Ancient Egypt Late Period

The Late Period, 664-323 B.C.
The Late Period includes the last phases during which ancient Egypt functioned as an independent political entity. During these years, Egyptian culture was under pressure from major civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean and the Near East. The socioeconomic system, however, had a vigour, efficiency, and flexibility that ensured the success of the nation during these years of triumph and disaster.

Throughout the Late Period, Egypt made a largely successful effort to maintain an effectively centralized state, which, except for the two periods of Persian occupation (27th and 31st dynasties), was based on earlier indigenous models. Late Period Egypt, however, displayed certain destabilizing features, such as the emergence of regionally based power centers. These contributed to the revolts against the Persian occupation but also to the recurrent internal crises of the 28th, 29th, and 30th dynasties.

Ancient Egypt Late Period

The 26th Dynasty was founded by Psammethichus I, who made Egypt a united and powerful kingdom. This dynasty, which ruled from 664 to 525 B.C., represented the last great age of pharaonic civilization. The dynasty ended when a Persian invasion force under Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the Great, dethroned the last pharaoh.

Cambyses established himself as pharaoh and appears to have made some attempts to identify his regime with the Egyptian religious hierarchy. Ancient Egypt became a Persian province serving chiefly as a source of revenue for the far-flung Persian Empire. From Cambyses to Darius II in the years 525 to 404 B.C., the Persian emperors are counted as the 27th Dynasty.

Periodic Egyptian revolts, usually aided by Greek military forces, were unsuccessful until 404 B.C., when Egypt regained an uneasy independence under the short-lived, native 28th, 29th, and 30th dynasties. Independence was lost again in 343 B.C., and Persian rule was oppressively reinstated and continued until 335 B.C., in what is sometimes called the 31st Dynasty or The Second Persian occupation of Egypt. 

Ancient Egypt Ptolemaic Period

The Ptolemaic Period, 332-30 B.C.
The Persian occupation of Egypt ended when Alexander the Great defeated the Persians at the Battle of Issus (near presentday Iskenderun in Turkey) in November 333 B.C. The Egyptians, who despised the monotheistic Persians and chafed under Persian rule, welcomed Alexander as a deliverer. In the autumn of 332 B.C., Alexander entered Memphis, where, like a true Hellene, he paid homage to the native gods and was apparently accepted without question as king of ancient Egypt. 

Also like a true Hellene, he celebrated the occasion with competitive games and a drama and music festival at which some of the leading artists of Greece were present. From Memphis, Alexander marched down the western arm of the Nile and founded the city of Alexandria. Then he went to the oasis of Siwa (present-day Siwah) to consult the oracle at the Temple of Amun, the Egyptian god whom the Greeks identified with their own Zeus.

Ancient Egypt Ptolemaic Period

Ancient Egypt Ptolemaic Period

Ancient Egypt Ptolemaic Period

After Alexander's death of malarial fever in 323 B.C., the Macedonian commander in Egypt, Ptolemy, who was the son of Lagos, one of Alexander's seven bodyguards, managed to secure for himself the satrapy (provincial governorship) of ancient Egypt. In 306 B.C., Antigonus, citing the principle that the empire Alexander created should remain unified, took the royal title. In reaction, his rivals for power, Ptolemy of Egypt, Cassander of Macedonia, and Seleucus of Syria, countered by declaring themselves kings of their respective dominions. Thus came into existence the three great monarchies that were to dominate the Hellenistic world until, one by one, they were absorbed into the Roman Empire.

The dynasty Ptolemy founded in Egypt was known as the line of Ptolemaic pharaohs and endured until the suicide of Cleopatra in 30 B.C., at which time direct Roman control was instituted. The early Ptolemies were hardheaded administrators and business people, anxious to make the state that they created stable, wealthy, and influential. The Ptolemies had their eyes directed outward to the eastern Mediterranean world in which they sought to play a part. 

Egypt was their basis of power, their granary, and the source of their wealth. Under the early Ptolemies, the culture was exclusively Greek. Greek was the language of the court, the army, and the administration. The Ptolemies founded the university, the museum, and the library at Alexandria and built the lighthouse at Pharos. A canal to the Red Sea was opened, and Greek sailors explored new trade routes.

Whereas many ancient Egyptians adopted Greek speech, dress, and much of Greek culture, the Greeks also borrowed much from the Egyptians, particularly in religion. In this way, a mixed culture was formed along with a hybrid art that combined ancient Egyptian themes with elements of Hellenistic culture. Examples of this are the grandiose temples built by the Ptolemies at Edfu and Dendera.

The last of the Ptolemies was Cleopatra, the wife of Julius Caesar and later Mark Antony.

During Cleopatra's reign, ancient Egypt again became a factor in Mediterranean politics. Cleopatra was a woman of genius and a worthy opponent of Rome. Her main preoccupations were to preserve the independence of Egypt, to extend its territory if possible, and to secure the throne for her children. After the ruinous defeat at Actium in 31 B.C., Cleopatra was unable to continue the fight against Rome. Rather than witness the incorporation of Egypt into the Roman Empire, she chose to die by the bite of the asp. The asp was considered the minister of the sun god whose bite conferred not only immortality but also divinity. 

The Aftermath of Camp David & the Assassination of Sadat

History of EgyptThe Aftermath of Camp David & the Assassination of Sadat

The Camp David Accords brought peace to Egypt but not prosperity. With no real improvement in the economy, Sadat became increasingly unpopular. His isolation in the Arab world was matched by his increasing remoteness from the mass of Egyptians. While Sadat's critics in the Arab world remained beyond his reach, increasingly he reacted to criticism at home by expanding censorship and jailing his opponents.

In addition, Sadat subjected the Egyptians to a series of referenda on his actions and proposals that he invariably won by more than 99 percent of the vote. For example, in May 1979 the Egyptian people approved the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty by 99.9 percent of those voting.

The Aftermath of Camp David & the Assassination of Sadat

One of Sadat's most remarkable acts during this period was the so-called Law of Shame, which was drafted at Sadat's express instructions. Among the shameful crimes punishable under this law were "advocating any doctrine that implies negation of divine teaching," "allowing children or youth to go astray by advocating the repudiation of popular, religious, moral, or national values or by setting a bad example in a public place," and "broadcasting or publishing gross or scurrilous words or pictures that could offend public sensibilities or undermine the dignity of the state."

Offenders could be barred from public life or from engaging in economic activity or managing their own property; they could be condemned to internal exile or prohibited from leaving the country. The Law of Shame was approved in a referendum by 98.56 percent of the electorate. This was remarkable since there was widespread opposition to the law, which was denounced as "an act of shame."

History of Egypt. In May 1980, an impressive, non-partisan body of citizens charged Sadat with superseding his own constitution. Their manifesto declared, "The style in which Egypt is governed today is not based on any specific form of government. While it is not dictatorship, Nazism, or fascism, neither is it democracy or pseudo-democracy."

In September 1981, Sadat ordered the biggest roundup of his opponents since he came to power, at least 1,500 people according to the official figure but more according to unofficial reports. The Muslim Brotherhood bore the brunt of the arrests. The supreme guide of the Brotherhood, Umar Tilmasani, and other religious militants were arrested.

Sadat also withdrew his "recognition" of the Coptic pope Shenudah III, banished him to a desert monastery, and arrested several bishops and priests. Also arrested were such prominent figures as journalist Mohamed Heikal, and Wafd leader Fuad Siraj ad Din. Sadat ordered the arrest of several SLP leaders and the closing of Ash Shaab (The People) newspaper. A referendum on his purge showed nearly 99.5 percent of the electorate approved.

