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The Arab Republic of Egypt (Egyptian Arabic: جمهورية مصر العربية Ǧumhūriyyat Miṣr al-ʿArabiyyah) is a state in north-east Africa. Its capital, Cairo, is home to the Pyramids of Giza. While geographically located in Africa, culturally and politically Egypt is considered to be part of the Middle East, in part because of its proximity, and in part because of its large Muslim, Arabic-speaking population. In 1967 Egypt went to war with Israel; in 1978 it became the first state in the region to make peace with Israel and acknowledge its existence with the signing of the Camp David Accords.

The former "president" of Egypt (or more accurately the head of a military junta) Hosni Mubarak[wp] was seen by the West as being a fairly benign autocrat, though he did have the rather nasty habit of locking up political rivals, repressing civil rights, allowing corruption, turning a blind eye to police brutality and torture, and neglecting the poor, the middle classes, the educated professionals, in short, anyone who didn't actively support Hosni Mubarak.[1] The United States tended to turn a blind eye to this behaviour since said rivals were either Islamists, organisations that Mubarak painted as being Islamists, or unimportant to United States interests.[2] Egypt receives a great deal of American aid, mostly because the Americans saw Mubarak as a "moderate" in a region full of extremists, and because Egypt is one of the few Middle Eastern nations to have recognized Israel's right to exist (though the main journalists' organization, as well as the Egyptian Writers' Guild and Actors' Guild, have forbidden their members to work in Israel). Moreover, the aid is in part the price of Egypt's continued recognition of and peace with Israel.

The funerary mask of Tutankhamun, a minor pharaoh whose mostly undespoiled tomb was a major archeological find.


[edit] Ancient history

Ankh, the Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol for "life".

Egypt is the birthplace of one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and houses the only surviving "Wonder of the Classical World," the Great Pyramid at Giza. The Sphinx of Giza forms a part of the same complex. The desert climate surrounding Egypt means that many early documents and monuments from its ancient civilization have been preserved. One of the world's earliest writing systems, Egyptian hieroglyphics, was created there. A Proto-Sinaitic script derived from or inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphics is a likely candidate for the origin of the Phoenician alphabet, and as such Egyptian hieroglyphics would represent the ultimate ancestor of all the major alphabetic scripts currently in use, including the Latin, Greek, Arabic, and Brahmi-derived scripts of South Asia.[3]

Females married around their first menses; with males usually between 16-20; premarital sex was allowed, though, as was no-fault divorce (which was uncommon in a lot of cultures at that time). Both genders inherited wealth equally and separately from each parent; while the end of childhood was marked by the first menses in girls and circumcision in boys at 13. Careers in ancient Egypt were hereditary, only the male children of scribes could expect classroom educations; scribes also did not have to pay taxes. All professions were paid in grain; the ancient Egyptians favorite thing to drink was beer, while their favorite board game, senet, invoked the journey into the underworld.[4]

[edit] Pyramid construction methods

Although Herodotus described the pyramids as being built by slaves at the crack of a whip, a tomb for builders was found near the Giza pyramids; food supplies for the afterlife indicate that they were paid laborers. The pyramid builders at Giza worked in three-month shifts, and the 10,000 laborers would consume 21 cattle and 23 sheep each day, for 30 years.[5][6]

[edit] Ancient Egyptian religion and magic

From the RationalWiki perspective, the most salient feature of ancient Egyptian religion involved its funerary cult, and its associated practice of mummification. The Egyptians believed that the preservation of the body was vital to the soul's survival in the afterlife, and they buried at least their upper class dead in elaborate tombs that contained grave goods and carved servants (ushabti) that would be animated to wait upon the deceased in the afterlife.[7] The Book of the Dead was a collection of texts — there was no single standard version — that were meant as a guidebook and instruction manual informing deceased Egyptians how to navigate the Egyptian afterlife, pass its trials and avoid its hazards, and come to rest by identification with the dying and resurrected god Osiris.[8]

