• The Arab Republic of Egypt covers 1,001,450 square kilometres, but 96.4 percent of that is desert. Only the Nile Valley, its Delta and some oases are fertile.

• Egypt’s population of 83.7 million is over twice that of the next most populous Arab country (Algeria) and a quarter of the population of the Arab world. 71 percent of Egyptians are literate. Average life expectancy is 73 years.

• Islam is the biggest religion, and some ninety percent of Egyptians are Muslim; most of the rest are Coptic Christians, with a small number of other Christians, and a tiny but ancient Jewish community.

• All Egyptians speak Arabic, but there are other Egyptian languages too: Nubian, related to the Nilotic languages of East Africa, is spoken around Aswan and Lake Nasser; Siwi, a Berber language like those of Morocco and Algeria, is spoken in Siwa Oasis; and Coptic, which is derived from ancient Egyptian, is used in church services, but not otherwise.

• Since the monarchy was ousted in 1952, Egypt has been a republic, ruled by a succession of military strongmen up until the 2011 revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. Elections in 2012 resulted in an Islamist government under President Mohammed Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is the largest in parliament, followed by the Salafist Al-Nour party, the liberal Wafd party and Egyptian Bloc.

• Tourism has long been Egypt’s biggest money-earner, followed by tolls on the Suez Canal, and exports of oil, petroleum products, natural gas, cotton and textiles. Over forty percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and the economy would collapse without $2 billion a year in financial and food-aid from the US.

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