The Egyptians (Egyptian: rmṯnkm.t; Coptic: ⲛⲓⲣⲉⲙ'ⲛⲭⲏⲙⲓ ni.ramenkīmi; Arabic: مِصريّون miṣriyūn; Masri: مَصريين maṣreyyīn) are a nation and a North African ethnic group native to Egypt. Egyptian identity is rooted in the lower Nile Valley, the small strip of cultivatable land stretching from the First Cataract to the Mediterranean Sea and enclosed by vast deserts. This unique geography has been the basis of the development of Egyptian society in antiquity.
The Egyptian people have spoken only languages from the northern branch of the Afro-Asiatic family throughout their history, from old Egyptian to today's vernacular Egyptian Arabic. Their religion is predominantly Sunni Islam with a Shia minority and a significant proportion who follow native Sufi orders. A large minority of Egyptians belong to the Coptic Orthodox Church, whose liturgical language, Coptic, is the latest stage of the indigenous Egyptian language.
Names of the Egyptians
Rmṯ (n) km.t – This is the native Egyptian name of the people of the Nile Valley, literally 'People of Kemet' (i.e., Egypt). In antiquity, it was often rendered simply as Rmṯ or '(the) People.' The name is vocalized ramenkīmi ⲣⲉⲙⲛⲭⲏⲙⲓ in the Coptic stage of the language, meaning Egyptian (Sahidic dialect: remnekēme ⲣⲙⲛⲕⲏⲙⲉ) — and ni.ramenkīmi ⲛⲓⲣⲉⲙⲛⲭⲏⲙⲓ with the plural definite article, i.e., Egyptians,
Copts (qibṭ, qubṭ قبط) – Under Muslim rule, the Egyptians came to be known as Copts, a derivative of the Greek word Αἰγύπτιος, Aiguptios (Egyptian), from Αἰγύπτος, Aiguptos (Egypt). The Greek name in turn may be derived from the Egyptian ḥw.t-ka-ptḥ, literally "Estate (or 'House') of Ptah", the name of the temple complex of the god Ptah at Memphis. After the majority of Egyptians converted from Christianity to Islam, the term became exclusively associated with Egyptian Christianity and Egyptians who remained Christian, though references to native Muslims as Copts are attested until the Mamluk period.
Maṣreyyīn – The modern Egyptian name comes from the ancient Semitic name for Egypt and originally connoted "civilization" or "metropolis". Classical Arabic Miṣr (Egyptian Arabic Maṣr) is directly cognate with the Biblical Hebrew Mitzráyīm, meaning "the two straits", a reference to the predynastic separation of Upper and Lower Egypt. Edward William Lane writing in the 1820s, said that Egyptians commonly called themselves El-Maṣreeyeen 'the Egyptians', Owlad Maṣr 'the Children of Egypt' and Ahl Maṣr 'the People of Egypt'. He added that the Turks "stigmatized" the Egyptians with the name Ahl-Far'oon or the 'People of the Pharaoh'.
Demographics and society
Modern superstructures juxtaposed with traditional housing along the ancient Nile River are part of today's landscape in Egypt's capital city.An estimated 76.4 million Egyptians live around the world, but the vast majority are in Egypt where they constitute about 94% (72.5 million) of the total population. Approximately 90% of Egyptians are Muslim and 10% are Christian (9% Coptic, 1% other Christian), though estimates vary. The majority live near the banks of the Nile River where the only arable land is found. Close to a half of the Egyptian people today are urban, living in the densely populated centres of greater Cairo, Alexandria and other major cities. Most of the rest are fellahin (farmers) leading humble lives in rural towns and villages. A large influx of fellahin into urban towns and cities, and rapid urbanization of many rural areas since the turn of the last century, have shifted the balance between the number of urban and rural Egyptians.
Egyptians also form smaller minorities in the countries that neighbour them, in particular Saudi Arabia and Libya where they are mostly temporary professionals and workers, as well as in other countries as immigrants, notably in the United States, Canada, Australia, Italy, Greece and France. It is also a matter of dispute whether the Egyptian population of the Balkan states are ethnic Egyptians.
The Egyptians are an autochthonous people deeply attached to their land. Historically, it was rare for Egyptians to leave their country permanently or for an extended period of time—it was not until the 1970s that Egyptians began to emigrate in large numbers. Until only recently, a study on the pattern of Egyptian emigration was quoted as saying "Egyptians have a reputation of preferring their own soil. Few leave except to study or travel; and they always return... Egyptians do not emigrate." Egyptians also tend to be provincial, meaning their attachment extends not only to Egypt but to the specific provinces, towns and villages from which they hail. Therefore, return migrants, such as temporary workers abroad, come back to their region of origin in Egypt.
“ Their characteristic rootedness as Egyptians, commonly explained as the result of centuries as a farming people clinging to the banks of the Nile, is reflected in sights, sounds and atmosphere that are meaningful to all Egyptians. Dominating the intangible pull of Egypt is the ever present Nile, which is more than a constant backdrop. Its varying colors and changing water levels signal the coming and going of the Nile flood that sets the rhythm of farming in a rainless country and holds the attention of all Egyptians. No Egyptian is ever far from his river and, except for the Alexandrines whose personality is split by looking outward toward the Mediterranean, the Egyptians are a hinterland people with little appetite for travel, even inside their own country. They glorify their national dishes, including the variety of concoctions surrounding the simple bean. Most of all, they have a sense of all-encompassing familiarity at home and a sense of alienation when abroad... There is something particularly excruciating about Egyptian nostalgia for Egypt: it is sometimes outlandish, but the attachment flows through all Egyptians, as the Nile through Egypt. ”
A sizable Egyptian diaspora did not begin to form until well into the 1980s, today numbering nearly 4 million (2006 est). Generally, those who emigrate to the United States and western European countries tend to do so with the intention of settling permanently, while Egyptians migrating to neighboring countries in the Middle East only go there to work with the intention of returning to Egypt:
“ Only a reduced number of Egyptians, primarily professionals, had left the country in search for employment before 1974. Scholars identify three phases in the evolution of the Egyptian migratory flows... Coexisting political, demographic and economic pressures led to the first wave of international migration in post-revolutionary Egypt, which, however, interested only a very limited number of students and professionals... With the advent of the 1970s, Egyptian emigration changed in nature, size and destination. More Egyptians left their homeland and headed towards the rich oil-producing states, first after the 1973 boom in oil prices and again after the second increase in oil prices in 1979. However, it was only in the second half of the 1980s that Egyptian migration became a relevant phenomenon, entering its last phase of development... Two-thirds of Egyptian migration is temporary, while the other third is permanent... most [Egyptian emigrants] going to western European countries (55.5%) and almost all those who go to the US and Australia (93%) are permanent migrants. On the contrary, the whole sample of those going to Arab countries (100%) intends to go back to Egypt. ”
Sixty percent of Egyptians are rural fellahin or farmers. The percentage was much higher at the turn of the last century, before rapid urbanization and large-scale in-migration shifted Egypt's demographics.Egyptian emigration is primarily motivated by economic and political considerations. High rates of unemployment and population growth are two of the socioeconomic conditions that steadily deteriorated following the 1952 coup d'état, leading scores of Egyptians to seek better opportunities in foreign countries. Political repression and human rights violations by Egypt's ruling régime are other contributing factors (see Egypt - Human rights). Egyptians have also been impacted by the wars between Egypt and Israel, particularly after the Six-Day War in 1967, when migration rates began to rise. In August 2006, Egyptians made headlines when 11 students from Mansoura University failed to show up at their American host institutions for a cultural exchange program in the hope of finding employment. Many Coptic Christians also leave the country due to discrimination and harassment by the Egyptian government and Islamist groups.
Egyptians in neighboring countries face additional challenges. Over the years, abuse, exploitation and/or ill-treatment of Egyptian workers and professionals in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Libya have been reported by the Egyptian Human Rights Organization and different media outlets. Arab nationals have in the past expressed fear over an "'Egyptianization' of the local dialects and culture that were believed to have resulted from the predominance of Egyptians in the field of education" (see also Egyptian Arabic - Geographics). Twice Libya was on the brink of war with Egypt due to mistreatment of Egyptian workers and after the signing of the peace treaty with Israel. When the Gulf War ended, Egyptian workers in Iraq were subjected to harsh measures and expulsion by the Iraqi government and to violent attacks by Iraqis returning from the war to fill the workforce.
Mummy of 19th dynasty King Ramesses II.Over the years, the findings of archaeology, biological anthropology and population genetics have shed light on the origins of the Egyptians. The indigenous Nile Valley population became firmly established during the Pleistocene epoch when nomadic hunter-gatherers began living along the Nile River. Traces of these proto-Egyptians appear in the form of artifacts and rock carvings in the terraces of the Nile and the desert oases. Beginning in the predynastic period, some differences between the populations of Upper and Lower Egypt were ascertained through their skeletal remains, suggesting a gradual clinal pattern north to south.