Because of this belief that the dead needed goods from the living, the tombs of ancient Egyptians attracted burglars seeking to plunder the grave goods they contained. With the unique exception of the tomb of the pharaoh Tutankhamun (whose tomb had been hidden by rubble from a nearby tomb, protecting it from robbers), each tomb discovered had been substantially plundered prior to archaeological excavation. To discourage the practice, some Egyptian tombs contained inscriptions proclaiming curses on the heads of these thieves; one such curse reads "Cursed be those who disturb the rest of a Pharaoh. They that shall break the seal of this tomb shall meet death by a disease that no doctor can diagnose."[9] These curses live on in contemporary legend and popular culture; one such curse has Lord Caernarvon, backer of the excavations, succumbing to Tutankhamun's curse because he died from sepsis from a self-inflicted cut six months after the opening of the tomb. Another mummy's curse legend blames the sinking of the Titanic on the presence of an Egyptian mummy in the hold.[10]

Egypt's reputation as a haven of occult magic extends back to the ancient world; the presence of the Library of Alexandria on Egyptian soil made Alexandria the largest center for learning in the ancient world. The astrologer Ptolemy had his home there, and a great many magical texts in a mixture of late Egyptian and Greekwp have been preserved on papyri, making them the largest body of magical texts preserved from the ancient world. A great many of these texts deal with themes of late paganism that are not specifically Egyptian, such as the Mithras Liturgy.

Lucius Apuleius's magical novel Metamorphoseon, often known in English as The Golden Ass, is again not specifically Egyptian in its content: but at its climax, its hero Lucius, transmogrified into an ass by tampering with magical potions earlier, is rescued from that fate by the Egyptian goddess Isis. The invocation of Isis[11] from the novel has had a large influence on contemporary occultism and neo-paganism. It is the chief ancient source for the claims of the Goddess movement that holds that all of the diverse female deities worshipped in antiquity were guises of a single goddess. The Egyptian deities Isis, Horus, and Osiris (often under the name Serapis) were widely popular throughout the Greco-Roman world; Isis had shrines as far away as Roman Britain.

A very common theme in conspiracy theories is that the Eye of Horus or anything Egyption Mythology Related is part of the Illuminati. For example, if an Egyptian Casket is found at Whitney Houston's funeral, it suddenly has everything to do with the illuminati and anyone who tries to debunk this is a shill.

[edit] Pseudohistory

The ancient Egyptians (right) believed themselves to differ in race from both Nubians (second from left) and Caucasians. Wall painting from the tomb of Seti I.
Walk like an Egyptian at the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn!

Egypt's status as an early civilization with many well-preserved artifacts attracts a great deal of woo. An attempt to claim ancient Egyptian forebears as a part of the heritage of contemporary African-Americans is a recurring feature of Afrocentric pseudohistory; the African-American Baseline Essays published by the Portland, Oregon school system, tell us that in ancient Egypt, psi was an "exact science".[12] Elsewhere, the essays credit an Egyptian physician named Imhotep with discovering heredity, claiming that Imhotep discovered that "a child acquires qualities of the parent through the semen of the father; this was the basis of the royal family's selective marriage policies." Not only was Imhotep wrong about this, assuming he said any such thing; but incest was remarkably common in Egyptian royal lineages.[13] The essay also claims that Egyptian medicine was based on contemporary New Age ideas about psychic powers, which were apparently linked to a psychic network whose power source was the Pharaoh:[14]

The ancient Egyptians call this creative energy "za" (known as "prana" to the Hindus and "chi" to the Chinese), which human beings, under special conditions, could manipulate. The god Heka was also the personification of this energy. They understood man's vital essence, the spirit, to be contained in a net of energy: the body. Thus, in the process of healing, the psi-physician/priest actually sought to restore the energetic integrity and harmony of the ill person. By the laying-on-of-hands, he or she could transfer their "za" which they received from the Pharaoh, who in turn received his "za" from the sun, to the patient.

Egyptian images have also been appropriated wholesale by Western occultists in general[15], although the solar imagery of Egypt has become less popular in recent years, being largely supplanted by earth-based imagery. According to Antoine Court de Gébelin's Le Monde Primitif ("The Primitive World"), an attempt at harmonizing the world's several mythologies, the Tarot card deck is of ancient Egyptian origin. His successor and plagiarist, the hairdresser and cartomancer Etteilla followed suit, and named the Tarot as the "Book of Thoth", an ancient Egyptian deity. Etteilla somehow determined in 1788 that the word tarot comes from ancient Egyptian roots TAR and RO, meaning "royal road"; since Jean-François Champollion's decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs was some thirty years in the future, the conclusion seems suspect.

