Africa & Sinai Peninsula
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History of Egypt, part 2
The New Kingdom
The 18th Dynasty heralds the
beginning of the New Kingdom.
In this New Kingdom, coffins changed
shape from the Middle Kingdom rectangle
to the familiar mummy-shape with a
head and rounded shoulders.
At first these were decorated with
carved or painted feathers, but later
were painted with a representation
of the deceased.
They were also put together like Russian
Dolls, in that a large outer coffin
would contain a smaller one, which
contained one that was almost
moulded to the body.
Each one was more elaborately decorated
than the one larger than it.
It is from this time that most
mummies have survived.
All soft tissues, like the brain
and internal organs were removed.
The cavities were washed and then
packed with natron, and the body
buried in a pile of natron.
The intestines, lungs, liver and the
stomach were preserved separately and
stored in jars protected by the four
sons of Horus, Duamutef (stomach),
Qebhsenuef (intestines), Hapy (lungs)
and Imsety (liver).
Such was the perceived power of these
jars, even when the organs were returned
into the body after preservation
(21st Dynasty) they continued to supply the jars.
Various Pharaohs extend the control of
Egypt further than ever before.
Re-taking control of Nubia and extending
power northwards into the Upper Euphrates
the lands of the Hittites and Mitanni.
This is a time of great wealth
and power for Egypt.
By the time of Amenophis III (1417 BC ~ 1379 BC),
Egypt had become so wealthy that he
did nothing to further extend its powers
and instead rested upon his
throne gilded with Nubian gold.
He was succeeded by his son Amenophis IV
who changed his name to Akhenaton.
He moved the capital to a new city he
built and called Akhetaten.
Here with his new wife Nefertiti,
he concentrated on building his new
religion and ignored the world outside of Egypt.
This allowed various underground factions
to build that were not happy
with his new world.
The new religion was something that
had never happened before in Egypt.
New gods came along and they were
absorbed into the culture, but no god
was allowed to push out any old ones.
Akhenaton formed a monotheistic
religion around Aten.
Worship of all other gods was banned,
and this caused the majority
of the internal unrest.
A new culture of art was introduced that
was more naturalistic and a complete
turnabout from the stylised frieze that
has ruled Egyptian art for the last 1700 years.
Towards the end of his 17 year reign
he took a co-regent his brother, Smenkhkare.
The co-reign lasted only two years.
When Akhenaton died some of the
old gods were revived.
In truth they had never gone away,
but gone underground.
Smenkhkare died after a few months of solo reign.
In his place was crowned a young boy.
He was not ready for the pressure of
ruling this great country and the
advisors that surrounded him
made the decisions for him.
His given name was Tutankhaton, but
with the resurgence of Amun he
was re-named Tutankhamun.
One of the most influential advisors
was General Horemheb.
Tutankhamun died while he was
still a teenager and was succeeded
by Ay who probably married Tutankhamun's
widow to reinforce his right to the throne.
It is possible that Horemheb made Ay a
monarch to act as a transitional king
until he was ready to take over.
Anyway when Ay died, he became ruler and
a new period of positive rule began.
He set about securing internal stability
and re-establishing the prestige that
the country had before the reign of Akhenaton.
The 19th dynasty was founded by Rameses I.
He only reigned for a short time, and was
followed by Seti I (AKA Sethos I).
Sethos I carried on the good work of
Horemheb in restoring power, control
and respect of Egypt.
He also was responsible for creating
the fantastic temple at Abydos.
Seti I and his son Rameses II are the
only two Pharaohs known to
have been circumcised.
Rameses II carried on his father's work
and created many more splendid temples.
Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote a
poem about him called Ozymandias.
The reign of Rameses II is often given
as the most likely date for the
Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt.
There are no records in Egyptian history
of any of the events described in the Bible,
nor any archaeological evidence.
Rameses II was succeeded by his son
Merneptah and then by Seti II.
Rameses III was a Pharaoh of the 20th
Dynasty who, after a couple of battles,
was followed by a number of short-lived
reigns by Pharaohs all called Rameses.
After the death of Rameses XI, the
priesthood in the person of Herihor
wrest control of Egypt away from the Pharaohs.
The country was once again split
into two parts with Herihor controlling
Upper and Smendes controlling Lower
These were the new rulers of the 21st Dynasty.
These kings were also known as The Tenites.
Their reign seems to be without any other
distinction and they were superseded
without any apparent struggle by
the Libyan kings of the 22nd Dynasty.
Egypt has long had ties with Libya, and
the first king of the new Dynasty served
as a general under the last
ruler of the 21st Dynasty.
It is known that he appointed his own
son to be the High Priest of Amun, a
post that was previously a
The scant and patchy nature of the
written records from this period
suggest that is was unsettled.
There appear to have been many
subversive groups which eventually
lead to the creation of the 23rd dynasty
which ran concurrent with the 22nd.
After the withdrawal of Egypt from the
Sudan a Nubian prince took
control of lower Nubia.
