Egypt is a country in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge to Western Asia. Egypt borders the Mediterranean Sea to the north, the Gaza Strip and Israel to the northeast, the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south and Libya to the west.
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. Egyptian youth and opposition groups, inspired by events in Tunisia leading to overthrow of the government there, organized a "Day of Rage" campaign on 25 January 2011 (Police Day) to include non-violent demonstrations, marches, and labor strikes in Cairo and other cities throughout Egypt. Protester grievances focused on police brutality, state emergency laws, lack of free speech and elections, high unemployment, rising food prices, inflation, and low minimum wages. Within several days of the onset of protests, President Mubarak addressed the nation pledging the formation of a new government, and in a second address he offered additional concessions, which failed to assuage protesters and resulted in an escalation of the number and intensity of demonstrations and clashes with police. On 11 February, recently appointed Vice President Suliman announced Mubarak's resignation and the assumption of national leadership by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). The SCAF dissolved the Egyptian parliament, suspended the nation's constitution, and formed a committee to recommend constitutional changes to facilitate a political transition through democratic elections. In early March, Essam Sharaf replaced Ahmed Shafik as Prime Minister and by mid-month a constitutional referendum was approved. In early July, the SCAF announced that elections for parliament would take place in September, but the date was later changed to November, and was to be followed by a redrafting of the constitution and a presidential election. In July 2011, opposition discontent over the slow pace of SCAF progress in transitioning the government led to a resumption of protests in Cairo and over a dozen other cities; less frequent, smaller demonstrations and protests continued through October. Following the arrest of Mubarak and other high-ranking officials in mid-April, a trial in which Mubarak is accused of corruption and complicity in the deaths of nearly 900 protesters began in early August, was temporarily suspended in September, and is scheduled to resume in late December. Elections for a new parliament were scheduled for late November 2011.
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Overview: 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 opened up considerably under former Presidents Anwar El-Sadar and Mohamed Hosni Mubarak. Cairo from 2004 to 2008 aggressively pursued economic reforms to attract foreign investment and facilitate GDP growth. Despite the relatively high levels of economic growth in recent years, living conditions for the average Egyptian remained poor and contributed to public discontent. After unrest erupted in January 2011, the Egyptian Government drastically increased social spending to address public dissatisfaction, but political uncertainty at the same time caused economic growth to slow significantly, reducing the government's revenues. Tourism, manufacturing, and construction are among the hardest hit sectors of the Egyptian economy, and economic growth is likely to remain slow at least through 2012. The government is utilizing foreign exchange reserves to support the Egyptian pound and Egypt may seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund.
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Published: Thursday, September 04, 2008
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