When Lower and Upper Egypt were unified c. 3150 BC, the distinction began to blur, resulting in a more "homogeneous" population in Egypt, though the distinction remains true to some degree to this day. Some biological anthropologists such as Shomarka Keita believe the range of variability to be primarily indigenous and not necessarily the result of significant intermingling of widely divergent peoples. Keita describes the northern and southern patterns of the early predynastic period as "northern-Egyptian-Maghreb" and "tropical African variant" (overlapping with Nubia/Kush) respectively. He shows that a progressive change in Upper Egypt toward the northern Egyptian pattern takes place through the predynastic period. The southern pattern continues to predominate in Abydos, Upper Egypt by the First Dynasty, but "lower Egyptian, Maghrebian, and European patterns are observed also, thus making for great diversity."
A 2006 bioarchaeological study on the dental morphology of ancient Egyptians by Prof. Joel Irish shows dental traits characteristic of indigenous North Africans and to a lesser extent Southwest Asian populations. Among the samples included in the study is skeletal material from the Hawara tombs of Fayum, which clustered very closely with the Badarian series of the predynastic period. All the samples, particularly those of the Dynastic period, were significantly divergent from a neolithic West Saharan sample from Lower Nubia. Biological continuity was also found intact from the dynastic to the post-pharaonic periods. According to Irish:
[The Egyptian] samples [996 mummies] exhibit morphologically simple, mass-reduced dentitions that are similar to those in populations from greater North Africa (Irish, 1993, 1998a–c, 2000) and, to a lesser extent, western Asia and Europe (Turner, 1985a; Turner and Markowitz, 1990; Roler, 1992; Lipschultz, 1996; Irish, 1998a). Similar craniofacial measurements among samples from these regions were reported as well (Brace et al., 1993)... an inspection of MMD values reveals no evidence of increasing phenetic distance between samples from the first and second halves of this almost 3,000-year-long period. For example, phenetic distances between First-Second Dynasty Abydos and samples from Fourth Dynasty Saqqara (MMD ¼ 0.050), 11-12th Dynasty Thebes (0.000), 12th Dynasty Lisht (0.072), 19th Dynasty Qurneh (0.053), and 26th–30th Dynasty Giza (0.027) do not exhibit a directional increase through time... Thus, despite increasing foreign influence after the Second Intermediate Period, not only did Egyptian culture remain intact (Lloyd, 2000a), but the people themselves, as represented by the dental samples, appear biologically constant as well... Gebel Ramlah [Neolithic Nubian/Western Desert sample] is, in fact, significantly different from Badari based on the 22-trait MMD (Table 4). For that matter, the Neolithic Western Desert sample is significantly different from all others [but] is closest to predynastic and early dynastic samples.
Egyptian students at a youth workshop.A group of noted physical anthropologists conducted craniofacial studies of Egyptian skeletal remains and concluded similarly that "the Egyptians have been in place since back in the Pleistocene and have been largely unaffected by either invasions or migrations. As others have noted, Egyptians are Egyptians, and they were so in the past as well."
Genetic analysis of modern Egyptians reveals that they have paternal lineages common to indigenous North Africans/Berber populations primarily, and to Near Eastern peoples to a lesser extent — these lineages would have spread during the Neolithic and maintained by the predynastic period. Studies based on maternal lineages also link Egyptians of south Egypt with people from modern Eritrea/Ethiopia such as the Tigre.
University of Chicago Egyptologist Frank Yurco confirmed this finding of historical and regional continuity, saying:
Certainly there was some foreign admixture [in Egypt], but basically a homogeneous African population had lived in the Nile Valley from ancient to modern times... [the] Badarian people, who developed the earliest Predynastic Egyptian culture, already exhibited the mix of North African and Sub-Saharan physical traits that have typified Egyptians ever since (Hassan 1985; Yurco 1989; Trigger 1978; Keita 1990; Brace et al., this volume)... The peoples of Egypt, the Sudan, and much of East Africa, Ethiopia and Somalia are now generally regarded as a Nilotic (i.e. Nile River) continuity, with widely ranging physical features (complexions light to dark, various hair and craniofacial types) but with powerful common cultural traits, including cattle pastoralist traditions (Trigger 1978; Bard, Snowden, this volume). Language research suggests that this Saharan-Nilotic population became speakers of the Afro-Asiatic languages... Semitic was evidently spoken by Saharans who crossed the Red Sea into Arabia and became ancestors of the Semitic speakers there, possibly around 7000 BC... In summary we may say that Egypt was distinct North African culture rooted in the Nile Valley and on the Sahara.
Egyptians may have the longest continuous history of any people, spanning a period of some 7,000 years. The Egyptians' recorded history starts with the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt c. 3150 BC, an event that sparked the beginning of Egypt's ancient civilization. A succession of thirty mostly native dynasties ruled for the next three millennia, during which Egyptian culture flourished and remained distinctively Egyptian in its religion, arts, language and customs. Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 332 BC, giving rise to the Ptolemaic dynasty which introduced Hellenic culture to the Egyptians, but continued to rule according to ancient Egyptian traditions. This stability shifted when the Egyptians fell under Roman rule, most notably with the introduction of Christianity in Egypt by Saint Mark in the 1st century. The Egyptians were soon incorporated within the Byzantine fold and remained so until the 7th century, when Egypt became part of the Islamic Caliphate following Amr ibn al-As's conquest that brought Islam to Egypt. Egyptians were ruled by a succession of Arabs, Mamluk Circassians, Ottoman Turks and British until independence was reasserted in 1922 and a republic was declared in 1953.
Archaeological findings show that primitive tribes lived along the Nile long before the dynastic history of the Pharaohs began. By about 5500 BC, Egypt was inhabited by settled communities of people who cultivated emmer wheat and barley, made pottery, weaved linen and raised sheep, goats and cattle. Before the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt, northern Egyptians seem to have been somewhat culturally distinct from their neighbors to the south. Surviving evidence for early settlement in Lower Egypt such as pottery, houses and burial sites appear different from those of the Upper Egyptians. The earliest known predynastic northern Egyptian site, Merimda, predates the earliest in Upper Egypt, the Badarian, by about 700 years. However, later predynastic Lower Egyptians were in contact with not only contemporaneous southern Egyptians, but also with people from the Levant and with the Sumerians of Uruk, as some of the plants cultivated and the pottery types found in Lower Egypt resemble those of neighboring cultures.
Prehistoric Lower Egyptians already believed in an existence after death, as attested by their grave goods. Each province before the unification of Egypt acquired its own animal deity. Uto and Bast were worshipped in the delta towns of Buto and Bubastis respectively, while Thoth and Wepwawet were the Upper Egyptian deities of Ashmounein and Asyut. The predynastic settlements of Upper Egypt displayed more elaborate funerary practices and artifacts that were more clearly the direct predecessors of those of the dynastic Egyptians. Significantly, the earliest known evidence of Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions appears on Naqada III pottery vessels dated to about 3200 BC. During the predynastic and protodynastic periods, the southern Egyptian cities of Nekheb, Nekhen (Hierakonpolis) and Abydos were major centers of power. The first attempt to conquer Lower Egypt seems to have been made by a king from Nekhen known as Scorpion, but it would be another 100 years or so before another upper Egyptian king successfully unified the two lands.
Main articles: Ancient Egypt and History of Ancient Egypt
The Narmer Palette believed to depict the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.The beginning of the Egyptians' recorded history starts with the unification of Lower and Upper Egypt by the Upper Egyptian king Narmer (identified with the pharaoh Menes). He founded Ancient Egypt's 1st dynasty around 3150 BC. To strengthen his political role, King Menes/Narmer married the northern Egyptian princess Neithotep and took on the title of Two Ladies, i.e., Nekhbet, the vulture goddess of Upper Egypt and Uto the cobra goddess worshipped by the Lower Egyptians, as a symbol of the unification. Herodotus, like the Egyptian historian Manetho, associated the unification with King Menes. He also indicated that Menes founded the ancient city of Memphis in Lower Egypt, which became the new capital of the unified country. The Egyptians from this point onwards referred to the country as tAwy, Two Lands, a name that came to predominate until the New Kingdom period when the name km.t (Coptic: kīmi), Black Land, was more commonly used. The first two dynasties of Egypt were each ruled by eight kings and lasted for a combined period of nearly 400 years.
