Egypt is a country largely covered by desert, but its geographic location has made it a crossroads of
conflict and conquest for thousands of years. Having produced one of the world's great civilizations that
lasted for more than 3,000 years, Egypt was overrun in succession by the Persians, the Greeks, the
Romans, and the Byzantines. The Arabs introduced Islam and the Arabic language in the 7th century
and ruled for the next six hundred years. The Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt in 1517, and the British
took over in 1882. In the early 1950s, a group of military commanders staged a coup and established
the socialist government that Egypt has today.
Following the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Egypt became an important world transportation
Egypt controls the Sinai Peninsula, the only land bridge between Africa and the rest of the Eastern
Hemisphere. It also controls the Suez Canal, a sea link between the Indian Ocean and the
Cairo, the capital, is a large bustling city, filled with congested, chaotic traffic, skyscrapers, and all the
amenities found in any modern city. International fast food franchises can be found all over the country,
and these serve as popular gathering places for many. Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city, was a
magnificent place in ancient times. Although most of its old splendor has disappeared, Alexandria's
location on the Mediterranean coast makes it a popular holiday spot for both Egyptians and Europeans.
Outside of Cairo entertainment generally is limited, and most people spend leisure time visiting friends
and family. The coffeehouse is the centerpiece of social life throughout Egypt, but the cafes are
patronized almost exclusively by men. Rigid social norms limit women's freedom, and after many years
of progress toward equality, conservative views are on the increase. One result is that more women are
now wearing hijab, the traditional head scarf worn by Muslim women. About 90% of the population of
Egypt are Sunni Muslim and religion plays a dominant role in Egyptian life. Most holiday celebrations are
tied to religion, and therefore public entertainment such as rock, jazz or pop concerts are almost
One of Egypt's major problems is overcrowding. It has the largest population in the Arab world, with
most people living in the fertile valley along the Nile River. Schools in Cairo operate three shifts a day in
order to accommodate all the students, and even the universities are overcrowded and understaffed.
Job opportunities are limited, and people with university degrees can be found driving taxis and working
in other low-skill jobs. Although there are great risks involved, some young people have resorted to
paying smugglers to take them to Europe where they hope to find better lives.
In spite of the influence of religion, Egypt is still considered the center of popular culture in the Arab
world. The country has long had an important film industry centered in Cairo. Music, dance and literature
have all been major features of Egyptian cultural life. In the last two decades, television has had a huge
impact on the Egyptian film industry and on society in general. Satellite dishes are a familiar sight in city
and country alike, bringing programming from other parts of the Arab world, Europe and the U.S.
Egypt today is a country marked by sharp disparities of wealth, a rapidly growing population, limited
arable land, and dependence on the Nile--all of which continue to overtax resources and stress society.
The government has responded to some of these challenges with repressive measures; religious-based
parties are illegal and a tight lid is kept on organizations that attempt to oppose the government. These
actions have only served to exacerbate the dissatisfaction felt by growing numbers of Egyptians as they
struggle to improve their lives.
More information on Egypt can be found at the following web sites:
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