On October 6, while observing a military parade commemorating the eighth anniversary of the October 1973 War, Sadat was assassinated by members of Al Jihad movement, a group of religious extremists. Sadat's assassin was Lieutenant Colonel Khalid al Islambuli. The conspirators were arrested and tried. In April 1982, two of the conspirators were shot and three hanged.

Whereas a number of Western leaders, including three former United States presidents, attended Sadat's funeral, only one member of the Arab League was represented by a head of state, Sudan. Only two, Oman and Somalia, sent representatives. In Egypt 43 million people went on with the celebration of Id al Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, as if nothing had happened. There were no throngs in the streets, grieving and lamenting, as there were when Nasser died. In the Arab world, Sadat's death was greeted with jubilation.

Arab Israeli Conflicts Peace with Israel

Arab Israeli Conflicts
Peace with Israel

In 1977 the outlook for peace between Israel and Egypt was not good. Israel still held most of Sinai, and negotiations had been at a stalemate since the second disengagement agreement in 1975. Israeli Prime minister Menachem Begin was a hard-liner and a supporter of Israeli expansion. He approved the development of settlements on the occupied West Bank and reprisal raids into southern Lebanon. He also refused to approve any negotiation with the PLO.

Arab Israeli Conflicts Peace with Israel

After the food riots of January 1977, Sadat decided that something dramatic had to be done, and so on November 19, 1977, in response to an invitation from Begin, Sadat journeyed to Jerusalem.

The world was amazed by this courageous move. The reaction in Egypt was generally favourable. Many Egyptians accepted peace with Israel if it meant regaining Egyptian territories. They were tired of bearing the major burden of the confrontation and, considering the sacrifices Egypt had already made, felt that the Palestinians were ungrateful.

Of the Arab countries, only Sudan, Oman, and Morocco were favourable to Sadat's trip. In the other Arab states, there was shock and dismay. The Arabs felt that Sadat had betrayed the cause of Arab solidarity and the Palestinians. In spite of Sadat's denials, the Arabs believed that he intended to go it alone and make a separate peace with Israel.

In fact, that is what happened. In December 1977, Egypt and Israel began peace negotiations in Cairo. These negotiations continued on and off over the next several months, but by September 1978 it was clear that they were deadlocked. President Jimmy Carter had become closely involved in the negotiations. In an effort to break the deadlock, Carter invited Sadat and Begin to Camp David. The negotiations were tense and almost broke down several times. On September 17, however, Carter announced that the Camp David Accords had been reached. They consisted of two parts, the Framework for Peace in the Middle East and the Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt.

The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed on March 26, 1979. Israel agreed to withdraw from Sinai within three years of the treaty; normal diplomatic and trade relations were to be established, and Israeli ships would pass unhindered through the canal. Egypt, however, would not have full sovereignty over Sinai. A multinational observer force would be stationed in Sinai, and the United States would monitor events there.

The Framework for Peace in the Middle East was an elaboration of the "autonomy" plan that Begin had put forward nine months before. A "self-governing authority" was to be established for a five-year transitional period, by the third year of which negotiations would begin to determine the final status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and to conclude a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

Within one month of the ratification of the treaty, Egypt and Israel were supposed to begin negotiations for the establishment of the "elected self-governing authority" in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They set themselves the goal of completing the negotiations within one year so that elections could be held "as expeditiously as possible." These deadlines came and went, and by 1990 the Framework for Peace had become a virtual dead letter.

Begin made his position perfectly clear: Jerusalem would remain undivided; settlement would continue, and autonomy would never become sovereignty. There would be no Palestinian state. On May 12, 1979, shortly before the autonomy talks were supposed to begin, Deputy Geula Cohen, a Zionist extremist, introduced a bill, adopted by the Knesset, that declared Jerusalem to be Israel's united and indivisible capital.

The Camp David Accords made Sadat a hero in Europe and the United States. The reaction in Egypt was generally favourable, but there was opposition from the left and from the Muslim Brotherhood. In the Arab world, Sadat was almost universally condemned. Only Sudan issued an ambivalent statement of support. The Arab states suspended all official aid and severed diplomatic relations. Egypt was expelled from the Arab League, which it was instrumental in founding, and from other Arab institutions. Saudi Arabia withdrew the funds it had promised for Egypt's purchase of American fighter aircraft.

In the West, where Sadat was extolled as a hero and a champion of peace, the Arab rejection of the Camp David Accords is often confused with the rejection of peace. The basis for Arab rejection was opposition to Egypt's separate peace with Israel. Although Sadat insisted that the treaty provided for a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Arab states and the PLO saw it as a separate peace, which Sadat had vowed he would not sign.

The Arabs believed that only a unified Arab stance and the threat of force would persuade Israel to negotiate a settlement of the Palestinian issue that would satisfy Palestinian demands for a homeland. Without Egypt's military power, the threat of force evaporated because no single Arab state was strong enough militarily to confront Israel alone. Thus, the Arabs felt betrayed and dismayed that the Palestinian issue, the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict, would remain an unresolved, destabilizing force in the region.

Sadat Takes Over, 1970-73

History of Egypt
Sadat Takes Over, 1970-73

History of Egypt. When Nasser died, it became apparent that his successor, Anwar as Sadat, did not intend to be another Nasser. As Sadat's rule progressed, it became clear that his priority was solving Egypt's pressing economic problems by encouraging Western financial investment. Sadat realized, however, that Western investment would not be forthcoming until there was peace between Egypt and Israel, Soviet influence was eliminated, and the climate became more favourable to Western capitalism.

Sadat was a Free Officer who had served as secretary of the Islamic Congress and of the National Union and as speaker of the National Assembly. In 1969 he was appointed vice president and so became acting president on Nasser's death. On October 3, 1970, the ASU recommended that Sadat be nominated to succeed Nasser as president.


An election was held on October 15, and Sadat won more than 90 percent of the vote. Almost no one expected that Sadat would be able to hold power for long. Sadat was considered a rather weak and colourless figure who would last only as long as it would take for the political manoeuvring to result in the emergence of Nasser's true successor. Sadat surprised everyone with a series of astute political moves by which he was able to retain the presidency and emerge as a leader in his own right.

Sadat moved very cautiously at first and pledged to continue Nasser's policies. On May 2, 1971, however, Sadat dismissed Ali Sabri, the vice president and head of the ASU. On May 15, Sadat announced that Sabri and more than 100 others had been arrested and charged with plotting a coup against the government. Also charged in the plot were Sharawy Jumaa, minister of interior and head of internal security, and Muhammad Fawzi, minister of war.

These men were considered to be left-leaning and pro-Soviet. They were arrested with other important figures of the Nasser era. They had all resigned their positions on May 13, apparently in preparation for a takeover. But anticipating their moves, Sadat outflanked them and was then able to assert himself and appoint his own followers, rather than Free Officer colleagues, to leadership positions.

This action, which became known as the Corrective Revolution, began Sadat's move away from Nasser's policies. He announced new elections and a complete reorganization of the ASU. The armed forces pledged their support for Sadat on May 15. There were also some popular demonstrations in the streets in support of Sadat's moves.

Sadat signed the first Soviet-Egyptian Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation on May 27, 1971. He later explained that he did it to allay Soviet fears provoked by his ouster of Ali Sabri and the others and to speed up deliveries of Soviet military supplies. Even as he was preparing to break the stalemate with Israel, however, he was already thinking of expelling the Soviet advisers.

Egypt's New Direction

History of EgyptEgypt's New Direction

In April 1974, Sadat presented what he called the October Working Paper, which described his vision of Egypt's future. The paper committed Egypt to building a strong country, continuing the confrontation with Israel, working toward Arab unity, and playing a leading role in world politics. Perhaps the most important part of Sadat's paper was the announcement of a new economic policy that came to be called Infitah (opening or open door).

