The Ancient Empire of the Nile
The valley of the
long river between the deserts, with the annual floods, deposits of life-giving silt, and year-long growing season, was the seat of one of the earliest civilizations built by humankind. The antiquity of this civilization is almost staggering, and whereas the history of other lands is measured in centuries, that of ancient Egypt is measured in millennia. Much is known of the period even before the actual historic records began. Those records are abundant and, because of Egypt's dry climate, have been well preserved. Inscriptions have unlocked a wealth of information; for example, the existing fragments of the Palermo stone are engraved with the records of the kings of the first five dynasties. The great papyrus dumps offer an enormous amount of information, especially on the later periods of ancient Egyptian history.
Among the many problems encountered in Egyptology, one of the most controversial is that of dating events. The following dates have a margin of plus or minus 100 years for the time prior to 3000 BC Fairly precise dates are possible beginning with the Persian conquest (525 BC) of Egypt. The division of Egyptian history into 30 dynasties up to the time of Alexander the Great (a system worked out by Manetho) is a convenient frame upon which to hang the succession of the kings and a record of events. In the table entitled Dynasties of Ancient Egypt , the numbers of the dynasties are given in Roman numerals, and the numeral is followed by the dates of the dynasty and a notation of famous monarchs of the era (each of whom has a separate article in the encyclopedia). Since there are many gaps and periods without well-known rulers (occasionally without known rulers at all), those are given simply with dates or are combined with better-recorded periods.
The Old and Middle Kingdoms
A high culture developed early, and the Old Kingdom is notable for artistic and intellectual achievements (see Egyptian architecture ; Egyptian art ; Egyptian religion ). From the beginning there was a concept of the divinity or quasi-divinity of the king (pharaoh), which lasted from the time that Egypt was first united (c.3200 BC) under one ruler until the ultimate fall of Egypt to the Romans. According to tradition, it was Menes (or Narmer) who as king of Upper Egypt conquered the rival kingdom of Lower Egypt in the Nile delta, thus forming the single kingdom of Egypt. In the unified and centralized state created by Menes, the memory of the two ancient kingdoms was preserved in formalities of administration. Trade flourished, and the kings of the I dynasty appear to have sent trading expeditions under military escort to Sinai to obtain copper. Indications show that under the II dynasty, trade existed with areas as far north as the Black Sea.
The III dynasty was one of the landmarks of Egyptian history, the time during which sun-worship, a new form of religion that later became the religion of the upper classes, was introduced. At the same time mummification and the building of stone monuments began. The kings of the IV dynasty (which may be said to begin the Old Kingdom proper) were the builders of the great pyramids at Giza. The great pyramid of Khufu is a monument not only to the king but also to the unified organization of ancient Egyptian society. The V to the VII dynasties are remarkable for their records of trading expeditions with armed escorts. Although Egypt flourished culturally and commercially during this period, it started to become less centralized and weaker politically. The priests of the sun-god at Heliopolis gained increasing power; the office of provincial rulers became hereditary, and their local influence was thereafter always a threat to the state.
In the 23d cent. BC the Old Kingdom, after a long and flourishing existence, fell apart. The local rulers became dominant, and the records, kept by the central government, tended to disappear. Some order was restored by the IX dynasty, but it was not until 2134 BC that power was again centralized, this time at Thebes . That city was to be the capital for most of the next millennium.
The Middle Kingdom, founded at the end of the XI dynasty, reached its zenith under the XII. The Pharaoh, however, was not then an absolute monarch but rather a feudal lord, and his vassals held their land in their own power. The XII dynasty advanced the border up the Nile to the Second Cataract. Order was preserved, the draining of El Faiyum was begun (adding a new and fertile province), a uniform system of writing was adopted, and civilization reached a new peak. After 214 years the XII dynasty came to an end in 1786 BC In the dimly known period that followed, Egypt passed for more than a century under the Hyksos (the so-called shepherd kings), who were apparently Semites from Syria. They were expelled from Egypt by Amasis I (Ahmose I), founder of the XVIII dynasty, and the New Kingdom was established.
