Essay About Egypt History Wikipedia

For the British history magazine, see Ancient Egypt (magazine).

"Ancient Egyptian" redirects here. For the language, see Egyptian language.

Ancient Egypt was a civilization of ancientNortheastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in the place that is now the country Egypt. Egyptian civilization followed prehistoric Egypt and coalesced around 3100 BC (according to conventional Egyptian chronology)[1] with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Menes (often identified with Narmer).[2] The history of ancient Egypt occurred as a series of stable kingdoms, separated by periods of relative instability known as Intermediate Periods: the Old Kingdom of the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom of the Middle Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of the Late Bronze Age.

Egypt reached the pinnacle of its power in the New Kingdom, ruling much of Nubia and a sizable portion of the Near East, after which it entered a period of slow decline. During the course of its history Egypt was invaded or conquered by a number of foreign powers, including the Hyksos, the Libyans, the Nubians, the Assyrians, the Achaemenid Persians, and the Macedonians under the command of Alexander the Great. The Greek Ptolemaic Kingdom, formed in the aftermath of Alexander's death, ruled Egypt until 30 BC, when, under Cleopatra, it fell to the Roman Empire and became a Roman province.[3]

The success of ancient Egyptian civilization came partly from its ability to adapt to the conditions of the Nile River valley for agriculture. The predictable flooding and controlled irrigation of the fertile valley produced surplus crops, which supported a more dense population, and social development and culture. With resources to spare, the administration sponsored mineral exploitation of the valley and surrounding desert regions, the early development of an independent writing system, the organization of collective construction and agricultural projects, trade with surrounding regions, and a military intended to defeat foreign enemies and assert Egyptian dominance. Motivating and organizing these activities was a bureaucracy of elite scribes, religious leaders, and administrators under the control of a pharaoh, who ensured the cooperation and unity of the Egyptian people in the context of an elaborate system of religious beliefs.[4][5]

The many achievements of the ancient Egyptians include the quarrying, surveying and construction techniques that supported the building of monumental pyramids, temples, and obelisks; a system of mathematics, a practical and effective system of medicine, irrigation systems and agricultural production techniques, the first known planked boats,[6]Egyptian faience and glass technology, new forms of literature, and the earliest known peace treaty, made with the Hittites.[7] Ancient Egypt has left a lasting legacy. Its art and architecture were widely copied, and its antiquities carried off to far corners of the world. Its monumental ruins have inspired the imaginations of travelers and writers for centuries. A new-found respect for antiquities and excavations in the early modern period by Europeans and Egyptians led to the scientific investigation of Egyptian civilization and a greater appreciation of its cultural legacy.[8]


Main articles: Ancient Egyptian agriculture, History of ancient Egypt, History of Egypt, and Population history of Egypt

The Nile has been the lifeline of its region for much of human history.[9] The fertile floodplain of the Nile gave humans the opportunity to develop a settled agricultural economy and a more sophisticated, centralized society that became a cornerstone in the history of human civilization.[10]Nomadicmodern humanhunter-gatherers began living in the Nile valley through the end of the Middle Pleistocene some 120,000 years ago. By the late Paleolithic period, the arid climate of Northern Africa became increasingly hot and dry, forcing the populations of the area to concentrate along the river region.

Predynastic period

Main article: Predynastic Egypt

In Predynastic and Early Dynastic times, the Egyptian climate was much less arid than it is today. Large regions of Egypt were covered in treed savanna and traversed by herds of grazing ungulates. Foliage and fauna were far more prolific in all environs and the Nile region supported large populations of waterfowl. Hunting would have been common for Egyptians, and this is also the period when many animals were first domesticated.[11]

By about 5500 BC, small tribes living in the Nile valley had developed into a series of cultures demonstrating firm control of agriculture and animal husbandry, and identifiable by their pottery and personal items, such as combs, bracelets, and beads. The largest of these early cultures in upper (Southern) Egypt was the Badari, which probably originated in the Western Desert; it was known for its high quality ceramics, stone tools, and its use of copper.[12]

The Badari was followed by the Amratian (Naqada I) and Gerzeh (Naqada II) cultures,[13] which brought a number of technological improvements. As early as the Naqada I Period, predynastic Egyptians imported obsidian from Ethiopia, used to shape blades and other objects from flakes.[14] In Naqada II times, early evidence exists of contact with the Near East, particularly Canaan and the Byblos coast.[15] Over a period of about 1,000 years, the Naqada culture developed from a few small farming communities into a powerful civilization whose leaders were in complete control of the people and resources of the Nile valley.[16] Establishing a power center at Nekhen (in Greek, Hierakonpolis), and later at Abydos, Naqada III leaders expanded their control of Egypt northwards along the Nile.[17] They also traded with Nubia to the south, the oases of the western desert to the west, and the cultures of the eastern Mediterranean and Near East to the east.[17]

The Naqada culture manufactured a diverse selection of material goods, reflective of the increasing power and wealth of the elite, as well as societal personal-use items, which included combs, small statuary, painted pottery, high quality decorative stone vases, cosmetic palettes, and jewelry made of gold, lapis, and ivory. They also developed a ceramic glaze known as faience, which was used well into the Roman Period to decorate cups, amulets, and figurines.[18] During the last predynastic phase, the Naqada culture began using written symbols that eventually were developed into a full system of hieroglyphs for writing the ancient Egyptian language.[19]

Early Dynastic Period (c. 3050–2686 BC)

Main article: Early Dynastic Period of Egypt

The Early Dynastic Period was approximately contemporary to the early Sumerian-Akkadian civilisation of Mesopotamia and of ancient Elam. The third-century BC Egyptian priest Manetho grouped the long line of pharaohs from Menes to his own time into 30 dynasties, a system still used today.[20] He chose to begin his official history with the king named "Meni" (or Menes in Greek) who was believed to have united the two kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt (around 3100 BC).[21]

The transition to a unified state happened more gradually than ancient Egyptian writers represented, and there is no contemporary record of Menes. Some scholars now believe, however, that the mythical Menes may have been the pharaoh Narmer, who is depicted wearing royal regalia on the ceremonial Narmer Palette, in a symbolic act of unification.[22] In the Early Dynastic Period about 3150 BC, the first of the Dynastic pharaohs solidified control over lower Egypt by establishing a capital at Memphis, from which he could control the labour force and agriculture of the fertile delta region, as well as the lucrative and critical trade routes to the Levant. The increasing power and wealth of the pharaohs during the early dynastic period was reflected in their elaborate mastaba tombs and mortuary cult structures at Abydos, which were used to celebrate the deified pharaoh after his death.[23] The strong institution of kingship developed by the pharaohs served to legitimize state control over the land, labour, and resources that were essential to the survival and growth of ancient Egyptian civilization.[24]

Old Kingdom (2686–2181 BC)

Main article: Old Kingdom of Egypt

Major advances in architecture, art, and technology were made during the Old Kingdom, fueled by the increased agricultural productivity and resulting population, made possible by a well-developed central administration.[26] Some of ancient Egypt's crowning achievements, the Giza pyramids and Great Sphinx, were constructed during the Old Kingdom. Under the direction of the vizier, state officials collected taxes, coordinated irrigation projects to improve crop yield, drafted peasants to work on construction projects, and established a justice system to maintain peace and order.[27]

With the rising importance of central administration in Egypt a new class of educated scribes and officials arose who were granted estates by the pharaoh in payment for their services. Pharaohs also made land grants to their mortuary cults and local temples, to ensure that these institutions had the resources to worship the pharaoh after his death. Scholars believe that five centuries of these practices slowly eroded the economic vitality of Egypt, and that the economy could no longer afford to support a large centralized administration.[28] As the power of the pharaohs diminished, regional governors called nomarchs began to challenge the supremacy of the office of pharaoh. This, coupled with severe droughts between 2200 and 2150 BC,[29] is believed to have caused the country to enter the 140-year period of famine and strife known as the First Intermediate Period.[30]