Egypt's New Direction

This new economic policy allowed:

    Increased foreign investment in Egypt
    Greater participation by the private sector in the Egyptian economy
    More freedom for individuals to develop their own wealth and property
    Relaxed currency regulations so that Egyptians could have access to foreign currency

The new direction gradually changed Egypt in many ways:

    The shops filled with foreign consumer goods
    Foreign companies built huge modern hotels
    New wealth was displayed in a way that had not been seen in Egypt since before the 1952 Revolution

Doubts began to be expressed, however, about how much all this was actually doing for the Egyptian people since foreign investment in long-term agricultural or industrial projects was lacking.

In January 1977, Egyptians took to the streets in antigovernment riots that demonstrated their disillusionment with infitah and the nepotism and corruption it spawned. The cause of the riots went back to late 1976 when Sadat, in an effort to solve the country's economic problems, asked the World Bank for loans. In response to the bank's criticisms of public subsidies, the government announced in January 1977 that it was ending subsidies on flour, rice, and cooking oil and cancelling bonuses and pay increases.

The result was immediate and shocking. On January 18 and 19, there was rioting in towns from Aswan to Alexandria, variously described as the biggest upheaval since the 1919 riots against the British, or a second Black Saturday. It was the first time the army had been brought into the streets since 1952.

For thirty-six hours, the rioters unleashed their pent-up fury on targets that symbolized the yawning gap between the haves and have-nots, the frivolity and corruption of the ruling class, and the incompetence and insensitivity of the administration. The rioters shouted slogans like, "Hero of the crossing, where is our breakfast?" and "Thieves of the infitah, the people are famished." There were also shouts of "Nasser, Nasser."

In the clashes between demonstrators and police, 800 persons were killed, and several thousands were wounded, according to unofficial estimates. The rioting ended when the government cancelled the price increases while retaining 10 percent wage increases and other benefits for public sector employees.

The October 1973 War

Arab Israeli Conflicts
The October 1973 War

Arab Israeli Conflicts. On February 4, 1971, Sadat announced a new peace initiative that contained a significant concession: he was willing to accept an interim agreement with Israel in return for a partial Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. A timetable would then be set for Israel's withdrawal from the rest of the occupied territories in accordance with UN Resolution 242. Egypt would reopen the canal, restore diplomatic relations with the United States, which had been broken after the June 1967 War, and sign a peace agreement with Israel through Jarring.

Sadat's initiative fell on deaf ears in Tel Aviv and in Washington, which was not disposed to assisting the Soviet Union's major client in the region. Disillusioned by Israel's failure to respond to his initiative, Sadat rejected the Rogers Plan and the cease-fire.

The October 1973 War

The October 1973 War

The October 1973 War

The October 1973 War

The October 1973 War

In May 1972, President Nixon met Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev, and Sadat was convinced that the two superpowers would try to prevent a new war in the Middle East and that a position of stalemate, no peace, no war, had been reached. For Sadat this position was intolerable. The June 1967 War had been a humiliating defeat for the Arabs. Without a military victory, any Arab leader who agreed to negotiate directly with Israel would do so from a position of extreme weakness.

At the same time, the United States and the Soviet Union were urging restraint and caution. However, the United States refused to put pressure on Israel to make concessions, and the Soviet Union, which had broken off diplomatic relations with Israel as a result of the June 1967 War, had no influence over Israel. Internally, the Egyptian economy was being steadily drained by the confrontation with Israel.

Economic problems were becoming more serious because of the tremendous amount of resources directed toward building up the military since the June 1967 War, and it was clear that Sadat would have to demonstrate some results from this policy. In the last half of 1972, there were large-scale student riots, and some journalists came out publicly in support of the students. Thus, Sadat felt under increasing pressure to go to war against Israel as the only way to regain the lost territories.

In retrospect, there were indications that Egypt was preparing for war. On July 17, 1972, Sadat expelled the 15,000 Soviet advisers from Egypt. Sadat later explained that the expulsion freed him to pursue his preparations for war. On December 28, 1972, Sadat created "permanent war committees." On March 26, 1973, Sadat assumed the additional title of prime minister and formed a new government designed to continue preparations for a confrontation with Israel.

Then on October 6, 1973, Egyptian forces launched a successful surprise attack across the Suez Canal. The Syrians carried out an attack on Israel at the same time. For the Arabs, it was the fasting month of Ramadan, and for Israel it was Yom Kippur. The crossing of the canal, an astounding feat of technology and military acumen, took only four hours to complete. The crossing was code-named Operation Badr after the first victory of the Prophet Muhammad, which culminated in his entry into Mecca in 630.

On October 17 the Arab oil producers announced a program of reprisals against the Western backers of Israel: a 5 percent cutback in output, followed by further such reductions every month until Israel had withdrawn from all the occupied territories and the rights of the Palestinians had been restored. The next day, President Nixon formally asked Congress for US$2.2 billion in emergency funds to finance the massive airlift of arms to Israel that was already under way. The following day, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia decreed an immediate 10 percent cutback in Saudi oil and, five days after that, the complete suspension of all shipments to the United States.

Israel was shocked and unprepared for the war. After the initial confusion and near panic in Israel followed by the infusion of United States weaponry, Israel was able to counterattack and succeeded in crossing to the west bank of the canal and surrounding the Egyptian Third Army. With the Third Army surrounded, Sadat appealed to the Soviet Union for help. Soviet Prime minister Alexei Kosygin believed he had obtained the American acceptance of a cease-fire through Henry Kissinger, United States secretary of state.

On October 22, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 338, calling for a cease-fire by all parties within twelve hours in the positions they occupied. Egypt accepted the cease-fire, but Israel, alleging Egyptian violations of the cease-fire, completed the encirclement of the Third Army to the east of the canal. By nightfall on October 23, the road to Suez, the Third Army's only supply line, was in Israeli hands, cutting off two divisions and 45,000 men.

The Soviet Union was furious, believing it had been double-crossed by the United States. On October 24, the Soviet ambassador handed Kissinger a note from Brezhnev threatening that if the United States was not prepared to join in sending forces to impose the cease-fire, the Soviet Union would act alone. The United States took the threat very seriously and responded by ordering a grade-three nuclear alert, the first of its kind since President John F. Kennedy's order during the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. The threat came to naught, however, because a UN emergency force arrived in the battle zone to police the ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Syria felt betrayed by Egypt because Sadat did not inform his ally of his decision to accept the cease-fire. Two days after Sadat, President Hafiz al Assad of Syria accepted the cease-fire as well.

Neither side had won a clear-cut victory, but for the Egyptians, it was a victory nonetheless. The Arabs had taken the initiative in attacking the Israelis and had shown that Israel was not invincible. The stinging defeats of 1948, 1956, and 1967 seemed to be avenged.

The Israelis, however, paid a heavy price for merely holding their attackers to an inconclusive draw. In three weeks, they lost 2,523 personnel, two and a half times as many, proportionally speaking, as the United States lost in the ten years of the Vietnam war. The war had a devastating effect on Israel's economy and was followed by savage austerity measures and drastically reduced living standards. For the first time, Israelis witnessed the humiliating spectacle of Israeli prisoners, heads bowed, paraded on Arab television. Also, for the first time captured Israeli hardware was exhibited in Cairo.

In Egypt the casualties included about 8,000 killed. The effect of the war on the morale of the Egyptian population, however, was immense. Sadat's prestige grew tremendously. The war, along with the political moves Sadat had made previously, meant that he was totally in control and able to implement the programs he wanted. He was the hero of the day.

Negotiations toward a permanent cease-fire began in December 1973. In January 1974, Kissinger began his shuttle diplomacy between Egypt and Israel. On January 18, the first disengagement agreement was signed separately by Sadat and Golda Meir. A second disengagement agreement was signed on September 1, 1975.