The New Kingdom
The XVIII dynasty is the most important and the best-recorded period in Egyptian history. The local governors generally opposed both the Hyksos and the new dynasty; those who survived were now made mere administrators, their lands passing to the crown. Ancient Egypt reached its height. Its boundaries were extended into Asia, with a foreign province reaching the Euphrates (see Thutmose I ). Letters known as the Tell el Amarna tablets are dated to this dynasty and furnish the details of the reigns of Amenhotep III and his son, Ikhnaton . As Ikhnaton neglected his rule in the pursuit of religion, letters from local rulers became increasingly urgent in begging help, especially against the Hittites . Of the rulers following Ikhnaton in this dynasty, Tutankhamen is important for his law code and his enforcement of those laws through the courts. Architecture was at its zenith with the enormous and impressive buildings at and around Thebes.
Egyptian civilization seems to have worn out rapidly after conflicts with the Hittites under the XIX dynasty and with sea raiders under the XX dynasty. With a succession of weak kings, the Theban priesthood practically ruled the country and continued to maintain a sort of theocracy for 450 years. In the delta the Libyan element had been growing, and with the disappearance of the weak XXI dynasty, which had governed from Tanis, a Libyan dynasty came to power. This was succeeded by the alien rule of Nubians, black Africans who advanced from the south to the delta under Piankhi and later conquered the land. The rising power of Assyria threatened Egypt by absorbing the petty states of Syria and Palestine, and Assyrian kings had reached the borders of Egypt several times before Esar-Haddon actually invaded (673 BC) the land of the Nile.
Assyrian rule was, however, short-lived; by 650 BC, under Psamtik , Egypt was once more independent and orderly. Greek traders became important, and their city of Naucratis, founded by Amasis II , thrived. Attempts to reestablish Egyptian power in Asia were turned back (605 BC) by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar , and Egypt fell easy prey (525 BC) to the armies of Cambyses of Persia. Despite occasional troubles, the Persians maintained their hegemony until 405 BC New dynasties were then established, but they did not regain the old splendor. The Persians again became dominant in 341 BC Egypt, rich and ill-defended, fell to Alexander the Great without resistance in 332 BC
When Alexander's brief empire faded, Egypt in the wars of his successors (the Diadochi) fell to his general Ptolemy, who became king as Ptolemy I . All the succeeding kings of the dynasty were also named Ptolemy. The great city of Alexandria became the intellectual center and fountainhead of the Hellenistic world. The Ptolemies maintained a formidable empire for more than two centuries and exercised great power in the E Mediterranean. The Jewish population was large—perhaps as much as a seventh of the total population—and even the Palestinian Jews looked to the Alexandrian Jews for guidance.
The rising power of Rome soon overshadowed Egypt, but it was not until Ptolemy XII sought Roman aid through Pompey to regain his throne that Rome actually obtained (58 BC) a foothold in Egypt itself. Cleopatra , the daughter of Ptolemy XII, tried to win back power for Egypt, especially through Julius Caesar and Marc Antony . Octavian (later Emperor Augustus ) actually annexed Egypt to Rome, putting to death Cleopatra's son, Ptolemy XV, who was the last of the Ptolemies. Egypt became a granary for Rome; the emperors from Augustus to Hadrian raised the irrigation system to great efficiency, and Trajan reopened the ancient Nile–Red Sea canal. In the 2d cent. AD, strife between Jews and Greeks in Alexandria brought massacres.
Christianity was welcomed in Egypt, and several of the most celebrated Doctors of the Church, notably St. Athanasius , St. Cyril of Alexandria, and Origen , were Egyptians. Egypt gave rise to the Arian and Nestorian heresies, and Gnosticism flourished there for a time. The patriarch of Alexandria was probably the most important figure in Egypt. After St. Cyril, Monophysitism became the national faith; out of this arose the Coptic Church. The hostility of the people to the Orthodox Byzantine emperors and officials probably helped Khosru II of Persia to gain Egypt in 616. It was recovered (c.628) by Heraclius, but the Persian invasion proved to be only a forerunner of the more serious Arabian invasion.
The Arab conquest of Egypt (639–42), only some 20 years after the rise of Islam, made the country an integral part of the Muslim world. Until the 19th cent., Egyptian history was intimately involved with the general political development of Islam , whether unified or divided into warring states. Under the Umayyad caliphate many of the people continued their adherence to Coptic Christianity despite the special tax exacted from infidels. Eventually, the settling of colonists from Arabia and the increased conversion of peoples to Islam reduced the Christian population to a small minority. The Greek and Coptic languages went out of use, and Arabic became the predominant language.