First Intermediate Period (2181–1991 BC)

Main article: First Intermediate Period of Egypt

After Egypt's central government collapsed at the end of the Old Kingdom, the administration could no longer support or stabilize the country's economy. Regional governors could not rely on the king for help in times of crisis, and the ensuing food shortages and political disputes escalated into famines and small-scale civil wars. Yet despite difficult problems, local leaders, owing no tribute to the pharaoh, used their new-found independence to establish a thriving culture in the provinces. Once in control of their own resources, the provinces became economically richer—which was demonstrated by larger and better burials among all social classes.[31] In bursts of creativity, provincial artisans adopted and adapted cultural motifs formerly restricted to the royalty of the Old Kingdom, and scribes developed literary styles that expressed the optimism and originality of the period.[32]

Free from their loyalties to the pharaoh, local rulers began competing with each other for territorial control and political power. By 2160 BC, rulers in Herakleopolis controlled Lower Egypt in the north, while a rival clan based in Thebes, the Intef family, took control of Upper Egypt in the south. As the Intefs grew in power and expanded their control northward, a clash between the two rival dynasties became inevitable. Around 2055 BC the northern Theban forces under Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II finally defeated the Herakleopolitan rulers, reuniting the Two Lands. They inaugurated a period of economic and cultural renaissance known as the Middle Kingdom.[33]

Middle Kingdom (2134–1690 BC)

Main article: Middle Kingdom of Egypt

The pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom restored the country's stability and prosperity, thereby stimulating a resurgence of art, literature, and monumental building projects.[34] Mentuhotep II and his Eleventh Dynasty successors ruled from Thebes, but the vizier Amenemhat I, upon assuming the kingship at the beginning of the Twelfth Dynasty around 1985 BC, shifted the nation's capital to the city of Itjtawy, located in Faiyum.[35] From Itjtawy, the pharaohs of the Twelfth Dynasty undertook a far-sighted land reclamation and irrigation scheme to increase agricultural output in the region. Moreover, the military reconquered territory in Nubia that was rich in quarries and gold mines, while laborers built a defensive structure in the Eastern Delta, called the "Walls-of-the-Ruler", to defend against foreign attack.[36]

With the pharaohs having secured the country militarily and politically and with vast agricultural and mineral wealth at their disposal, the nation's population, arts, and religion flourished. In contrast to elitist Old Kingdom attitudes towards the gods, the Middle Kingdom displayed an increase in expressions of personal piety.[37] Middle Kingdom literature featured sophisticated themes and characters written in a confident, eloquent style.[32] The relief and portrait sculpture of the period captured subtle, individual details that reached new heights of technical sophistication.[38]

The last great ruler of the Middle Kingdom, Amenemhat III, allowed Semitic-speaking Canaanite settlers from the Near East into the Delta region to provide a sufficient labour force for his especially active mining and building campaigns. These ambitious building and mining activities, however, combined with severe Nile floods later in his reign, strained the economy and precipitated the slow decline into the Second Intermediate Period during the later Thirteenth and Fourteenth dynasties. During this decline, the Canaanite settlers began to assume greater control of the Delta region, eventually coming to power in Egypt as the Hyksos.[39]

Second Intermediate Period (1674–1549 BC) and the Hyksos

Main article: Second Intermediate Period of Egypt

Around 1785 BC, as the power of the Middle Kingdom pharaohs weakened, a Western Asian people called the Hyksos, who had already settled in the Delta, seized control of Egypt and established their capital at Avaris, forcing the former central government to retreat to Thebes. The pharaoh was treated as a vassal and expected to pay tribute.[40] The Hyksos ("foreign rulers") retained Egyptian models of government and identified as pharaohs, thereby integrating Egyptian elements into their culture. They and other invaders introduced new tools of warfare into Egypt, most notably the composite bow and the horse-drawn chariot.[41]

After retreating south, the native Theban kings found themselves trapped between the Canaanite Hyksos ruling the north and the Hyksos' Nubian allies, the Kushites, to the south. After years of vassalage, Thebes gathered enough strength to challenge the Hyksos in a conflict that lasted more than 30 years, until 1555 BC.[40] The pharaohs Seqenenre Tao II and Kamose were ultimately able to defeat the Nubians to the south of Egypt, but failed to defeat the Hyksos. That task fell to Kamose's successor, Ahmose I, who successfully waged a series of campaigns that permanently eradicated the Hyksos' presence in Egypt. He established a new dynasty and, in the New Kingdom that followed, the military became a central priority for the pharaohs, who sought to expand Egypt's borders and attempted to gain mastery of the Near East.[42]

New Kingdom (1549–1069 BC)

Main article: New Kingdom of Egypt

The New Kingdom pharaohs established a period of unprecedented prosperity by securing their borders and strengthening diplomatic ties with their neighbours, including the Mitanni Empire, Assyria, and Canaan. Military campaigns waged under Tuthmosis I and his grandson Tuthmosis III extended the influence of the pharaohs to the largest empire Egypt had ever seen.

Between their reigns, Hatshepsut, a queen who established herself as pharaoh, launched many building projects, including restoration of temples damaged by the Hyksos, and sent trading expenditions to Punt and the Sinai.[43] When Tuthmosis III died in 1425 BC, Egypt had an empire extending from Niya in north west Syria to the Fourth Cataract of the Nile in Nubia, cementing loyalties and opening access to critical imports such as bronze and wood.[44]

The New Kingdom pharaohs began a large-scale building campaign to promote the god Amun, whose growing cult was based in Karnak. They also constructed monuments to glorify their own achievements, both real and imagined. The Karnak temple is the largest Egyptian temple ever built.[45]

Around 1350 BC, the stability of the New Kingdom was threatened when Amenhotep IV ascended the throne and instituted a series of radical and chaotic reforms. Changing his name to Akhenaten, he touted the previously obscure sun deityAten as the supreme deity, suppressed the worship of most other deities, and moved the capital to the new city of Akhetaten (modern-day Amarna).[46] He was devoted to his new religion and artistic style. After his death, the cult of the Aten was quickly abandoned and the traditional religious order restored. The subsequent pharaohs, Tutankhamun, Ay, and Horemheb, worked to erase all mention of Akhenaten's heresy, now known as the Amarna Period.[47]

Around 1279 BC, Ramesses II, also known as Ramesses the Great, ascended the throne, and went on to build more temples, erect more statues and obelisks, and sire more children than any other pharaoh in history.[48] A bold military leader, Ramesses II led his army against the Hittites in the Battle of Kadesh (in modern Syria) and, after fighting to a stalemate, finally agreed to the first recorded peace treaty, around 1258 BC.[49]

Egypt's wealth, however, made it a tempting target for invasion, particularly by the LibyanBerbers to the west, and the Sea Peoples, a conjectured[50][51] confederation of seafarers from the Aegean Sea. Initially, the military was able to repel these invasions, but Egypt eventually lost control of its remaining territories in southern Canaan, much of it falling to the Assyrians. The effects of external threats were exacerbated by internal problems such as corruption, tomb robbery, and civil unrest. After regaining their power, the high priests at the temple of Amun in Thebes accumulated vast tracts of land and wealth, and their expanded power splintered the country during the Third Intermediate Period.[52]

Third Intermediate Period (1069–653 BC)

Main article: Third Intermediate Period of Egypt

Following the death of Ramesses XI in 1078 BC, Smendes assumed authority over the northern part of Egypt, ruling from the city of Tanis. The south was effectively controlled by the High Priests of Amun at Thebes, who recognized Smendes in name only.[53] During this time, Libyans had been settling in the western delta, and chieftains of these settlers began increasing their autonomy. Libyan princes took control of the delta under Shoshenq I in 945 BC, founding the so-called Libyan or Bubastite dynasty that would rule for some 200 years. Shoshenq also gained control of southern Egypt by placing his family members in important priestly positions. Libyan control began to erode as a rival dynasty in the delta arose in Leontopolis, and Kushites threatened from the south. Around 727 BC the Kushite king Piye invaded northward, seizing control of Thebes and eventually the Delta.[54]