The agreement provided for a partial Israeli withdrawal in Sinai and limited the number of troops and kinds of weapons Egypt could have on the eastern side of the canal. Israel agreed to withdraw from the Abu Rudays oil fields in western Sinai, which produced small but important revenue for Egypt. Egypt also agreed not to use force to achieve its aims, a concession that in effect made Egypt a non-belligerent in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

As the price for its agreement, Israel extracted important concessions from the United States. Kissinger's secret promises to Israel included meeting Israel's military needs in any emergency, preserving Israel's arms superiority by providing the most advanced and sophisticated weaponry, and pledging not to recognize or to negotiate with the PLO.

On June 5, 1975, the Suez Canal was reopened. This was a great moment for Sadat, not only politically but economically, because the canal provided Egypt with considerable revenues.

Egypt and the Arab World

History of Egypt
Egypt and the Arab World

For a variety of conflicting reasons, the political leaders of Syria in January 1958 asked Nasser for a union between their two countries. Nasser was sceptical at first and then insisted on strict conditions for union, including a complete union rather than a federal state and the abolition of the Baath (Arab Socialist Resurrection) Party, then in power, and all other Syrian political parties.

Egypt and the Arab World

Because the Syrians believed that Nasser's ideas represented their own goals and that they would play a large role in the union, they agreed to the conditions. A plebiscite was held in both countries in 1958, and Nasser was elected president. Cairo was designated the capital of the United Arab Republic. Nasser then visited Damascus, where he received a tumultuous welcome. Arabs everywhere felt a new sense of pride.

Several Arab governments viewed Nasser with less enthusiasm, however. The conservative monarchies of Saudi Arabia and Jordan saw his ideas as a potential threat to their own power. Nasser regarded these monarchs as reactionaries and as obstacles to Arab unity. The United States moved to strengthen these regimes as well as the government of Lebanon in an effort to offset the influence of Egypt.

The hastily conceived union of Syria and Egypt did not last long. There were too many problems to overcome:
  •     The two countries were not contiguous
  •     Their economies and populations were different
  •     The Syrian elite deeply resented being made subservient to Egyptian dictates.

The deciding factor for the Syrian upper and middle classes came in July 1961 when Nasser issued the so-called "socialist decrees" that called for widespread nationalizations. This was followed by the elimination of local autonomy and a plan for the unification of Egyptian and Syrian currencies, a move that would deal the final blow to Syrian economic independence.

There was also resentment in the army that paralleled the resentment in civilian circles. On September 28, a group of army officers called the High Arab Revolutionary Command staged a successful coup and proclaimed the separation of Syria from Egypt. Nasser decided not to resist and ordered his troops to surrender. He blamed Syria's defection on "reactionaries" and "agents of imperialism."

During the same period, Egypt attempted a separate union with Yemen. This federation, called the United Arab States, fared no better than the Syrian one. In December 1961, Nasser formally ended it. In 1962 a military coup overthrew the royalist government in Yemen. Nasser intervened to support the new republican government against the Saudi-backed royalists, who were attempting to regain control.

This undertaking proved to be a great drain on Egypt's financial and military resources. At the height of its involvement, Egypt had 75,000 troops in Yemen. Egypt's intervention also increased inter-Arab tensions, especially between Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Egypt's defeat at the hands of Israel in the June 1967 War obliged it to withdraw its forces from Yemen and to seek peace. A settlement was achieved at a conference in Khartoum in 1967.

Nasser's Legacy

History of Egypt
Nasser's Legacy

 When news of Nasser's death was announced, Egyptians took to the streets by the tens of thousands to express shock and grief at the death of their leader. In spite of the doubts that many Egyptians may have felt about the path on which Nasser had taken Egypt, the sense of loss was overwhelming, and there was great uncertainty about the future.

It has been argued that Nasser's rule was not a great success; that there were almost as many landless peasants in 1970 as when the Free Officers took over in 1952 because it was the wealthier peasants who had profited and still controlled the villages; that the army had done no better in 1967 after fifteen years of the revolution than it had done in 1948 or 1956; that nationalization had caused inefficiency and corruption; and, finally, that repression was so pervasive that Egyptians were less free than they had been in the past.


It was under Nasser that Egypt finally succeeded in ridding itself of the last vestiges of British imperialism; that Egypt attempted to steer a middle course between the Western countries and the Soviet Union and its allies and in so doing became a founder of the Non-aligned Movement that exists to this day; that Egypt moved out of the isolation the British had imposed on the country and assumed a leadership position in the Arab world; and that Egypt became the "beating heart" of pan-Arabism and the symbol of renewed Arab pride.

Internally, Nasser destroyed the political and economic power of the old feudal landowning class. Education and employment opportunities were made available to all Egyptians regardless of class or sex. Women were encouraged to get an education and go to work as part of the national struggle for economic progress and development. After the revolution, women were at last granted the right to vote.

Nasser emphasized social programs to improve the living and working conditions of the peasants and workers, such as the electrification of villages, worker housing, minimum wage laws, decreased working hours, and worker participation in management. Industrialization intensified, and the country became less dependent on the export of cotton. The economy grew at acceptable rates in spite of some problems. After the June 1967 War, however, the military expenditures began to absorb about 25 percent of Egypt's gross national product. Also, the population increase that had begun in the 1940s began to overtake the economic advances.

It is true that Nasser never really opened up his rule to popular participation. He once admitted that he had become so used to conspiracy, by necessity that he tended to see a conspiracy in everything, a view that prevented him from conducting an open rule.

He wanted to establish a basis of support for his regime but one that would not require the regime to give significant power to the public. He felt that an ideology such as socialism might accomplish this, but at the same time he feared that the commitment would be to the ideology and not to him. Thus, when Nasser died in 1970 he left behind an imperfect and unfinished revolution.

Arab Israeli Conflicts Egypt, Arabs, and Israel: 1960

Arab Israeli ConflictsEgypt, Arabs, and Israel: 1960

 During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the question of Israel became more vexing for the Arab states. In 1964, in spite of the problems that existed among the various Arab states, Nasser initiated Arab summit meetings that were held in January, March, and September in Cairo and Casablanca.

The immediate reason for the summits was to find a way to block Israel's plan to divert the waters of the Jordan River to irrigate the Negev Desert, a plan that would deprive the lower Jordan River valley of water. The Arab states drew up a plan that called for diverting the Jordan River in Syria and Lebanon but did not implement it.


The Arab summit meetings also took up other matters. League members agreed to created a unified military command, the United Arab Command, with headquarters in Cairo, but this plan, like that of diverting the Jordan River, remained on paper. The Arab leaders did implement a plan to create the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to be the primary organization of Palestinians.

The Arab governments, especially Egypt, were becoming increasingly uneasy about the growing activities of Palestinian guerrillas, and they wanted to create an organization through which they could control such operations. They created the Palestine Liberation Army, whose units would be stationed and controlled by Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. Egypt exercised control of the PLO until 1969 when Yasir Arafat, the leader of the guerrilla organization called Al Fatah, took control of the organization from Ahmad Shukairy, the choice of the Arab League governments.

The Aftermath of the War - External Relations

Arab Israeli ConflictsThe Aftermath of the War - External Relations

The first move of the Arabs after the June 1967 War was to hold a summit conference in Khartoum in September 1967. At that meeting, Nasser and Faisal came to an agreement: Nasser would stop his attempts to destabilize the Saudi regime, and in return Saudi Arabia would give Egypt the financial aid needed to rebuild its army and retake the territory lost to Israel.