The Abbasid caliphate (founded c.750) at first held Egypt under complete subjection, but the unwieldiness of its vast domain encouraged provincial governors to revolt and to assert their own rule. In the 10th cent., Egypt fell to the Fatimid claimants to the caliphate, who invaded from the west. The Fatimids founded (969) Cairo as their capital, and with the establishment (972) there of the Mosque of Al-Azhar as a great (and still active) Muslim university, they further emphasized the change of Egypt from an outpost of Islam to one of its centers.
The strain of the Crusades and internal political disorder led to the fall of the Fatimids and to the founding by Saladin of the Ayyubid dynasty. The strategic position of Egypt made it a logical target of the Crusaders, who twice (1219–21, 1249–50) held Damietta, then the chief Mediterranean port, but could advance no farther.
The later Ayyubid rulers came excessively under the control of their slave soldiers and advisers, the Mamluks , who in 1250 seized the country. Until 1517, when Egypt was conquered by the Ottoman Turks, the Mamluks maintained their turbulent rule, with frequent revolts and extremely short tenures for most of the sultans. Nevertheless, they built many great architectural monuments. Their importance by no means disappeared with the establishment of Ottoman power, for the Egyptian pasha (governor) was compelled to consult the Mamluk beys (princes), who continued in control of the provinces.
Ottoman control had become almost nominal by the administration (1768–73) of Ali Bey, who termed himself sultan. The Ottoman Turks, however, continually attempted to assert power over the unruly beys. On the pretext of establishing order there, Napoleon Bonaparte ( Napoleon I ) undertook the French occupation of Egypt (1798–1801); yet his real object was to cut off British trade lines and, eventually, to detach India from the British Empire. All his efforts were bent to establishing French power in the region. The Ottoman Turks, however, ultimately joined the British in forcing out the French.
The French withdrawal was followed by the rise of Muhammad Ali , a former commander, who was appointed (1805) Egyptian pasha by the Ottoman emperor. He permanently destroyed (1811) the Mamluks' power by massacring their leaders. Using Europe as a model, Muhammad Ali laid the foundations of the modern Egyptian state. He introduced political, social, and educational reforms and developed an effective bureaucracy; he also undertook massive economic development by expanding and modernizing agriculture and by starting large-scale industry. Under his rule the empire eventually extended from Sudan in the south to Arabia in the east and Syria in the northeast. Abbas I (reigned 1848–54), Muhammad Ali's successor, undid some of his reforms and was followed by Muhammad Said Pasha.
In 1854, Said granted Ferdinand de Lesseps a concession for the construction of the Suez Canal, a project that put Egypt into deep financial debt and robbed it of its thriving transit-trade on the Alexandria-Cairo railroad. In addition, the strategic nature of the canal, which opened in 1867, shifted Great Britain's focus in the Middle East from Constantinople to Cairo and opened the door to British intervention in Egyptian affairs. Said was followed by Khedive (viceroy) Ismail Pasha , whose rule was characterized by accelerated economic development, Westernization, and the establishment of Egyptian autonomy. The cost of Said's reforms, of the construction of the Suez Canal, and of his conquests in Africa, however, put Egypt deep into debt and forced Ismail to sell (1875) his Suez Canal shares to the British. Egypt's financial problems led to further subordination of the country to great-power interests. Ismail was forced to accept the establishment of a French-British Debt Commission.
In 1879, Ismail was compelled to abdicate in favor of his son Tewfik Pasha , who was confronted with financial and political chaos; his situation was complicated by the outbreak of a nationalist and military revolt (1881–82) under Arabi Pasha. The British reacted to the revolt with a naval bombardment of Alexandria in July, 1882, and by landing British troops, who defeated Arabi Pasha at the battle of Tell el Kabir and went on to occupy Cairo.
The British consolidated their control during the period (1883–1907) when Lord Cromer was consul general and de facto ruler. By 1904 the governments of France, Austria, and Italy agreed not to obstruct Britain in its intention to stay in Egypt indefinitely. During World War I, after Turkey joined the Central Powers, Great Britain declared Egypt a British protectorate and deposed Abbas II , the allegedly pro-German khedive, substituting Husein Kamil (1914–17), a member of his family. After the war Egyptian nationalists of the Wafd party, led by Zaghlul Pasha , were especially vigorous in their demands for freedom.
