Egypt has a long history whose civilisation is one of the earliest recorded, and one that has left us with awe inspiring monuments. The Sphinx, the Great Pyramid, and the ruins of Luxor all give amazing glimpses into the success of this long-lasting civilisation.
History of Egypt
The history of Egypt is one of the longest in the world. The first known inhabitants of the Nile Valley were hunter-gatherers who lived there as early as 10,000 BC. By 5,000 BC, these early inhabitants had developed agriculture and began to build permanent settlements and an advanced civilisation.
The first Egyptian civilization, known as the Predynastic Period, lasted from 5000 to 3000 BC. During this time, Egypt was divided into a number of small kingdoms, each with its own ruler. In 3100 BC, the first pharaoh, Narmer, united Egypt under a single rule. From this point on, early Egyptian history is divided into three golden ages; the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms with short periods of strife in between before eventual decline.
The Dynastic period, refers to the ruling family, with each dynasty having a series of rulers sharing a common ancestor. Thirty-one dynasties span from 3150 BC to 332 BC. Note that some dynasties ruled concurrently, or only ruled part of Egypt, and these periods tend to be during the intermediate periods between the three golden ages. The last two dynasties belong to the Greco-Roman period from 332 BC until eventual incorporation into the Roman Empire in 30 BC.
The Old Kingdom
The Old Kingdom, which lasted from 3100 to 2181 BC, was a time of great prosperity for Egypt. The pharaohs built massive pyramids, temples, and other monuments, and developed a sophisticated system of government. It was during this this period that iconic Great Pyramid of Giza and Great Sphinx of Giza were built. At the end of the Old Kingdom came the First Intermediate Period, a dark period spanning from 2181 BC to 2055 BC in which Egypt was divided into two competing kingdoms before eventual reunification under a single ruler again.
The Middle Kingdom
The Middle Kingdom, which lasted from 2055 BC to 1650 BC, was a time of relative peace and stability with flourishing trade and agriculture. The pharaohs re-established the administration and good governance developed in the Old Kingdom and continued to build great monuments. As with the Old Kingdom, history today marks the end of this period with Egypt being divided again into smaller dynasties and entry into what is called today, The Second Intermediate Period.
This period lasted from 1650 BC to 1550 BC and saw competing dynasties with threats also from outside of Egypt. The final dynasty of this period succeeded in overall control and expelled external invaders to usher in a new golden age.
The New Kingdom
The New Kingdom, which lasted roughly from 1550 to 1077 BC, was the most prosperous and territorially expansive age of ancient Egypt. Egypt also became a major power in the region, with Ramesses II bringing Egypt to the height of its power. The famous boy-pharaoh Tutankhamun, famous because of his untouched tomb being found in 1922, lived during this period.
Extended warfare against invading Libyans and the Sea Peoples drained Egypt's resources but corruption, droughts, famine, and subsequent unrest made the dynasty so weak that The Third Intermediate Period can be seen to have begun in 1069 BC. This period was dominated by non-native Egyptians and as vassals of the Assyrians. This period ended when vassalhood was shaken off and Egypt reunited again by 554 BC.
The Late Period of ancient Egypt
This period saw the final decline of the native Egyptian rulers and lasted between 664 BC to 332 BC. This period also saw the Persian Empire rule Egypt, with famous Persian Emperors such as Xerses I and Darius the Great rule Egypt as Pharaohs through their Satraps. The final Persian Emperor, Darius III was defeated by the Alexander the Great and marked the beginning of the Hellenistic and Argead dynasty. This lasted 23 years and ended with the death of Alexander. After this came the Ptolemaic dynasty, under Ptolemy, a companion of Alexander during his great conquests and ended in 30 BC upon incorporation into the Roman and later transition to the Byzantine Empire.
The Middle Ages (7th century to 1517)
Apart from brief control by the Sasanid Persians, Egypt was controlled by the Roman/Byzantines but the Arab conquests took Egypt and no serious attempt to take it back occurred after 654 despite the capital of Fustat being burned down during the Crusades in 1168. Part of this 'old Cairo' can be seen in modern Cairo which sprung up around it but much has fallen into disrepair. Cairo grew to be a large and rich city in the Arabic world, second only to Baghdad.
Ottoman Egypt (1517-1914)
The Ottomans became a major power and brought to an end the Byzantine Empire by conquering Constantinople in 1453, The Ottomans expanded into Christian Europe as well as neighbouring Muslims including Egypt. Control of Egypt was difficult due to the enduring influence of the replaced previous rulers, the Mamluks, but was lost to the Napoleonic French in 1898.With the defeat of Napoleon by the British, an Ottoman military commander seized power in 1805 and established a dynasty that lasted until 1952.
Though considered part of the Ottoman Empire for much of this period, Egypt behaved autonomously and made its own conquests to become an actual rival to Ottoman authority. A poorly performing economy led to all of the shares of strategically important The Suez Canal being sold to Britain. Discontent led to nationalist uprisings against the Ottoman state. Intervention by the British crushed the uprising, making the Ottoman province a protectorate of the British.
Sultanate and Kingdom of Egypt (1914-1953)
The Ottoman Empire entered World War 1 on the side of Germany and the British replaced the Ottoman ruler with his brother. Assuming the title of Sultan, he soon announced Egypt to be independent under the protection of the United Kingdom. Nationalist discontent moved the UK to declare Egypt independent in 1922, ushering in the Kingdom of Egypt until 1953.By treaty, British troops withdrew in 1936 apart from the area around the Suez canal in order to guard the route to its Asian interests.
During World War 2, Egypt kept itself neutral, although Egypt was used by the Allied powers as a base for operations against Italy and Germany in North Africa and the Mediterranean. After the War, Britain pulled back to its bases around the Suez Canal but British actions during World War 2 saw anti-British hostility and in 1951 the Egyptian government tore up the 1936 treaty and ordered all British troops to leave.
The British refused this order resulting in the Egyptian government banning cooperation with the British and sponsored guerrilla attacks against the British, supported by the police. A battle with the police saw major loss of life, enraging Egyptians. The government was overthrown leading to the Republic of Egypt in 1953.
From 1953 to the present
The Republic of Egypt came under military control and saw the Republic of Egypt give way to the United Arab Republic in 1958 when Egypt and Syria joined in union. although Syria seceded only three years later in 1962. President Nasser spanned both eras until his death in 1970. His governance was effective, bringing many Egyptians out of poverty and improved social mobility.
However, his biggest folly occurred in 1967 when based upon false reports from the Soviet Union about an impending Israeli attack on Syria, he deployed his forces against Israel to make an attack on Egypt inevitable. Israel was spectacularly triumphant in the Six-Day War against an Arab coalition comprising of mainly Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
In 1971 President Sadat took the reigns of Egyptian power and aligned with the Western powers and away from the Soviet Union although that didn't stop him attacking Israel in 1973 (Yom-Kippur War). Partial successes restored Egypt's confidence that Israel would not always dominate its Arab neighbours and later exchanged areas that Israel occupied for long term peace. Although hugely controversial in the Arab world, it was supported by most Egyptians. An Islamist extremist assassinated Sadat in 1981.
Mubarak replaced Sadat in 1981 and stayed in power till 2011. Growth in the economy could not keep pace with population growth and dissent made an appearance through riots and curfews. Terrorist attacks on tourists as well as internal officials and Christians led to even more severe crackdowns until in 2011, as part of the wider Arab Spring, Mubarak was forced out and the first true parliamentary election was held since Sadat came to power.
Several crises later, Egypt still exists as a democracy although one gets the feel that this is finely poised to go either way.