Official country name: Arab Republic of Egypt
Area: 386,662 sq miles (1,001,450 sq km)
Population: 80.3 million (2007 est.)
Median age: 24.2
Ethnic Groups: Arab 99%, Nubian, Bedouin, and Beja 1%
GDP and GDP per capita: $107.9 billion and $1,454 (2006 estimates)
Government and Politics:
Egypt is an authoritarian regime ruled since 1981 by President Hosni Mubarak. Presidential elections, introduced in 2005, are rigged. Egypt has a bicameral legislature—a 454-seat People’s Assembly (444 elected by popular vote, 10 appointed by the president, all serving five-year terms) and a 264-seat Advisory Council (176 elected, 88 appointed, all serving six-year terms). Those elections, too, are tightly controlled by the president. Egypt’s biggest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is officially banned from political activity, but some members are elected to the assembly as independents.
Sunni Muslims account for about 90% of the population, Coptic Christians
9%, other Christians 1%. Political parties based on religion are forbidden. The Egyptian constitution provides for religious freedom, but in practice religious freedoms are severely limited. Courts are inconsistent in at times allowing, at times prohibiting, conversion from Islam to Christianity. No Christians serve in prominent public posts, and just six serve in the 454-member assembly. Followers of the Baha’i faith have been persecuted. The legal system follows Islamic law, or Sharia
Egypt is a relatively poor country, ranking 112th out of 177 nations on the United Nations’ Human Development Index. Labor protests are frequent (350 in 2007) as wages ($75 a month for unskilled workers) aren’t keeping up with inflation. The wealth gap is growing. There are bright spots. The economy is growing at 7% since 2005 and exports by 20% a year. In 2006, Cairo’s stock exchange “was the world’s hottest,” according to The Economist. Still, substantial subsidies for food, housing, and energy, and a bloated public-sector bureaucracy, present obstacles to sustained development.
Egypt considers itself a regional power in the Middle East. Including reserves, its military totals 704,000 troops. It has 3,100 tanks, 3,556 artillery pieces and 24 ballistic missile launchers. Much of Egypt’s military might has been financed by United States economic and military assistance averaging $2 billion a year since 1979. With U.S. funding, Egypt has acquired 36 Apache helicopters, 220 F-16 fighter jets and 880 M1A1 Abrams tanks. The Bush administration requested from Congress $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt in 2008.
Human Rights, Civil Rights and Media:
Egypt’s human rights record is poor. Egyptian prisons are notorious for torture, arbitrary detention (under the nation’s decades-long “emergency rule”) and discrimination against women, homosexuals. Although its principal donor nation, the United States has done little to champion human rights in Egypt. Rather, the CIA is believed to have used Egyptian prisons as part of its extraordinary rendition program
. Egyptian media are not free. At least seven journalists were arrested in 2007 and dozens threatened or physically attacked.
Ancient Egypt is the cradle of civilization. Following its The rulers of its Old Kingdom laid the foundations of the first nation-state 4,500 years ago. Its Pharaohs’ successive dynasties over three millenia are recorded history’s longest and steadiest civilization as ruler followed ruler with the predictability of the Nile’s floods and retreats. Change was not an Egyptian specialty, although over time Egyptian civilization reached great heights, never to be matched again after Hellenic conquests. Alexander the Great’s rule yielded to Roman then Byzantine conquests, and in 642, to Arabia’s Islamic armies.
From the 7th century until the middle of the 20th, Egypt was mostly the province of foreign occupiers—Arab dynasties, Ottoman Turks beginning in 1517, Napoleon (1798-1802), Ottomans again, then British and French occupiers until independence in 1922. Egyptian rulers have been more prideful than successful since as Egypt has alternately brokered its way to Arab leadership, especially under the mercurial, reckless tenure of Gamal abdel Nasser (1956-1970) and, after three wars with Israel, dared its way to a separate peace with Israel under Anwar Sadat (1970-1981), who was assassinated for it as a result.
Hosni Mubarak’s long rule since Anwar Sadat’s assassination has kept Egypt in a holding pattern of “emergency rule” and slow, barely perceptible economic and political reforms. Egypt’s population is exploding, adding more than 1 million Egyptians every eight to 10 months. Without political and economic reforms, the gaping chasm between the few rich and many poor is likely to exacerbate social tensions that an authoritarian government cannot control eternally.