Egypt's far-reaching prestige declined considerably toward the end of the Third Intermediate Period. Its foreign allies had fallen under the Assyrian sphere of influence, and by 700 BC war between the two states became inevitable. Between 671 and 667 BC the Assyrians began their attack on Egypt. The reigns of both Taharqa and his successor, Tanutamun, were filled with constant conflict with the Assyrians, against whom Egypt enjoyed several victories. Ultimately, the Assyrians pushed the Kushites back into Nubia, occupied Memphis, and sacked the temples of Thebes.[55]

Late Period (672–332 BC)

Main articles: Late Period of ancient Egypt and History of Achaemenid Egypt

The Assyrians left control of Egypt to a series of vassals who became known as the Saite kings of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty. By 653 BC, the Saite king Psamtik I was able to oust the Assyrians with the help of Greek mercenaries, who were recruited to form Egypt's first navy. Greek influence expanded greatly as the city of Naukratis became the home of Greeks in the delta. The Saite kings based in the new capital of Sais witnessed a brief but spirited resurgence in the economy and culture, but in 525 BC, the powerful Persians, led by Cambyses II, began their conquest of Egypt, eventually capturing the pharaoh Psamtik III at the battle of Pelusium. Cambyses II then assumed the formal title of pharaoh, but ruled Egypt from Iran, leaving Egypt under the control of a satrapy. A few successful revolts against the Persians marked the 5th century BC, but Egypt was never able to permanently overthrow the Persians.[56]

Following its annexation by Persia, Egypt was joined with Cyprus and Phoenicia in the sixth satrapy of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. This first period of Persian rule over Egypt, also known as the Twenty-Seventh dynasty, ended in 402 BC, when Egypt regained independence under a series of native dynasties. The last of these dynasties, the Thirtieth, proved to be the last native royal house of ancient Egypt, ending with the kingship of Nectanebo II. A brief restoration of Persian rule, sometimes known as the Thirty-First Dynasty, began in 343 BC, but shortly after, in 332 BC, the Persian ruler Mazaces handed Egypt over to Alexander the Great without a fight.[57]

Ptolemaic period (332–30 BC)

Main articles: History of Ptolemaic Egypt and Ptolemaic Kingdom

In 332 BC, Alexander the Great conquered Egypt with little resistance from the Persians and was welcomed by the Egyptians as a deliverer. The administration established by Alexander's successors, the MacedonianPtolemaic Kingdom, was based on an Egyptian model and based in the new capital city of Alexandria. The city showcased the power and prestige of Hellenistic rule, and became a seat of learning and culture, centered at the famous Library of Alexandria.[58] The Lighthouse of Alexandria lit the way for the many ships that kept trade flowing through the city—as the Ptolemies made commerce and revenue-generating enterprises, such as papyrus manufacturing, their top priority.[59]

Hellenistic culture did not supplant native Egyptian culture, as the Ptolemies supported time-honored traditions in an effort to secure the loyalty of the populace. They built new temples in Egyptian style, supported traditional cults, and portrayed themselves as pharaohs. Some traditions merged, as Greek and Egyptian gods were syncretized into composite deities, such as Serapis, and classical Greek forms of sculpture influenced traditional Egyptian motifs. Despite their efforts to appease the Egyptians, the Ptolemies were challenged by native rebellion, bitter family rivalries, and the powerful mob of Alexandria that formed after the death of Ptolemy IV.[60] In addition, as Rome relied more heavily on imports of grain from Egypt, the Romans took great interest in the political situation in the country. Continued Egyptian revolts, ambitious politicians, and powerful opponents from the Near East made this situation unstable, leading Rome to send forces to secure the country as a province of its empire.[61]

Roman period (30 BC–641 AD)

Main article: Egypt (Roman province)

Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire in 30 BC, following the defeat of Marc Antony and Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra VII by Octavian (later Emperor Augustus) in the Battle of Actium. The Romans relied heavily on grain shipments from Egypt, and the Roman army, under the control of a prefect appointed by the Emperor, quelled rebellions, strictly enforced the collection of heavy taxes, and prevented attacks by bandits, which had become a notorious problem during the period.[62] Alexandria became an increasingly important center on the trade route with the orient, as exotic luxuries were in high demand in Rome.[63]

Although the Romans had a more hostile attitude than the Greeks towards the Egyptians, some traditions such as mummification and worship of the traditional gods continued.[64] The art of mummy portraiture flourished, and some Roman emperors had themselves depicted as pharaohs, though not to the extent that the Ptolemies had. The former lived outside Egypt and did not perform the ceremonial functions of Egyptian kingship. Local administration became Roman in style and closed to native Egyptians.[64]

From the mid-first century AD, Christianity took root in Egypt and it was originally seen as another cult that could be accepted. However, it was an uncompromising religion that sought to win converts from Egyptian Religion and Greco-Roman religion and threatened popular religious traditions. This led to the persecution of converts to Christianity, culminating in the great purges of Diocletian starting in 303, but eventually Christianity won out.[65] In 391 the Christian Emperor Theodosius introduced legislation that banned pagan rites and closed temples.[66] Alexandria became the scene of great anti-pagan riots with public and private religious imagery destroyed.[67] As a consequence, Egypt's native religious culture was continually in decline. While the native population certainly continued to speak their language, the ability to read hieroglyphic writing slowly disappeared as the role of the Egyptian temple priests and priestesses diminished. The temples themselves were sometimes converted to churches or abandoned to the desert.[68]

In the fourth century, as the Roman Empire divided, Egypt found itself in the Eastern Empire with its capital at Constantinople. In the waning years of the Empire, Egypt fell to the Sassanid Persian army (618–628 AD), was recaptured by the Roman Emperor Heraclius (629–639 AD), and then was finally captured by Muslim Rashidun army in 639–641 AD, ending Roman rule.

Government and economy

Administration and commerce

The pharaoh was the absolute monarch of the country and, at least in theory, wielded complete control of the land and its resources. The king was the supreme military commander and head of the government, who relied on a bureaucracy of officials to manage his affairs. In charge of the administration was his second in command, the vizier, who acted as the king's representative and coordinated land surveys, the treasury, building projects, the legal system, and the archives.[69] At a regional level, the country was divided into as many as 42 administrative regions called nomes each governed by a nomarch, who was accountable to the vizier for his jurisdiction. The temples formed the backbone of the economy. Not only were they houses of worship, but were also responsible for collecting and storing the nation's wealth in a system of granaries and treasuries administered by overseers, who redistributed grain and goods.[70]

Much of the economy was centrally organized and strictly controlled. Although the ancient Egyptians did not use coinage until the Late period,[71] they did use a type of money-barter system,[72] with standard sacks of grain and the deben, a weight of roughly 91 grams (3 oz) of copper or silver, forming a common denominator.[73] Workers were paid in grain; a simple laborer might earn 5½ sacks (200 kg or 400 lb) of grain per month, while a foreman might earn 7½ sacks (250 kg or 550 lb). Prices were fixed across the country and recorded in lists to facilitate trading; for example a shirt cost five copper deben, while a cow cost 140 deben.[73] Grain could be traded for other goods, according to the fixed price list.[73] During the fifth century BC coined money was introduced into Egypt from abroad. At first the coins were used as standardized pieces of precious metal rather than true money, but in the following centuries international traders came to rely on coinage.[74]

