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Profile of Egypt
Advice, information and discussion about other parts of Egypt.
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Profile of Egypt
Full Country Name: The Arab Republic of Egypt
Area: 997,739 Sq. Km
Population: 70.5 million (2004)
Capital City: Cairo (population - 16.7million)
People: Eastern Hamitic (Egyptians, Bedouins, and Berbers) (99%); Greek, Nubian, Armenian, other European (primarily Italian and French) (1%)
Languages: Arabic (official), English and French widely understood
Religion(s): Muslim (mostly Sunni) (94%), Coptic Christian, Bahá'í and other (6%)
Currency: 1 Egyptian Pound = 100 piasters
Major political parties: National Democratic Party (ruling party), Wafd Party, Al Tagammu and Nasserist Arab Democratic Party
Head of State: President Mohammed Hosni MUBARAK (since October 1981)
Prime Minister/Premier: Dr Ahmed Nazif (since July 2004)
Foreign Minister: Mr Ahmed Aboul Gheit (since July 2004)
Egypt is the centre of the Arab world, geographically, culturally and intellectually. It sits on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, with Libya to the west, Sudan to the south and Israel and the Red Sea to the East. Egypt forms the only land bridge between Africa and the remainder of the Eastern Hemisphere and controls the Suez Canal, the shortest sea link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The climate is mainly dry but along the Mediterranean coast there are winter rains. Temperatures are comfortable in the winter but summer temperatures are very high. Gebel Katarina at 2642m is Egypt's highest point.
The Nile Valley has hosted imperial powers since the Pharaonic era (beginning in the fourth millennium BC). Then came the Persians, the Alexandrian Greeks, the Romans and Byzantines. By 641AD the Muslim Arabs had conquered the whole country. Following the Abbasid caliphate, the Fatimids invaded in 969. It was the Fatimids who founded the city of Cairo (Al-Qahira – the Conqueror) and established Al-Azhar University. Subsequent rule by Salah Al-Din (Saladin) and the Mamluk sultans was ended by Ottoman occupation in 1517.
Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798, and this effectively concluded Ottoman rule, even though the French were expelled by an Anglo-Ottoman alliance in 1801. In the ensuing power struggle, the Albanian Muhammad Ali triumphed. His dynasty oversaw westernisation of Egypt, the building of the Suez Canal, and colonisation of northern Sudan. In 1882, a British force occupied Cairo, and the British Consul-General became the effective ruler.
In December 1914 Egypt was declared a British protectorate with Hussein Kamil proclaimed the Sultan of Egypt. Led by Saad Zaghlul Pasha, there was a resurgence of Egyptian nationalism after World War I. In February 1922 Egypt was recognised as an independent sovereign state. An Anglo-Egyptian treaty of alliance was signed in 1936. It recognised Egypt's full independence and introduced a phased withdrawal of British forces. Despite this, and the installation of an Egyptian royal family descending from the sultans, the British military presence and influence remained, the final British troops leaving the Suez Canal zone in 1956.
Nationalism and defeat in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war discredited the monarchy, and on 23 July 1952 the Free Officers seized power in a coup d'etat. The King abdicated. The following year, General Muhammad Neguib was proclaimed President of the new republic.
In 1954, Neguib was replaced as president by Gamal Abd Al-Nasser. A popular vote affirmed this in 1956. Under his presidency, Egypt recognised Sudanese independence; Israel, Britain and France launched a tripartite attack (the Suez War); Egypt and Syria enjoyed a short-lived union, the United Arab Republic (1958-61); and following the June 1967 War, the Sinai Peninsula was occupied by Israel. Yet Nasser was the object of popular adulation across the entire Arab world, and his death in 1970 sent shockwaves far beyond Egypt's borders.
Nasser's successor, Anwar Al-Sadat presided over the expulsion of Soviet military advisers (1972); the October 1973 War, which represented a partial triumph for Egypt; improved relations with the USA; economic infitah (opening up); and peace with Israel following US-brokered talks at Camp David. The latter prompted Egypt's expulsion from the Arab League and complicated Sadat's already ambivalent relations with domestic opponents: on 6 October 1981, militant Islamists assassinated him at a military parade.