Under the rule of Ahmad Fuad (who later became Fuad I ), a treaty providing for Egypt's independence was concluded (1922). It went into effect in 1923 following the proclamation of a constitution that made Egypt a kingdom under Fuad and established a parliament. Great Britain, however, retained the right to station troops in Egypt and refused to consider Egyptian claims to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan (see Sudan ). The British protectorate was maintained until the promulgation of a new treaty in 1936, which made the two countries allies and promised the eventual withdrawal of British troops. Fuad was succeeded by his son Farouk . In 1937 a further step toward sovereignty was accomplished by an agreement (which went into effect in 1949) to end extraterritoriality in Egypt.
In the postindependence years, Egypt's internal political life was largely a struggle for power between the Wafd party and the throne. The constitution was suspended in 1930, and Egypt was under a virtual royal dictatorship until the Wafdists forced the readoption of the constitution in 1935. During World War II, Egypt remained officially neutral. However, Egyptian facilities were put at the disposal of the British and several battles were fought on Egyptian soil (for details of the military engagements, see North Africa, campaigns in ).
After the war, demands were made for a revision of the treaty of 1936. Repeated talks failed because of Egyptian insistence that Great Britain allow incorporation of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan into Egypt. An Egyptian appeal (1947) on this subject to the Security Council of the United Nations was also in vain. Egypt actively opposed the UN partition of Palestine in 1948 and, joining its forces with the other members of the Arab League , sent troops into the S Negev. Israeli forces, however, repelled the Egyptians in bitter fighting (see Arab-Israeli Wars ).
In domestic politics, the Wafd acquired a majority in 1950 and formed a one-party cabinet. The struggle between King Farouk and the Wafdist government intensified, and several political uprisings led to violence. On July 23, 1952, the military, headed by Gen. Muhammad Naguib, took power by coup. Farouk abdicated in favor of his infant son, Ahmad Fuad II, but in 1953 the monarchy was abolished and a republic was declared. Naguib assumed the presidency, but, in his attempts to move toward a parliamentary republic, he met with opposition from other members of the Revolutionary Command Committee (RCC). Increasing difficulties led to the extension of martial law. Col. Gamal Abdal Nasser emerged as a rival to Naguib, and in Feb., 1954, Naguib resigned.
Egypt under Nasser
Nasser took full power in Nov., 1954. Under the new constitution, he was elected president for a six-year term. The long-standing dispute over Sudan was ended on Jan. 1, 1956, when Sudan announced its independence, recognized by both Egypt and Great Britain. British troops, by previous agreement (July, 1954), completed their evacuation of the Suez Canal Zone in June, 1956. Tension increased in July, 1956, when, after the United States and Great Britain withdrew their pledges of financial aid for the building of the Aswan High Dam, the Soviet Union stepped in to finance the dam. Nasser then nationalized the Suez Canal and expelled British oil and embassy officials from Egypt.
On Oct. 29, Israel, barred from the canal and antagonized by continued guerrilla attacks from Gaza, invaded Gaza and the Sinai peninsula in joint arrangement with Britain and France, who attacked Egypt by air on Oct. 31. Within a week Great Britain, France, and Israel yielded to international political pressure, especially that of the United States, and a cease-fire was pronounced. A UN emergency force then occupied the Canal Zone in Dec., 1956. Israeli troops evacuated Egyptian territory in the spring of 1957.
In Feb., 1958, Syria and Egypt merged as the United Arab Republic . They were joined by Yemen in March, creating the United Arab States. The union was soon torn by personal and political differences, and a Syrian revolt (1961) led to its virtual dissolution.
Egypt embarked on a program of industrialization, chiefly through Soviet technical and economic aid. Both industry and agriculture were almost completely nationalized by 1962. In the early 1960s, Nasser strove to make Egypt the undisputed leader of a united Arab world; his chief and most effective rallying cry for Arab unity remained his denunciation of Israel and his call for that country's extinction. From 1962 to 1967, Egyptian forces provided the chief strength of the republican government in Yemen , where the royalists were backed by Saudi Arabia. Heavy losses finally moved Egypt to withdraw, and the republicans ultimately gained control. Egyptian military might continued to increase with the acquisition of powerful modern weapons, many of which were supplied by the USSR. In 1965 and 1966 two anti-Nasser plots were discovered and crushed. Nasser assumed near absolute control in 1967 by taking over the premiership and the leadership of the Arab Socialist Union (ASU), the country's sole political party.
In the spring of 1967, Egyptian troops were ordered to positions on the Israeli border, and Nasser demanded that the UN peacekeeping force stationed on the Egyptian side of the border since 1956 be withdrawn. Following the UN evacuation, Arab troops massed on the frontier, and Nasser announced (May 22) that the Gulf of Aqaba was closed to Israeli shipping. Other Arab states rallied to Egypt's support.