Prince Rahotep, possible son of King Sneferu, 4th dynasty.Main article: Old Kingdom
By the end of the Early Dynastic period, a strong centralized government was firmly established with Memphis as its capital city, and the foundations of the first peak period of Egyptian civilization were laid. The following era in Egyptian history, the Old Kingdom (c. 2700−2200 BC), is particularly famous for its magnificent superstructures, many of which served as royal tombs for the pharaohs. They were state-sponsored projects built in the 3rd and 4th dynasties and in which the whole of the Egyptian population often participated. Building typically commenced during the Nile's Inundation when agricultural lands were submerged in water and people could not farm. King Djoser's step pyramid at Saqqara, engineered by the famous architect and physician Imhotep, and the Giza pyramids are among this period's most famous examples. They are a testament to the Egyptians' extraordinary competence in astronomy and mathematics very early in their history. It is believed that many parts of famous medical papyri that appear in later periods, particularly the Edwin Smith papyrus, were written during this period by Imhotep and other Egyptian doctors.
Seated statue of a scribe, 5th dynasty.Egyptian religion and writing took definitive shape in the Early Dynastic and Old Kingdom periods. The local pantheon, which had been in the predynastic period confined to sacred animal deities, expanded to include cosmic gods representing the sun, moon, sky and wind. This constituted an effort toward greater philosophical and intellectual development. Solar worship embodied in the cults of Ra and Atum—subsequently Atum-Ra—came to particular prominence in the Old Kingdom. Other important deities during this period were Hathor, Ptah and Horus. The art of mummification was also honed before the end of this period. The oldest known mummy dates to the 5th dynasty and was found in Saqqara. Lasting for an estimated 500 years, the Old Kingdom was the quintessential Egyptian civilization. Insular and unchallenged from abroad, the Egyptians enjoyed a time of continuous prosperity and stability unmatched by any other period, leading one historian to describe it as the "Peaceable Kingdom of historical memory."
Mummified head of King Ahmose I, c. 1525 BC.
Main article: Middle Kingdom of Egypt
A period of political fragmentation led to the First Intermediate Period of Egypt. It lasted for about 150 years during which central authority and social order were maintained by local governors. Stronger Nile floods and stabilization of government brought back renewed prosperity for the country in the Middle Kingdom c. 2040 BC, reaching a peak during the reign of Amenemhat III. Thebes (modern Luxor) became the new capital during the 11th dysnaty, though government administration remained in Memphis. Egyptians regularly traded with their neighbors to the south and east, and their political influence extended into those areas. However, land cultivation and stock raising remained the foundation of Egypt's economy, as they would during the course of Egyptian history. The state did not institute a system of coinage until the Late Period—most business hitherto was conducted by barter. The Middle Kingdom became a golden age of Egyptian literature thanks to a large body of textual evidence that made this stage of Egyptian (i.e., Middle Egyptian) the classical phase of the language.
The end of the Middle Kingdom was brought about by a decline in central authority which led to Egypt being occupied for the first time during its dynastic history. The Hyksos invaders were a Semitic people who took over much of Lower Egypt around 1650 BC, and founded a new capital at Avaris. They ruled as Egyptian pharaohs and their names were often inscribed on scarabs bearing both the their Semitic and Egyptian titles. Hyksos rule lasted just over 100 years when they were eventually driven out by the native Egyptian nobleman Ahmose I. Despite the Hyksos' attempt to rule according to native Egyptian traditions, the Egyptians' perception of them was consistently negative. They were depicted as "uncouth barbarians who 'ruled without Re.'" Ahmose took to the throne in a re-unified Egypt, and with his rule began a period of Egyptian independence as well as expansion into surrounding regions.
Funerary golden mask placed over the mummy of King Tutankhamun, 18th dynasty, c. 1333 – 1324 BC.Main article: New Kingdom
The New Kingdom is perhaps the most celebrated period of Egyptian history. Lasting from roughly 1550 to 1070 BC, the period marked the rise of Egypt as an international power. Ahmose founded the 18th dynasty and relocated the capital to Thebes, though once again Memphis remained the administrative capital. The Egyptians emerged from the shock of the Hyksos invasion determined to protect Egypt's national and territorial integrity. The Egyptian army developed into a well-organized service made up of professionally trained soldiers. International relations became a primary concern for the New Kingdom pharaohs. Egyptians were introduced to many foreign ideas, some of which they adopted and incorporated into their lifestyle. As in most periods, agriculture and stock farming continued to be the mainstays of Egyptian economy. The introduction of the shaduf from western Asia helped develop more efficient methods of irrigation. Amun rose to become a state god and was syncretized with Ra as Amun-Ra. The main Temple of Amun built in Thebes is the largest structure in the Karnak complex.
Perhaps this period is best known for some of its rulers. Queen Hatshepsut was one of only a few Egyptian female rulers and their most influential. She sent trade missions as far south as the coast of modern Eritrea, and her numerous building projects, most notably her mortuary temple complex at Deir el-Bahri, were rivaled only by those of her Old Kingdom predecessors. Thutmose III, dubbed the Napoleon of Egypt, pushed Egypt's southern frontier to the Fourth Cataract in Nubia, then conquered and subsequently founded protectorates in the Levant. He undertook a building program at Karnak, including the festival temple "Effective of Monuments" in the precinct of Amun. Akhenaten with his wife Nefertiti revolutionized Egyptian religion, albeit briefly, with the solar monotheism of Aten. Young King Tutankhamun is world famous for his magnificent tomb found intact. Ramesses II conducted many successful military campaigns and signed what may be the world's first peace treaty. He constructed many impressive monuments, including the renowned archaeological complex of Abu Simbel and the memorial temple of Ramesseum. Ramesses III was the last of the great pharaohs of the New Kingdom, under whose rule Egypt reached a peak of prosperity.
King Nectanebo II was Egypt's last native Pharaoh, 360 − 343 BC.Main article: Late Period of ancient Egypt
When the New Kingdom came to an end, the priests of Amun and the military had become powerful and independent at the expense of the throne. By 1200 BC, Egypt was under repeated attacks by Libyans from the west and invaders from the Aegean region referred to as the Sea Peoples. The country fell into the chaos of the Third Intermediate Period during which authority was divided among several competing nomarchs. The 22nd through the 25th dynasties were made up entirely of Libyan and Nubian/Kushite rulers. The Assyrians invaded and took of control of Egypt in the 7th century BC, but soon a native Egyptian dynasty drove out the Assyrians and reclaimed the throne. The 26th dynasty began the Saïte period which witnessed another period of Egyptian independence as well as a cultural revival. The first Saïte king, Psamtek I, founded a new capital at Saïs and reunified upper and lower Egypt. Egyptians looked at the Old Kingdom, by then a 2000-year-old civilization, for inspiration in their artistic and religious expression to cope with the repeated foreign assaults on their country at the close of the Pharaonic era.
Farm scene from the burial chamber of Sennedjem, reign of Ramesses II, c. 1279–1213 BC.Throughout the Pharaonic epoch, divine kingship was the glue which held Egyptian society together. It was especially pronounced in the Old and Middle Kingdoms and continued until the Roman conquest. The societal structure created by this system of government remained virtually unchanged up to modern times. The role of the king, however, was considerably weakened after the 20th dynasty. The king in his role as Son of Ra was entrusted to maintain Ma'at, the principle of truth, justice and order. His job also entailed maintaining and enhancing the country's agricultural economy by ensuring regular annual Nile floods on which the people depended for sustenance and their very livelihood. Ascendancy to the Egyptian throne reflected the myth of Horus who assumed kingship after he buried his murdered father Osiris. The king of Egypt, as a living personification of Horus, could claim the throne after burying his predecessor, who was typically his father. When the role of the king waned, the country became more susceptible to foreign influence and invasion.
Boat scene, tomb of Nebamun, 18th dynasty, Thebes.The attention paid to the dead, and the veneration with which they were held, were one of the hallmarks of ancient Egyptian society. Egyptians built tombs for their dead that were meant to last for eternity. This was most prominently expressed by the Great Pyramids. The ancient Egyptian word for tomb pr nɦɦ means 'House of Eternity.' The Egyptians also celebrated life and this is attested by tomb reliefs and inscriptions, papyri and other sources depicting Egyptians farming, conducting trade expeditions, hunting, holding festivals, attending parties and receptions with their pet dogs, cats and monkeys, dancing and singing, enjoying food and drink, and playing games. The ancient Egyptians were also known for their engaging sense of humor, much like their modern descendants.