Social status

Egyptian society was highly stratified, and social status was expressly displayed. Farmers made up the bulk of the population, but agricultural produce was owned directly by the state, temple, or noble family that owned the land.[75] Farmers were also subject to a labor tax and were required to work on irrigation or construction projects in a corvée system.[76] Artists and craftsmen were of higher status than farmers, but they were also under state control, working in the shops attached to the temples and paid directly from the state treasury. Scribes and officials formed the upper class in ancient Egypt, known as the "white kilt class" in reference to the bleached linen garments that served as a mark of their rank.[77] The upper class prominently displayed their social status in art and literature. Below the nobility were the priests, physicians, and engineers with specialized training in their field. Slavery was known in ancient Egypt, but the extent and prevalence of its practice are unclear.[78]

The ancient Egyptians viewed men and women, including people from all social classes except slaves, as essentially equal under the law, and even the lowliest peasant was entitled to petition the vizier and his court for redress.[79] Although slaves were mostly used as indentured servants, they were able to buy and sell their servitude, work their way to freedom or nobility, and were usually treated by doctors in the workplace.[80] Both men and women had the right to own and sell property, make contracts, marry and divorce, receive inheritance, and pursue legal disputes in court. Married couples could own property jointly and protect themselves from divorce by agreeing to marriage contracts, which stipulated the financial obligations of the husband to his wife and children should the marriage end. Compared with their counterparts in ancient Greece, Rome, and even more modern places around the world, ancient Egyptian women had a greater range of personal choices and opportunities for achievement. Women such as Hatshepsut and Cleopatra VII even became pharaohs, while others wielded power as Divine Wives of Amun. Despite these freedoms, ancient Egyptian women did not often take part in official roles in the administration, served only secondary roles in the temples, and were not as likely to be as educated as men.[79]

Legal system

The head of the legal system was officially the pharaoh, who was responsible for enacting laws, delivering justice, and maintaining law and order, a concept the ancient Egyptians referred to as Ma'at.[69] Although no legal codes from ancient Egypt survive, court documents show that Egyptian law was based on a common-sense view of right and wrong that emphasized reaching agreements and resolving conflicts rather than strictly adhering to a complicated set of statutes.[79] Local councils of elders, known as Kenbet in the New Kingdom, were responsible for ruling in court cases involving small claims and minor disputes.[69] More serious cases involving murder, major land transactions, and tomb robbery were referred to the Great Kenbet, over which the vizier or pharaoh presided. Plaintiffs and defendants were expected to represent themselves and were required to swear an oath that they had told the truth. In some cases, the state took on both the role of prosecutor and judge, and it could torture the accused with beatings to obtain a confession and the names of any co-conspirators. Whether the charges were trivial or serious, court scribes documented the complaint, testimony, and verdict of the case for future reference.[81]

Punishment for minor crimes involved either imposition of fines, beatings, facial mutilation, or exile, depending on the severity of the offense. Serious crimes such as murder and tomb robbery were punished by execution, carried out by decapitation, drowning, or impaling the criminal on a stake. Punishment could also be extended to the criminal's family.[69] Beginning in the New Kingdom, oracles played a major role in the legal system, dispensing justice in both civil and criminal cases. The procedure was to ask the god a "yes" or "no" question concerning the right or wrong of an issue. The god, carried by a number of priests, rendered judgment by choosing one or the other, moving forward or backward, or pointing to one of the answers written on a piece of papyrus or an ostracon.[82]


Main article: Ancient Egyptian agriculture

See also: Ancient Egyptian cuisine and Gardens of ancient Egypt

A combination of favorable geographical features contributed to the success of ancient Egyptian culture, the most important of which was the rich fertile soil resulting from annual inundations of the Nile River. The ancient Egyptians were thus able to produce an abundance of food, allowing the population to devote more time and resources to cultural, technological, and artistic pursuits. Land management was crucial in ancient Egypt because taxes were assessed based on the amount of land a person owned.[83]

Farming in Egypt was dependent on the cycle of the Nile River. The Egyptians recognized three seasons: Akhet (flooding), Peret (planting), and Shemu (harvesting). The flooding season lasted from June to September, depositing on the river's banks a layer of mineral-rich silt ideal for growing crops. After the floodwaters had receded, the growing season lasted from October to February. Farmers plowed and planted seeds in the fields, which were irrigated with ditches and canals. Egypt received little rainfall, so farmers relied on the Nile to water their crops.[84] From March to May, farmers used sickles to harvest their crops, which were then threshed with a flail to separate the straw from the grain. Winnowing removed the chaff from the grain, and the grain was then ground into flour, brewed to make beer, or stored for later use.

The pyramids of Giza are among the most recognizable symbols of the civilization of ancient Egypt.
Map of ancient Egypt, showing major cities and sites of the Dynastic period (c. 3150 BC to 30 BC)
A typical Naqada II jar decorated with gazelles. (Predynastic Period)
Early tomb painting from Nekhen, c. 3500 B.C., Naqada, possibly Gerzeh, culture
Amenemhat III, the last great ruler of the Middle Kingdom
The maximum territorial extent of ancient Egypt (15th century BC)
A stone statue of Hatshepsut
The pharaoh was usually depicted wearing symbols of royalty and power.
Punishment in ancient Egypt.
Scribes were elite and well educated. They assessed taxes, kept records, and were responsible for administration.
A tomb relief depicts workers plowing the fields, harvesting the crops, and threshing the grain under the direction of an overseer, painting in the tomb of Nakht.
Measuring and recording the harvest is shown in a wall painting in the tomb of Menna, at Thebes, Egypt (Eighteenth Dynasty).

Cairo, the financial capital of Egypt

CurrencyEgyptian pound (EGP, LE)

Fiscal year

1 July - 30 June

Trade organisations

GDP$1.198 trillion (PPP; 2017)[1]
$330.765 billion (nominal; 2015)[1]
GDP rank32nd (nominal) / 21th (PPP)

GDP growth

4.4% (2015), 4.3% (2016e),
4.4% (2017f), 4.9% (2018f)[2]

GDP per capita

$11,850 (PPP; 2015 est.)[1]
$3,740 (nominal; 2015 est.)[1]

GDP by sector

agriculture: 11.2%, industry: 36.3%, services: 52.5% (2015 est.)


17.1% (Jan 2018)[3]

Population below poverty line

26% (2015)[4]

Gini coefficient

30.8 (2013)

Labour force

29.07 million (Q4 2016)[5]

Labour force by occupation

agriculture: 29%, industry: 24%, services: 47% (2011 est.)
Unemployment11.3% (Q3 2017)[6]

Main industries

textiles, food processing, tourism, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, hydrocarbons, construction, cement, metals, light manufactures

Ease-of-doing-business rank

122nd (2017)[7]
Exports$22.5 billion (2017 est.)[8]

Export goods

crude oil and petroleum products, cotton, textiles, metal products, chemicals, agricultural goods

Main export partners

 Saudi Arabia 9.1%
 Italy 7.5%
 Turkey 5.8%
 United Arab Emirates 5.1%
 United States 5.1%
 United Kingdom 4.4%
 India 4.1% (2015)[9]
Imports$50.91 billion (2017 est.)[10]

Import goods

machinery and equipment, foodstuffs, chemicals, wood products, fuels

Main import partners

 China 13%
 Germany 7.7%
 United States 5.9%
 Turkey 4.5%
 Russia 4.4%
 Italy 4.4%
 Saudi Arabia 4.1% (2015)[11]

FDI stock

$97 billion (2016 est.)[12]

Gross external debt

$62 billion (2016 est.)[13]
Public finances

Public debt

111% (2016 est.)[14]
Revenues$49 billion (2016 est.)[15]
Expenses$81 billion (2016 est.)[15]

Credit rating

B- (Domestic)
B- (Foreign)
B- (T&C Assessment)
(Standard & Poor's)[16]

Foreign reserves

$42.5 billion (March 2018)[17]

Main data source:CIA World Fact Book
All values, unless otherwise stated, are in US dollars.

