Without the Nile River, all of Egypt would be desert. Only about an inch (2.5 centimeters) of rain falls throughout Egypt each year. But each summer, the river rises because of rains at its source far to the south in Ethiopia. Floods cover the river's valleys, leaving sediments needed for trees, plants, and crops to grow.
Egypt is often divided into two sections: Upper Egypt in the south and Lower Egypt in the north. The sections are named this way because the Nile flows from south to north. The river empties into the Mediterranean Sea.
Southern Egypt's landscape contains low mountains and desert. Northern Egypt has wide valleys near the Nile and desert to the east and west. North of Cairo, the capital, is the sprawling, triangular Nile River Delta. This fertile land is completely covered with farms.
Map created by National Geographic Maps
PEOPLE & CULTURE
About 90 percent of Egyptians are Muslim, which means they are followers of the Islamic religion. About 10 percent of Egyptians are Copts, one of the oldest branches of the Christian religion.
Egypt's population is growing rapidly. This puts strains on Egypt's resources, since most people live in a narrow strip of land along the Nile River. Having so many people in such a small area can cause overcrowding, from schools to apartment buildings to hospitals.
Children are highly valued in Egypt, especially in rural areas where they help on family farms. Children are also expected to look after their parents in their old age.
Egypt is home to a wide variety of animals and plants, including jackals, gazelles, crocodiles, and cobras. The best places to see Egypt's wildlife are in its more than 20 protected regions, which include oases, deserts, mountains, coastal areas, river islands, and wetlands.
Egyptians have always been close to the natural world. The ancient Egyptians left paintings and carvings of large animals like elephants, hippos, leopards, and cheetahs. These animals were once common in Egypt, but they are now rare or extinct because of hunting and habitat loss.
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
Egypt's geography, population, history, and military strength have made it highly influential in the region. Egypt is a democratic republic, although some critics claim that it is not truly democratic. Until 2005, there was never more than one presidential candidate to vote for.
Along with oil and gas exports, Egypt's tourism industry remains a key part of its economy. Visitors flock to the country to see ancient monuments like the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx.
The first people to live on the banks of the Nile were hunters and fishermen, who settled there over 8,000 years ago. They learned to grow crops and raise animals, and they began to build villages and towns. They traded with their neighbors and learned to sail boats. By 3000 B.C., a civilization was established.
Around 3100 B.C., the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt were unified under a powerful king, later called a pharaoh. These kings built huge pyramids, temples, and other monuments. They also conquered other lands.
By 1000 B.C., Egypt had split into smaller parts and the kingdom was in decline. Strong neighbors attacked and took over Egyptian territory. In 31 B.C., Egypt fell under Roman control. In A.D. 640, Muslim warriors took over Egypt and founded the modern capital, Cairo. They ruled for several centuries. In the 16th century, Egypt became part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire.
European powers played an increasing role in Egypt starting in the late 18th century. In 1882, the British invaded and occupied Egypt. The British wanted control of the Suez Canal, which linked the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea and greatly shortened the sailing trip from Asia to Europe. Egypt gained full independence from Great Britain in 1952 and took control of the Suez Canal in 1956.
Egypt and other neighboring Arab countries fought a series of wars with the Jewish state of Israel into the 1970s. In 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement.
In 2011, a popular uprising toppled Egypt's long-time president, Hosni Mubarek. The country has held several democratic elections since 2011, but the role of the military in government remains strong.