The Aftermath of the War - External Relations

At the conference, the Arab leaders were united in their opposition to Israel and proclaimed what became known as "the three no's" of the Khartoum summit:
  •     No peace with Israel
  •     No negotiations
  •     No recognition

At the UN in November, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 242, which provided a framework for settlement of the June 1967 War. This resolution declared that the acquisition of territory by force was unacceptable. The resolution called for Israel to withdraw "from territories occupied in the recent conflict," for the termination of the state of belligerency, and for the right of all states in the area "to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries." Freedom of navigation through international waterways in the area was to be guaranteed, and a just settlement of the "refugee" problem was to be attained.

Gunnar Jarring, a Swedish diplomat at the UN, started a series of journeys in the Middle East in an attempt to bring both sides together. In May 1968, Egypt agreed to accept the resolution if Israel agreed to evacuate all occupied areas. By accepting the resolution, Egypt for the first time implicitly recognized the existence, and the right to continued existence, of Israel. In return Egypt gained a UN commitment to the restoration of Sinai.

The PLO rejected the resolution because it referred to the Palestinians only as "refugees" and thus appeared to dismiss Palestinian demands for self-determination and national rights. Syria characterized the plan as a "sell-out" of Arafat and the PLO. The disagreement on that issue was compounded when, throughout 1969, tensions grew between the Lebanese government and Palestinian groups within Lebanon's borders, and serious clashes broke out. Syria condemned Lebanese action. Nasser invited both parties to Cairo, and an agreement was negotiated in November 1969 to end the hostilities.

Israel rejected Jarring's mission as meaningless, insisting that negotiations should precede any evacuation. Israel also objected to Nasser's support for the PLO, whose objective at the time was the establishment of a secular state in all "liberated" Palestinian territory. Nasser replied that if Israel refused to support Resolution 242 while Egypt accepted it, he had no choice "but to support courageous resistance fighters who want to liberate their land."

The mutual frustration led to the outbreak of the so-called War of Attrition from March 1969 to August 1970. Hoping to use Egypt's superiority in artillery to cause unacceptable casualties to Israeli forces dug in along the canal, Nasser ordered Egyptian guns to begin a steady pounding of the Israeli positions. Israel responded by constructing the Bar-Lev Line, a series of fortifications along the canal, and by using the one weapon in which it had absolute superiority, its air force, to silence the Egyptian artillery.

Having accomplished this with minimal aircraft losses, Israel embarked on a series of deep penetration raids into the heartland of Egypt with its newly acquired American-made Phantom bombers. By January 1970, Israeli planes were flying at will over eastern Egypt.

To remedy this politically intolerable situation, Nasser flew to Moscow and asked the Soviet Union to establish an air defence system manned by Soviet pilots and antiaircraft forces protected by Soviet troops. To obtain Soviet aid, Nasser had to grant the Soviet Union control over a number of Egyptian airfields as well as operational control over a large portion of the Egyptian army. The Soviet Union sent between 10,000 and 15,000 Soviet troops and advisers to Egypt, and Soviet pilots flew combat missions. A screen of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) was set up, and Soviet pilots joined Egyptian ones in patrolling Egyptian air space.

After the June 1967 War, the Soviet Union poured aid into Egypt to replace lost military equipment and rebuild the armed forces. However, by sending troops and advisers to Egypt and pilots to fly combat missions, the Soviet Union took a calculated risk of possible superpower confrontation over the Middle East. This added risk occurred because the United States under the Nixon administration was supplying Israel with military aid and regarded Israel as a bulwark against Soviet expansion in the area.

Many plans for peace were formulated and rejected, but on June 25, 1970, the Rogers Plan, put forth by United States secretary of state William Rogers, started a dialogue that eventually led to the long-awaited cease-fire in the War of Attrition along the Suez Canal. Basically, the plan was a modification of Resolution 242. Shortly after the plan was announced, from June 29 to July 17, Nasser visited Moscow. Discussions were held on the Rogers Plan, a newly formed Moscow peace plan, and the future of Soviet-Egyptian relations.

After his return to Egypt, Nasser declared a major policy shift based on his assertion that Egypt must be respected for doing what it could on its own because the other Arab states were not prepared to wage war with Israel. This policy shift set the stage for Egypt's acceptance of the Rogers Plan in July, to the surprise of Israel and the consternation of many Arab states that feared Egypt would sign a separate peace agreement with Israel. Jordan, however, followed Egypt's lead and accepted the plan. Israel accepted the plan in August.

Egyptian-Israeli fighting halted along the Suez Canal on August 7, 1970, in accordance with the first phase of the plan, and a ninety-day truce began. Palestinian guerrilla groups in opposition to the cease-fire continued to engage in small-scale actions on the Jordanian-Syrian-Lebanese fronts.

PLO leader Arafat's open criticism of the parties accepting the truce led Nasser to close down the Voice of Palestine radio station in Cairo and to terminate most of the material support Egypt provided to the PLO. In addition, many PLO activists were expelled from Egypt. Within a month, the guerrillas had effectively undermined progress on the Rogers Plan by a series of acts, including the hijacking of five international airplanes in early September 1970, thus triggering the Jordanian civil war that month.

King Hussein launched a major Jordanian military drive against the Jordan-based Palestinian guerrilla groups on September 14, partly out of fear that their attacks on Israel would sabotage the truce, but primarily because the guerrillas were becoming powerful enough to challenge his government. Nasser's position on these events, as in the preceding year when hostilities broke out between the Palestinians and Lebanese, was based on a desire to stop any form of intra-Arab conflict. He was extremely angry when Syria sent an armoured force into Jordan to support the guerrillas. The United States and Israel offered assistance to the beleaguered King Hussein.

Nasser called for a meeting in Cairo to stop the civil war. The Arab summit finally came about on September 26 after bloody military engagements in which Jordan decisively repulsed the Syrians and seemed to be defeating the PLO, although PLO forces were not pushed out of Jordan until July 1971. On September 27, 1970, Hussein and Arafat agreed to a fourteen-point cease-fire under Nasser's mediation, officially ending the war.

The effort by Nasser to bring about this unlikely reconciliation between two bitter enemies was enormous. He was by then a tired and sick man. He had been suffering from diabetes since 1958 and from arteriosclerosis of the leg. He had treatment in the Soviet Union, and his doctors had warned him to avoid physical and emotional strain. He had ignored their advice and suffered a heart attack in September 1969. The strain of the summit was too much. He felt ill at the airport on September 28 when bidding good-bye to Arab leaders and returned home to bed. He had another heart attack and died that afternoon.

Arab Israeli Conflicts The June 1967 War

Arab Israeli Conflicts
The June 1967 War

During the mid-1960s, tensions between the Arab states and Israel increased. In November 1966, Egypt and Syria signed a five-year defence pact. In the same month, Israeli forces crossed into the West Bank of Jordan to destroy the village of As Samu in retaliation for increasing Palestinian guerrilla raids.

Arab Israeli Conflicts. In 1967 Israeli leaders repeatedly threatened to invade Syria and overthrow the Syrian government if guerrilla raids across the Syrian border did not stop. In April 1967, there were serious Israeli-Syrian air clashes over Syrian air space. Israeli Prime minister Levi Eshkol warned that Damascus could be occupied if necessary.

Arab Israeli Conflicts The June 1967 War

The Soviet Union warned Egypt that they had information that the Israelis had mobilized two brigades on the frontier. Nasser reacted by sending troops to the Israeli border, and Syria followed suit. The claim has been made that Nasser believed that the presence of Egyptian troops would deter the Israelis from attacking Syria. Israel responded by deploying its own forces. It was clear that it would be difficult for Egypt to come to Syria's aid according to the terms of their agreement because of an obstacle, the presence of UNEF troops, stationed on the Egyptian side of the Egyptian-Israeli border since the 1956 War.