The economy of Egypt was a highly centralizedplanned economy focused on import substitution under PresidentGamal Abdel Nasser. In 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 2000, the pace of structural reforms, including fiscal, monetary policies, taxation, privatization and new business legislations, helped Egypt move towards a more market-oriented economy and prompted increased foreign investment. The reforms and policies have strengthened macroeconomic annual growth results which averaged 8% annually between 2004 and 2009 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. After the 2011 revolution Egypt's foreign exchange reserves fell from $36 billion in December 2010 to only $16.3 billion in January 2012, also in February 2012 Standard & Poor's rating agency lowered the Egypt's credit rating from B+ to B in the long term.[18] In 2013, S&P lowered Egypt's long-term credit rating from B- to CCC+, and its short-term rating from B to C on worries about the country's ability to meet its financial targets and maintain social peace more than two years after President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in an uprising, ushering in a new era.[19]

Macroeconomic trend[edit]

Egypt has a rather stable mixed economy enjoying average growth, averaging 3%–5% in the past quarter-century. The economy embarked on various stages of development during which the public and private sectors played roles varying in relative importance as follows:

  • Import substitution and nationalization, 1952–1966: during which the first programme of industrialization in 1957 was established and led by the public sector in heavy industries such as iron and steel, chemical industries, and heavy machinery. Nationalization reduced the relative importance of the private sector. There was no stock trading to speak of, all banks and financial institutions were under the public sector, and foreign direct investment was almost banned.
  • Inter-War, 1967–1973: adversely affected the performance of the economy and public sector role in import substitution.
  • Openness Euphoria, 1974–1985: during which policies were introduced to encourage Arab and foreign investment through a series of incentives and liberalizing trade and payment; heavy emphasis was put on developing the tourism and textile manufacturing industry as drivers of growth, the economy expanded but this proved unsustainable and growth consequently scaled Back.
  • External Debt Crisis, 1985–1990: the external debt crisis and Paris Club rescheduling and debt reduction.
  • Economic Reform, 1991–2007: reform policies were introduced to meet the terms of international institutions, lenders and donors, including wider incentives to the role of the private sector in all economic activities.
  • The Post Global Financial Crisis, 2008-2011: soaring food prices, especially for grains, led to calls for the government to provide more immediate assistance to the population of more than 40% in the "poverty tunnel" and to strike a "new deal" on agriculture policy and reform. Egypt faced the long term supply- and demand-side repercussions of the global financial crisis on the national economy. Egypt's gains from annual growth rates benefited the rich and failed to trickle down and reduce the poverty which increased to about 50% in 2011 leading to socioeconomic political instability and popular revolution on 25 January 2011.
  • Post-Revolution, 2012–present: the Egyptian economy is still suffering from a severe downturn following the 2011 revolution and the government faces numerous challenges as to how to restore growth, market and investor confidence. Political and institutional uncertainty, a perception of rising insecurity and sporadic unrest continue to negatively affect economic growth.[20]

Reform era[edit]

Under comprehensive economic reforms initiated in 1991, Egypt has relaxed many price controls, reduced subsidies, reduced inflation, cut taxes, and partially liberalized trade and investment. Manufacturing had become less dominated by the public sector, especially in heavy industries. A process of public sector reform and privatization has begun to enhance opportunities for the private sector.

Agriculture, mainly in private hands, has been largely deregulated, with the exception of cotton and sugar production. Construction, non-financial services, and domestic wholesale and retail trades are largely private. This has promoted a steady increase of GDP and the annual growth rate. The Government of Egypt tamed inflation bringing it down from double-digit to a single digit. Currently, GDP is rising smartly by 7% per annum due to successful diversification.

Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita based on purchasing-power-parity (PPP) increased fourfold between 1981 and 2006, from US$1355 in 1981, to US$2525 in 1991, to US$3686 in 2001 and to an estimated US$4535 in 2006. Based on national currency, GDP per capita at constant 1999 prices increased from EGP 411 in 1981, to EGP 2098 in 1991, to EGP 5493 in 2001 and to EGP 8708 in 2006.[21]

Based on the current US$ prices, GDP per capita increased from US$587 in 1981, to US$869 in 1991, to US$1461 in 2001 and to an estimated US$1518 (which translates to less than US$130 per month) in 2006. According to the World Bank Country Classification, Egypt has been promoted from the low income category to lower middle income category. As of 2013, the average weekly salaries in Egypt reached LE641 (approx. $92), which grew by 20% from the previous year.[21]

GDP (PPP) per capita, (US$)1,354.812,524.993,685.984,316.594,534.82
GDP per capita at constant prices, (EGP)3,121.854,075.475,138.365,519.095,692.24
GDP per capita at current prices, (EGP)411.202,098.715,493.287,890.658,707.88
GDP per capita at current prices, (US$)587.42869.301,460.981,315.751,517.85

The reform programme is a work in progress. Noteworthy that the reform record has substantially improved since Nazif government came to power. Egypt has made substantial progress in developing its legal, tax and investment infrastructure. (See Nawar 2006) Indeed, over the past five years, Egypt has passed, amended and admitted over 15 legislative pieces. The economy is expected to grow by about 4% to 6% in 2009/2010.

Surging domestic inflationary pressures from both economic growth and elevated international food prices led the Central Bank of Egypt to increase the overnight lending and deposit rates in sequential moves since February 2008. The rates stood at 11.5% and 13.5%, respectively, since 18 September 2008.

The rise of the World Global Financial Crisis led to a set of fiscal-monetary policy measures to face its repercussions on the national economy, including reducing the overnight lending and deposit rates by 1% on 12 February 2009. The rates currently stand at 10.5% and 12.5%, respectively.[23]

Reform of energy and food subsidies, privatization of the state-owned Bank of Cairo, and inflation targeting are perhaps the most controversial economic issues in 2007/2008 and 2008/2009.

External trade and remittances[edit]

Egypt's trade balance marked US$10.36 billion in FY2005 compared to US$7.5 billion. Egypt's main exports consist of natural gas, and non-petroleum products such as ready-made clothes, cotton textiles, medical and petrochemical products, citrus fruits, rice and dried onion, and more recently cement, steel, and ceramics.

Egypt's main imports consist of pharmaceuticals and non-petroleum products such as wheat, maize, cars and car spare parts. The current account grew from 0.7% of GDP in FY2002 to 3.3% at FY2005. Egypt's Current Account made a surplus of US$4478 million in FY2005 compared to a deficit of US$158 million in FY2004. Italy and the USA are the top export markets for Egyptian goods and services. In the Arab world, Egypt has the largest non-oil GDP as of 2005.

According to the International Organization for Migration, an estimated 2.7 million Egyptians abroad contribute actively to the development of their country through remittance inflows, circulation of human and social capital, as well as investment. In 2009 Egypt was the biggest recipient of remittances in the Middle East; an estimated US$7.8 bn was received in 2009, representing approximately 5% of national GDP, with a decline of 10% from 2008, due mostly to the effect of the financial crisis. According to data from Egypt's Central Bank, the United States was the top sending country of remittances (23%), followed by Kuwait (15%), the United Arab Emirates (14%) and Saudi Arabia (9%).[24]

Public finances[edit]

On the revenues side, total revenues of the government were EGP 89.1 billion in FY2002 and are projected to reach EGP184.7 bn in FY2008. Much of the increase came from a rise in customs, excise and tax revenues, particularly personal income and sales, entertainment, and vice taxes which constituted the bulk of total domestic taxes, due to recent tax reforms. This trend is likely to gradually widen the tax base in the forthcoming years. Revenues, however, have remained more or less constant (about 21% ) as a percentage of the GDP over the past few years.

On the expenditures side, strong expenditure growth has remained a main feature of the budget. This is mainly a result of continued strong expansion of (1) the public-sector wages driven by government pledges. Wages and Compensations increased from EGP30.5 bn in FY2002 to EGP59.6 bn in FY2008; (2) high interest payments on the public debt stock. Interest payments rose from EGP21.8 bn in FY2002 to EGP52.0 bn in FY2008. Importantly, dramatic increase in domestic debt which is projected to be roughly 62% of GDP in FY2008 up from 58.4% in FY2002; and (3) the costs of food and energy subsidies, which rose from EGP18.0 bn in FY2002 to EGP64.5 bn in FY2008.