Another important continuity during this period is the Egyptian attitude toward foreigners—those they considered not fortunate enough to be part of the community of rmṯ or "the people" (i.e., Egyptians.) This attitude was facilitated by the Egyptians' more frequent contact with other peoples during the New Kingdom, when Egypt expanded to an empire that also encompassed Nubia through Jebel Barkal and parts of the Levant. The Egyptian sense of superiority was given religious validation, as foreigners in the land of Ta-Meri (Egypt) were anathema to the maintenance of Maat—a view most clearly expressed by the admonitions of Ipuwer in reaction to the chaotic events of the Second Intermediate Period. Foreigners in Egyptian texts were described in derogatory terms; e.g., 'wretched Asiatics' (Semites), 'vile Kushites' (Nubians), and 'Ionian dogs' (Greeks). Egyptian beliefs remained unchallenged when Egypt fell to the Hyksos, Assyrians, Libyans, Persians and Greeks—their rulers assumed the role of the Egyptian Pharaoh and were often depicted praying to Egyptian gods.
Wall painting from tomb of Antefoker depicting dancing Egyptians, Middle Kingdom, c. 1950 BC.The ancient Egyptians used a solar calendar that divided the year into 12 months of 30 days each, with five extra days added. As with nearly every other aspect of Egyptian society, the calendar revolved around the annual Nile Inundation (akh.t), the first of three seasons into which the year was divided. The other two were Winter and Summer, each lasting for four months. The modern Egyptian fellahin calculate the agricultrual seasons, with the months still bearing their ancient names, in much the same manner. The importance of the Nile in Egyptian life, ancient and modern, cannot be overemphasized. The rich alluvium carried by the Nile inundation were the basis of Egypt's formation as a society and a state. Regular inundations were a cause for celebration; low waters often meant famine and starvation. The ancient Egyptians personified the river flood as the god Hapy and dedicated a Hymn to the Nile to celebrate it. km.t, the Black Land, was as Herodotus observed, "the gift of the river."
Nubian Rule period
Kush invaded and controlled Egypt itself for a period (the Ethiopian dynasty). They held sway over their northern neighbors for nearly 100 years. The Nubian kingdom to the south took full advantage of this division and political instability. Prior to Piye's Year 20 campaign into Egypt, the previous Nubian ruler – Kashta – had already extended his kingdom's influence over into Thebes when he compelled Shepenupet, the serving Divine Adoratice of Amun and Takelot III's sister, to adopt his own daughter Amenirdis, to be her successor. Then, 20 years later, around 732 BC his successor, Piye, marched North and defeated the combined might of several native Egyptian rulers such as Peftjaubast, Osorkon IV of Tanis, and Tefnakht of Sais. Piye established the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty and appionted the defeated rulers as his provincial governors. He was succeeded first by his brother, Shabaka, and then by his two sons Shebitku and Taharqa.Eventually the Kushites were defeated by the invading Assyrians. They retreated further south and established their capital at Meroë.
Persian Achaemenid period
Main article: History of Egypt under Achaemenid Persian domination
Soon Egypt fell to the Persian Achaemenid Empire led by Cambyses in 525 BC, marking more than a century of Persian rule. Constant revolting by Egyptians through the 5th century BC culminated in the Egyptians reasserting their independence briefly under Amyrtaeus, who led a revolt from the Delta and took control of Memphis and Upper Egypt. Egyptians remained independent until the reign of King Nectanebo II, who was to be the last native ruler of pharaonic Egypt. The country prospered during his reign (360−343 BC) and he undertook large building and sculpture construction comparable to those of the Saïte period. The Persians under Artaxerxes III dealt a final blow to the Egyptians' independence when they reconquered Egypt in 343 BC. Alexander the Great, on his way to conquer and dismantle the Persian Empire, arrived in Egypt in 332 BC. After Alexander's death, the Greek Macedonian Ptolemaic dynasty was established by one of his generals, which continued to rule the country along pharaonic traditions. Alexander founded the city of Alexandria which became the new capital of Egypt until the Byzantine period. When the last and most famous of the Ptolemies, Queen Cleopatra VII, was defeated along with Mark Antony by the Roman Emperor Octavian in the Battle of Actium, it marked the end of 3000 years of Dynastic Egyptian history.
An Egyptian-style black basalt statue of Ptolemaic Queen Cleopatra VII, c. 51 − 30 B.C.When Alexander died, a story began to circulate that Nectanebo II, the last indigenous monarch, was Alexander's father. This made Alexander in the eyes of the Egyptians a legitimate heir to the native pharaohs. Alexander may have been hailed as a liberator for freeing Egypt from Persian Achaemenid rule, but his Macedonian successors, however, did not live up to his legacy as they proved to be no better than the previous Persian rulers in Egypt. The Ptolemies exploited Egypt for their own benefit and a great social divide was created whereby Egyptians were reduced to second-class citizens. Frequent revolting by the Egyptians against the Greeks took place under Ptolemy V Epiphanes (205 − 180 BC), whose coronation had earlier been commemorated by erecting a stele inscribed in Greek as well as hieroglyphic and demotic Egyptian. When the stele was discovered by the French in the 19th century, it came to be known as the Rosetta Stone and was key to deciphering hieroglyphs.
But while Egyptians lost their national independence to the Macedonian Greeks, the priesthood continued to wield power as they had during the dynastic age. Under the Ptolemies, Egyptians practiced their religion undisturbed and largely maintained their own separate communities from their foreign conquerors. The Ptolemaic rulers all retained their Greek names and titles, but projected a public image of being Egyptian pharaohs. Much of this period's vernacular literature was composed in the demotic phase and script of the Egyptian language. It was focused on earlier stages of Egyptian history when Egyptians were independent and ruled by those they viewed as great native pharaohs such as Ramesses II. Many prophetic writings circulated among Egyptians promising expulsion of the Greeks. The language of administration became Greek, but the mass of the Egyptian population was Egyptian-speaking and concentrated in the countryside, while most Greeks lived in Alexandria and only few had any knowledge of Egyptian. A revival in animal cults, the hallmark of the Predyanstic and Early Dyanstic periods, is said to have come about as Egyptians became increasingly disillusioned and sickened by successive waves of foreign invasions. Feeling a spiritual void, the Egyptians turned to the most characteristic feature of their ancient religion, the worship of sacred animals which were mummified after death.
Roman-era portrait of an Egyptian man from the Fayum tomb collection, c. AD 125 − AD 150When the Romans annexed Egypt in 30 BC, the social structure created by the Greeks was largely retained, though the power of the Egyptian priesthood diminished. The Roman emperors lived abroad and did not perform the ceremonial functions of Egyptian kingship as the Ptolemies had. Egypt became further stratified with Romans at the apex of the social pyramid, Greeks and Jews in the middle, and Egyptians, who constituted the vast majority, at the bottom. At one point, the Roman emperor Caracalla advocated the expulsion of all ethnic Egyptians from the city of Alexandria, saying "genuine Egyptians can easily be recognized among the linen-weavers by their speech." This attitude lasted until AD 212 when Roman citizenship was granted to all the inhabitants of Egypt, though ethnic divisions remained largely entrenched. The Romans, like the Ptolemies had before them, treated Egypt like their own private property, a land exploited for the benefit of a small foreign elite. The Egyptian peasants, pressed for maximum production to meet Roman quotas, suffered greatly and many fled as a result to the desert. Under Roman rule, Egyptians paid a poll tax at full rate, Greeks paid at half-rate and Roman citizens were exempt. While Egypt largely retained its integrity and had a stable economy during Ptolemaic rule, it was reduced to an impoverished country cut off from its identity under Roman occupation.
Byzantine and Coptic Christian period
A typical example of early Coptic art reflecting a blend of Egyptian and Christian elements, as the ankh was "Christianized" into the Coptic cross.The cult of Isis, like those of Osiris and Serapis, had been popular in Egypt and throughout the Roman Empire at the coming of Christianity, and continued to be the main competitor with Christianity in its early years. The main temple of Isis remained a major center of worship in Egypt until the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian I in the 6th century, when it was finally closed down. Egyptians, disaffected and weary after a series of foreign occupations, identified the story of the mother-goddess Isis protecting her child Horus with that of the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus escaping the emperor Herod. Consequently, many sites believed to have been the resting places of the holy family during their sojourn in Egypt became sacred to the Egyptians. The visit of the holy family later circulated among Egyptian Christians as fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt" (Hosea 11:1). The feast of the coming of the Lord of Egypt on June 1 became an important part of Christian Egyptian tradition. According to tradition, Christianity was brought to Egypt by Saint Mark the Evangelist in the early 40s of the 1st century, under the reign of the Roman emperor Nero. The earliest converts were Jews residing in Alexandria, a city which had by then become a center of culture and learning in the entire Mediterranean oikoumene.
