Capital city : Cairo
Area : 1,001,449 sq km
Population : 69,500,000
Language : Arabic (official), English, French, German, Italian and Spanish
Time zone : GMT +2.00 (+3.00 during summer)
Currency : Egyption pound (EGP)
Religion : Muslim 94%, Christian 6%
Nationality : Egyptian(s)
Ethnic groups : Egyptian, Bedouin Arab and Nubian
Most of the country lies in Africa. However, the Sinai Peninsula which lies in the easternmost portion of Egypt is considered to be a part of Asia. This peninsula forms the only land bridge between the two continents. Egypt is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea on the north; on the east by the Gaza Strip, Israel, and the Red Sea; on the south by Sudan; and on the west by Libya.
The climate is moderate all year round. Midsummer can be hot, but is rarely humid. Winter is generally sunny and pleasant, but temperatures fall at night, especially in the desert. Heavier rainfall is usually confined to January and February.
In north eastern Egypt, the Nile Delta is where most Egyptian economic activity takes place. In the last 30 years, the government has reformed the highly centralized economy it inherited from President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
During the 1990s, a series of International Monetary Fund arrangements, coupled with massive external debt relief resulting from Egypt's participation in the Gulf War coalition, helped Egypt improve its macroeconomic performance.
Since the turn of the new millennium, The pace of structural reforms, including fiscal, monetary policies, privatization and new business legislations, helped Egypt to move towards a more market-oriented economy and prompted increased foreign investment. The reforms and policies have strengthened macroeconomic annual growth results which averaged 5% annually but the government largely failed to equitably share the wealth and the benefits of growth have failed to trickle down to improve economic conditions for the broader population, especially with the growing problem of unemployment and underemployment among youth under the age of 30 years.
A youth protest demanding more political freedoms, fighting corruption and delivering improved living standards forced President Mubarak to step down on February 11, 2011. In the Post-Mubarak Era the Egyptian economy faces a rocky road to stabilize the economy after 18 days of protests which may cut economic growth in the Fiscal Year ending June 2011 to about 2%.
Egyptian is a nation and ethnic group of Mediterranean North Africans indigenous to Egypt.
Egyptian identity is closely tied to geography. The population of Egypt is concentrated in the lower Nile Valley, the small strip of cultivable land stretching from the First Cataract to the Mediterranean and enclosed by desert both to the east and to the west. This unique geography has been the basis of the development of Egyptian society since antiquity.
The daily language of the Egyptians is the local variety of Arabic, known as Egyptian Arabic or Masri, Also a sizable minority of Egyptian speak Sa'idi Arabic in Upper Egypt . Egyptians are predominantly adherents of Sunni Islam with a Shia minority and a significant proportion who follow native Sufi orders. A sizable minority of Egyptians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, whose liturgical language, Coptic, is the last stage of the indigenous Egyptian language.
Egyptian cuisine is delicious: mildly spicy, with a wide range of dishes to suit all tastes and budgets. Try stuffed pigeon with rice, grilled meat kebabs and kofta or molokhaya soup with fresh baladi (Egyptian bread). Fresh seafood is served on the coast and along the Nile. International and vegetarian cuisines are also well represented.
The great architectural achievements of the past are built of stone. Stone quarries supplied the large blocks of granite, limestone, and sandstone that were used for building temples and tombs. Architects planned carefully as building was done without mortar, so the stones had to fit precisely together.
Only pillars were used to sustain short stone supports. At the temple of Karnak, a ramp of adobe brick can be seen leading to the top of the temple wall.
Such ramps were used to allow workmen to carry stones to the top of structure and allow artists to decorate the tops of walls and pillars. Pillars were built in the same way. As height was added, the ground was raised.
When the top of the pillar was completed, the artists would decorate from the top down, removing ramp sand as they went along.
As soon as a pharaoh was named, construction on his tomb was begun. Tomb building continued throughout his life and stopped only on the day on which he died. As a result, some tombs are very large and finely decorated, while other tombs, like that of King Tutankhamun, and are small because he ruled as a pharaoh for such a short time.
The architecture was based upon perpendicular structures and inclined planes since there was no structural assistance except the strength and balance of the structure itself. For this reason, the square and the plumb-line were very important tools.