The overall deficit, after adjusting for net acquisition of financial assets, remains almost unchanged from the cash deficit. The budget's overall deficit of EGP 43.8 bn or -10.2% of GDP for FY2002 has become 49.2 bn in FY2007, so that is narrowed to -6.7% of GDP. Deficit is financed largely by domestic borrowing and revenue from divestment sales, which became a standard accounting practice in budget Egypt. The government aims at more sales of State assets in FY2008.

Recently, the fiscal conduct of the government was under strong criticism and heated debate and discussions in the Egyptian Parliament.The reference was made to weak governance and management, loose implementation of tax collection procedures and penalties for offenders, and improper accounting of the overall system of basic subsidies and domestic debt, leading to domestic market disruptions, high inflation, increased inefficiencies and waste in the domestic economy.[25]

... Taxes50,80155,73667,15775,75997,779108,609120,075166,500145,544207,410251,119260,289364,290
... Grants4,2643,28950492,8532,3793,6573,1664,6007,70010.1045,20895,85623,4922,208
... Other resources93,28870,92786,10893,996100,642160,850
... Wages and Compensations30,51533,81637,26541,54646,71951,27059,57482,00086,100122,818142,629178,589207,243218,108
... Interest21,75125,85130,70332,78036,81550,44851,97952,90071,066104,441146,995173,150199,011244,044
... Subsidies and Social Benefits18,05020,64924,75129,70668,89751,84464,465133,60073,400150,193182,383212,540223,000227,000
Cash Deficit-37,223-38,173-44,109-50,747-56,545-39,951-56,823-64,670-94,151-167,370-190,309-195,276-240,799-242,287
Net Acquisition of Financial Assets-1,261-5,586-1,951-8966,160-9,209-1,946-2,6747306655,3142,218
Overall Deficit-38,485-43,759-46,060-51,643-50,385-49,160-58,769-67,344-93,421-166,705-184,995-197,494-239,972-251,093
... Net Borrowing38,06643,72046,04350,63150,25948,66057,76966,79294,880166,705184,705197,244269,000
... Proceeds from Privatization418.839.2171012126.0500100010,000500500
Deficit as % of GDP-10.2%-10.5%-9.5%-9.6%-8.2%-6.7%-6.9%-6.4%-7.97%-10.6%-10.7%-9.6%-9.9%-8.6%

Treasury bonds and notes issued to the Central Bank of Egypt constitute the bulk of the government domestic debt. Since FY2001, net government domestic debt (i.e. after excluding budget sector deposits) has been rising at a fluctuating but increasing rate. In 2014, it reached 77% up from 54.3% of GDP in 2001.

Government domestic debt (EGP bn)1942212522923493874785626638089901,1131,4101, 648
Net Government domestic debt (% GDP)54.3%58.4%60.4%60.3%64.8%62.8%65.4%54.1%55.0%55.0%58.9%62.9%71.9%77.0%

Opportunity cost of conflict[edit]

A report[28] by Strategic Foresight Group has calculated the opportunity cost of conflict for Egypt since 1991 is almost $800 billion. In other words, had there been peace since 1991, an average Egyptian citizen would be earning over $3000 instead of $1700 he or she may earn next year.

The financial sector[edit]

The Central Bank of Egypt is the national reserve bank and controls and regulates the financial market and the Egyptian pound. There is a State regulatory authority for the Cairo Stock Exchange. State-owned or Nationalized banks still account for 85% of bank accounts in Egypt and around 60% of the total savings. The penetration of banking is low in rural areas at only 57% of households.

Monetary policy[edit]

Up until 2007, there have been several favorable conditions that allowed the Central Bank of Egypt to accumulate net international reserves, which increased from US$20 billion in FY2005, to US$23 billion in FY2006, and to US$30 billion FY2007 contributing to growth in both reserve money and in broad money (M2). This declined to US$16.4 billion in Oct 2015, according to the Central Bank of Egypt.

Credit extended to the private sector in Egypt declined significantly reaching about EGP 5 billion in FY2005. This credit crunch is due to the non-performing loans extended by the banks to business tycoons and top government officials.

Lending criteria have been tightened following the passing of Money Laundry Law 80 in 2002 and Banking Law 88 in 2003. Interest rates are no longer the dominant factor in banks' lending decisions. In fact, both the inefficiency and absence of the role of the Central Bank of Egypt in qualitative and quantitative control as well as implementing banking procedures and standards was almost entirely responsible for the non-performing loans crisis. Banks steadily reduced credit from its peak of about EGP 30 billion in FY1999 and alternatively invested in more liquid no-risk securities such as treasury bills and government bonds. Improving private sector access to credit will critically depend on resolving the problem of non-performing loans with businesses and top government officials.

The era of inflation targeting—i.e. maintaining inflation within a band—has perhaps begun in Egypt more recently. Country experiences show that inflation targeting is a best-practice strategy for monetary policy. While the monetary policy appears more responsive to inflationary pressures recently in Egypt, it is noted that there is no core inflation measure and the Central Bank of Egypt takes targeting decisions based on the inflation rate released by the CAPMASconsumer price index off-the-shelf.[29]

Surging domestic inflationary pressures from both economic growth and elevated international food prices led the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to increase the overnight lending and deposit rates in sequential moves since 2008: it was raised by 0.25% on 10 February 2008, by 0.5% on 25 March 2008, by 0.5% on 8 May 2008, by 0.5% on 26 June 2008, by 0.5% on 7 August 2008 and most recently on 18 September 2008 for the sixth time in a year by 0.5% when it stood at 11.5% and 13.5%, respectively.

The rise of the World Global Financial Crisis led to a set of fiscal-monetary policy measures to face its repercussions on the national economy, including reducing the overnight lending and deposit rates by 1% on 12 February 2009. The rates currently stand at 10.5% and 12.5%, respectively. The CBE is expected to further cut on interest rates over 2009, with seemingly little fear on Egyptian Pound depreciation resulting from decreased interest rates.

Exchange rate policy[edit]

The exchange rate has been linked to the US dollar since the 1950s. Several regimes were adopted including initially the conventional peg in the sixties, regular crawling peg in the seventies and the eighties and crawling bands in the nineties. Over that time period, there were several exchange rate markets including black market, parallel market and the official market. With the turn of the new millennium, Egypt introduced a managed float regime and successfully unified the Pound exchange rate vis-à-vis foreign currencies.

The transition to the unified exchange rate regime was completed in December 2004. Shortly later, Egypt has notified the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it has accepted the obligations of Article VIII, Section 2, 3, and 4 of the IMF Articles of Agreement, with effect from 2 January 2005. IMF members accepting the obligations of Article VIII undertake to refrain from imposing restrictions on the making of payments and transfers for current international transactions, or from engaging in discriminatory currency arrangements or multiple currency practices, except with IMF approval.

By accepting the obligations of Article VIII, Egypt gives assurance to the international community that it will pursue economic policies that will not impose restrictions on the making of payments and transfers for current international transactions unnecessary, and will contribute to a multilateral payments system free of restrictions.

In the fiscal year 2004 and over most of the fiscal year 2005, the pound depreciated against the US dollar. Since the second half of the fiscal year 2006 until the end of the fiscal year 2007, the pound gradually appreciated to EGP 5.69 per USD. While it was likely to continue appreciating in the short-term, given the skyrocketing oil prices and the weakening US economy, the advent of the global economic crisis of 2008, and resulting behavior of foreign investors exiting from the stock market in Egypt increased the dollar exchange rate against the Egyptian pound, which rose by more than 4% since Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy. As the demand pressure from exiting foreign investors eases, the dollar exchange rate against the Egyptian pound is expected to decline. It stands at EGP 7.00 per USD as of 18 June 2013. Due to the rising power of the US dollar, as of January 2015 one dollar equals 7.83 Egyptian pounds.