He was succeeded by Piankhi, and it this
Piankhi he who decided to push north in
an effort to crush his opponent who
ruled in the Nile Delta region.
He managed to attain power as far as Memphis.
His opponent Tefnakhte ultimately submitted
to him, but he was allowed to remain in
power in Lower Egypt and founded the
short-lived 24th Dynasty.
Memphis and the Delta region became the
target of many attacks from the Assyrians,
until Psammetichus managed to reunite Middle
and Lower Egypt under his rule forming
the 26th Dynasty and the start
of the Late Period.
Eventually he extended his control over
the whole Egypt in 656 BC.
He eventually felt strong enough to sever
all ties with Assyria, and
Assyrian control lapsed.
The Saite period ,as the 26th Dynasty is
also known as, was a century of
revived splendour for Egypt.
During the reign of Apries, an army was sent
to help the Libyans to eliminate
the Greek colony of Cyrene.
The disastrous defeat of this army brought
about a civil war which resulted in Apries
being replaced by Amosis II.
Not very much is known about his reign, except
from the Greeks who noted that he was mostly
concerned with Egyptian domestic affairs and
the promotion of good relations
with its neighbours.
He died in 526 BC, and one year later in 525 BC
Egypt fell under Persian power and Cambyses
became the first king of the 27th Dynasty.
The 30th Dynasty was established in 380 BC
and lasted until 343 BC.
This was the last native house to rule Egypt.
Christianity first came to Egypt
in about 40AD, when Mark the Evangelist
founded a church in Alexandria.
Alexandria became recognised as
one of the five patriarchates of
early Christianity, together with
Rome, Jerusalem, Antioch, and Constantinople.
Egypt also became the birthplace of Christian
monasticism, and was home to the Desert Fathers.
Persian, Greek, Roman, and Arab Conquerors
In 525 B.C., Cambyses, the son of Cyrus the
Great, led a Persian invasion force that
dethroned the last pharaoh of the 26th Dynasty.
The country remained a Persian province
until conquered by Alexander the Great in 322 BC,
ushering in Ptolemeic rule Egypt that
lasted for nearly 700 years.
Following a brief Persian reconquest, Egypt
was invaded and conquered by
Arab forces in 642.
A process of Arabisation and Islamization
Although a Coptic Christian minority remained -
and remains today, constituting about 10%
of the population - the Arab language inexorably
supplanted the indigenous Coptic tongue.
For the next 1,300 years, a succession of
Arab, Mameluke, and Ottoman caliphs, beys,
and sultans ruled the country.
The Ottoman Turks controlled Egypt from 1517
until 1882, except for a brief period of
French rule under Napoleon Bonaparte.
In 1805, Mehemet Ali, commander of an Albanian
contingent of Ottoman troops, was appointed Pasha,
founding the dynasty that ruled Egypt until his
great-great grandson, Farouk I, was overthrown in 1952.
Mohammed Ali the Great ruled Egypt until 1848.
The growth of modern urban Cairo began in
the reign of Ismail (1863-79).
Eager to Westernise the capital,
he ordered the construction of a
European-style city to the west
of the older core.
The Suez Canal was completed in his reign in 1869,
and its completion was celebrated by many events,
including the commissioning of Verdi's "Aida" for
the new opera house and the building of great
palaces such as the Omar Khayyam (originally
constructed to entertain the French Empress
Eugenie, which is now the central
section of the Cairo Marriott Hotel).
In 1882, British expeditionary forces crushed
a revolt against the Ottoman rulers, marking
the beginning of British occupation and the
virtual inclusion of Egypt within the British Empire.
In deference to growing nationalism, the U.K.
unilaterally declared Egyptian independence in 1922.
British influence, however, continued to
dominate Egypt's political life and fostered fiscal,
administrative, and governmental reforms.
In the pre-1952 revolution period,
three political forces competed
with one another: the Wafd, a broadly
based nationalist political organisation
strongly opposed to British influence;
King Fuad, whom the British had
installed during World War II; and
the British themselves, who were
determined to maintain control over
Other political forces emerging in this period
included the communist party (1925) and the Muslim
Brotherhood (1928), which eventually became a
potent political and religious force.
During World War II, British troops used Egypt
as a base for Allied operations throughout the region.
British troops were withdrawn to the Suez Canal
area in 1947, but nationalist, anti-British feelings
continued to grow after the war.
On July 22-23, 1952, a group of disaffected army
officers (the "free officers") led by Lt. Col.
Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew King Farouk, whom
the military blamed for Egypt's poor performance
in the 1948 war with Israel.
Following a brief experiment with civilian rule,
they abrogated the 1923 constitution and declared
Egypt a republic on June 19, 1953.
Nasser evolved into a charismatic leader, not
only of Egypt but of the Arab world, promoting
and implementing "Arab socialism."
Nasser helped establish the Non-aligned Movement
of developing countries in September 1961,
and continued to be a leading force in the
movement until his death in 1970.
