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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #14 of 54: Djibouti | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #16 of 54: Equatorial Guinea »

May 23, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #15 of 54: Egypt

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- 15. EGYPT Flag of Arab Republic of Egypt Formal name: Arab Republic of Egypt.

Term for Citizens: Egyptians.

Capital: Cairo. Population: 9,586, 000.

Independence Achieved: 1951, from Britain.

Major Cities: Alexandria, Cairo.


Egypt is in Northeast Africa. It is bordered by Israel, Sudan, Libya and the Mediterranean Sea. Egypt encompasses approximately 385,662 square miles. The topography is divided into four regions: Nile Valley and Delta. 99% of the population live here), Western Desert, Eastern Desert and Sinai Peninsular. There is moderate rainfall along the Mediterranean coast, and arid interior. Mild winters (November to April) and very hot summers (May to October).


The population is estimated at 74, 931,000 and mostly concentrated along the banks of the lower Nile and the Mediterranean coast.

Ethnic Groups:

Arabs are the dominant group. Greeks, Nubians, Armenians and Berbers are also present in considerable numbers.

Language: Arabic. The educated class tends to also speak English.

Religion: Over 90% Sunni Muslim; 9% Coptic Christians and 1% other Christians.

Education: Free elementary education. Literacy rate is about 57.7%.

Economy: Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy, with a nascent industrial sector. GDP estimate: $268; Per Capita GDP: $1,310 (world Bank, 2005). Monetary Unit: Pound (EGP).

History and Government:

Egypt has a long history spanning over five thousand years. The legendary Egypt of the Pharos, however, is not today’s Egypt. After Mohammed (570-622 AD) formed the religion of Islam, his followers swept into many lands, including taking over North Africa. The Arabs and their Islamic religion transformed Egypt into what it is today. There was an interregnum of Turkish (Ottoman) rule and European rule, but essentially today’s Egypt is an Islamic republic. The Arabs got rid of their last foreign rulers, Europeans, in 1951. A military coupe in 1952 got rid of king Farouk and established a secular government in Egypt. Egypt has a very strong presidential government. That government is a continuation of Gamal Nasser’s 1952 military coup against King Farouk. In effect, Egypt has a military dominated non-democratic government. President Hosni Mubarak has been in office since 1981, he took office when some fundamentalist Muslims assassinated his predecessor, President Anwar Sadat. There is tension between the quasi-military rulers and the fundamentalist Muslims who agitate to impose theocratic government on Egypt. The result is a tendency for the government to suppress the Islamists while at the same time allowing them to absorb frustrated unemployed persons. Religion is often where frustrated persons give vent to their paint up anger, this time redirected to Western countries. Egypt is divided into 26 regions with governors appointed for each by the president.

Egypt is an ancient country with a long history that cannot be reviewed in a few lines. Let us just observe that in the seventh century that victorious Arab Moslems swept into what is now called Egypt and began their rule. Thereafter, Egypt was converted to Islam and to speaking of the Arabic language and is now considered an Arab country. Indeed, Egypt is considered the headquarters of the Arab world.

In 1517 Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Turks who ruled her until the coming of the Europeans. The various European countries, at one time or another, made their presence felt in Egypt, Napoleon, for example, landed his troops in Egypt, and the French constructed the Suez Canal in 1869, but it was in the late 1800s that Egypt officially became a European colony. Apparently, Egypt owed Great Britain a lot of money, and the British had invested heavily in Egypt and feared loss of their investments and to protect their investments Britain invaded and colonized Egypt in 1882.

Britain ruled Egypt through the Second World War, although the Egyptians were given nominal self rule within the British Empire. In 1952, there was a military coup that overthrew the king of Egypt, King Farouk. In 1953, Egypt was declared a republic and Gamal Abdel Nasser began his rule, a rule that lasted through 1970 when he died while in office.

During Nasser’s rule, Egypt had several wars with Israel including in 1956, 1967. In 1956, fearing the radical rule of Nasser, Britain and her allies seized the Suez Canal and provoked an international crisis. The opposition of the United States prevented an out right war from breaking out between the Europeans and the Arabs.

Nasser attempted to form what he called a United Arab Republic with some Arab countries, beginning with Syria. These did not pan out. Nasser died and was replaced by Anwar Sadat, another military General.

Under Anwar Sadat the Arabs launched a war against the Israelis in 1973 and were defeated. Thereafter, Sadat changed sides, from being a supporter of the USSR to being the ally of the United States of America. In 1979 Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel and Egypt recognized Israel and got Sinai back from Israeli occupation.

The signing of peace treaty with Israel and the recognition of Israel did not sit well with nationalist Arabs and pro-Palestinian Muslims. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 and was replaced by another military General, Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak has been in office since 1981.

Essentially, Egypt is ruled by the military. However, in 2005 Mubarak made a show of tolerating Democracy and for the first time said that he was going to permit many parties to compete in the elections. But he proceeded to make it difficult for opposition candidates to register and challenge him and was, of course, declared the winner of the presidential election. Let us not be detained by this sham show of democracy. What we have in Egypt is the rule by the military in civilian uniform. The president appoints a prime minister and other ministers and has the ability to remove from office whomever he chooses to remove; hence Egypt is ruled by a strong man.

Egypt is divided into 26 governorates (regions with governors ruling them). These regions are controlled by the central government.

All Egyptian males over the age of 18 are required to serve in the military, although they can defer their military service if they are in school but must serve by age 28.

The military rule of Egypt has seen some economic development of the country, including the construction of the Aswan High Dam in 1971. The signing of the peace accord with Israel brought financial support from the United States and guaranteed the inflow of foreign capital from the West. Last year alone, $2.2 billion dollars of American aid came to Egypt. (To put that amount in perspective, consider that during the same period, all of black Africa, over 500 million persons, received about $250 million in American foreign aid.)

By African standards, Egypt is doing well economically but by Western standards she is a backward country. The income per capita of the 77 million Egyptians is US $1310 a year. Many Egyptians irk out marginal living from farming, which is done mostly along the banks of River Nile (the rest of the country is arid).

Interestingly, the original Egyptians tend to be found in rural farm areas, as the Fellahin, while their Arab conquerors tend to be concentrated in the cities, particularly around Cairo region. It is estimated that about 60% of Egypt is composed of descendants of original Egyptians. The ruling class of contemporary Egypt is of Arab origin.

Egypt is a strong ally of the Americans. Therefore, Americans seem to look the other way rather than insist that pure democracy prevail in Egypt. Moreover, it is evident that if democratic elections were held that the result might not be to the likings of the Americans. The recent democratic election in Palestine that saw the victory of Hamas may not be what the West desires. Such an election in Egypt may result in coming to power of fundamentalist Muslims who are hostile to the West. Therefore, the West seems to condone the rule of undemocratic elements in the Arab world, provided that these elements support it. Thus, the continued rule of the Mubarak government.

The military rulers of Egypt are noted for their repression of decent. However, these days they seem to be increasingly permitting free press, up to a point, any way. As it were, they feel it fit to keep a strong lid on fundamentalist Muslims who would like to move Egypt into a theocratic form of government with Sharia, Muslim law, as their preferred jurisprudence. Nevertheless, the media seem to be alive and thriving in Egypt; they self censor and do not go to any “no-go areas” and if they do, well, they become unemployed or worse.

Posted by Administrator at May 23, 2006 09:39 AM


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