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Egypt Overview

Egypt is the most populous country in the Middle East with a relatively developed economy. The current government has been able to maintain stability since Hosni Mubarak took power after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. However, social, economic and political tensions that were brewing under the surface for years surfaced in January 2011, when more then a week of protests questioned Mubarak's long term support for stability over freedom.

Egypt's current secular democratic government was formed after a bloodless military coup took power in the 1952 Revolution. General Gamal Nasser, architect of the revolution, assumed Presidency in 1956 and pursued a secular, nationalization program, which in turn helped spur the Suez Crisis. In the following years, there were numerous minor border clashes between Israel and its neighbors, which led to a tightening of ties between Egypt and Syria. Egypt began increasing troop level on the Sinai border, expelled U.N. forces from the Straits of Tiran, and signed a defense pact with Jordan. In response, Israel launched a surprise attack. This Six-Day War had far reaching implications, including the re-alignment of borders and competition for power in the Arab world.

The next President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, launched the 1973 October War against Israel. Through historical, but controversial peace negotiations in 1977-79, Sadat was able to recuperate the land that had been lost to Israel in 1967. Sadat's peace initiatives, however, frustrated many in the Arab world and Egypt was removed from the Arab League. Sadat having brokered new relations with the West, started an economic liberalization program, including the reduction of subsidies that subsequently led to the 1977 Bread Riots. Social unrest and Islamization began to grow towards the end of Sadat's presidency. He was assassinated in 1981.

Hosni Mubarak has since ruled Egypt, with a strong military presence, under the National Democratic Party that has governed Egypt for the past three decades. Mubarak has maintained a peaceful relationship with its northern neighbor, but has often found itself in a difficult position in regards to Palestinian Gaza. Although the border between Gaza and Egypt is formally closed, illegal tunnels that are sometimes bombed by Israel run below the surface. The Egyptian government has sporadically opened the Gaza border for humanitarian reasons.

Internal unrest, however, is a continual issue. Although elections take place, critics assert that Egypt lacks true democratic rights with limitations on press, political parties, and public assembly. Economic disparity is also a growing issue, and in April 2008, a large scale worker protest against high inflation and increased cost of living turned into a two day riot. Over the past few decades, sporadic fighting between groups of Muslims and Coptic Christians has also occurred. The role of Islam in Egyptian society and governance is area of debate as the Muslim Brotherhood is the largest oppositional bloc to the National Democratic Party. Despite the internal contention that is be present under the surface, the Mubarak government was largely successful in quelling large scale public unrest, until January 2011 when unrest rippled throughout the Middle East.