On 3 November 2016, the Egyptian government announced that it would float the Egyptian pound in an effort to revive its economy, which had been suffering since 2011.[30]

Natural resources[edit]

Land, agriculture and crops[edit]

Warm weather and plentiful water have in the past produced several crops a year. However, since 2009 increasing desertification has become a problem. "Egypt loses an estimated 11,736 hectares of agricultural land every year, making the nation's 3.1 million hectares of agricultural land prone "to total destruction in the foreseeable future", said Abdel Rahman Attia, a professor of agriculture at Cairo University, to IRIN [4]. Scarcity of clean water is also a problem [5]. Land is worked intensively and yields are high.

Cotton, rice, wheat, corn, sugarcane, sugar beets, onions, tobacco, and beans are the principal crops. Increasingly, a few modern techniques are applied to producing fruits, vegetables and flowers, in addition to cotton, for export. Further improvement is possible. The most common traditional farms occupy 0.40 hectares (1 acre) each, typically in a canal-irrigated area along the banks of the Nile. Many small farmers also own cows, water buffalos, and chickens. Between 1953 and 1971, some farms were collectivised, especially in Upper Egypt and parts of the Nile Delta.

Several researchers questioned the domestic (and import) policies for dealing with the so-called the "wheat game" since the former Minister of Agriculture Youssef Wali was in office.

In 2006, areas planted with wheat in Egypt exceeded 160,000 hectares (400,000 acres) producing approximately 6 million metric tons.[31] The domestic supply price farmers receive in Egypt is EGP 1200 ( US$211) per ton compared to approximately EGP 1940 ( US$340) per ton for import from the USA, Egypt's main supplier of wheat and corn. Egypt is the U.S.'s largest market for wheat and corn sales, accounting for US$1 billion annually and about 46% of Egypt's needs from imported wheat. Other sources of imported wheat, include Kazakhstan, Canada, France, Syria, Argentina and Australia. There are plans to increase the areas planted with wheat up to nearly 1,200,000 hectares (3×106 acres) by 2017 to narrow the gap between domestic food supply and demand.[32] However, the low amount of gluten in Egypt wheat means that foreign wheat must be mixed in to produce bread that people will want to eat.[33]

Egypt would be the first ever electronic Egyptian Commodities Exchange in the MENA region to facilitate the well being of its small farmers and supply of products at reasonable prices abolishing the monopoly of goods.[34][35]

Imports from US3,5478603,9851,7651,1811,3001,6363663,86698900120
Total Consumption12,75012,80013,30014,20014,80015,60017,20018,10017,70018,60018,40017,70019,10019,600
Imports from US4,2832,9043,1203,7383,9274,2002,4452,9002,90029800
Total Consumption11,20010,9009,20011,30010,30010,60011,10012,00012,50011,70011,20010,900

Food imports to Egypt compared to other countries

The Western Desert accounts for about two-thirds of the country's land area. For the most part, it is a massive sandy plateau marked by seven major depressions. One of these, Fayoum, was connected about 3,600 years ago to the Nile by canals. Today, it is an important irrigated agricultural area.

Practically all Egyptian agriculture takes place in some 25,000 km2 (6 million acres) of fertile soil in the Nile Valley and Delta.

Some desert lands are being developed for agriculture, including the controversial but ambitious Toshka project in Upper Egypt, but some other fertile lands in the Nile Valley and Delta are being lost to urbanization and erosion. Larger modern farms are becoming more important in the desert.

The agriculture objectives on the desert lands are often questioned; the desert farm lands which were offered regularly at different levels and prices were restricted to a limited group of elites selected very carefully, who later profiteered retailing the granted large desert farm land by pieces. This allegedly transforms the desert farms to tourist resorts, hits all government plans to develop and improve the conditions of the poor, and causes serious negative impact on agriculture and the overall national economy over time. One company, for example, bought over 70 hectare of large desert farm for a price as low as EGP 0.05 per square meter and now sells for EGP 300 per square meter. In numbers, 70 hectares bought for about US$6,000 in 2000 sells for over US$3.7 million in 2007. Currently, no clear solution exists to deal with these activities.

Agriculture biomass, including agricultural wastes and animal manure, produce approximately 30 million metric tons of dry material per year that could be massively and decisively used, inter alia, for generating bioenergy and improve the quality of life in rural Egypt. Unfortunately, this resource remain terribly underutilized.[38]

Since early 2008, with the world food prices soaring, especially for grains, calls for striking a "new deal" on agriculture increased. Indeed, 2008 arguably marks the birth of a new national agriculture policy and reform.[39]

Acquisition and ownership of desert land in Egypt is governed by so-called "Egyptian Desert Land Law". It defines desert land as the land two kilometers outside the border of the city. Foreign partners and shareholders may be involved in ownership of the desert land, provided Egyptians own at least 51% of the capital.

Water resources[edit]

Main article: Water resources management in modern Egypt

"Egypt", wrote the Greek historian Herodotus 25 centuries ago, "is the gift of the Nile." The land's seemingly inexhaustible resources of water and soil carried by this mighty river created in the Nile Valley and Delta the world's most extensive oasis. Without the Nile, Egypt would be little more than a desert wasteland.

The river carves a narrow, cultivated floodplain, never more than 20 kilometers wide, as it travels northward toward Cairo from Lake Nasser on the Sudanese border, behind the Aswan High Dam. Just north of Cairo, the Nile spreads out over what was once a broad estuary that has been filled by riverine deposits to form a fertile delta about 250 kilometers (160 mi) wide at the seaward base and about 160 kilometers (99 mi) from south to north.

Before the construction of dams on the Nile, particularly the Aswan High Dam (started in 1960, completed in 1970), the fertility of the Nile Valley was sustained by the water flow and the silt deposited by the annual flood. Sediment is now obstructed by the Aswan High Dam and retained in Lake Nasser. The interruption of yearly, natural fertilization and the increasing salinity of the soil has been a manageable problem resulting from the dam. The benefits remain impressive: more intensive farming on thousands of square kilometers of land made possible by improved irrigation, prevention of flood damage, and the generation of millions of gigajoules of electricity at low cost.


The rain falling on the coast of the southern regions are the main source of recharge of the main reservoir. There is a free floating layer of the reservoir water on top of sea water up to a distance of 20 km south of the Mediterranean Sea. The majority of wells in the coastal plain depend on the water level in the main reservoir. The coastal water supply comes from water percolating through the coastal sand and water runoff from the south. This low salinity water is used for many purposes.

Mineral and energy resources[edit]

Main article: Energy in Egypt

Egypt's mineral and energy resources include petroleum, natural gas, phosphates, gold and iron ore. Crude oil is found primarily in the Gulf of Suez and in the Western Desert. Natural gas is found mainly in the Nile Delta, off the Mediterranean shore, and in the Western Desert. Oil and gas accounted for approximately 7% of GDP in fiscal year 2000/01.

Export of petroleum and related products amounted to $2.6 billion in the year 2000. In late 2001, Egypt's benchmark "Suez Blend" was about $16.73 per barrel ($105/m³), the lowest price since 1999.

Crude oil production has been in decline for several years since its peak level in 1993, from 941,000 bbl/d (149,600 m3/d) in 1993 to 873,000 bbl/d (138,800 m3/d) in 1997 and to 696,000 bbl/d (110,700 m3/d) in 2005. (See Figure). At the same time, the domestic consumption of oil increased steadily (531,000 bbl/d (84,400 m3/d) and 525,000 bbl/d (83,500 m3/d) in 1997 and 2005 respectively), but in 2008, oil consumption reached to 697,000 bbl/d (110,800 m3/d). It is easy to see from the graph that a linear trend projects that domestic demand outpaced supply in (2008–2009), turning Egypt to a net importer of oil. To minimize this potential, the government of Egypt has been encouraging the exploration, production and domestic consumption of natural gas. Oil Production was 630 bbl/d (100 m3/d) in 2008, and natural gas output continued to increase and reached 48.3 billion cubic meters in 2008.[40]

Domestic resources meet only about 33% of Egypt's domestic demand, meaning large imports from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Iraq are necessary.