A great deal of pressure to remove the troops had been put on Nasser by Arab critics such as King Hussein of Jordan and Crown Prince Faisal (Faisal ibn Abdul Aziz Al Saud) of Saudi Arabia, who accused him of not living up to his responsibilities as an Arab leader. He was accused of failing to match words with deeds and of hiding behind the UN shield rather than thinking about liberating the Palestinian homeland.

On May 16, Nasser made the move that led inexorably to war. He asked the UN to remove the UNEF from the Egyptian-Israeli frontier in Sinai. Once the UNEF was withdrawn, Nasser declared he was closing the Strait of Tiran, which connects the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea, to Israeli shipping, a threat he never carried out. Israel, for its part, regarded the withdrawal of the UNEF troops as a hostile act and the closing of the strait as a casus belli. Meanwhile, Jordan and Iraq signed defence agreements with Egypt.

Arab Israeli Conflicts. Field Marshal Amir, deputy supreme commander of the armed forces, and Shams ad Din Badran, the minister of defence, urged Nasser to strike first, saying the Egyptian army was strong enough to win. The Soviet Union and the United States urged Nasser not to go to war. Nasser publicly denied that Egypt would strike first and spoke of a negotiated peace if the Palestinians were allowed to return to their homeland and of a possible compromise over the Strait of Tiran.

On the morning of June 5, Israel launched a full-scale attack on Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. In three hours, at least 300 of Egypt's 430 combat aircraft were destroyed, many on the ground as the pilots did not have time to take off. Israeli ground forces started a lightning strike into Sinai and by June 8 had reached the Suez Canal.

Arab Israeli Conflicts. On that day, both sides accepted a UN Security Council call for a cease-fire. By June 11, the Arab defeat was total; Israel now held all of historic Palestine, including the Old City of Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, as well as Sinai and part of the Golan Heights of Syria.

Nasser and Arab Socialism

History of EgyptNasser and Arab Socialism

Nasser concentrated on implementing his doctrine of Arab socialism internally, especially after the break with Syria. The National Charter, essentially drawn up by Nasser, was promulgated in 1962:
  •     It established the basis of authority for the new constitution that was to follow
  •     It showed a change in orientation from the nationalist goals of the original revolution
  •     It emphasized that Egypt was an Arab nation based on Islamic principles

In addition, the Arab Socialist Union (ASU) was created to be the sole political party and a means of gathering the support of the masses.

Nasser and Arab Socialism
Nasser and Arab Socialism

In July on the ninth anniversary of the 1952 coup, Nasser announced a list of nationalizations that cut more deeply into the private sector than had occurred in any country outside of Eastern Europe. The decrees nationalized all private banks, all insurance companies, and fifty shipping companies and firms in heavy and basic industries. Eighty-three companies were obliged to sell 50 percent or more of their shares to public agencies. A second agrarian reform law lowered the limit for an individual owner from 200 to 100 feddans.

The nationalization program continued in successive waves through 1962 and 1963 and involved shipping companies, cotton-ginning factories, cotton-exporting companies, pharmaceutical producers, ocean and river transport companies, trucking companies, glass factories, and the largest book-publishing company in Egypt. Between 1952 and 1966, £E7 billion in shared and public assets were transferred to public ownership.

The decrees also included legislation such as taxing gross incomes over £E5,000 at the rate of 90 percent, limiting base salaries of public sector directors to £E5,000, and limiting membership on all boards of directors to seven persons, two of whom must be workers. All joint-stock companies were required to place 5 percent of all profits in government bonds and to allot 10 percent to workers in cash and 15 percent to worker housing and community infrastructure. The work week was reduced to forty-two hours, and the minimum wage was raised. Half of all seats in Parliament and on all elective bodies and worker-management boards were reserved for peasants and workers.

Elections were held in March 1964 for a new National Assembly from a list of candidates drawn up by the ASU. Immediately after the election, Nasser released a draft constitution that functioned until 1971. The constitution was based on the National Charter and emphasized freedom, socialism, and unity.

The position of some minority groups changed during this period. Most Jews left Egypt, the last large group being several thousand who did not have Egyptian citizenship and who were expelled during the Suez crisis. The Greek community also decreased considerably because many Greeks who did not like socialism returned to Greece. 

The Birth of the New Republic

History of Egypt
The Birth of the New Republic

History of Egypt. On the night of July 22, 1952, a group of disillusioned military officers belonging to a clandestine organization known as the "Free Officers," rose up in arms against the government and, without having to fire a shot, they rapidly seized control of the country's key institutions. King Faruq was forced to abdicate in favor of his infant son Fuad II, and, on July 26, he sailed away to exile in Italy on board his royal yacht. He died in Rome in 1965.

The Birth of the New Republic
The Birth of the New Republic

The Free Officers formed a committee, known as the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC), and appointed a general by the name of Muhammad Naguib as prime minister. In 1953, the monarchy was formally abolished. Egypt was now a republic and Naguib was duly named the country's new leader. It was a landmark event in the history of Egypt - the first time since the pharaonic era, more than 2,000 years before, that the country was ruled by a native Egyptian.

Yet Naguib's leadership was illusory. The real leader behind the revolution was an extremely charismatic young Egyptian officer named Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had assumed the role of deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior.

Nasser was born on January 15, 1918 in Alexandria, the son of a post office manager. While still only a schoolboy, he took part in anti-British street protests and later remembered that whenever he saw a plane in the sky he would shout: "Ya Azeez, ya Azeez dahiya takhud al-Ingleez." (Almighty God, may a calamity befall the English!) At the age of seventeen, Nasser's forehead was grazed by a police bullet at a huge pro-Wafd demonstration in Cairo, leaving him with a scar that he carried with him for the rest of his life. Graduating from the Royal Military Academy, Nasser went on to a career in the army, where he would rise spectacularly to fame. In time he would become greatest hero of the 20th-century Arab world, idolized for his defiant stand against the domination of the West and his campaign for pan Arab unity.

In 1954, Nasser came to the decision that Naguib, who had openly enjoyed the support of the Muslim Brotherhood, had served his purpose. Accusing him of conspiring against the state, Nasser had him placed under house arrest. Nasser was then free to set about consolidating his power as acting head of state. In January 1956, a new constitution was drafted, and Egypt was declared a democratic republic. After seeking the population's approval by means of a referendum, Nasser formally assumed the role of president, armed with a wide range of constitutionally, granted powers.

Despite Nasser's ruthlessness towards the opposition, he was to embark on a series of policies that would seal his popularity at home and abroad. His program of reforms to improve social conditions for the poor of the countryside, where there were glaring inequalities, gained him a groundswell of support. In fact, the process had started as early as September 1952, when the new regime had enacted reforms to bring an end to the deeply conservative social order in the country by breaking up large estates and redistributing land to the peasants. The result was not, in fact, the end of rural inequality, but the creation of a new wealthy class of peasants who began to monopolize economic and political power. With a rising population and a lack of employment, many began to seek a better life in urban areas, adding to a growing problem of overcrowding in the cities.

When it came to foreign policy, Nasser found himself the undisputed leader of the Arab world, at least for the first part of his rule. A committed pan-Arabist who believed that Egypt was the natural leader of the Arab and Muslim world, Nasser spoke out loudly against foreign, particularly British, interference in Arab affairs. It was little surprise that his major priority had been to end the British occupation of the Suez Canal Zone. In July 1954, after intense and frustrating negotiations, Britain had finally agreed to leave the zone. The British government insisted on an important clause in the agreement. It stipulated that should any of the Arab League member states be attacked, it would be free to redeploy its forces to protect the waterway.