Christ and Saint Mina depicted in a 6th-century icon bearing Coptic writing from the Monastery of Saint Mina in Egypt. The icon is one of the oldest in the world.St. Mark is said to have founded the Holy Apostolic See of Alexandria and to have become its first Patriarch. Within 50 years of St. Mark's arrival in Alexandria, a fragment of New Testament writings appeared in Oxyrhynchus (Bahnasa), which suggests that Christianity already began to spread south of Alexandria at an early date. By the mid-third century, a sizable number of Egyptians were persecuted by the Romans on account of having adopted the new Christian faith, beginning with the Edict of Decius. Christianity was tolerated in the Roman Empire until AD 284, when the Emperor Diocletian persecuted and put to death a great number of Christian Egyptians. This event became a watershed in the history of Egyptian Christianity, marking the beginning of a distinct Egyptian or Coptic Church. It became known as the 'Era of the Martyrs' and is commemorated in the Coptic calendar in which dating of the years began with the start of Diocletian's reign. When Egyptians were persecuted by Diocletian, many retreated to the desert to seek relief. The practice precipitated the rise of monasticism, for which the Egyptians, namely St. Antony, St. Bakhum, St. Shenouda and St. Amun, are credited as pioneers. By the end of the 4th century, it is estimated that the mass of the Egyptians had either embraced Christianity or were nominally Christian.
The Catechetical School of Alexandria was founded in the 3rd century by Pantaenus, becoming a major school of Christian learning as well as science, mathematics and the humanities. The Psalms and part of the New Testament were translated at the school from Greek to Egyptian, which had already begun to be written in Greek letters with the addition of a number of demotic characters. This stage of the Egyptian language would later come to be known as Coptic along with its alphabet. The third theologian to head the Catachetical School was a native Egyptian by the name of Origen. Origen was an outstanding theologian and one of the most influential Church Fathers. He traveled extensively to lecture in various churches around the world and has many important texts to his credit including the Hexapla, an exegesis of various translations of the Hebrew Bible.
Coptic-Arabic manuscript, Ayyubid period, AD 1249-50. Images depict Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene, the kiss of Judas, the arrest of Christ, his appearance before Caiaphas, Peter's denial at cockcrow, Christ before Pilate, and the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River.At the threshold of the Byzantine period, the New Testament had been entirely translated into Coptic. But while Christianity continued to thrive in Egypt, the old pagan beliefs which had survived the test of time were facing mounting pressure. The Byzantine period was particularly brutal in its zeal to erase any traces of ancient Egyptian religion. Under emperor Theodosius I, Christianity had already been proclaimed the religion of the Empire and all pagan cults were forbidden. When Egypt fell under the jurisdiction of Constantinople after the split of the Roman Empire, many ancient Egyptians temples were either destroyed or converted into monasteries.
One of the defining moments in the history of the Church in Egypt is a controversy that ensued over the nature of Jesus Christ which culminated in the final split of the Coptic Church from both the Byzantine and Roman Catholic Churches. The Council of Chalcedon convened in AD 451, signaling the Byzantine Empire's determination to assert its hegemony over Egypt. When it declared that Jesus Christ was of two natures embodied in Christ's person, the Egyptian reaction was swift, rejecting the decrees of the Council as incompatible with the Miaphysite doctrine of Coptic Orthodoxy. The Copts' upholding of the Miaphysite doctrine against the pro-Chalcedonian Greek Melkites had both theological and national implications. As Coptologist Jill Kamil notes, the position taken by the Egyptians "paved [the way] for the Coptic church to establish itself as a separate entity...No longer even spiritually linked with Constantinople, theologians began to write more in Coptic and less in Greek. Coptic art developed its own national character, and the Copts stood united against the imperial power."
Arabic and Islamic period
Mosque of Ibn Tulun built during the Abbasid period between AD 876-79 in the old city of Fustat, now Old Cairo.The Islamic tradition in Egypt, similar to its Christian predecessor, traces its history to an earlier encounter with the new faith. It begins with Muhammad's union with the Egyptian lady Maria (subsequently 'Mother of the Believers')—an event believed by Egyptian Muslims as having led Muhammad to draft and sign a document ensuring the protection of the Copts when the Arabs conquered Egypt. Later, the story of the Muslim wresting of Egypt from the Byzantines would circulate among Muslim Egyptians as having been foretold in the Quranic injunction, "Come into Egypt safely, as God wills it" (Yusuf 12:99). Egyptians were known to the Arabs as Copts—a word believed to be a corruption of the Greek Aiguptios (Egyptian). Hence, throughout the early Islamic period, Egyptians in Arabic texts were often referred to as Copts (qibṭ or qubṭ), who continued in the majority to be Christian and Coptic-speaking for centuries, though in the early years it also applied to the native community that had embraced Islam.
Just before the Arab conquest, the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius was able to reclaim Egypt after a brief Persian invasion in AD 616. He subsequently appointed Cyrus of Alexandria, a Chalcedonian, as Patriarch. Cyrus was determined to convert the Egyptian Miaphysites by any means. He expelled Coptic monks and bishops from their monasteries and sees. Many died in the chaos, and the resentment of the Egyptians against their Byzantine conquerors reached a peak. Meanwhile, the new religion of Islam was making headway in Arabia, culminating in the Muslim conquests that took place following Muhammad's death. In AD 639, the Arab general Amr ibn al-'As marched into Egypt, facing off with the Byzantines in the Battle of Heliopolis that ended with the Byzantines' defeat. The relationship between the Greek Melkites and the Egyptian Copts had grown so bitter that many Egyptians hailed the Arabs as liberators from Byzantine tyranny, ironically much as they had done nearly a thousand years earlier when their ancestors welcomed the Macedonian Greeks to free them from the Persians.
The Arabs moved the capital from Alexandria to Fustat and, through the 7th century, they retained the existing Byzantine administrative structure with Greek as the language of government, the ranks of which were filled by native Egyptians. Egyptians continued to worship freely so long as they paid the jizya poll tax levied by the Arabs, and the authority of the Miaphysite doctrine of the Coptic Church was nationally recognized. It was not long, however, before the relationship between the Egyptians and their Arab conquerors began to deteriorate. Initially, many Egyptians readily embraced Islam in the wake of the bitter conflict that ensued between the Coptic and Byzantine Churches. But soon, increased taxation by the Arabs became heavier, leading many Christians to adopt Islam in order to escape the jizya in addition to a land tax that had also been imposed on all Egyptians. According to al-Ya'qubi, repeated revolts by Egyptian Christians against the Arabs took place in the 8th and 9th centuries under the reign of the Umayyads and Abbasids. The greatest was one in which disaffected Muslim Egyptians joined their Christian compatriots around AD 830 in an unsuccessful attempt to repel the Arabs. The Egyptian Muslim historian Ibn Abd al-Hakam spoke harshly of the Abbasids—a reaction that according to Egyptologist Okasha El-Daly can be seen "within the context of the struggle between proud native Egyptians and the central Abbasid caliphate in Iraq."
Tomb of Egyptian saint Dhul-Nun al-Misri (AD 796-859) in Cairo's City of the Dead.The form of Islam that eventually took hold in Egypt was Sunni, though very early in this period Egyptians began to blend their new faith with indigenous beliefs and practices that had survived through Coptic Christianity. Just as Egyptians had been pioneers in early monasticism so they were in the development of the mystical form of Islam, Sufism. Various Sufi orders were founded in the 8th century and flourished until the present day. One of the earliest Egyptian Sufis was Dhul-Nun al-Misri (i.e., Dhul-Nun the Egyptian). He was born in Akhmim in AD 796 and achieved political and social leadership over the Egyptian people. Dhul-Nun was regarded as the Patron Saint of the Physicians and is credited with having introduced the concept of Gnosis into Islam, as well as of being able to decipher a number of hieroglyphic characters due to his knowledge of Coptic. He was keenly interested in ancient Egyptian sciences, and claimed to have received his knowledge of alchemy from Egyptian sources. By the end of the 9th century, Islam appears to have become predominant among Egyptians.
Mosque of Abu Haggag built in the 11th century over the ruins of a pharaonic temple. The ancient Opet festival associated with this temple is mirrored in the present day festival of Abu-l Haggag celebrated similarly by boat processions through the streets of Luxor.In the years to follow the Arab occupation of Egypt, a social hierarchy was created whereby Egyptians who converted to Islam acquired the status of mawali or "clients" to the ruling Arab elite, while those who remained Christian, the Copts, became dhimmis. In time, however, the power of the Arabs waned throughout the Islamic Empire so that in the 10th century, the Turkish Ikhshids were able to take control of Egypt and made it an independent political unit from the rest of the empire. Egyptians continued to live socially and politically separate from their foreign conquerors, but their rulers like the Ptolemies before them were able to stabilize the country and bring renewed economic prosperity. It was under the Shiite Fatimids from the 10th to the 12th centuries that Muslim Egyptian institutions began to take form along with the Egyptian dialect of Arabic, which was to eventually supplant native Egyptian or Coptic as the spoken language. Al-Azhar was founded in AD 970 in the new capital Cairo, not very far from its ancient predecessor in Memphis. It became the preeminent Muslim center of learning in Egypt and by the Ayyubid period it had acquired a Sunni orientation. The Fatimids with some exceptions were known for their religious tolerance and their observance of local Muslim, Coptic and indigenous Egyptian festivals and customs. Under the Ayyubids, the country for the most part continued to prosper until it fell to the Mamluks.