On June 5, Israel launched air and ground attacks against Arab positions and after six days achieved a rapid and decisive victory despite the Arab superiority in numbers and armaments. When the UN cease-fire went into effect, Israel held the Sinai peninsula, Gaza, and the east bank of the Suez Canal. After the war, Egypt received a massive infusion of Soviet military and economic aid in a program designed to rebuild its armed forces and economy, both shattered by the war. Egypt's postwar policy was based on two principles: no direct negotiations with Israel and the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which, in part, called for the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from occupied territories.
After Nasser's sudden death in Sept., 1970, Vice President Anwar al- Sadat succeeded him as president. An abortive coup took place in May, 1971, but Sadat emerged in control. A new constitution was ratified in Sept., 1971, when the country changed its name to the Arab Republic of Egypt. Sadat modified somewhat Nasser's hard line toward Israel but continued to demand Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and threatened to renew the war in order to regain the lands. In 1972, Sadat ousted all Soviet military personnel stationed in Egypt and placed Soviet bases and equipment under Egyptian control, thus reversing a 20-year trend of increasing dependence on the USSR. Unrest in 1973 led to the forced resignation of the governmental cabinet and to Sadat's assumption of the premiership.
The 1973 War
Another war with Israel broke out on Oct. 6, 1973, when Egyptian forces attacked Israel on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Israeli forces were caught off guard as Egyptian units progressed into the Sinai, and fighting broke out between Israel and Syria on the Golan Heights. The fighting escalated both on the ground and in the air.
After Israel had stabilized the Syrian front, its troops crossed the Suez Canal and toward the end of the war were in control of some 475 sq mi (1,230 sq km) on the west bank of the canal between Ismailia and Adabiya, surrounding the city of Suez and trapping Egypt's Third Army on the east side of the canal. Sadat called for a cease-fire coupled with the withdrawal of Israel from territories it had occupied since 1967. At the same time, Arab countries, by reducing—and later stopping—oil exports to selected countries supporting Israel, put pressure on the United States to get Israel to pull back from the occupied lands.
On Oct. 22 the United States and the USSR submitted a joint resolution to the UN Security Council calling for an immediate cease-fire and the beginning of peace negotiations. The Security Council voted to establish a UN emergency force made up of troops from the smaller nations to supervise the cease-fire. Through the mediation efforts of U.S. Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger , Egypt and Israel agreed to face-to-face negotiations on implementing the cease-fire. On Nov. 9, Israel accepted a proposal, worked out by Kissinger and Sadat.
Peace and Internal Unrest
A result of the intense U.S. effort to secure a settlement was the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States and Egypt, which had been severed since the 1967 war. This marked the beginning of closer relations with the West. After regaining both banks of the Suez Canal as a result of the postwar agreement, Egypt, with U.S. assistance, began to clear the canal of mines and sunken ships left from the 1967 war. In 1974, following a visit to Egypt by U.S. President Richard Nixon, a treaty was signed providing U.S. aid to Egypt of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
In 1977, Sadat surprised the world with his visit to Jerusalem and plans for peace with Israel. On Mar. 26, 1979, Egypt signed a formal peace treaty with Israel in Washington, D.C. By 1982, Israel had withdrawn from nearly all the Sinai. Egypt was suspended from the Arab League as a result of the peace treaty. A boycott by Arab countries was imposed on Egypt, and Libya, which had cut ties with Egypt in 1977, provoked border clashes.
Domestic unrest between Muslims and Christians in 1981 led to a crackdown by the government. Tensions heightened, and Sadat was assassinated on Oct. 6, 1981, by Muslim extemists. He was succeeded by Vice President Hosni Mubarak , who faced growing economic problems as well as continued opposition from militant Muslim fundamentalists. A state of emergency, imposed after Sadat's murder, was ultimately extended by Egypt's parliament throughout Mubarak's presidency, finally lapsing in mid-2012.
President Mubarak continued amicable relations with Israel and the United States and remained active in the Middle East peace process. In 1989, Israel returned the last portion of the Sinai that it held, the Taba Strip, to Egypt. Relations with the rest of the Arab world improved, and Egypt was readmitted into the Arab League in 1989.