One of the most notable and lasting achievements of the Ancient Egyptians are their pyramids. The size, design, and structure of the pyramids reveal the skill of these ancient builders. The pyramids were great monuments and tombs for the kings. The Egyptians believed that a king's soul continued to guide affairs of the kingdom even after his death. To ensure that they would continue to enjoy the blessings of the gods, they preserved the pharaoh's body through the mummification process. They built the pyramids to protect the pharaoh's body; the pyramid was a symbol of hope, because it would ensure the pharaoh's union with the gods.
The largest pyramid in existence is the Great Pyramid built by King Cheops (Khufu) at Giza. The Great Pyramid measures 481 feet high, by 775 feet long at each of its four bases. Other notable pyramids include the Step Pyramid built for King Zoser, and the pyramid built for King Huni, that was a transition between the step pyramid and the smooth sided pyramid we know today.
The art of the Egyptians reflects every aspect of their lives. Depicted in tomb and temple drawings are scenes of everyday living, models of people and animals, glass figures and containers, and jewelry made from gold and semi-precious stones. The wall and pillar drawings are perhaps the best known. In these drawings, it can be seen that people are going about the everyday business of baking, fishing, boating, marketing, and meeting together in family groups. Such drawings were also used to help the deceased to live forever by giving them all of the instructions they would need as they met the gods on their way to eternal life. The good deeds were recorded and the art that surrounded their mummified body was to help their spiritual self in solving the problems related to life after death. Pictures of food, clothing, servants, and slaves could be used by the deceased just as the real things were used by the person when living.
A variety of perspectives is often combined in Egyptian art; however, the side view is the most often seen. The artists used bright colors of blue and red, orange and white to develop pictures that tell of the life of the deceased individual. The artist would first sketch a design on a piece of pottery, and if the design was satisfactory, it would be sketched on the wall with charcoal. Colors could then be used to fill in the completed picture. Paints were made from naturally occurring minerals and artificially prepared mineral substances. Paint brushes were sticks with fibrous wood with frayed ends. Walls were covered with mud plaster, then with lime plaster. By the time of Ramses II, artists were able to shade colors to achieve a layered effect. Wall paintings were then protected by a thin layer of varnish (the composition of which is still not known).
Sculptors were important artists in Egypt. Statues were made of kings, queens, scribes, animals, and gods and goddesses. Frequently, human and godlike attributes and symbols were combined. The work of the artist was seen in other media as well. Alabaster, a white and translucent stone, was often used for making vessels and containers. Pottery was made of ceramics and clay. Pottery glazed with minerals was used to make beads, amulets, pendants, and other jewelry. A vivid blue glaze was very popular during the reign of Ramses II. Craftsmen made glass for inlayed designs and for some containers. Workers were able to make articles out of lead, gold, silver, and copper. Such metals were used to make pins, tweezers, razors, axes, knives, spears, sculptures, and jewelry. The stability of the government during the reign of Ramses II allowed the skills of the artist and architects to flourish.
• Nile Valley
The Classic Tour
Spend a few days in the capital Cairo, including visits to Giza, Saqqara and Fayoum, followed by a boat trip along the Nile, sailing by the Pharaonic sites of Upper Egypt between Luxor and Aswan. For those with a bit more time to spare, Abu Simbel is an easy day trip from Aswan or can be reached via a more leisurely Lake Nasser cruise.
A fascinating alternative for those who are already familiar with Cairo and the Nile Valley could include following Cleopatra’s footsteps to the great port of Alexandria, along with trips through the Delta and to the monasteries of Wadi el-Natroun. This itinerary could then continue west along the Mediterranean coast, via the World War II monuments at El Alamein, on to Marsa Matruh and through the desert to the legendary oasis of Siswa.
• Red Sea and Sinai
Sun, beaches, diving and trekking
Vacations on the Red Sea or the Gulf of Aqaba guarantee pure relaxation and holiday fun, perfect temperate weather and a fascinating underwater world of marine delights. Just inland, the mountain and desert scenery beckons the traveler on a day trip or a longer adventurous visit, through the spectacular mountains of South Sinai or to the monasteries of St. Paul, St. Anthony or St. Catherine.
• Deserts and Oases
The great oasis circuit
Idyllic nature, spectacular landscapes and cultural highlights off the beaten tourist track can be found on exciting trips to the oases of Bahariyya, Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga. In between these, one experiences the timeless magic of the Sahara Desert. Cairo or Luxor serve as good base from which to begin or end a desert oasis exploration and a visit to one or both of these could round out a perfect tour through the heart of Egypt.