When the United States held up military sales
in reaction to Egyptian neutrality vis-a-vis
the Soviet Union, Nasser concluded an arms
deal with Czechoslovakia in September 1955.
When the U.S. and the World Bank
withdrew their offer to help finance
the Aswan High Dam in mid-1956,
Nasser nationalise the privately
owned Suez Canal Company.
The crisis that followed, exacerbated by growing
tensions with Israel over guerrilla attacks from
Gaza and Israeli reprisals, resulted in the
invasion of Egypt that October
by France, Britain, and Israel.
Nasser's domestic policies were arbitrary and
frequently oppressive, yet generally popular.
All opposition was stamped out, and opponents of
the regime frequently were imprisoned without trial.
Nasser's foreign and military policies helped
provoke the Israeli attack of June 1967 that
virtually destroyed Egypt's armed forces along
with those of Jordan and Syria.
Israel also occupied the Sinai
Peninsula and the Gaza Strip.
Nasser, nonetheless, was revered by the masses
in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab
world until his death in 1970.
After Nasser's death, another of the original
"free officers," Vice President
Anwar el-Sadat, was elected President.
In 1971, Sadat concluded a treaty of friendship
with the Soviet Union but, a year later,
ordered Soviet advisers to leave.
In 1973, he launched the October war with Israel,
in which Egypt's armed forces achieved initial
successes but were defeated in Israeli counterattacks.
Camp David and the Peace Process
In a momentous change from the Nasser era,
President Sadat shifted Egypt from a policy of
confrontation with Israel to one of peaceful
accommodation through negotiations.
Following the Sinai Disengagement Agreements of
1974 and 1975, Sadat created a fresh opening
for progress by his dramatic visit
to Jerusalem in November 1977.
This led to President Jimmy Carter
of the United States' invitation
to President Sadat and Prime Minister
Begin to join him in trilateral
negotiations at Camp David.
The outcome was the historic Camp David
accords, signed by Egypt and Israel and witnessed
by the U.S. on September 17, 1978.
The accords led to the March 26, 1979, signing
of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, by which
Egypt regained control of the Sinai in May 1982.
Throughout this period, U.S.-Egyptian
relations steadily improved, but Sadat's
willingness to break ranks by making peace
with Israel earned him the enmity
of most other Arab states.
Sadat introduced greater political freedom
and a new economic policy, the most
important aspect of which was the
infitah or "open door."
This relaxed government controls over the
economy and encouraged private investment.
Sadat dismantled much of the existing political
machine and brought to trial a number of
former government officials accused of criminal
excesses during the Nasser era.
Liberalisation also included the
reinstitution of due process and
the legal banning of torture.
Sadat tried to expand participation in the
political process in the mid-1970s but
later abandoned this effort.
In the last years of his life, Egypt was racked by
violence arising from discontent with Sadat's
rule and sectarian tensions, and it experienced
a renewed measure of repression.
From Sadat to Mubarak
On October 6, 1981, President Sadat was
assassinated by Islamic extremists.
Hosni Mubarak, Vice President since 1975 and
air force commander during the October 1973
war, was elected President later that month.
He was subsequently confirmed by popular
referendum for three more 6-year terms,
most recently in September 1999.
Mubarak has maintained Egypt's commitment to
the Camp David peace process, while at
the same time re-establishing Egypt's
position as an Arab leader.
Egypt was readmitted to the Arab League in 1989.
Egypt also has played a moderating
role in such international forums
as the UN and the Non-aligned Movement.
Since 1991, Mubarak has undertaken an ambitious
domestic economic reform program to reduce
the size of the public sector and expand
the role of the private sector.
There has been less progress in political reform.
The November 2000 People's Assembly elections
saw 34 members of the opposition win seats
in the 454-seat assembly, facing a clear
majority of 388 ultimately affiliated with
the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).
The opposition parties have been weak and
divided and are not yet credible
alternatives to the NDP.
The Muslim Brotherhood, founded
in Egypt in 1928, remains an illegal
organisation and may not be recognise
as a political party (current Egyptian
law prohibits the formation of political
parties based on religion).
Members are known publicly and openly
speak their views, although they
do not explicitly identify themselves
as members of the organisation.
Members of the Brotherhood have been elected
to the People's Assembly and local
councils as independents.
While concern remains that economic problems
could promote increasing dissatisfaction
with the government, President Mubarak
enjoys broad support.
Other pages inthis series.
Egypts facts and history
in brief, part 1, History, part 1
Egypts facts and history in
brief, part 2, History, part 2
Egypts facts and history
in brief, part 3, Politics
Egypts facts and history
in brief, part 4, Geography
Egypts facts and history
in brief, part 5, Economy
Egypts facts and history
in brief, part 6, Pharaos of Egypt
All text is available under the terms of the
GNU Free Documentation License.
This information is correct in 2003. E. & O.E.
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