The Revolutionary Land
Egypt has always been leading the charge of progression in Africa. This is simply a look back at how it began and how it got to it's current state.
Egypt: a land rich of history.
When Christianity came to Egypt (courtesy of the Nubians) in 33 AD, the time of the pharaohs was over; bringing an end to a dynasty that had long thrived since 3000 BC. At the time, each African people had its own religion. Most of them believed in a single God in Heaven who made the world, and also in lesser gods and spirits. They also believed in the power of evil, as the work of witchcraft. The 'witch doctors' were fighters against evil anti-witchcraft specialists. Under the period of Christianity, prosperity went on for a while and the people appeared to have led a fulfilled life. Egypt also underwent some period of “enlightenment” where most people within Egyptian society began to become more “cultured” and empowered themselves through learning. They developed a modified form of Greek writing suitable for their own language, and built schools and libraries.
Christianity was the main religion in Egypt till the Arab Conquest of 642 AD (led by the Byzantine Empire) which brought Islam to North Africa. The conversion was mostly peaceful with people accepting Islam. The only large minority which wasn’t converted were those of the Jewish denomination which had already been in North Africa for several centuries.
However, power struggles became the norm. Powerful rival families fought for the Caliphate (the leadership of Islam), and there was a serious split between the Shiites and the Sunnites. This spilt carried over to North African countries that follow Islam and the ideological differences are still in place to this day.
From the 8th century, most of North Africa was under the rule of the Abbasid Caliphate but it faced opposition as the Aghlabid family founded a dynasty and who broke away from the Caliphate, taking their share of Algeria, Tripolitania and Egypt. However, the Aghlabids didn’t rule over Egypt for long as at the beginning of the 10th century, they were overthrown by the Fatimid Family. The Fatimid Family went on to rule over Egypt for the next 200 years.
With the coming of Islam, the Arab Conquest of Egypt brought along new ideas which made Egypt become more intellectually empowered. At the time, Europe was in a state of virtual intellectual stagnation which left the Arab Empire to lead the world in innovation. Egypt became the leading intellectual center of the world where people came from far and wide to study medicine, mathematics, science, philosophy and music under Muslim, Christian and Jewish professors.
During the 16th century, the Spaniards and Portuguese managed to gain a foothold in North Africa but were confronted by the Ottoman Turks, who had by then taken over the leadership of the Muslim world. From the 16th century till early in the 19th century, North Africa was a piece of the Ottoman Empire but the Turks did not take much interest in ruling their vassal states in North Africa. They preferred a more supervisory role instead of interfering in the feuds of the native dynasties and tribes.
Although the Ottoman Empire retained sovereignty over Egypt, the political connection between the two countries was hurt by the seizure of power by the Ottoman Albanian commander Muhammad Ali in 1805 who established a dynasty that ruled Egypt until 1952.
Around 1869, Colonialism was in full swing but European interest in Africa became more focused on Egypt, with the opening of the Suez Canal. While Egypt was still under the control of the Ottoman Empire, it was ruled by the Khedive (viceroy) Ismail, the great grandson of Muhammad Ali.
The Khedive was noted to be an ambitious man. With his great grandfather having conquered the northern part of modern day Sudan, Ismail wanted to emulate Ali by conquering and merging Eastern Sudan and in 1870, he commissioned a British explorer by the name of Samuel Baker to carry out this conquest with Egyptian troops, which he did. After the successful takeover and the completion of Baker's 4- year contract under Egypt, Ismail obtained the services of the British General Gordon as Governor of the Sudan.
But while the Khedive had ambitions, he failed to understand the ramifications of his actions. Ismail's foreign adventures, public works schemes, and personal extravagance brought Egypt to financial collapse in 1875; and after an international investigation her finances were placed under the joint control of Britain and France. A nationalist movement then arose but was dealt with by British forces.
While the Khedive ruled in name, The British Empire were the true rulers of Egypt.
The government in Britain did not want to force this control and intended to withdraw British troops as soon as order and good government was restored but they were halted due to events were thwarted due to events in Sudan.
After serving for 5 years as Governor of Sudan during which he established firm military control and did much to suppress the slave trade, General Gordon, resigned in 1879 and Sudan reverted to an oppressive Egyptian rule. In 1881 there was a formidable revolt led by Mohammed Ahmed of Dongola, who claimed to be the Mahdi (messiah) destined to conquer the world for Islam. An Egyptian army under the British Colonel Hicks was sent in 1883 to suppress the Mahdi but they lost the battle.
The British government did not want to force the issue and persuaded the Egyptian government to abandon the Sudan, who then sent Gordon to evacuate the Egyptian garrisons. Gordon began trying to arrange for the future settlement and welfare of the Sudan after the evacuation but his ideas were rejected by the Mahdi, who then invaded Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
This disaster caused a demand in Britain for retribution and the restoration of British prestige. The British withdrawal from Egypt was indefinitely postponed. The British Empire decided on re-conquest to end this nuisance and to deliver the Sudanese from tyranny. In 1896-98 the re-conquest was achieved by a British/Egyptian army under Lord Kitchener and eastern Sudan came under the joint control of Britain and Egypt
Although the British government offered to recognize Egypt as an independent sovereign state, this was only upon certain conditions. The Egyptian government took what it could and the Wafd Party drafted a new constitution in 1923 based on a parliamentary representative system which led to Saad Zaghlul becoming the first popularly elected Prime Minister of Egypt in 1924.
Things stabilized until the time of the Second World War. Prior to the war, nationalism was limited to the educated elite however over the course of the war; people became dissatisfied with British occupation which was partly due to the agreement Egypt and the British Empire had and that Egypt was getting more involved in the war, despite the Empire promising to shoulder the entire burden of the war. When the war came to an end, nationalist movements grew larger and Egyptian people demanded their independence.
All the tension led to the Egyptian revolution of 1952 which was orchestrated by the Free Officers Movement, a group of army officers led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser. The revolution was initially aimed at overthrowing King Faruq who was in power at the time however; the movement soon pushed to end the constitutional monarchy and aristocracy of Egypt and Sudan, establish a republic, end British occupation of the country, and secure the independence of Sudan.
The revolution was immediately challenged by the British Empire, who had occupied Egypt since 1882 and was uneasy at the thought of rising nationalist sentiment in territories under their control.
Despite enormous military losses, the war was seen as a political victory for Egypt, especially as it left the Suez Canal in uncontested Egyptian control for the first time since 1875, erasing what was seen as a mark of national humiliation. This had a knock on effect of strengthening the appeal of the revolution in other Arab and African countries.
With Egyptian affairs back in the control of Egyptian people, the nationalist sentiment grew even further and Egypt has since not allowed any outside interference from other parties. Egypt continued the parliamentary representative system and peace returned until the Egyptian revolution of 2011.
It all began when hundreds of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets in an ideologically and socially diverse mass protest movement that forced long serving president Hosni Mubarak out of power. With that seat of power unfilled, a political crisis came about with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces taking control of the country until a series of popular elections brought the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt’s first ever democratically elected President, President Mohamed Morsi to power.
Many Egyptians supported the election of Morsi, believing that the military would be able to lead Egypt to a better form of democracy, or, at least, to more social stability despite history suggesting otherwise. However, disputes between elected president Morsi (who was an Islamist) and secularists continued until the antigovernment protests in June 2013 that lead to the overthrow of Morsi in 2013.
Abdel Fattah elSisi, who announced the overthrow of Morsi, has since become the leader of Egypt and the political situation stabilized since he officially took power.
A Short History Of Africa (Sixth Edition) by Roland Anthony Oliver, J.D. Fage