Two years later, in June 1956, the last British soldier left Egyptian soil. It was an enormously significant event in the history of Egypt, not since the last century had Egypt been free of British forces. Having successfully negotiated his treaty with the British, Nasser was free to turn his attention to the intensely bitter conflict that had been raging in the Middle East over the creation of the state of Israel.

Head of an Amarna Princess

During the Amarna period, sculptures of the royal family ushered in composite figures carved in more than one piece and then assembled. In the ateliers of artists, many unfinished sculptures were found; they dated from the time when the city of Amarna was abandoned after the death of Akhenaten and Thebes again became the capital.

 Head of an Amarna Princess

This small head is that of an Amarna statue of a princess and shows the deformation of her elongated skull, and her rather harsh features. The eyes are half closed under heavy lids and well defined eyebrows; the large ears are well balanced with the proportions of the head, and are pierced to receive earrings or other ornaments.

The lips are thick; the lower lip is curved above the protruding chin. However, one cannot miss the fine artistic qualities that had developed during the Amarna period and the well-polished, soft features.

Face of Akhenaten

Face of Akhenaten

Face of Akhenaten

Face of Akhenaten

This fragment of limestone has been discovered near the tomb of king Akhenaten at Tell El-`Amarna. It is one of the shabtis which have been deliberately broken during the desertion of the town.

The head may be considered as one of the masterpieces of the Amarnan art of modelling. The physionomy is characterised above all by a feminine softness.

Colossal of Akhenaten

A colossal statue that represents Akhenaten standing with his arms folded, holding the flail and heka scepters. He is depicted with his particular realistic features; long face, narrow eyes, the long protruding chin, and the fleshy lips.

The king is shown naked, without any distinctive sexual organ, which is thought, by some Egyptologists to represent the king as "the primordial god considered as the father and the mother" of the people.

Colossal of Akhenaten

This colossal statue was discovered with a similar statue, but with small differences. They were erected at Karnak, resting against pillars in the courtyard of the temple built by him, next to the temple of Amun-Ra. In the other statue, the king is wearing the traditional pleated kilt but with low waist to show his swollen belly.

The two colossi were sculpted at the early period of his reign before he transferred his capital from Thebes to Tell el-Amarna.

Statue of Akhenaten's Daughter

A statue depicting the young daughter of Akhenaten, with unnaturally lengthened skull, large eyes and fleshy lips.

Statue of Akhenaten's Daughter

One hypothesis about the deformity of the skull and the body is that it was congenital, because the other members of the family, including Akhenaten, had similar deformities, but this is not sufficient to explain what seems to be an artistic choice.

Head of Akhenaten Wearing Blue Crown

The head of a statue of King Akhenaten depicts him wearing the Blue Crown, which evolved from a military headdress. The Blue Crown became part of the classic imagery associated with the king's ceremonies.

Head of Akhenaten Wearing Blue Crown

The crown is decorated with a uraeus, or royal cobra, the symbol of kingship. The coils of the uraeus form a circle above the king's forehead and then extend over the top of the headdress. The head is carved in the style of the earlier Amarna art.

Unfinished Head of Nefertiti

The unfinished brown quartzite head of Queen Nefertiti, the beautiful wife of King Akhenaten was part of a composite statue. Each element was sculpted separately to be later assembled into one statue.

As it remained unfinished, the head retained the guiding lines of the sculptor: the eyebrows were marked with brown and the eyes with black. Like the rest of Akhenaten's family, the head portrayed the queen according to the Amarna style of art. 

Unfinished Head of Nefertiti
Unfinished Head of Nefertiti

Nefertiti's oval face reflected the sensibility and grace of a woman of great spirit. The eyebrows were elongated naturally towards the temples, projecting supercilious arches and cheekbones. The eyes were half-dimmed by the slightly downcast eyelids. The shape of her mouth hinted a mysterious quality. All of these features, which were rendered with harmonious proportions, created a beautiful portrait of the queen.

Unfinished Statue of Akhenaten with His Daughter

This unfinished limestone statue is of high artistic quality. It was discovered in a sculptor's atelier, or workshop, at Tell el-Amarna. It depicts Akhenaten supporting on his knee one of his daughters, probably Meritaten.

The king sits on a stool wearing a short-sleeved tunic and the Blue Crown of ceremonies. The girl turns her head affectionately toward her father who is kissing her.

Unfinished Statue of Akhenaten with His Daughter

It is an intimate depiction of life at the palace and shows the humanity of the pharaoh who described himself as "the one living in justice." He intended to be portrayed in a human manner and at a sincerely affectionate moment between father and child.

Khedive Ismail

History of Egypt
Khedive Ismail
 No ruler of Egypt, except Gamal Abdul Nasser, has provoked such controversy in the West as Khedive Ismail. At the time, the anti-Ismail view was held mainly by British administrators like Evelyn Baring (Lord Cromer) and Lord Alfred Milner, who depicted him as squeezing the peasants for money by oppressive taxation and the whip, and "ruining Egypt" by his lavish spending and despotic ways.

Journalists and the American consuls in Egypt such as Edwin de Leon held a more balanced view, arguing that Ismail inherited an unfavourable Suez Canal agreement and a significant public and private debt from his uncle, Said. They noted that although Ismail spent lavishly, much of the money he borrowed from European bankers was used for building or repairing the country's infrastructure.

Khedive Ismail
Khedive Ismail

History of Egypt. They also pointed out that European bankers and financiers loaned money to Egypt at usurious interest rates and, when it seemed Egypt would be unable to repay the loans, urged their governments to intervene to protect their interests.

Khedive Ismail's goals for Egypt were similar to those of his grandfather, Muhammad Ali. He wanted Egypt to become virtually independent of the Ottoman Empire, a political and military power in the eastern Mediterranean and an economic partner of Europe.

Ismail achieved a considerable degree of independence from the Porte (from Sublime Porte, the term for the High Gate that came to be synonymous with the Ottoman government) by making large payments to the Ottoman treasury. For example, in return for increasing Egypt's annual payment to the Ottoman treasury from £175,000 to £400,000, Sultan Abdul Aziz allowed Ismail to change the rule of succession from the oldest surviving male heir of Muhammad Ali to direct male primogeniture in his family. The sultan also granted Ismail the formal title of khedive, which elevated his standing to a position closer to royalty.

Ismail's attempt to make Egypt independent foundered eventually because of the gap between the revenues the country could produce and the expenses necessary to achieve his goals. He attempted to generate more income by increasing agricultural productivity, chiefly by bringing more land into cultivation through expensive irrigation projects such as the construction of canals and dams.

During his reign, an additional 506,000 hectares were brought under cultivation, representing a sizeable increase in both production and income. To service the cotton crop, which was the basis of Egypt's prosperity, roads, bridges, railways, harbours, and telegraph lines had to be constructed. During Ismail's reign, 112 canals, 13,440 kilometres long, were dug; 400 bridges were built; 480 kilometres of railroad lines were laid; and 8,000 kilometres of telegraph lines were erected.

Towns and cities were modernized by the expansion of public services such as water distribution, transport, street lighting, and gas supply. Public education was reorganized and expanded, and a postal service was established. The army and bureaucracy were expanded and modernized. In short, Ismail undertook the construction of the infrastructure of a modern state.

Ismail greatly expanded Egypt's revenues and exports during his reign. But the country's prosperity was tied to the export of cotton, whose price was set on a fluctuating world market, making income uncertain. Moreover, Ismail's infrastructure development entailed more expenditure than Egypt's income could provide, with the result that he was obliged to contract foreign loans. These loans, added to the expensive concessions that Said had made concerning the Suez Canal, meant that by 1875 Egypt was £100 million in debt.