The Mamluk period (AD 1258-1517) is generally regarded as one under which Egyptians, Muslims and Copts, greatly suffered. Copts were forcibly converted to Islam in greater numbers following the Crusader assaults on Egypt. By the 15th century most Egyptians had already been converted to Islam, while Coptic Christians were reduced to a minority. The Mamluks were mainly ethnic Circassians and Turks who had been captured as slaves then recruited into the army fighting on behalf of the Islamic empire. Native Egyptians were not allowed to serve in the army until the reign of Mohamed Ali. Historian James Jankwoski writes:
“ Ultimately, Mamluk rule rested on force. The chronicles of the period are replete with examples of Mamluk violence against the indigenous population of Egypt...From horseback, they simply terrorized those lesser breeds who crossed their paths. The sudden and arbitrary use of force by the government and its dominant military elite; frequent resort to cruelty to make a point; ingenious methods of torture employed both for exemplary purpose and to extract wealth from others: all these measures were routine in the Mamluk era. Egypt under the Mamluks was not a very secure place to live. ”
The House of Seheimy, a 17th-century Ottoman-style mansion in Old Cairo built over the course of two centuries.Egyptians under the Ottoman Turks from the 16th to the 18th centuries lived within a social hierarchy similar to that of the Mamluks, Arabs, Romans, Greeks and Persians before them. Native Egyptians applied the term atrak (Turks) indiscriminately to the Ottomans and Mamluks, who were at the top of the social pyramid, while Egyptians, most of whom were farmers, were at the bottom. Frequent revolts by the Egyptian peasantry against the Ottoman-Mamluk Beys took place throughout the 18th century, particularly in Upper Egypt where the peasants at one point wrested control of the region and declared a separatist government. The only segment of Egyptian society which appears to have retained a degree of power during this period were the Muslim 'ulama or religious scholars, who directed the religious and social affairs of the native Egyptian population and interceded on their behalf when dealing with the Turko-Circassian elite. Egyptians, as Muslims, were part of a wider Islamic community, yet they held on to their national identity in the face of repeated invasions in the course of nearly 2000 years. Some Egyptian writers in the Ottoman period who wrote about the history of Egypt include Ibn Zunbul, el-Bakri, el-Isḥaqi and el-Sharqawi.
“ From the Egyptian side, literary works from both the Mamluk and Ottoman eras indicate that literate Egyptians had not totally submerged their identity within Islam, but retained an awareness of Egypt's distinctiveness as a uniquely fertile region of the Muslim world, as a land of great historical antiquity and splendor...At least for some Egyptians, 'the land of Egypt' (al-diyar al-misriyya) was an identifiable and emotionally meaningful entity within the larger Muslim polity of which it was now a province. ”
Egyptian woman in nineteenth-century traditional local attire.Modern Egyptian history is generally believed to begin with the French expedition in Egypt led by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. The French defeated a Mamluk-Ottoman army at the Battle of the Pyramids, and soon they were able to seize control of the country. The French occupation was short-lived, ending when British troops drove out the French in 1801. Its impact on the social and cultural fabric of Egyptian society, however, was tremendous. To be sure, the Egyptians were deeply hostile to the French, whom they viewed as yet another foreign occupation to be resisted. At the same time, the French expedition introduced Egyptians to the ideals of the French Revolution which were to have a significant influence on their own self-perception and realization of modern independence. When Napoleon invited the Egyptian ulama to head a French-supervised government in Egypt, for some, it awakened a sense patriotism and a desire for national independence from the Turks. In addition, the French introduced the printing press in Egypt and published its first newspaper. The monumental catalogue of Egypt's ecology, society and economy, Description de l'Égypte, was written by scholars and scientists who accompanied the French army on their expedition.
The withdrawal of French forces from Egypt left a power vacuum that was filled after a period of political turmoil by Mohammed Ali, an Ottoman officer of Albanian descent. He rallied support among the Egyptians until he was elected by the native Muslim ulama as governor of Egypt. Mohammed Ali is credited for having undertaken a massive campaign of public works, including irrigation projects, agricultural reforms and the cultivation of cash crops (notably cotton, rice and sugar-cane), increased industrialization, and a new educational system—the results of which are felt to this day. In order to consolidate his power in Egypt, Mohammed Ali worked to eliminate the Turko-Circassian domination of administrative and army posts. For the first time since the Roman period, native Egyptians filled the junior ranks of the country's army. The army would later conduct military expeditions in the Levant, Sudan and against the Wahabis in Arabia. Many Egyptians student missions were sent to Europe in the early 19th century to study at European universities and acquire technical skills such as printing, shipbuilding and modern military techniques. One of these students, whose name was Rifa'a et-Tahtawy, was the first in a long line of intellectuals that started the modern Egyptian Renaissance.
Rifa'a el-Tahtawy, 1801-1873, laid the groundwork for the modern Egyptian Renaissance.The period between 1860 − 1940 was most characterized by a nahda, renaissance or rebirth of a distinct Egyptian history, culture and language. It is best known for the renewed interest in Egyptian antiquity and the cultural achievements that were inspired by it. Along with this interest came an indigenous, Egypt-centered orientation, particularly among the Egyptian intelligentsia that would affect Egypt's autonomous development as a sovereign and independent nation-state.
The first modern self-conscious expression of Egyptian patriotism came in the mid-19th century from the Egyptian intellectual Rifa'a et-Tahtawi. Tahtawi was born in 1801 in a village south of Asyut, the same year the French troops evacuated Egypt. He was an Azharite recommended by his teacher and mentor Hassan el-Attar to be the chaplain of a group of students Mohammed Ali was sending to Paris in 1826. According to Tahtawi's memoir Rihla (Journey to Paris), he read works by Condillac, Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu and Bezout among others during his sojourn in France. In 1831, Tahtawi returned home in Egypt to undertake a career in journalism, education and translation. He founded the School of Languages in 1835 which had a great impact on the emerging Egyptian intellectual milieu. Three of his published volumes are works of political and moral philosophy in which he introduces his Egyptian audience to Enlightenment ideas such as secular authority and political rights and liberty; his ideas regarding how a modern civilized society ought to be and what constituted by extension a civilized or "good Egyptian"; and his ideas on public interest and public good.
Mahmoud Mokhtar's Nahdit Masr (1919−1928) became a symbol of the Egyptian Renaissance.Tahtawi was instrumental in sparking indigenous interest in Egypt's ancient heritage. In 1868, he published a volume on the history of Ancient Egypt in which he glorifies the wonders and achievements of his ancestors. He composed a number of poems in praise of Egypt and wrote two other general histories of the country. Tahtawi's work on ancient Egypt led Jean-François Champollion, the French scholar credited with deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, to run a progress report on Tahtawi's work during his tenure in Paris. He co-founded with his contemporary Ali Mubarak, the architect of the modern Egyptian school system, a native Egyptology school that looked for inspiration to medieval Egyptian scholars like Suyuti and Maqrizi, who studied ancient Egyptian history, language and antiquities. Tahtawi held a conciliatory attitude to Europeans and encouraged his compatriots to invite Europeans to come and teach the modern sciences in Egypt, drawing on the example of Pharaoh Psamtek I who had enlisted the Greeks' help in organizing the Egyptian army. In his writings, Tahtawi conceived of modern Egyptians as the natural heirs of Egypt's ancient civilization. He urged his compatriots to demonstrate "love of country" and stressed the fundamental oneness of Egyptians irrespective of creed or religion.