Following the assassination of Sadat, Vice-President Hosni Mubarak was appointed president, a post he occupies to this day. Mubarak oversaw the return of Egypt to the Arab League in 1991, following over a decade of isolation. During this time, Egypt had joined the international coalition, which drove Iraqi occupation forces out of Kuwait, and since then, Mubarak's Egypt has played a pivotal role in the Middle East Peace Process.
President Mubarak was re-elected on 7 September 2005 for his fifth successive term. On 25 May 2005, a constitutional amendment was passed to allow for free and direct Presidential elections to be contested by multiple candidates. There is no obvious successor to President Mubarak, as he has not appointed a vice-president who, traditionally, would take over his post.
President Mubarak assumed power in October 1981, after President Sadat's assassination by Islamic extremists. A state of emergency has existed continuously since 1981, which gives the authorities the ability to detain people suspected of being a threat to national security and public order. President Mubarak abandoned many of the unpopular features of Sadat's domestic policies, condemning privilege, ostentation and profiteering and placing new emphasis on economic reform.
The President appoints the Prime Minister. Ahmed Nazif has occupied this post since July 2004. Elections to the People's Assembly are held every five years and are due in November 2005. 444 deputies are elected by popular vote, 10 are appointed by the President. The second chamber, the Advisory Council, has 176 elected members and 88 presidential appointees.
In the 2000 People's Assembly, the NDP occupied 388 seats, independent candidates 20, the Muslim Brotherhood 17 (nominally independents) and opposition parties 17 (Wafd – 7, Tagammu – 6, Nasserist – 3, Liberal Socialists – 1). The NDP's overwhelming majority conceals the fact that in the elections, only 178 official NDP candidates won an Assembly seat. Their numbers were boosted by the return of 210 independents to the party fold. The regime also failed to prevent 17 Muslim Brotherhood deputies from winning a seat, despite harassment of candidates and alleged manipulation of the voting process.
The Egyptian Government has begun to tackle some of the social and economic issues, which contribute to the spread of religious extremism. The current government is placing emphasis on economic reform, with measures to privatise some of the large public sector enterprises, attract foreign investment and improve the education system.
President Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) has been in power since it’s formation by President Sadat in 1978 and dominates the People’s Assembly. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic organisations are banned and even secular political parties are subject to restrictions and control. However, spurred on by a poor performance in the 2000 elections, the NDP has embraced wide reaching personnel and structural changes and adopted a number of key policy papers on Education, Healthcare, Economic Policy, Youth, Women and Foreign Policy. So far efforts to introduce greater pluralism have not been taken very far. No new parties can be registered without the approval of the NDP-dominated Political Parties Committee. In February 2005, the leader of the recently registered Al Ghad Party, Ayman Nour, was arrested on charges of alleged forgery and subsequently released on bail.
A dynamic business sector provides prosperity and opportunities for a small part of the population. But the majority of people depend on traditional agriculture, on poorly paid Government employment, or on scratching a living in the large informal economy. With the population still growing at close to 2% a year, economic growth in recent years has been well below the long-term target of circa 7% per annum and sufficient to provide only a slow improvement in average incomes: there is still a lot of unemployment and poverty, especially in Upper Egypt. Subsidies on basic foods provide a socially important safety net.
Ahmed Nazif's government is considered liberal and business orientated, and the new economic team of Youssef Boutros Ghali at Finance, Rashid Mohamed Rashid at Foreign Trade and Industry and Mahmoud Mohieddin at Investment are widely seen as the most reformist and competent yet. Their announced priorities include custom reform, personal and corporate income tax, financial system reform, investment promotion, and fostering innovation. But in a sign that economic policy will continue to be constrained by social issues, another of the Government's priorities is preserving the social safety net. Public sector reform and the reduction of subsidies are proving difficult nettles to grasp.
In trade, Egypt is heavily import-dependent. Exports include oil, cotton and textiles. Service industries, specifically tourism, canal revenues and emigrant workers' remittances, provide a significant proportion of foreign currency earnings.
