying Arab countries around the task of destroying Israel. Instead, his policy ultimately ended in the humiliation of Egypt in the 6 day war and the demise of Pan Arabism. In several summit conferences beginning in 1964 under Egyptian leadership and prodding, Arab leaders decided on establishment of the PLO, declared their resolve to destroy Israel, and decided to divert the sources of the Jordan river that feed the Sea of Galilee, to prevent Israel from implementing its water carrier plan. These efforts led to escalating border incidents and Soviet-inspired rumors of an imminent Israeli invasion of Syria. At the same time, Egypt began purchasing arms in large quantities from the Soviet Union.

Against this background, in Mid-May, 1967, Nasser again closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and dismissed the UN peace force from the Sinai Peninsula. The United States failed to live up to its guarantees of freedom of the waterways to Israel, given in return for Israeli withdrawal from Egypt in 1956.

Nasser said on May 27, "Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight." On May 28, he added: "We will not accept any...coexistence with Israel...Today the issue is not the establishment of peace between the Arab states and Israel....The war with Israel is in effect since 1948."

Egypt scrapped a planned attack because of security leaks. The Six Day War began when Israel attacked first on June 5, 1967, and inflicted humiliating defeats on Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Egypt was the most affected, losing all of the Sinai. The defeat was so humiliating that the war is often disregarded entirely in Egyptian histories. Nasser offered to resign, but was recalled to office by enthusiastic crowds. To excuse the Egyptian defeat, he spread the false claim that Israel received aid from the United States Sixth Fleet.

With the aid of the Soviet Union, Nasser continued to fight Israel across the Suez Canal in the intermittently escalating War of Attrition. However, he died of a heart attack in September, 1970. (see Nasser, Gamal Abdel)


Sadat - Anwar El-Sadat assumed office following the death of Nasser, and offered to make peace with Israel in return for Israeli withdrawal. Israeli PM Golda Meir refused to negotiate despite the advice of war hero Moshe Dayan and others, because she believed that Sadat's offer was insincere. Sadat kept threatening to attack in Sinai, declaring successive dates to be the time of decision, and alternately dismissing and recalling Soviet advisors. All this seemingly erratic behavior was carefully calculated to lull the Israeli intelligence establishment into complacency, and it succeeded.

On October 6th, 1973, on the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the holiest and most solemn Jewish holiday, the Egyptian army crossed the Suez Canal, stormed the Bar Lev line and recaptured parts of Sinai occupied by Israel in 1967. The Israelis were caught by surprise in more ways than one. Egyptians poured huge numbers of troops across the canal unopposed and began setting up beachhead. The Israel Army had neglected basic maintenance tasks and drill. As Israeli troops mustered, it became apparent that equipment was missing and tanks were out of commission. The line of outposts built as observation posts along the Suez canal - the Bar Lev line, was used instead as a line of fortifications intended to hold off the Egyptians as long as possible. A tiny number of soldiers faced the Egyptian onslaught and were wiped out after stubborn resistance. The Soviets had sold the Egyptians new technology - better surface to air missiles (SAM) and hand held Sager anti-tank weapons. Israel had counted on air power to tip the balance on the battlefield, and had neglected artillery. But the Israeli air-force was initially neutralized because of the effectiveness of SAM missiles, until Israel could destroy the radar stations controlling them. Futile counterattacks continued in Sinai for several days as Israeli divisions coped with traffic jams that prevented concentration of forces, and with effective Egyptian resistance.

The US granted an air lift of military aid to Israel, previously withheld for many months, reportedly after Israel had threatened to use nuclear weapons in Sinai. Israel counterattacked across the Suez Canal and surrounded the Egyptian third army.

In return for the aid, the Americans demanded, and got, Israeli flexibility in postwar negotiations. Under the auspices of US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the Israelis and Egyptians negotiated successive Israeli withdrawals. Israel was forced to concede with bad grace what it had refused to concede before the war. The US leveraged on its influence with Israel to replace the USSR as the patron and ally of Egypt. After so many defeats, the Arabs could hold their heads high again.

