Official Name: Arab Republic of Egypt
Established: 3150 BC (Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt), 28 February 1922 (Independence from United Kingdom)
Population: 100,075,480 (2020 estimate)
Religion: 85% Muslim, 10% Coptic Christians
Order of Visit: Thirtieth
First Visit: 6 June 2009
Last Visit: 21 June 2009
Duration: 16 Days
Cairo: Sakkah Pyramids, Giza Pyramids, Egyptian Museum, Mohammed Ali Mosque, Turkish Bazaar
Aswan: Negotiating in local marketplace, Felucca ride, Nubian village visit with dinner at a local house.
Abu Simbel: Experiencing the Great Temple, dedicated to Ramesses II, and the Small Temple, dedicated to Queen Nefertari
Kom Ombo: Felucca sailing from Aswan to Kom Ombo, swimming in the Nile, sleeping on the Nile under the stars, beautiful sunrise over the Nile, Temple of Kom Ombo, Temple of Edfu
Luxor: Luxor Temple, Mummification Museum, Karnak Temple, Luxor Museum
Valley of the Kings: Riding a donkey to the valley (and not falling off), visiting the stunning Queen Hatshepsut Temple, inspecting Ramesses II, Ramesses IV and Ramesses IX tombs.
Hurghada: ATV desert safari
Dahab: Snorkelling in the Red Sea
Sinai Desert: St Catherine’s Monastery, Hiking up Mount Sinai and watching the sunrise over the mountain range.
Places Visited: Aswan, Abu Simbel, Cairo, Dahab, Hurghada, Kom Ombo, Luxor, Sinai Desert, Valley of the Kings
Egypt Journal Entries
History and Geography
Egypt is a transcontinental country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia by a land bridge formed by the Sinai Peninsula. Egypt, a Mediterranean country, is bordered by the Gaza Strip (Palestine) and Israel to the northeast, the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the east, Sudan to the south, and Libya to the west. Across the Gulf of Aqaba lies Jordan, across the Red Sea lies Saudi Arabia, and across the Mediterranean lie Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.
Egypt has one of the longest histories of any country, tracing its heritage along the Nile Delta back to the 6th–4th millennia BCE. Considered a cradle of civilisation, Ancient Egypt saw some of the earliest developments of writing, agriculture, urbanisation, organised religion and central government.
A unified kingdom was founded c. 3150 BCE by King Menes, leading to a series of dynasties that ruled Egypt for the next three millennia. Egyptian culture flourished during this long period and remained distinctively Egyptian in its religion, arts, language and customs.
The First Intermediate Period ushered in a time of political upheaval for about 150 years. Stronger Nile floods and stabilisation of government, however, brought back renewed prosperity for the country in the Middle Kingdom c. 2040 BCE, reaching a peak during the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhat III. A second period of disunity heralded the arrival of the first foreign ruling dynasty in Egypt, that of the Semitic Hyksos. The Hyksos invaders took over much of Lower Egypt around 1650 BCE and founded a new capital at Avaris. They were driven out by an Upper Egyptian force led by Ahmose I, who founded the Eighteenth Dynasty and relocated the capital from Memphis to Thebes.
The New Kingdom c. 1550–1070 BCE began with the Eighteenth Dynasty, marking the rise of Egypt as an international power that expanded during its greatest extension to an empire as far south as Tombos in Nubia, and included parts of the Levant in the east. This period is noted for some of the most well known Pharaohs, including Hatshepsut, Thutmose III, Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti, Tutankhamun and Ramesses II.
The Thirtieth Dynasty was the last native ruling dynasty during the Pharaonic epoch. It fell to the Persians in 343 BCE. The Persians were toppled several decades later by Alexander the Great. The Macedonian Greek general of Alexander, Ptolemy I Soter, then founded the Ptolemaic dynasty.
The Ptolemaic Kingdom was a powerful Hellenistic state, extending from southern Syria in the east, to Cyrene to the west, and south to the frontier with Nubia. Alexandria became the capital city and a centre of Greek culture and trade. To gain recognition by the native Egyptian populace, they named themselves as the successors to the Pharaohs. The later Ptolemies took on Egyptian traditions, had themselves portrayed on public monuments in Egyptian style and dress, and participated in Egyptian religious life.
The last ruler from the Ptolemaic line was Cleopatra VII, who committed suicide following the burial of her lover Mark Antony who had died in her arms (from a self-inflicted stab wound), after Octavian had captured Alexandria and her mercenary forces had fled.
The Byzantines were able to regain control of the country after a brief Sasanian Persian invasion early in the 7th century amidst the Byzantine–Sasanian War of 602–628 during which they established a new short-lived province for ten years known as Sasanian Egypt, until 639–42, when Egypt was invaded and conquered by the Islamic Empire by the Muslim Arabs. When they defeated the Byzantine armies in Egypt, the Arabs brought Sunni Islam to the country.
The Arabs founded the capital of Egypt called Fustat, which was later burned down during the Crusades. Cairo was later built in the year 986 to grow to become the largest and richest city in the Arab Empire, and one of the biggest and richest in the world.