In return for Egypt's anti-Iraq stance and its sending of troops in the Persian Gulf War (1991), the United States dismissed $7 billion in Egyptian debt. Participation in the war strengthened Western ties and enhanced Egypt's regional leadership role but was not popular domestically. Opposition from Islamic fundamentalists heightened during the 1990s; from 1992 to 1997, more than 1,200 people, mostly Egyptian Christians, were killed in terrorist violence. A 1997 attack on tourists visiting the Temple of Hatshepsut at Luxor claimed some 70 lives. During the same period, an estimated 26,000 Islamic militants were jailed and dozens were sentenced to death.
In 1999, Mubarak was returned to office for a fourth six-year term. Poverty is the nation's most pressing problem, but the government has failed to undertake significant economic reforms; social inequities have heightened societal tensions, and authoritarian rule has fostered corruption. Islamic militancy and terrorism, most dramatically demonstrated in recent years by the Oct., 2004, July, 2005, and Apr., 2006, bombings of several Sinai resorts, also remain challenges to Egypt's government, as do liberal reformers who have become more vocal and move visible in calling for constitutional reform.
In Feb., 2005, Mubarak called for a constitutional amendment to permit the direct election of the president from among a multiparty slate, but the restrictions in the amendment on who might run prevent the contest from being open to all challengers. After passage by parliament, the amendment was approved (May) in a referendum whose results were denounced as fraudulent by the opposition. At the same time, however, the government was trying Ayman Nour, a leading opposition figure, on charges that his lawyers claimed were fabricated in an attempt to derail his presidential candidacy. In the election in September, Mubarak was reelected and Nour placed second. Observers said that the election was marred by irregularities but also that they would not have affected the result; the turnout was only 23% of the nation's voters.
In the subsequent (November–December) parliamentary elections the government secured a more than two thirds of the seats, but candidates aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood won roughly a fifth of the seats a record number. The voting was marred by violence and intimidation that seemed clearly directed by the government at opposition voters. In Dec., 2005, Nour was convicted on charges related to the forgery of signatures on electoral petitions, which most nongovernment observers regarded as improbable, and was sentenced to five years; he was released for health reasons in Feb., 2009. In 2006 there was increasingly vocal public support for establishment of a truly independent judiciary, as protestors rallied in in May support of two judges who had called for reform and faced dismissal for having criticized the presidential election. the police violently suppressed the rallies, however, and the reforms that were passed in June were widely criticized as inadequate.
In Mar., 2007, a referendum approved amendments to the constitution, earlier approved by parliament, that were generally regarded as antidemocratic (one of the amendments replaced judicial supervision of elections with an electoral committee, another banned religious-based parties). The government claimed that roughly a quarter of the electorate voted, but several independent groups estimated the turnout at roughly 5%, and they and opposition groups accused the government of vote rigging. The following month Amnesty International accused Egypt of systematic human-rights abuses and as acting as an international center for abusive interrogation and prolonged detention in the
war on terror.
Elections in June, 2007, for seats in parliament's upper house, which the governing party, the National Democratic party (NDP), handily won, were marred by police interference and vote rigging. Subsequently in 2007 the government launched a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. The 2010 upper house (June) and subsequent lower house (November–December) elections were also marred by electoral abuses and irregularities; most of the seats were won by the NDP, and nearly all opposition parties called for a boycott of the second round of the lower house elections.
In early 2011, young Egyptians, inspired by events in Tunisia that led to the ouster of its entrenched president, mounted massive nonviolent anti-Mubarak demonstrations, most prominently in Cairo but also in other cities. Over 18 days the protesters won the support of major opposition figures and groups while surviving a number of government moves against them, including violence that killed more than 800 people and injured several thousand. The army largely remained on the sidelines and, in the face of growing protests, finally forced Mubarak to resign.
An interim military government headed by Defense Minister Hussein Tantawi suspended the constitution, dissolved parliament, and promised constitutional and political reforms prior to new elections in six months. In March a number of constitutional changes, including limits on the number of years a president may serve, were approved in a referendum. The changes were supported by the NDP and the Muslim Brotherhood, but a number of prodemocracy groups opposed them as insufficient. In April the Egyptian courts ordered the dissolution of the NDP.