The Theosophical Society has its root in an earlier occult organization, the "Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor."[16] Likewise, the Rosicrucian organization operates a Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum in San Jose, California.[17] A great deal of pseudohistory and pseudoarcheology has attached itself to the pyramids and the Sphinx of Giza. Tamara Siuda's House of Netjer purports to be an attempt to reconstruct the ancient Egyptian religion.

An often repeated but false claim by Afrocentrists, is that the Library of Alexandria existed prior to Hellenistic times. The Alexandrian library and museum were founded and maintained by the long succession of Ptolemies in Egypt from the beginning of the 3rd century BCE. There is no evidence of any library on the site prior to the founding of the city by Alexander the Great in 331 BCE.

[edit] Medieval history

In 621, Lower Egypt was conquered by the Muslim armies of Amr ibn al `Aas on behalf of the Rashidun caliphate of Omar.

[edit] Fate of the Library of Alexandria

The Library of Alexandria was a famous library and institution of Hellenistic learning in the city of Alexandria in Egypt. It was constructed by the Hellenistic pharaoh Ptolemy I Soter, or his son, during the third century BCE.

An often repeated folktale blames the loss of this storehouse of ancient learning on the Caliph Omar, who is claimed to have remarked that "if those books are in agreement with the Quran, we have no need of them; and if these are opposed to the Quran, destroy them." This tale appears first in the Syriac Christian author Bar-Hebraeus, quoting a Latin writer otherwise unknown called John the Grammarian.[18]

In fact, there wasn't much left of this library when the Caliph conquered Egypt. A major fire destroyed much of the collection during Julius Caesar's campaigns in Egypt in 48 BCE. The remaining collection was moved to a Hellenistic temple of Serapis/Osiris, the Serapeum of Alexandria. Further depradations occurred to the remaining collection when Marcus Aurelius warred with Zenobia around 270. But the final death blow to the library was struck by the Christian emperor Theodosius, who ordered the destruction of the Serapeum in 391 CE.[19] There wasn't a Library of Alexandria for Omar and his commanders to put to the torch any more.

[edit] Contemporary history

[edit] The 2011 revolution

See the main article on this topic: Egyptian revolution of 2011

Following from and inspired by the Jasmine Revolution[wp], or more properly the Sidi Bouzid revolt, in Tunisia[wp], on 25 January 2011 Egypt experienced the first moments of the revolution that would see Mubarak[wp] removed from power. On what was called the "Day of Anger" or "Day of Revolt", protests broke out in Cairo[wp], Alexandria[wp], El-Mahalla El-Kubra[wp], Aswan[wp], and Ismaïlia[wp][20][21]. Organised through social networking groups, as well as by word-of-mouth, tens of thousands of people took to the streets, with most of the protesters concentrated in Cairo and Alexandria[22]. The size of the protest in Cairo was much larger than the police[wp] expected it to be and so, as a result of this, the protesters were able to break out of the cordon that the police had placed them in and head to Tahrir Square[wp] which, in the days to come, would become the focal point for a protest movement seeking democratic reform in Egypt. Although the police deployed tear-gas[wp] and water cannon[wp] and initially succeeded in dispersing the protesters, this tactic ultimately failed and the police were eventually forced to retreat from the protesters as they came under bombardment from stones.[23]

With the shock of Mubarak's non-resignation still a raw wound to the pro-democracy protesters, 11 February saw an increase in the number of protesters from the day before. The organisers called this day "Farewell Friday", presumably in the hope that if they kept on hitting the government over the head with the same message over and over again, the message would sink in. In addition to the crowds in Tahrir Square[wp], thousands of protesters also continued to surround the Parliament[wp] and the Presidential Palace[wp], and crowds also blockaded the state TV building. Something had to give and at about 16:02 GMT / 18:02 Cairo Local Time, it did, when Vice-President Suleiman announced that the office of President had been vacated and that the military council would take over and the running of Egypt[24]. Quite unsurprisingly this announcement triggered wild celebrations throughout Egypt, celebrations that would be continued on the following Friday as a reminder to the Egyptian Military Council that the pro-democracy supporters still had their eye on them, and expected real change. On 15 February the Military Council[wp] announced that a new constitution would be adopted within 10 days.[25]