Over the last 15 years, more than 180 petroleum exploration agreements have been signed and multinational oil companies spent more than $27 billion in exploration companions. These activities led to the findings of about 18 crude oil fields and 16 natural gas fields in FY 2001. The total number of findings rose to 49 in FY 2005. As a result of these findings, crude oil reserves as of 2009 are estimated at 3.7 billion barrels (590,000,000 m3), and proven natural gas reserves are 1.656 trillion cubic meters with a likely additional discoveries with more exploration campaigns.

In August 2007, it was announced that signs of oil reserves in Kom Ombo basin, about 28 miles (45 km) north of Aswan, was found and a concession agreement was signed with Centorion Energy International for drilling. The main natural gas producer in Egypt is the International Egyptian Oilfield Company (IEOC), a branch of Italian Eni. Other companies like BP, BG, Texas-based Apache Corp. and Shell carry out activities of exploration and production by means of concessions granted for a period of generally ample time (often 20 years) and in different geographic zones of oil and gas deposits in the country.

Gold mining is more recently a fast-growing industry with vast untapped gold reserves in the Eastern Desert. To develop this nascent sector the Egyptian government took a first step by awarding mineral concessions, in what was considered the first international bid round. Two miners who have produced encouraging technical results include AngloGold Ashanti and Alexander Nubia International.[42][43]

Gold production facilities are now reality from the Sukari Hills, located close to Marsa Alam in the Eastern Desert. The concession of the mine was granted to Centamin, an Australian joint stock company, with a gold exploitation lease for a 160-square-kilometer area. Sami El-Raghy, Centamin Chairman, has repeatedly stated that he believes Egypt's yearly revenues from gold in the future could exceed the total revenues from the Suez Canal, tourism and the petroleum industry .[44]

The Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources has established expanding the Egyptian petrochemical industry and increasing exports of natural gas as its most significant strategic objectives and in 2009 about 38% of local gas production was exported.

As of 2009, most Egyptian gas exports (approximately 70%) are delivered in the form of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by ship to Europe and the United States. Egypt and Jordan agreed to construct the Arab Gas Pipeline from Al Arish to Aqaba to export natural gas to Jordan; with its completion in July 2003, Egypt began to export 1.1 billion cubic feet (31,000,000 m3) of gas per year via pipeline as well. Total investment in this project is about $220 million. In 2003, Egypt, Jordan and Syria reached an agreement to extend this pipeline to Syria, which paves the way for a future connection with Turkey, Lebanon and Cyprus by 2010. As of 2009, Egypt began to export to Syria 32.9 billion cubic feet (930,000,000 m3) of gas per year, accounting for 20% of total consumption in Syria.[45]

In addition, the East Mediterranean Gas (EMG), a joint company established in 2000 and owned by Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC) (68.4%), the private Israeli company Merhav (25%) as well as Ampal-American Israel Corp. (6.6%), has been granted the rights to export natural gas from Egypt to Israel and other locations in the region via underwater pipelines from Al 'Arish to Ashkelon which will provide Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) 170 million cubic feet (4.8×106 m3) of gas per day. Gas supply started experimentally in the second half of 2007. As of 2008, Egypt produces about 6.3 billion cubic feet (180×106 m3), from which Israel imports of 170 million cubic feet (4.8×106 m3) account for about 2.7% of Egypt's total production of natural gas. According to a statement released on 24 March 2008, Merhav and Ampal's director, Nimrod Novik, said that the natural gas pipeline from Egypt to Israel can carry up to 9 billion cubic meters annually which sufficiently meet rising demand in Israel in the coming years.[46]

According to a memorandum of understanding, the commitment of Egypt is 680 million cubic feet (19×106 m3) contracted for 15 years at a price below $3 per million of British thermal unit, though this was renegotiated at a higher price in 2009 (to between $4 and $5 per million BTU), while the amounts of gas supplied were increased. Exporting natural gas to Israel faces broad popular opposition in Egypt.[47]

Agreements between Egypt and Israel allow for Israeli entities to purchase up to 7 billion cubic meters of Egyptian gas annually, making Israel one of Egypt's largest natural gas export markets. The decision to export of natural gas to Israel was passed in 1993 at the time when Dr. Hamdy Al-Bambi was Minister of Petroleum and when Mr. Amr Moussa was Minister of Foreign Affairs. The mandate to sign of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to delegate to the Ministry of Petroleum represented by the Egyptian General Petroleum Company (EGPC) to contract with EMG Company was approved by the former Prime Minister Dr. Atef Ebeid in the Cabinet's meeting No. 68 on 5 July 2004 when he served as the acting "President of the Republic" when President Hosni Mubarak was receiving medical treatment in Germany.

A new report by Strategic Foresight Group on the Cost of Conflict in the Middle East[28] also details how in the event of peace an oil and gas pipeline from Port Said to Gaza to Lebanon would result in a transaction value for Egypt to the tune of $1–2 billion per year.

With respect to nuclear energy, Egypt's last president, Hosni Mubarak on 29 October 2007, a few days before the Egyptian ruling party's annual conference, proudly gave the go-ahead for building several nuclear power plants. Egypt's nuclear route is purely peaceful and fully transparent, but faces technical and financing obstacles. Egypt is a member of the IAEA and has both signed and ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Currently, a draft Law on Nuclear Energy is being reviewed by the IAEA and expected to be passed by the Egyptian Parliament. Many other countries in the region, including Libya, Jordan, UAE, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia aspire to build nuclear power plants.

As of June 2009, it was reported that Cairo said Israelis will dig for oil in Sinai.[48] This report comes in the time in which the government is heavily criticized for exporting natural gas to Israel at an extremely low rate.[49]

Starting in 2014, the Egyptian government has been diverting gas supplies produced at home to its domestic market, reducing the volumes available for export in liquefied form.[50] According to the memorandum of understanding, the Leviathan field off Israel's Mediterranean coast would supply 7 billion cubic meters annually for 15 years via an underwater pipeline. This equates to average volumes of 685 million cubic feet a day, the equivalent of just over 70% of the BG-operated Idku plant's daily volumes.

In March 2015, BP Signed a $12 Billion Deal to Develop Natural Gas in Egypt intended for sale in the domestic market starting in 2017. [51] BP said it would develop a large quantity of offshore gas, equivalent to about one-quarter of Egypt’s output, and bring it onshore to be consumed by customers. Gas from the project, called West Nile Delta, is expected to begin flowing in 2017. BP said that additional exploration might lead to a doubling of the amount of gas available.

Egypt and Cyprus are considering implementing the proposed EuroAfrica Interconnector project.[52][53][54][55][56] This consists of laying a 2000 MW HVDCundersea power cable between them and between Cyprus and Greece, thus connecting Egypt to the greater European power grid.[54] Interconnector will transform Egypt in electricity hub between Europe and Africa. President of EgyptAbdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of CyprusNicos Anastasiades and the Prime Minister of GreeceAlexis Tsipras met in Nicosia on November 21, 2017 and showed their full support for the EuroAfrica Interconnector pointing out its importance for energy security of three countries.[57][58]<[59][60]

Main economic sectors[edit]

Agricultural sector[edit]

This article is about agriculture in modern Egypt. For agriculture in ancient Egypt, see Ancient Egyptian agriculture.

Annual inflation (black) and economic growth (red) in Egypt.
Egyptian export destinations in 2006.
Egypt's food imports as percentage of all merchandise imports.[37]
An offshore platform in the Darfeel Gas Field.
Egypt's oil consumption is overtaking oil production.
Egypt's net natural gas exports.[41]
Farmland in the Egyptian countryside


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