Basic Economic Facts
Sources: World Bank, IMF (IFS, DOTS)
GDP: $82bn (2003)
GDP per head: $1220 (2003)
Annual growth (real GDP, 1999-2004): 3.9%
Inflation (consumer price index, Q4 2004/Q4 2003): 11.9%
Major Industries: Agriculture, Manufacturing, Services
Major trading partners 2002: Exports - US (18%), Italy (14%), UK (8%). Imports - US (16%), Germany (8%), Italy (6%), France (6%), China (5%)
Exchange rate: £1 = 10.80 Egyptian pounds (August 2006)
Middle East Peace Process
Egypt continues to work closely with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to help resolve outstanding issues following Israel’s disengagement plan. Most notably, they are working with the Palestinian Authority on control of the Gaza-Egypt border, and helping to improve Palestinian capacity in providing law and order in Gaza post-withdrawal. They remain an important interlocutor in this conflict.
Egypt has close relations with Sudan. Relations reached a low in 1995 when Sudanese-supported gunmen attempted to assassinate President Mubarak in Addis Ababa, but have since improved. Egypt has followed closely on the peace agreement in Sudan between the Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) which resulted in the signature on 9 January 2005 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Egypt also mediated an agreement between the parties to the CPA and the Northern Democratic Alliance (NDA) – an umbrella group of opposition forces – which was signed on 18 June, bringing the NDA into the political process in Sudan. Egypt has provided support to the UN Peace Support Operation in southern Sudan, in support of the CPA, and to the African Union force in the crisis-stricken region of Darfur in Western Sudan. It has also provided medical and humanitarian relief to this region. Egypt claims the 'Hala'ib Triangle', under partial Sudanese administration that is defined by an administrative boundary which supersedes the treaty of 1899.
Egypt continues to be supportive of the political process in Iraq and supported the 30 January national elections in Iraq for a Transitional National Assembly. Egypt hosted the meeting of Iraq's neighbours in Cairo in July 2004. They also hosted an International Conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh in November 2004 and a follow-up meeting in January 2005.
The EU-Egypt Association Agreement came into force on June 2004. It includes provisions for initiating free trade between the EU and Egypt. It also includes co-operation in a wide range of fields, including regular political dialogue on issues such as human rights, rule of law and democratisation. The European Commission have begun negotiations with Egypt on a European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan, the next step in developing the EU's relationship with Egypt. The Action Plan identifies areas for reform linked to closer co-operation with the EU. As Presidency of the EU, the UK will chair an EU/Egypt Association Council later in 2005.
By themselves the conclusion of Association Agreements will not achieve a EuroMed Free Trade Area by 2010. Free Trade Agreements between Southern Mediterranean Partners are also needed to maximise the region's potential for economic growth. The most recent agreement is the Agadir Agreement, signed in February 2004, which will provide for free trade between Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt by 2006.
The EU's main policy and co-operation framework with the countries of the Mediterranean region, including Egypt, is known as the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. At last November's EuroMed Foreign Ministerial in The Hague, EuroMed Foreign Ministers launched a Review of the first ten years of the Barcelona Process and its future direction. The results of the Barcelona review will constitute the main input to the EuroMed tenth anniversary Summit, which the UK will host jointly with Spain on 27-28 November in Barcelona. We believe that the Review provides the opportunity to refocus our priorities, and deliver results that have a real positive impact for all our citizens. We want to see the Review generate a real debate among all Partners, and in our civil societies, of how to enhance the Partnership.
EGYPT'S RELATIONS WITH THE UK
The British and Egyptian governments have a strong relationship and share mutual objectives. There are no serious difficulties in the relationship between the two countries, although the presence of Egyptian dissidents has been a source of tension in the past.
The UK is the largest non-Arab investor in Egypt with total cumulative investment by the top dozen UK companies in the country amounting to some $18billion. UK exports to Egypt totalled £669.5million in 2004. Imports from Egypt in 2004 were worth £509.5million. British companies present in Egypt include British Gas, British Petroleum, Shell, Unilever, Cadburys, Glaxo SmithKline, Barclays Bank, HSBC, Legal & General and Vodafone.
We have full diplomatic relations with Egypt. Egypt is represented in London by His Excellency Gehad Refaat Madi. Our Ambassador to Cairo is His Excellency Sir Derek Plumbly KCMG.
The UK's bilateral assistance to Egypt finished on 31 March 2005. The EU continues to provide assistance to Egypt through the MEDA programme, and the UK contributes a significant proportion to the EU's total development assistance programme.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also supports a number of projects in Egypt through the Global Opportunities Fund. These include funding the Ombudsman Office of the National Council for Women, basic human rights training for lawyers in governorates outside Cairo run by a local NGO, and projects to enable women in low-income districts to have access to basic services, including legal advice on personal status issues.