Slow progress toward reforms and a new government—elections were ultimately scheduled for Nov., 2011–Feb., 2012—and concerns about the military government, led at times in the second half of 2011 to significant new protests in Cairo and other cities. In August, Mubarak was put on trial on charges of corruption and of ordering the killing of protesters. The elections for the lower house of parliament resulted in a significant victory for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party (FJP), which won the largest bloc of seats; the hardline Islamist party Al Nour placed second. In March, the assembly to write a new constitution was elected by parliament; it also was dominated by Islamists.
Mubarak and his former interior minister were convicted and sentenced to life in prison in June, 2012, for being accessories to murder (for having failed to stop the killing of protesters), but other security officials more directly responsible for the police involved in the killings were acquitted. At the same time, the judge dismissed corruption charges against Mubarak and his sons on technical grounds. The verdicts led to a public outcry in Egypt, but a number of other former government officials were subsequently convicted of or charged with various offenses mainly relating to corruption. In Jan., 2013, a retrial was ordered for Mubarak, his sons, and the former interior minister; the case ended in 2014 with the dismissal of or acquittal on all charges against them. (A 2014 conviction of Mubarak and his sons for embezzlement was confirmed in a 2015 retrial.)
Mohamed Morsi , the FJP candidate, was elected president after a runoff in late June, 2012. Before the runoff, however, the supreme court ruled that the newly elected parliament had to be dissolved because many members had been elected illegally, and the military government subsequently declared a new interim constitution that severely restricted the president's powers and reserved legislative powers to the military government until after a new parliament was elected. In July, President Morsi decreed that parliament be recalled, but the supreme court overturned his decree. In August a new government, consisting mainly of Islamists and technocrats, was appointed by Morsi. Morsi also ordered the retirement of Tantawi and the army chief of staff, ended the restriction on presidential powers, and assumed legislative powers.
In November a new presidential decree gave Morsi essentially unchecked power, sparking demonstrations against him by liberals and others who saw him as a new dictator and clashes between them and Morsi's supporters; parts of the decree were later rescinded. The constitution was pushed through the assembly in December after most liberals and Copts withdrew, and quickly adopted in a referendum in which only a third of all voters participated; the document largely was based on the existing constitution, and in the main preserved the military's powers and influence. Until new elections for the lower house of parliament were held, due within two months, the upper house assumed legislative powers.
Jan., 2013, was marked by violent protests, and the following month Morsi called for parliamentary elections in April. Meanwhile, the constitutional court rejected parts of the election law, and then the secular parties announced a boycott of the vote. In March, however, the elections were canceled as a result of a court decision that returned the election law to the constitutional court for review. In April, Islamists sought to force the retirement of older members of the judiciary, who were seen as opponents of Islamist rule; this led to new protests and tensions.
The constitutional court ruled in June that the interim parliament and the constitutional assembly had been illegally elected, but it left the constitution in effect. Massive demonstrations against Morsi in late June and early July, and clashes between Morsi opponents and supporters, led to a military ultimatum calling for the government and opposition to resolve the crisis; subsequently the president was ousted by the military. The military appointed an interim government, headed by Adly Mansour , the chief justice of the constitutional court; Gen. Abdel Fattah El- Sisi , the armed forces chief and defense minister, also became deputy prime minister.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters protested Morsi's overthrow, leading to recurring clashes with security forces that continued on a smaller scale into 2014; in Aug., 2013, hundreds died and several thousand were injured when two pro-Morsi protest camps were stormed. Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested and charged with inciting violence; the organization was later banned, and subsequently (2014) the FJP was dissolved by the courts. Islamist militant attacks on security forces and on Coptic churches also increased in the aftermath of Morsi's ouster. A number of prodemocracy activists were also arrested and jailed. By 2014 some 16,000 people had been arrested, including some 3,000 Muslim Brotherhood officials. In several, sometimes brief mass trials in 2014 and 2015 that targeted primarily members of the Muslim Brotherhood, hundreds of Egyptians were sentenced to death or imprisonment on murder, arson, and other charges arising from the aftermath of the military coup.
A new constitution, which was drafted in Dec., 2013, and again preserved the military's powers and independence, was approved by voters in Jan., 2014; the turnout was somewhat larger (38.6%) but nearly all votes (98%) were in favor of the constitution. In Mar., 2014, Sisi resigned from the army and the cabinet in order to run for president. He overwhelmingly won the May election against weak opposition, but many Islamists and liberal and secular activists boycotted the vote. In the delayed parliamentary elections, which were finally held in Oct. and Dec., 2015, individuals and parties aligned with the president won a significant majority of the seats; turnout was relatively low in both rounds.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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