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History from ancient Egypt to the present day

Ancient Egyptian history

Egypt's civilisation goes back thousands of years, and some of the earliest evidence is still available to see. The pyramids at Giza are the most obvious example of the history of ancient Egypt, and they were 1500 years old when Christ was born!

In 3000BC, Menes founded the first of 30 dynasties that would rule over Egypt for the next three millennia. The most famous Pharoah, the boy king Tutenkhamun ruled around 1400BC, and it was not long afterwards that a long decline began during which Egypt was ruled by the Libyans, Assyrians and Nubians. During the 5th century BC Egypt was part of the Persian Empire.

Next came Alexander the Great and later Ptolemaic kings who, although Greek, were greatly influenced by Egyptian culture. They built and expanded many of the temples that still stand today.

4000 years old - the Pyramids at Giza

Following the reign of Cleopatra, Egypt became part of the Roman Empire in 30AD and shortly came under Christianity's influence . By 641AD, Arab invaders had brought Islam to Egypt, and within 400 years the new city of Cairo became one of the most important centres of the Islamic world.

Later Egyptian history

From the 12th century, Saladin and later the Mamelukes ruled Egypt, often in a harsh and corrupt way. Ottoman Turks later rose in influence, until in 1517 Suleiman the Magnificent easily seized Egypt from the disorganised Mamelukes. For the next three centuries Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire.

Napoleon turned his attention to Egypt in 1798. His aim was to control the route to India. The French Revolutionary expeditionary force contributed to deciphering the hieroglyphic script with their discovery of the Rosetta Stone. However, when the French fleet was sunk by Horatio Nelson, Napoleon's force withdrew. This period saw the end of the Ottoman hold on Egypt. Out of the ensuing chaos, came a new leader Mohamed Ali Pasha who modernised Egypt and brought it back to a position of importance.

It was a geographical accident that made Egypt the centre of attention from the late 18th century to the mid-20th. The narrow strip of land between the Mediterranian Sea and the Red Sea provided the ideal site for a water route linking the Western and Eastern worlds. Ferdinand de Lesseps completed the Suez Canal in 1869, but within seven years the Egyptians were obliged to sell their 44% share to a French-British co-dominion. Egypt became effectively a British protectorate. The large British and French presence led to a great interest in the ancient relics - initially looting but eventually on a scientific basis.

20th century Egyptian history

Egypt regained its independence in 1922, though Britain maintained control of defence and the Suez Canal. The Western Desert and the canal saw much fighting during World War 2.

In 1948, Egypt and other members of the Arab League declared war on newly formed Israel. The subsequent defeat increased discontent with the extravagant King Farouk, who was ousted by the army. Their leader Gamal Abdel Nasser formed a republic in 1953. Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal and defeated a British, French and Israeli invasion, making Nasser a national hero. A liaison with the USSR resulted in the huge Aswan High Dam which fully controlled the Nile floods and generated enough electricity for all of Egypt's needs. In 1967 Egypt was defeated in the Six Day War with Israel, resulting in Sinai being lost.

Following Nasser's death in 1971, Anwar Sadat cut Egypt's ties with the USSR. In an attempt to restore Egypt's pride, he launched forces across the Suez Canal. Although this was not a military success, it led to the Camp David agreement of 1979 under which Israel withdrew to its 1948 borders. Conciliating with Isreal angered the Muslim extremists who assassinated Sadat in 1981.

His successor, Hosni Mubarak liberalised the economy and permitted more political freedom. This produced a backlash from Islamic fundamentalists whose campaign of terror in the 1990s led to a marked reduction in tourist income. Mubarak is still in power.

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