We have excellent cultural links with Egypt. The British Council has a substantial operation in Cairo and a smaller operation in Alexandria. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office offers approximately 40 Chevening Scholarships to young Egyptians each year.
Dr Rashid Mohammed Rashid, Minister of Foreign Trade & Industry met HRH The Duke of York in July 2005.
Dr Mahmoud Mohieddin, Minister of Investment met Dr Kim Howells, Minister for Middle East in June 2005.
Dr Rashid Mohammed Rashid, Minister of Foreign Trade & Industry met Baroness Symons, Minister for Middle East in April 2005.
Dr Youssef Boutros-Ghali, Minister of Finance; Dr Sameh Fahmy, Minister of Petroleum; Ahmed el-Maghraby, Minister of Tourism; Dr Tarek Kamel, Minister of Communications & IT; Dr Rashid Mohammed Rashid, Minister of Foreign Trade & Industry; Dr Mahmoud Mohieddin, Minister of Investment met withPatricia Hewitt, Secretary of State for Trade & Industry, in March 2005
Gamal Mubarak, Secretary for Political Affairs; Dr Rashid Mohammed Rashid Minister for Industry; Mahmoud Mohieddin Minister for Investment, met with Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary and Baroness Symons, Minister for Middle East, in September 2004.
Dr Kim Howells, Minister for Middle East, in June 2005.
Baroness Symons, Minister for Middle East, in March 2005.
Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport and Lord Coe, in February 2005.
Paul Boateng, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in December 2004.
Jack Straw, Foreign Secretary (for Sharm el Sheikh Iraq conference), in November 2004.
On 23 July 2005 three bombs exploded in Sharm al-Sheikh in the Sinai Peninsula. According to the Egyptian authorities 63 people were killed and 124 injured. British nationals were among those killed.
In April 2005 there were three separate incidents in Cairo in which tourists were targeted. A total of seven people, including four terrorists and three tourists, were killed and 26 injured in these attacks. In October 2004, three explosions in the Sinai peninsula killed 34 and injured 159, including tourists.
On 7 October 2004 terrorist attacks in Taba and Ras Shaitan near Nuweiba killed 34 and injured 159, and the Hilton Hotel in Taba was severely damaged. On 7 April 2005, a bomb in the Khan el Khalili district, central Cairo killed four and injured several others.
In the 1990's the Egyptian government faced a threat from Islamic extremism, particularly in Upper Egypt. At its peak the extremists' campaign targeted not only Egyptian government figures but also foreign tourists, including an attack in Luxor in November 1997 when 58 tourists, six of them British, were murdered. After Luxor the Egyptian authorities cracked down on extremist groups and for several years there were no serious terrorist incidents.
Egypt is a signatory to all the major UN human rights conventions. In January 2004, we welcomed the establishment of a National Council for Human Rights chaired by the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Dr Boutros Boutros Ghali, as a demonstration of Egypt's willingness to improve their human rights record. Nevertheless there is still much work to be done, much of which was set out in the National Council's first annual report published in April 2005. We shall continue to encourage the Egyptian authorities to work towards improving their human rights record.
The Egyptian Government has taken steps to do this. A recent example was in October 2004, when a new family court system was introduced, with the aim of resolving marital and child custody cases through arbitration rather than the normal court system. There has also been a concerted effort to improve the rights of women and children. For example, the government recently introduced a new nationality law which enables Egyptian mothers to pass their nationality to their children; and a divorce law – known as khola – which enables Egyptian women to seek a divorce from their husband. And in 2000, the President created the National Council for Women, which aims to further women's rights and welfare.
One of the key human rights concerns in Egypt is the widespread mistreatment of detainees and use of torture in police stations, especially in cases involving political detainees. The government has taken some steps to address the problem, such as allowing semi-independent prison inspections, improving prison conditions, and paying compensation to victims of torture. There have also been a few court cases against police and prison officers accused of mistreating detainees. But the basic problem still remains, and we actively encourage the Egyptians to tackle it.