Egyptian silk weavers during the reign of Khedive Ismail, 1880.Among Mohammed Ali's successors, the most influential was the pro-European Isma'il Pasha who became khedive in 1863. Ismail was determined to make Egypt independent from Turkey. His reign witnessed the growth of the army, major education reforms, the founding of the Egyptian Museum and the Royal Opera House, the rise of an independent political press, a flourishing of the arts, and the inauguration of the Suez Canal. In 1866, the Assembly of Delegates was founded to serve as an advisory body for the government. Its members were elected from across Egypt and eventually they came to have an important influence on governmental affairs. Village headsmen were part of the Assembly and came to exert increasing political and economic influence over the countryside. Several generations of Egyptians exposed to the ideas of constitutionalism made up the emerging intellectual and political milieu that slowly filled the ranks of the government, the army and institutions which had long been dominated by an aristocracy of Turks, Greeks, Circassians and Armenians. These Egyptians were to have the greatest impact on the struggle for national independence and the articulation of Egyptian nationalism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Ismail's massive modernization campaign left Egypt indebted to European powers, leading to increased European meddling in Egyptian internal affairs. Meanwhile, secret groups made up of Egyptian notables, ministers, journalists and army officers were organized across the country to oppose the increasing European influence. When the British deposed of Ismail and installed his son Tawfik, the now Egyptian-dominated army reacted violently, staging a revolt led by Minister of War Ahmed Urabi, self-styled el-Masri ('the Egyptian'), against the Khedive, the Turko-Circassian elite, and the European stronghold. The revolt was a military failure and British forces occupied Egypt in 1882. Technically, Egypt was still part of the Ottoman Empire with the Mohammed Ali family ruling the country, though now with British supervision and according to British directives. The Egyptian army was disbanded and a smaller army commanded by British officers was installed in its place. The key British official in Egypt was the Consul-General, a post first held by Sir Evelyn Baring.
Mustafa Kamil, an anti-colonial nationalist famous for coining the phrase, "If I had not been an Egyptian, I would have wished to become one", 1874 − 1908.Egyptian self-government, education, and the continued plight of Egypt's peasant majority deteriorated most significantly under British occupation. Slowly, an organized national movement for independence began to form. In its beginnings, it took the form of an Azhar-led religious reform movement that was more concerned with the social conditions of Egyptian society. It gathered momentum between 1882 and 1906, ultimately leading to a resentment against European occupation. Sheikh Muhammad Abduh, the son of a Delta farmer who was briefly exiled for his participation in the Urabi revolt and a future Azhar Mufti, was its most notable advocate. Abduh called for a reform of Egyptian Muslim society and formulated the modernist interpretations of Islam that took hold among younger generations of Egyptians. Among these were Mustafa Kamil and Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed, the architects of modern Egyptian nationalism. Mustafa Kamil had been a student activist in the 1890s involved in the creation of a secret nationalist society that called for British evacuation from Egypt. He was famous for coining the popular expression, "If I had not been an Egyptian, I would have wished to become one."
Former rector of the Egyptian University Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed founded Egypt's first political party, el-Umma, in 1907. He is regarded as the modern architect of secular Egyptian nationalism.Egyptian nationalist sentiment reached a high point after the 1906 Dinshaway Incident, when following an altercation between a group of British soldiers and Egyptian farmers, four of the farmers were hanged while others were condemned to public flogging. Dinshaway, a watershed in the history of Egyptian anti-colonial resistance, galvanized Egyptian opposition against the British, culminating in the founding of the first two political parties in Egypt: the secular, liberal Umma (the Nation, 1907) headed by Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed, and the more radical, pro-Islamic Watani Party (Nationalist Party, 1908) headed by Mustafa Kamil. Lutfi was born to a family of farmers in the Delta province of Daqahliya in 1872. He was educated at al-Azhar where he attended lectures by Mohammed Abduh. Abduh came to have a profound influence on Lutfi's reformist thinking in later years. In 1907, he founded the Umma Party newspaper, el-Garida, whose statement of purpose read: "El-Garida is a purely Egyptian party which aims to defend Egyptian interests of all kinds."
Both the People and Nationalist parties came to dominate Egyptian politics until World War I, but the new leaders of the national movement for independence following four arduous years of war (in which Great Britain declared Egypt a British protectorate) were closer to the secular, liberal principles of Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed and the People's Party. Prominent among these was Saad Zaghlul who led the new movement through the Wafd Party.
Egyptian women demonstrated along with men in the 1919 Revolution precipitated by the British-ordered exile of nationalist leader Saad Zaghlul.Saad Zaghlul held several ministerial positions before he was elected to the Legislative Assembly and organized a mass movement demanding an end to the British Protectorate. He garnered such massive popularity among the Egyptian people that he came to be known as 'Father of the Egyptians'. When on March 8, 1919 the British arrested Zaghlul and his associates and exiled them to Malta, the Egyptian people staged their first modern revolution. Demonstrations and strikes across Egypt by students, civil servants, merchants, peasants, workers, religious leaders; by Egyptian women; by Copts as well as Muslims became such a daily occurrence that normal life was brought to a halt. The uprising in the Egyptian countryside was more violent, involving attacks on British military installations, civilian facilities and personnel. By the end of March, it was apparent that the Wafd had gained countrywide support leading London to issue a unilateral declaration of Egyptian independence on February 22, 1922.
The Wafd Party drafted a new Constitution in 1923 based on a parliamentary representative system. Egyptian independence at this stage was provisional, as British forces continued to be physically present on Egyptian soil. Saad Zaghlul became the first popularly-elected Prime Minister of Egypt in 1924, and in 1936 the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty was concluded. Many cultural and economic developments accompanied the inter-war period. New forces that came to prominence were the Muslim Brotherhood and the Young Egypt Party, which attracted more radical elements of Egyptian society. In 1920, Banque Misr (Bank of Egypt) was founded by Talaat Pasha Harb as "an Egyptian bank for Egyptians only" which restricted shareholding to native Egyptians. Bank Misr helped finance various new Egyptian-owned businesses, including textile factories, insurance, publishing and tourism companies, along with Egypt's national airline EgyptAir.
Egyptian flag during the constitutional monarchy, 1922 − 1952. The three stars represented modern Egypt's three major religions: Islam, Christianity and Judaism.Under the parliamentary monarchy, Egypt reached the peak of its modern intellectual Renaissance that was started by Rifa'a el-Tahtawy nearly a century earlier. The most prominent Egyptian thinkers and writers of modern history belonged to this period. Among those who set the intellectual tone of a newly independent Egypt, in addition to Muhammad Abduh and Ahmed Lutfi el-Sayed, were Qasim Amin, Muhammad Husayn Haykal, Taha Hussein, Abbas el-'Akkad, Tawfiq el-Hakeem, and Salama Moussa. They delineated a liberal outlook for their country expressed as a commitment to individual freedom, secularism, an evolutionary view of the world and faith in science to bring progress to human society. This period was looked upon with fondness by future generations of Egyptians as a Golden Age of Egyptian liberalism, openness, and an Egypt-centered attitude that put the country's interests center stage.
When Egyptian novelist and Noble Prize laureate Naguib Mahfouz died in 2006, many Egyptians felt that perhaps the last of the Greats of Egypt's golden age had passed away. In his dialogues with close associate and journalist Mohamed Salmawy, published as Mon Égypte, Mahfouz had this to say:
“ Egypt is not just a piece of land. Egypt is the inventor of civilisation... The strange thing is that this country of great history and unsurpassed civilisation is nothing but a thin strip along the banks of the Nile... This thin strip of land created moral values, launched the concept of monotheism, developed arts, invented science and gave the world a stunning administration. These factors enabled the Egyptians to survive while other cultures and nations withered and died... Throughout history Egyptians have felt that their mission is to tend to life. They were proud to turn the land green, to make it blossom with life. The other thing is that Egyptians invented morality long before the major religions appeared on earth. Morality is not just a system for control but a protection against chaos and death... Egypt gave Islam a new voice. It didn't change the basic tenets of Islam, but its cultural weight gave Islam a new voice, one it didn't have back in Arabia. Egypt embraced an Islam that was moderate, tolerant and non-extremist. Egyptians are very pious, but they know how to mix piety with joy, just as their ancestors did centuries ago. Egyptians celebrate religious occasions with flair. For them, religious festivals and the month of Ramadan are occasions to celebrate life. ”
Muhammad Naguib, 1901 − 1984, was the first President of the Republic of Egypt, a post he held for only a year.Increased involvement by the King in parliamentary affairs, government corruption, and the widening gap between the country's rich and poor led to the eventual toppling of the monarchy and the dissolution of the parliament through a coup d'état by a group of army officers in 1952. The Egyptian Republic was declared on June 18, 1953 with General Muhammad Naguib as the first President of the Republic. After Naguib was forced to resign in 1954 and later put under house arrest by Gamal Abdel Nasser, the real architect of the 1952 movement, mass protests by Egyptians erupted against the forced resignation of what became a popular symbol of the new régime. Nevertheless, Nasser assumed power as President and began a nationalization process that initially had profound effects on the socioeconomic strata of Egyptian society. According to one historian, "Egypt had, for the first time since 343 BC, been ruled not by a Macedonian Greek, nor a Roman, nor an Arab, nor a Turk, but by an Egyptian."
Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal leading to the 1956 Suez Crisis. Egypt became increasingly involved in regional affairs until three years after the 1967 Six Day War, in which Egypt lost the Sinai to Israel, Nasser died and was succeeded by Anwar Sadat. Sadat revived an Egypt Above All orientation, switched Egypt's Cold War allegiance from the Soviet Union to the United States, expelling Soviet advisors in 1972, and launched the Infitah economic reform policy. Like his predecessor, he also clamped down on religious and leftist opposition alike. In 1977, Sadat made a historic visit to Israel leading to the signing of the 1978 peace treaty, which was supported by the vast majority of Egyptians, in exchange for the complete Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. Sadat was finally assassinated in Cairo by a fundamentalist soldier in 1981, and was succeeded by Hosni Mubarak.
Kefaya is a grassroots movement and a form of non-violent resistance organized on the Egyptian street with the goal to achieve equality and democracy.President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak has been the President of the Republic since October 14, 1981, currently serving his fifth term in office. Although power is ostensibly organized under a multi-party semi-presidential system, in practice it rests almost solely with the President. In late February 2005, Mubarak announced in a surprise television broadcast that he had ordered the reform of the country's presidential election law, paving the way for multi-candidate polls. For the first time since the 1952 coup d'état, the Egyptian people had an apparent chance to elect a leader from a list of various candidates. However, the new law placed draconian restrictions on the filing for presidential candidacies, designed to prevent well-known candidates such as Ayman Nour from standing against Mubarak, and paved the road for his easy re-election victory.
Most Egyptians today are skeptical about the process of democratization and fear that power may ultimately be transferred to the President's first son, Gamal Mubarak. Newspapers, however, have since exhibited an increasing degree of freedom in criticizing the President. In 2003, the Egyptian Movement for Change or simply Kefaya was founded as a grassroots mobilization of Egyptians from different socioeconomic, political and religious backgrounds seeking a return to democracy, a transparent government and greater equality and freedom.
The long road to Egyptian independence took more than 20 centuries to achieve, and for many Egyptians it is still a work in progress. Egyptians have endured as a people for more than 5,000 years thanks in large part to Egypt's unique geography. They take pride in their pharaonic heritage and in their descent from one of mankind's earliest civilizations.
“ Egypt for the first time [since the Pharaonic era] is truly Egyptian. There are no sizeable foreign communities resident in the country any more...the impact of the October 1973 War (also known as the Ramadan or Yom Kippur War) found Egyptians reverting to an earlier sense of national identity, that of Egyptianism. Egypt became their foremost consideration and top priority in contrast to the earlier one, preferred by the Nasser régime, of Egypt's role and primacy in the Arab world. This kind of national 'restoration' was led by the Old Man of Egyptian Nationalism, Tawfiq el-Hakim, who in the 1920s and 1930s was associated with the Pharaonist movement....[The Egyptians] have a kind of local social resistance—a tenacity which derives from their geographical-historical experience as a nation—both to pressure from their own State and government and to change...This perhaps is also the secret of the survival of Egyptians for so many thousands of years in a country which has seen so many God-Kings, Emperors, Prefects, Governors, Caliphs, Satraps, Sultans and other rulers. It became acceptable for Egyptians under Sadat and Mubarak to claim an Egyptian identity first and foremost. Their Arabism constitutes for them a cultural dimension of their identity, not a necessary attribute of or prop for their national political being. ”
CultureMain article: Culture of Egypt
Egyptian culture boasts five millennia of recorded history. Ancient Egypt was among the earliest and greatest civilizations during which the Egyptians maintained a strikingly complex and stable culture that influenced later cultures of Europe, the Near East and Africa. After the Pharaonic era, the Egyptians themselves came under the influence of Hellenism, Christianity and Islamic culture. Today, many aspects of ancient Egyptian culture exist in interaction with newer elements, including the influence of modern Western culture, itself with roots in Ancient Egypt.
It is common for people of Egyptian origins to have surnames beginning with "Ba/Be" which is the Egyptian masculine singular definite article; for example, Bayoumi بيومي ("of the sea", i.e. Lower Egyptian) (variations: Baioumi, Bayoumi, Baioumy), Bashandi بشندي , Bakhum باخوم ("the eagle"), Bekhit, Bahur ("of Horus") and Banoub بانوب ("of Anubis"). The name Shenouda شنوده, which is very common among Copts (e.g., it is the name of the present Egyptian Pope as well as that of one of the Coptic Church's foremost saints), means "God is living". Hence names, and many toponyms, may end with -nouda or -nuti which is the Egyptian word for God. In addition, Egyptian families often derive their name from places in Egypt, such as el-Minyawi المنياوي from Minya and Suyuti السيوطي from Asyut; or from one of the local Sufi orders such as el-Shazli الشاذلي and el-Sawy الصاوي.
With the adoption of Christianity and eventually Islam, Egyptians began to take on names associated with these religions. Many Egyptian surnames also became Hellenized and Arabized, meaning they were altered to sound Greek or Arabic. This was done by the addition of the Greek suffix -ios to Egyptian names; for example, Bakhum > Pachomios; or by adding the Arabic definite article el (Classical Arabic al) to names such as Baymoui > el-Bayoumi. Names starting with the Egyptian affix bu ("place") were often Arabized to abu ("father of"); for example, Busiri بوصيري ("of the place of Osiris") occasionally became Abusir and al-Busiri. Some people might also have surnames like el-Shami الشامي ("the Levantine") indicating a possible Levantine origin, or Turkish Dewidar دويدار, an Ottoman-Mamluk remnant. Conversely, some Levantines might carry the surname el-Masri ("the Egyptian") suggesting a possible Egyptian extraction. The Egyptian peasantry, the fellahin, are often likely to retain indigenous names with little to no change given their relative isolation throughout the country's history.
Main articles: Egyptian language, Coptic language, and Egyptian Arabic
Ebers Papyrus detailing treatment for asthma in hieratic Egyptian, c. 1550 BC.The ancient Egyptian language constitutes an independent branch of the Afro-Asiatic language phylum. Its closest relatives are the Berber, Semitic, and Beja groups of languages. Written records of Egyptian have been dated from about 3200 BC, making it one of the oldest and longest documented languages. The language survived in its Coptic stage of development until the 17th century, and while it ceased to be spoken, it continues to be the language of liturgy in the Coptic Church. Attempts at revitalization are currently underway by some local groups.
The national language of Egypt today is Egyptian Arabic. Its earliest recorded history comes in the form of a document by a sixteenth century linguist writing about the peculiarities of the speech of the Egyptian people. This suggests that the language by then was spoken by the majority of Egyptians. It is represented in a body of vernacular literature comprising novels, plays and poetry published over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Classical Arabic is also a significant cultural element in Egyptian culture, as Egyptian novelists and poets were among the first to experiment with modern styles of Arabic literature, and the forms they developed have been widely imitated.
Contribution to humanity
The Egyptians have played a significant role in the development of arts and sciences, and have contributed some of the world's most important inventions. The irrigation methods developed by early Egyptians led to cooperation and the development of the first centralized government based on professional knowledge, a rule of hydraulic engineers. The earliest evidence (c. 1600 BC) of traditional empiricism and the scientific method is credited to Egypt, as evidenced by the Edwin Smith and Ebers papyri. Egyptian inventions include a 365-day calendar, 24-hour division of the day and hydraulic cement.
Today, Egypt has the highest number of Nobel Prize Laureates in Africa and of any country in the Muslim world.
Egyptians with notable contributions to the world:
Abu Kamil - his work in algebra formed the basis for Fibonacci's work.
Anthony the Great - recognized as the founder of monasticism.
Athanasius of Alexandria - compiler of the New Testament books as they are used today.
Djer - credited with writing the first medical treatise on anatomy.
Dhul-Nun al-Misri - one of the founders of Sufism; introdcued Gnosis into Islam.
Farouk El-Baz - was supervisor of Lunar Science Planning in NASA's Project Apollo.
Eman Ghoneim - woman geomorphologyist who helped discover the Kebira Crater in the Sahara.
Zahi Hawass - archaeologist, Time Magazine 100 Most Influential People.
Imhotep - recognized as the world's first medical doctor and architect.
Origen - one of the world's most influential early Christian scholars.
Riad Higazy - a feature on the moon was named after him.
Sameera Moussa - nuclear scientist who organized the Atomic Energy for Peace Conference.
Magdi Yacoub - one of the world's foremost heart surgeons.
Ibn Yunus - noted for important astronomical contributions; the Ibn Yunus crater is named after him.
Ahmed H. Zewail - pioneer of femtochemistry; winner of Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Omar Samra - fastest person to reach the top of 8,850m Mount Everest