Sadat understood that the endless wars with Israel could not continue. Egypt had mortgaged its cotton crop and gone deep into debt to buy arms several times, and had suffered tens of thousands of casualties in two terrible wars and the war of attrition. Despite this effort, while a demonstration such as the October war could grant the Egyptians a moral victory, there was no chance of vanquishing Israel. Sadat believed Egypt needed urgently to return to Egyptian concerns, and to develop its own society and resources. Sadat's policies had reversed the humiliation of the Nasser years and put Egypt at the head of the Arab world as the country able to defeat Israel. This should have catapulted Anwar Sadat to immense popularity, but that was not to be.

To overcome the state of belligerency, President Sadat announced that he would be ready to go even to the Knesset in Jerusalem to get back Egyptian land and make peace. This pronouncement, which seemed unbelievable at the time, turned out to be quite sincere, to the utter astonishment of many. Sadat visited Israel and spoke in the Israeli Knesset in November 1977. In reality, peace became possible both because of Sadat's imaginative realism, and because Israeli PM Menahem Begin, who believed in Greater Israel, saw a way to negotiate peace with the major enemy of Israel, without making any concessions on the Palestinian issue. Peace negotiations, under the auspices of US President Jimmy Carter, were difficult. Sadat refused to give up a millimeter of land in Sinai. Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin refused to yield on the Palestinian issue. Ultimately, the American intermediaries forced a compromise. Israel would give up all of Sinai, while Egypt would be content with lip service to the Palestinian cause. This compromise was made easier because the Palestine Liberation Organization boycotted the peace talks, and refused to recognize Israel under any circumstances or to abide by UN Security Council Resolution 242. The PLO, the Syrians, Iraqis and others, and aided and encouraged by the USSR, formed the "refusal front," refusing to recognize Israel and, for a long time, boycotting Egypt. The Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty was signed in March 1979.

The Sadat period witnessed changes in the political, social and economic domains, and at the same time, the private sector was given a greater share in the country's economy through the implementation of the "Open Door Policy."

Sadat's policy of peace with Israel was attacked by Egyptian intellectuals. He turned away from the impractical socialist schemes of the Nasser period and tried to introduce a market economy. Intellectuals and opposition politicians felt he was threatening the gains of the revolution. He was widely rumored to be corrupt and extravagant in personal taste. In October 1981, Sadat was assassinated by Muslim Brotherhood Islamist fanatics as he was reviewing a parade commemorating the Egyptian victory in the October war.

>> The Brief History of Israel and Palestine has more information about Egyptian wars with Israel and the peace process.

Mubarrak -  Vice President Hosny Mubarak succeeded Sadat as President. Mubarak has remained in office since then, and is rumored to be grooming his son as successor.

Despite Arab world pressure, Egypt has adhered at least to the formal requirements of its peace treaty with Israel, though the peace is not popular in Egypt and it is a "cold" peace, without extensive trade or tourist relationships. Egyptian media are sharply critical of Israel, in part because of Israeli treatment of Palestinians. However, attacks on Israel in state controlled media include antisemitic propaganda such as assertions that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a factual document rather than a forgery. Egypt has successfully played the role of mediator at several very critical junctures in the peace process with the Palestinians. It has gradually broken the wall of isolation that was originally formed by the "refusal front." Together with other moderate Arab countries it has helped to shape reasonable Arab diplomatic initiatives to bring peace in the Middle East.


Though the status of human rights in Egypt has improved since the rule of Nasser, Egypt does not enjoy a democratic society in the Western sense. Dissidents who protest against election fraud, like Saad Eddin Ibrahim, are often jailed arbitrarily for long periods. The Egyptian government is also fighting a serious war against violent Muslim extremists. In addition to assassinating President Sadat, extremists have attacked foreign tourists and others repeatedly, and Egypt unwillingly harbors organizations that are clearly part of the extremist Al-Qaeda movement of Osama bin Laden. Unfortunately, Egypt's war on terror has often been conducted without benefit of due process. Suppression of all Islamist political activity may inevitably breed more dangerous violence.

Economic reforms undertaken under Mubarak aimed at diverting finance towards productive investment in industry and agriculture. The main features of Egypt's national economic policy under President Mubarak are the efforts to broaden the economic base by promoting local, Arab and foreign investment. A process of successful privatization has started, the stock exchange has been revived, and reform programs with the IMF and the World Bank have been signed and implemented. However, Egypt remains a poor nation with serious economic problems. In 1991, Egypt played an important and positive role in the allied coalition that forced Iraq's Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait.

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