Overview of Cairo

History of Cairo

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Egypt is home to one of the world's most ancient civilizations with first evidence of people appearing in presence of rock carvings along the Nile terraces. In the 10th millennium BC, hunter-gatherers and fishers replaced a grain-grinding culture. Agriculture was further changed by climate change and/or overgrazing around 8000 BC. Tribal peoples migrated to the Nile River for a new start.

The earliest known evidence of Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions appeared during the predynastic period on Naqada III pottery vessels, dated to about 3200 BC. Egypt first became a sovereign unified country in approximately 3150 BC under King Menes. This line of rulership continued until the conquering of Egypt by various occupying rulers, including the Persians and the Greek conqueror, Alexander the Great. In 305 BC Ptolemy I took control as the ruler of Egypt, beginning the final line of pharaohs to rule the country. Under his reign, the original great Library of Alexandria and Museum was founded. These served as a center of culture and scholarly learning, drawing top literary and scientific figures from far and wide. The so-called Ptolemaic ruler of Egypt was the enigmatic temptress Cleopatra VII, consort of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. After Cleopatra, Egypt fell to the Romans and was incorporated into the Roman Empire.

The rule of the Romans endured from 30 BC to AD 395, when the Byzantine Era began. After the Byzantine era, Egypt was controlled by a series of regimes and conquerors, including the Ottoman Empire and Napoleon Bonaparte. The French occupied Egypt until Muhummad Ali took power in the early 1800s.

Ali's successors ruled Egypt until the British invaded the country in 1822. British influence in Egypt lasted well into the 20th century. Craving an end to British occupation, Egyptian nationalists staged demonstrations in Cairo in 1919. While this uprising led to Egypt's independence in 1922, Britain retained control of the politically and economically strategic Suez Canal until 1949.

Egypt entered a disastrous war with Israel in 1948. King Farouk paid the political price; he was overthrown in 1952. A series of power struggles took place until 1956, when the charismatic Gamal Abdel Nasser Hussein, commonly called Nasser, assumed the role as the first president of the newly formed Republic of Egypt. During Nasser's rule, Egypt again faced conflict with Israel during the Six Day Warin 1967, losing the entire Sinai Peninsula, including control of the Suez Canal .

After Nasser's death in 1970, Anwar el-Sadat assumed the role of president. Sadat regained possession of the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal for Egypt in 1982 in exchange for brokering a peace deal with Israel.

Hosni Mubarak took office in 1981 when Sadat was assassinated by a fundamentalist military soldier. Various challenges were issued throughout Mubarak's 30 years rule. In 2003 the Egyptian Movement for Change, known as Kefaya, was launched to oppose the Mubarak regime and to establish democratic reforms and greater civil liberties. It achieved it's greatest success during the 2005 constitutional referendum and presidential election campaigns. Success was short-lived as internal dissent, leadership change, and frustration at the inability of Egypt's political opposition to force the pace of reform wore out the movement.

Mubarak was finally deposed in February 2011 after weeks of largely peaceful protests demanding that he step down in the face of economic issues including high unemployment, lack of free elections and freedom of speech, food price inflation, and low minimum wages. There were numerous violent clashes between protestors and police. Many nations, leaders, and organizations hailed the end of the Mubarak regime. Egyptian protesters complained of police brutality, state of emergency laws, and corruption. An estimated 2 million people protested at Tahrir square at the beginning of the movement.

On February 19th, a moderate Islamic party, Al-Wasat Al-Jadid (New Center Party), which had been outlawed for 15 years was granted official recognition by an Egyptian court. On April 16th, the Higher Administrative Court dissolved the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). Elections were finally to be free. Protests have continued into the fall as Egypt tries to right itself. Throughout Egypt, protests have continued to spread and the government is working to find a balance. Furthermore, the events in Egypt have led to a wave of revolutions in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Yemen, and Syria. Only time will tell how the country will continue to develop.


Cairo is one of the oldest settled cities in the world, just as Egypt is one of the world's oldest nations. Egyptians today often refer to Cairo as Mir, the Arabic name for Egypt itself. At the beginning of the 4th century AD, the Romans established the fortress of Babylon on the site of what is modern-day Cairo, which remains the oldest structure within the city. This is also the heart of Egypt's Coptic Christian community, which separated from the Roman and Byzantine church at about the same time.

Cairo retained its prominence even as Europe stagnated during the Late Middle Ages. However, it could not avoid the Plague. The Black Death swept through Cairo 50 times between 1348 and 1517, killing more than 200,000 people and reducing the total population of the 300,000 city by half.

After Vasco da Gama discovered the sea route around the Cape of Good Hope, spice traders avoided Cairo and the city further declined. Under the Ottoman Empire, Cairo was merely a provincial capital with the seat of the Empire located in Istanbul.

Modern Egypt could be said to have begun under Muhummad Ali Pasha, and later under his grandson Isma'il Pasha, both of whom sought to modernize Cairo during the 1800s. During this period, a public works ministry was established which brought gas and lighting to the city. Wide boulevards were constructed in downtown Cairo, and a theater and opera house also opened during this period. During this time urban Cairo, spurred by new bridges and transport links, continued to expand. Between 1882 and 1937, the population of Cairo more than tripled – from 347,000 to 1.3 million – and its area increased from 1,000 hectares (10 square kilometers or 4 square miles) to 16,300 hectares (163 square kilometers or 63 square miles).

In subsequent decades, the growing metropolis began to encroach on the fertile Nile Delta, prompting the government to attempt to persuade city dwellers to move into satellite towns. Nonetheless, Cairo's population has doubled since the 1960s, reaching close to seven million with an additional 10 million in the surrounding urban area. Cairo remains a political and economic hub for North Africa and the entire Muslim world.

Cairo has been the center of the Egyptian Revolution. Officially starting on January 25th, 2011, widespread protests against Mubarak's regime have continued across Egypt. An intensive campaign to remove Mubarak resulted in protestors camping in Tahrir square in peaceful protests. Mubarak stepped down in the face of rising dissent and Cairo has grown into a hub of a new Egypt.

On November 28th, 2011 Egypt held its first parliamentary election. People were excited about their new-found freedom and turnout was high. It appears as if Cairo will continue to be a leader for Egypt and the Arab world.

Update 4/12/2011

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