More Arab than Africa in leaning, Egypt makes up the North East corner of the continent, and continues to participate in continental politics such as the African Union. Egypt also has significant historical links further South, notably its 19th century invasion and control of Northern Sudan. This eventually led to the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium as Britain saw itself dragged into Sudan’s own regional politics in order to secure the passage of the Suez Canal. The canal also served as the site of what has becoming known as the manifestation of dying British colonialism – the Suez Crisis of 1956. This was in part precipitated by the nationalisation of the canal – the vital transport route through the Middle East – by the regime of Gamal Abdel Nasser who came to power as part of the 1952 ‘Egyptian Revolution.’
Nasser became President of Egypt in 1956 and remained in the position until his death in 1970. His nationalist, pan-Arabism was hugely influential in the Arab world, and led to a short-lived union with Syria between 1958 and 1961 known as the United Arab Republic. In 1967 Egyptian forces were routed by the Israelis during the 6 Day War.
Anwar Sadat (a fellow participant in the revolution) became President on Nasser’s death in 1970. Sadat presided over the launching of the 1973 war with in Israel in which initial successes were achieved. However, Sadat’s Presidency is better known for his attempts to reform Nasser’s socialist state structures, and the negotiation of the Camp David Accords with Israel. The accords led to the 1979 signing of the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty in May 1982. Egypt subsequently became one of the biggest recipients of US aid.
Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamic extremists – members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He was replaced by Vice-President Hosni Mubarak who ruled for 30 years before being forced from power by popular protests in early 2011. Mubarak maintained Egypt's commitment to the Camp David peace process and during the 1990s undertook an ambitious domestic economic reform program to reduce the size of the public sector.
A series of International Monetary Fund arrangements, coupled with massive external debt relief resulting from Egypt's participation in the Gulf War coalition, helped teh country improve its macroeconomic performance. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita increased fourfold between 1981 and 2006.
However, political reform did not move at the same pace as economic progress. The opposition parties were weak and divided, and until recently have not appeared as credible alternatives to the NDP. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), founded in Egypt in 1928, has suffered a history of persecution and obstruction in the country. The MB is still not permitted as a political party due to the constitutional ban on parties of a religious nature. However, the strong showing by independent MB candidates in the 2005 parliamentary elections demonstrated the political potential of the group.
The revolution of 2011 which finally toppled Mubarak mainly comprised a campaign of civil resistance, which featured a series of demonstrations, marches, acts of civil disobedience, and labour strikes. Millions of protesters from a variety of socio-economic and religious backgrounds demanded the overthrow of the regime focussed on the capital city, Cairo.
On 11 February, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak would be stepping down as president and turning power over to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. The junta, headed by effective head of state Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, announced on 13 February that the constitution would be suspended, both houses of parliament dissolved, and that the military would rule for six months until elections could be held.