Egypt's principal physiographic feature, the Nile River, runs the length of the country, some 1450 km, from the Sudan to the Mediterranean. The damming of the river in the far south by the Aswan High Dam has created a vast artificial lake, Lake Nasser. Below this, the flat, silted valley, at times only a few kilometers wide and edged by high cliffs, widens gradually, fanning out below Cairo, the country's capital, to form the Nile delta, the most densely populated region in Egypt. About 96 per cent of the country is desert and very sparsely populated, except for the few oases: Siwa, Farafirah and Kharijah. Egypt's highest mountain, Mount Catherine (2637 meters), and Mount Sinai (2285 meters) are located in the Sinai Peninsula, a plateau broken by deep valleys.
The climate is warm and dry with a large daily temperature range. The interior is arid, but the coastal region receives 100-200 mm rainfall a year and experiences much less extreme variations in temperature.
In March, April and May, khamsins, which are hot, oppressive winds, sweep in across the deserts from the south and south-east.
Most animal and plantlife is restricted to the Nile Valley and delta. There are many varieties of birds, including the golden oriole, flamingo, quail and snipe. The crocodile and hippopotamus are now found only in the upper Nile Valley, although they were once common to the whole river valley.
Foxes jackals, hyenas, boar and wild asses are found in the delta and mountains near the Red Sea. In the desert are gazelles and many reptiles, including the venomous asp and the horned viper. Date palms, sycamore, tamarisk, acacia and carob trees are indigenous, and various other trees have been introduced, including eucalyptus, elm and cypresses.
As in the past, the foundation of Egypt's economy today rests mainly on agriculture.
However, since 1952, the government has made significant improvements in industry. In the Nile Valley, agricultural production levels are very high because of the extreme fertility of the soil and the regular water supply. Although plots are small, rarely over 1 ha, they produce two to three crops a year; the use of labor intensive methods and fertilizers has helped increase yields even more. The principal cash crop is cotton, one of Egypt's main exports, along with dates, sugar, corn and rice.
The major minerals produced are oil, salt, iron ore, phosphates, manganese, coal and gold. Manufacturing is mainly concentrated around Cairo and Alexandria and is mostly concerned with the processing of raw materials and oil refining; there is a large textile industry. The state owns much of the economy and plays a large part in economic planning. Major trading partners are the United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, West Germany and Czechoslovakia.
The principal imports are food, chemicals and machines.
Egypt possesses an extensive railway system with over 8,000 km of track and about 22,000 km of road, only half of which is sealed. The ancient means of transport, the Nile River, is still widely used. Cairo is the site of an international airport, and the major ports are Alexandria, Port Said and Suez. The Suez Canal, linking the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, is one of Egypt's most important sources of foreign exchange. It was closed during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and, although cleared and dredged, remained shut throughout the first half of the 1970s, reopening in 1975. Egypt has a sophisticated state owned radio and television network, and much of its broadcasting is directed towards the other Arab countries. The Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Ahram is one of the most widely read in the Middle East.
Egypt's population is descended from the ancient Egyptians, Arabs, black Africans, Berbers, Greeks and Turks. Some 92 per cent of the people is Sunni Muslim, and Islam is the state religion; about 7 per cent is Coptic Christians. The vast bulk of people lives in the Nile delta and Nile Valley; some 40 per cent of the population is urban. Cairo has a population of 19,439,541 (2006) and Alexandria 4,110,015 (2006).
Egypt is a country of immense antiquity. Its history, the oldest recorded history in Western civilization, dates back 5,000 years. United into a single kingdom in about 3,200 BC by the semi-legendary Pharaoh Menes, the nation was ruled by a succession of dynasties down to the time of Alexander the Great, who conquered Egypt in 332 BC.
Under three centuries later, it was part of the Roman Empire, being administered by Roman and then Byzantine governors until it was conquered by the Persians in AD 616. Egypt was conquered by the Arabs in 641 and incorporated into Islam. After the ninth century, the country passed to a series of native dynasties and, in the thirteenth century, to the Mamelukes, a military dynasty of Turkish slaves. The country was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1517 and remained, nominally at any rate, a part of the Ottoman Empire until it was declared a British protectorate during World War I.
As a result of their interest in the Suez Canal, the British remained in Egypt as the protecting power until after World War II. Egypt became an independent kingdom and ally of Britian, under British auspices, in 1923. The last king, Farouk, was overthrown by a military coup d'etat in 1952, and Colonel Abdul Gamel Nasser became president of the new republic. Bitterly opposed to the partition of Palestine in 1948, Egypt played a major role in the war between the Arab states and the newly created state of Israel; Egypt was defeated. In 1956, the Egyptian nationalization of the Suez Canal brought her to the brink of war with Britain and France.
In 1958, Egypt and Syria and, later, the Yemen joined to form the United Arab Republic, but the union soon dissolved because of internal stresses, and Egypt turned to the Soviet Union for technical and military aid. War broke out again with Israel in 1967; it lasted for six days and Egypt lost the whole of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip.
The country was bedeviled by internal dissension and continuing hostilities with Israel throughout the rest of the 1960s. Nasser died in 1970, and Anwar Sadat became president. A new war with Israel in 1973 resulted once again in a massive defeat for Egypt. An armed truce between the two nations continued until Sadat took the initiative and flew to Jerusalem in 1977 to attempt to arrange lasting peace between Egypt and Israel. A peace treaty was finally arranged in 1979, the agreement made Egypt the first Arab state to officially recognize Israel. It brought to an end over 30 years of hostility. The peace since the treaty has lasted for thirty years.