Muslim rulers nominated by the Caliphate remained in control of Egypt for the next six centuries, with Cairo as the seat of the Fatimid Caliphate. With the end of the Kurdish Ayyubid dynasty, the Mamluks, a Turco-Circassian military caste, took control about 1250. By the late 13th century, Egypt linked the Red Sea, India, Malaya, and East Indies.
Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1517, after which it became a province of the Ottoman Empire.
Egypt was invaded by the French forces of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. After the French were defeated by the British, a power vacuum was created in Egypt, and a three-way power struggle ensued between the Ottoman Turks, Egyptian Mamluks who had ruled Egypt for centuries, and Albanian mercenaries in the service of the Ottomans.
After the French were expelled, power was seized in 1805 by Muhammad Ali Pasha, an Albanian military commander of the Ottoman army in Egypt. Muhammad Ali massacred the Mamluks and established a dynasty that was to rule Egypt until the revolution of 1952.
The Suez Canal, built in partnership with the French, was completed in 1869. Its construction was financed by European banks. Large sums also went to patronage and corruption. New taxes caused popular discontent. In 1875 to avoid bankruptcy all Egypt’s shares in the canal were sold to the British government. Within three years this led to the imposition of British and French controllers who sat in the Egyptian cabinet.
After increasing tensions and nationalist revolts, the United Kingdom invaded Egypt in 1882, crushing the Egyptian army at the Battle of Tell El Kebir and militarily occupying the country. Following this Egypt became a de facto British protectorate.
On 8 March 1919, the country arose in its first modern revolution. The revolt led the UK government to issue a unilateral declaration of Egypt’s independence on 22 February 1922 which is considered the start of Modern Egypt as turning into a monarchy.
Following the 1952 revolution, Egypt declared itself a republic, and in 1958 it merged with Syria to form the United Arab Republic, which dissolved in 1961.
In 1970, President Nasser died of a heart attack and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. Sadat switched Egypt’s Cold War allegiance from the Soviet Union to the United States, expelling Soviet advisors in 1972. He launched the Infitah economic reform policy, while clamping down on religious and secular opposition.
Hosni Mubarak came to power after the assassination of Sadat in a referendum in which he was the only candidate. On 17 November 1997, 62 people, mostly tourists, were massacred near Luxor. Constitutional changes voted on 19 March 2007 prohibited parties from using religion as a basis for political activity, allowed the drafting of a new anti-terrorism law, authorised broad police powers of arrest and surveillance, and gave the president power to dissolve parliament and end judicial election monitoring.
On 25 January 2011, widespread protests began against Mubarak’s government. On 11 February 2011, Mubarak resigned and fled Cairo. Mohamed Morsi was elected president on 24 June 2012. On 2 August 2012, Egypt’s Prime Minister Hisham Qandil announced his 35-member cabinet comprising 28 newcomers, including four from the Muslim Brotherhood.
On 3 July 2013, after a wave of public discontent with autocratic excesses of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, the military removed Morsi from office, dissolved the Shura Council and installed a temporary interim government.
On 26 March 2014, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egyptian Defence Minister and Commander-in-Chief Egyptian Armed Forces, retired from the military, announcing he would stand as a candidate in the 2014 presidential election. The poll, held between 26 and 28 May 2014, resulted in a landslide victory for el-Sisi. He also won in landsides in 2018 and has increased the President’s and military’s power of the Government.
What I experienced
Egypt has the longest history of any current country and it is obvious when you visit. You see temples and tombs dating 5,000 years or older. Visiting in 2009 I was lucky to see Egypt before the Government protests and many years on instability that start in 2011 but I could see some disillusioned local including the military who were happy for me to give them a direct ‘fee’ to walked into restricted areas and sit and touch historical objects something I decline but always felt uneasy doing given they had machine guns. You also had a sense that security wasn’t great in several areas in particular all tourists visiting Abu Simbel, which is located near Sudan, we needed a military escort. In the Sinai desert you also saw military personnel watching carefully.
Despite these obvious security issues I loved Egypt. The monuments, statues, paintings, temples and pyramids represented immense history starting from the foundation of human large scale communities commencing. The Giza Pyramids are an obvious highlight but Luxor and the temples at Abu Simbel will stay in my memory as they inspire such awe in those who explore them out close myself included.
Hiking up Mount Sinai starting at 1.30 am was an almost spiritual experience especially listening to different religious groups at the top chanting while the sun rose. Looking out at the mountain range it did feel like only a God could create such pretty. Travelling on a felucca down the Nile is a key memory, swimming in the Nile itself (in a safe area) and sleeping under the stars is a must if you can do it.
The Nile is the life blood of Egypt and seeing this calm cool water with green on it’s banks and than a quick move to desert is both beautiful and worrying at how fast the terrain turns from paradise to potential death.
Cairo is a very crazy city. I recall getting in in the very early morning, I think around 3 am, and sitting in the taxi as it shot around the roads felt like a high stakes video game except I knew I could die! You do need to watch out for individuals who will mislead you or rob you if they can in the largest cities but I felt fine and welcome in the markets and negotiating was a lot of fun even though I normally dislike this practise.
The heat of Egypt was very difficult to handle, you know it’s a problem when all the locals disappear during the middle of the day! However no world traveller can miss Egypt so as long as it is safe to do so I strongly recommend a visit to gain an insight into the ancient world as I could barely list all the highlights in this very lengthy post.