[edit] 1848 all over again

Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi[26] won the 2012 presidential election with 51.73% of the vote. Originally characterised as a bully and a tyrant after his attempts to take broad constitutional powers for himself that year,[27] in mid-2013 he was revealed to be a paper tiger after being deposed by the military in a coup.[28] While officially the acting president was a judge named Adly Mansour, minister of defence General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is widely considered to be in de facto control of the country. A crackdown on the Brotherhood has followed the coup, and while the situation has been compared to the rise of fascism in Europe the events of 1848 in France are perhaps a better parallel.[29]

Accordingly, Egyptian politics have changed for the absurd — by early 2014, people were accusing puppets of terrorism[30] and photographers of killing protesters.[31] Presumably all this will settle down at some point, but in the meantime a variety of countries are in the habit of warning their citizens that Egypt is just a tad dangerous at the moment, for some reason.[32]

[edit] Modern religion

Although there is ostensibly freedom of religion in Egypt, legal charges of blasphemy are frequently used against religious minorities and atheists on the slightest of pretexts.[33] Apostacy can also lead to a prison sentence.[34]

[edit] See also

[edit] Footnotes

  1. What caused the revolution in Egypt?
  2. 16:39, Egypt unrest: Day 17 as it happened
  3. John F. Healey, The early alphabet; (University of California Press, 1990, ISBN 978-0-520-07309-8), p. 18.
  6. See the Wikipedia article on Egyptian pyramid construction techniques.
  7. E. A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Ideas of the Future Life (1908); not an entirely reliable source.
  8. The Book of the Dead
  9. Valley of the Golden Mummies, Zahi A. Hawass, p. 94–97, American University Press in Cairo Press, 2000, ISBN 977-424-585-7
  10. Cursed Mummy on the Titanic,
  11. Lucius Apuleius, The Golden Ass l. XI
  12. Hunter Havelin Adams, "African and African-American contributions to science and technology, The African-American Baseline Essays (1987), pp. 41-42
  13. Jack Goody, "The Labyrinth of Kinship". New Left Review (2005)
  14. Adams, supra, p. 44
  15. See generally Brian Brown, The Wisdom of the Egyptians (1923)
  16. See generally Erik Hornung, The Secret Lore of Egypt (Cornell, 2001)
  17. The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
  18. Bar Hebraeus: Historia Compendiosa Dynastiarum, (Oxford, 1663). Quod ad libros quorum mentionem fecisti: si in illis contineatur, quod cum libro Dei conveniat, in libro Dei [est] quod sufficiat absque illo; quod si in illis fuerit quod libro Dei repugnet, neutiquam est eo [nobis] opus, jube igitur e medio tolli.” Jussit ergo Amrus Ebno’lAs dispergi eos per balnea Alexandriae, atque illis calefaciendis comburi; ita spatio semestri consumpti sunt. Audi quid factum fuerit et mirare
  19. Socrates of Constantinople, Ecclesiastical History, lib. V ss. 16
  20. Mohamed ElBaradei warns of 'Tunisia-style explosion' in Egypt
  21. Protests in Egypt and unrest in Middle East – as it happened
  22. 12:29, Protests in Egypt - as they happened
  23. Protests in Egypt and unrest in Middle East – as it happened
  24. 16:02, Mubarak resigns - Friday 11 February
  25. Egypt crisis: Army sets constitution reform deadline
  26. Sometimes "Morsy," or a variety of other transliterations.
  27. Monopolizing Power in Egypt, 16 August 2012.
  28. Coup topples Egypt's Morsy; deposed president under 'house arrest', CNN, July 4 2013.
  29. Egypt and the f-word, Bilal Ahmed, 15 October 2013.
  30. Puppet regime: A few more notes on Egypt and paranoia
  31. Egypt in TV, Nour Youssef.
  32. Egypt travel alert (US, January 06 2014).
  33. Egypt’s War on Atheism
  34. Egyptian Atheist Currently in Hiding Makes Video Urging Viewers to Rethink Their Belief in God
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