In that year, Khedive Ismail sold his shares in the Suez Canal Company, making the British government overnight the single largest shareholder in the company. The sale of Ismail's shares did not solve the country's financial problems, however, but merely staved off the crisis for another year.

Egypt in World War II

Egyptian WarsEgypt in World War II

 In 1939, the European powers plunged the world into another major conflict. Although Egypt would become the arena of one of the most decisive battles of the war, that of El Alamein, and played a pivotal role in providing the British with supplies, there was very little overall support for Britain. Following a policy of non-belligerency, Egypt was, nevertheless, careful to fulfill its obligations set out under the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. It declared a State of Siege and put its ports, aerodromes, and railways at the disposition of Britain. The Egyptian Army itself was limited to the defense of Egyptian territory, which by and large meant helping to protect the Suez Canal from mines and cities from air raids.

 The number of Egyptian troops killed during the war was estimated to be around 200. The policy of non-belligerency was seen by the British as something of an advantage. It provided them with a relatively stable base to conduct its military operations. It was through the port of Suez that the Americans channeled vital supplies for the huge force engaged in the Battle of El Alamein. Cairo also became a hive of activity during the conflict, with Allied politicians, generals and hundreds of thousands of troops passing through.

Egypt in World War II
Egypt in World War II

The loss of Egypt was a scenario the British would not entertain. The British prime minister, Winston Churchill, declared that his country would defend the country to the end. When the Germans threatened to bomb Cairo, the British government issued a chilling warning to respond in kind. It vowed that Germany's Axis ally, Italy, could expect its capital to be systematically bombed for as long as the war lasted. The threat against Rome worked and Cairo was spared the destruction suffered by so many cities during the war. Alexandria was less lucky and was subjected to bombardment that caused a number of casualties.

The war caused serious disruption of everyday life in Egypt. Rampant inflation and serious shortages of basic foodstuffs hit the poor especially hard. The Black Market boomed. Too much cotton was being grown and not enough cereals. Attempting to compensate by reducing the area of land under cotton production made the government highly unpopular with cotton farmers and helped to boost the opposition. Some Egyptians pointed the finger of blame at the British and the huge amounts food needed to support its army. Although Britain denied it was pillaging the country since it also importing huge quantities of food, the accusation was, nevertheless, readily exploited by political agitators with Axis sympathies.

The ambiguity shown by the Egyptians towards the war reflected the views of a people that saw themselves as citizens of country that already had a struggle on its hands against the British, not the Germans. Therefore, wherever their sympathies lay, there was one common thread, the desire for independence from Britain.

The Wafd Party headed by al-Nahhas, for example, opted to cooperate with the British, convinced that Britain would acknowledge its debt by ending its occupation of Egypt at the end of the war. Some, such as the Saadist Party (a breakaway faction of the Wafd), went so far as to argue in favor of declaring war on Germany.

They were keenly aware that this would ensure Egypt a part in the reward of the peace process. Many opposed this, including the king, since after Germany invaded France many believed that Britain might well lose the war. If this were the case, Germany might well be the liberator of Egypt from British occupation.

There were also many individuals and organizations whose sympathies lay squarely with the Axis powers.

Founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, it was a highly organized movement that had at its disposal a variety of publications. Its aim was (as it still is today) to impose a strict form of Islamic government on Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood was vociferously anti-British and therefore played an important role in the struggle for independence. For those who belonged to more moderate nationalist groups and envisaged a secular Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood made for a somewhat disturbing ally.

British concerns over Egyptian ministers harboring sympathies for the Axis powers twice led it to intervene in the country's politics and force a change of government. On the second occasion, in February 1942, British tanks were dispatched to the gates of the royal palace to help persuade King Faruq to allow the pro-British Wafd to form a government. The crisis led to bitter recriminations. Egyptians poured scorn on their king for his display of subservience, and the Wafd, now too closely identified with the British, similarly lost a great deal of credibility which it would never regain.

The Stela the Royal Family of Akhenaten Adoration to Aten

Here we see a traditional scene of adoration of the god Aten by the royal family. King Akhenaten is represented with his physical deformities, offering two bouquets of lotus flowers to the Aten who is represented as a sun disk with rays dominating the scene.

The rays terminate in hands holding the ankh sign, symbol of life, in front of the nostrils of the king and the queen. Akhenaten is followed by his wife Queen Nefertiti who performs the same act of adoration and offering to Aten. 

The Stela the Royal Family of Akhenaten  Adoration to Aten

Their eldest daughters are shown behind Meritaten and Mekitaten, who died young, as is touchingly shown on the reliefs that are still visible in the tomb of the royal family from which this slab was taken.

Head of a Princess, Probably Meritaten

This yellow-brown quartzite head of a princess is probably Meritaten, the eldest daughter of Akhenaten. It was excavated by the Deutsche Orient-Gesellschaft in AD 1912 in a studio of the chief sculptor Tuthmosis at Tell el-Amarna.

Head of a Princess, Probably Meritaten

The head is from a composite statue where different pieces were sculpted separately and joined together. The skull is elongated and the features include protruding eyes, thick lips, and large ears. The style belongs to the middle period between the early Amarna style with its exaggerated deformation and the later return to convention.

Britain and France Challenge Nasser

Egyptian WarsBritain and France Challenge Nasser

The nationalization of the canal in 1956 came as a huge shock for the British and French, who had come to look on the canal as almost their own private concern. Now in the twilight of its days as an empire, Britain was especially indignant at the loss of control of the waterway, which was a major route for oil supplies from the Arab Gulf and still considered an imperial lifeline.

Britain and France Challenge Nasser

Britain and France Challenge Nasser

The French too were annoyed at the Egyptians over the loss of the canal that they had built and managed. To add to this, they were smarting over Egypt's involvement in financing an independence movement in France's colony of Algeria. The bottom line was that neither power trusted Nasser, and believed (quite wrongly as it turned out) that the Egyptians would be incapable of running the canal. Joining forces against Nasser, they immediately laid plans to retake it by force and bring down his regime.

The ruse they dreamed up involved giving themselves a supposedly clear-cut justification to invade Egypt. In what was to prove to be a political debacle, the two countries secretly asked Israel to invade Egypt. The Israelis were only too happy to oblige and, on October 29, 1956, they marched their army into Sinai. The British and French governments then deviously issued an ultimatum calling on both Egypt and Israel to withdraw their troops from the immediate vicinity of the canal. Since only Egyptian troops were actually in the exclusion zone at the time, the British and French had given themselves a reason to attack Nasser's forces under the guise of protecting the canal. Wasting no time, they landed a force of paratroopers who seized control of the waterway. During the course of the operation, Egypt's airforce was destroyed while still on the ground. Meanwhile, the Israelis had successfully advanced through Sinai and taken control of the entire peninsula.

From a military point of view, the operation was a success. However, politically it was a disaster that backfired in a most spectacular fashion. That two Western powers might invade a country in such an underhanded way caused widespread outrage and was condemned outright by the United Nations. The British and French might possibly have weathered the storm of international criticism had it not been for the fact that the United States was also dumbstruck by the recklessness of its supposed allies, who had acted without consultation. Accordingly, it joined in the chorus of U.N. disapproval.

The ill thought-out fiasco ended in utter humiliation for the British and French. Isolated and without the backing of the United States, there was little alternative but to back down. Yet there was one winner - President Nasser. His standing rocketed to almost mythical proportions amongst the Arabs.

Early in 1957, Britain and France evacuated Egypt, and ships that had been scuttled by the Egyptians to block the canal were cleared by the U.N. The Egyptians continued a ban against Israeli ships using the waterway, but let them use the Gulf of Aqaba as a route south into the Red Sea. For the next ten years, the U.N. policed the uneasy borders between the two countries. In the meantime Nasser turned his attention to his pan-Arab dreams.

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