The Egyptian Government is sometimes accused of persecuting the Coptic Christians and other religious minorities, such as Bahá'ís, minorities and restricting freedom of religion. The President is personally involved in efforts to promote tolerance and inter-faith harmony, and has taken some concrete steps to promote and protect Christian rights, such as appointing Christians to parliament and other senior government posts (including the head of the national Council for Human Rights) and declaring 7 January – Coptic Christmas – a national holiday. But sectarian tension and discrimination does sometimes exist at grass roots level, and non-Muslims remain under-represented in certain sectors of society e.g. the armed forces. Other issues of concern include difficulties in obtaining permits for building churches, and difficulties faced by religious minorities including converts from Islam to Christianity when obtaining official documents.
EGYPT - FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What has the UK done about the persecution of Christians in Egypt?
The British Government is committed to promoting tolerance and mutual respect between religions. Although the majority of citizens in Egypt are Muslim, there is a large Christian minority who are free to practise their own religion. We are aware that there are isolated incidents of violence against the Coptic Christian community in Egypt and where appropriate, along with EU partners and others, we raise our concerns about these incidents with the Egyptian authorities. We also discuss these incidents with the Coptic Church in Egypt. The Egyptian Government place a strong emphasis on national unity which includes creating tolerance between Coptic and Muslim communities. They therefore have a shared interest with the Coptic Community in tackling the threat posed by religious intolerance and extremism.
What is the UK's position on religious conversion in Egypt?
Egypt is an Islamic country. Religious conversion is a sensitive issue in Egypt. The Government does not interfere with the practice of other religions but conversion is frowned upon and encouraging conversion is illegal. Where there is evidence of violation of human rights, we of course make our views known to the Egyptian Authorities.
What is the UK's position on Egyptian Identity Cards?
The lack of administrative provisions for converts to change their religious affiliations and the limited choice of religions on identity cards is a problem. There are strict laws pertaining to falsification of identity cards. Along with our EU partners we have made our views known to the Egyptian Authorities.
What is the UK's position on incidents at the Patmos Centre?
Officials in Cairo are aware of the events at the Patmos Centre and continue to follow developments. The Centre is currently in a legal dispute about its location. The Egyptian authorities have taken steps in the past to prevent units from a local army camp from attempting to demolish any part of the centre until the legal dispute can be resolved. We hope that the authorities can reach a swift settlement to the dispute.
What is the UK's position on the case of Adly Shakir?
Officials at our embassy in Cairo closely followed the case of Adly Shakir during the time of his trial where he was convicted for the murder of most of his family and the attempted murder of one of his sisters. He appealed his sentence in 1999 which was reduced to 25 years. We have not seen any evidence, which supports the claim that his sister is being held incommunicado. We are not aware of any evidence of a departure from the correct procedures.
What is the UK's position on the case of William Shaiboub?
An appeal was put to the Court of Cassation in June 2000 and was accepted by the Court. It is due to take place later this year. We would expect the appeal process to be conducted in accordance with Egypt's international human rights obligations, in particular the rights set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a party. Officials at our Embassy in Cairo are following the case.
What is the UK's position on the incident at El Kosheh in 2001?
We were deeply concerned by the sectarian violence in El-Khosheh in January 2001, which left 20 Christians and 1 Muslim dead. We have followed the case closely, and made our concerns known at the time.
We were encouraged that the Prosecutor-General persistently sought judicial review of early judgements in the case, reflecting the authorities' concern that justice be done.
We are concerned that this process seems, following a decision of the Court of Cassation in June, to be at an end. We will continue to make our concerns known to the appropriate authorities.
What is the UK's position on the case of Hany Samir Tawfik?
We have investigated the case of Hany Samir Tawfik, through our Embassy in Cairo. We have been unable to find out any further information.
Our ability to intervene is limited as this case involves an Egyptian national and there is no British connection. However we regularly raise human rights issues with the Egyptians, both bilaterally and in conjunction with the European Union and other like-minded colleagues. The last time we did so was in March 2005.
What representations did the UK make to the Government of Egypt concerning the arrest of Dr Ayman Nour MP?
The UK, together with other EU partners raised the arrest of Ayman Nour with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 15 February. We made clear to Egypt that while we are conscious that they regard Mr Nour’s arrest and detention as an internal matter, it risks sending negative signals of Egyptian’s commitment to political reform, especially in election year. Dr Nour has since been released.
Information From:- UK - Foreign & Commonwealth Office Website
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