Modern Egypt is somewhat of an anachronism. There are villages comprised of mud and brick huts that stand in close proximity to glass and steel skyscrapers. It is a combination of eastern and western cultures, and of ancient artifacts and modern technology.
Egyptian independence was formally recognized by the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. The British withdrew many of their forces, but kept control of the Suez Canal and the naval bases at Alexandria and Port Said.
From 1971 to 2013, Egypt was governed under a 1971 constitution establishing it as the Arab Republic of Egypt. The government was headed by a president, who was nominated by parliament and approved in a national referendum. The president appointed the prime minister and the rest of the members of the Council of Ministers. There was a 454-member parliament, or People's Assembly, 444 members are popularly elected and ten were appointed by the president.
In the wake of protests against leadership with an overtly Islamic focus, the Egyptian military ousted head of state Mohammed Morsi on July 3, 2013. An interim government, headed by the judicial leadership, is in place until a new constitution can be created and ratified.
On August 14, in the wake of more violence in which many people were killed, a state of emergency was declared. It was later extended to last through November.
Egypt's economy has been largely dependent upon agriculture and tourism, with a heavy reliance upon state-owned companies and industrial monopolies. Unemployment is high, especially among educated young people to whom the growing fundamentalist movement is appealing. The government recognizes the need for economic reform and has begun to implement structural changes that include privatization of industry and a more market-oriented economy.
With its long history of commerce and trade, Egypt is a major Middle Eastern international business player. Business travelers from all over the world come to Egypt to buy and sell, and tourists flock to the many ancient sites.
A revival of terrorist attacks against tourists has had a very negative effect on the tourist industry. These attacks attributed to Islamic fundamentalists, who are becoming increasingly vocal and militant especially in the interior of the country, are of growing concern to political leaders in Egypt and around the world.
Egypt's own turmoil and presential ouster in early 2012 created instability as the country transitioned to new leadership. Even after President Morsi was elected in June of that year, tensions continue over elements of the new constitution.
The culture of Egypt is steeped in deep religious traditions. Centuries of changing religious ideas have left a complex amalgam of beliefs, which has produced a treasury of art, music and literature. Among the first civilizations to write novels and poems, the Egyptians led the way in developing Arabic literature.
The tenets of Islam leave little room between religious and civic laws and practices - they are one and the same. Since Islam is not only a religion, but a set of laws, a political ideology and a cultural way of life, church and state, business and social life are closely intermingled. A great percentage of the Egyptian people are Muslims, or followers of the Islamic faith. Islamic principles deeply influence the modern-day culture.
Even the Egyptian legal system has combined Islamic law with English Common law and with the Napoleonic codes to create its own unique set of laws.
Respect for the individual and for Islamic religious principles and observances is important. A visiting expatriate is wise to study the cultural differences that exist in a Muslim society so as to avoid any unintended disregard for the people and their religion. Gestures, seemingly innocent to Westerners, may have different connotations in the Arab world and may be interpreted as offensive.
Interaction with foreigners
Egyptians are generally courteous, warm, outgoing people, who welcome foreigners and respect differences in race, religion, and customs. Although the country has experienced some fundamentalist backlash among Muslims recently, most Egyptians are extremely tolerant of Western ways and customs, and a large number have adopted Western dress and other practices.
Despite its problems, however, Egypt is a country well-equipped for international travelers. Facilities for conducting business are up-to-date and there are many amenities available for a comfortable stay. Most well-educated Egyptians speak Arabic and English, and many speak French as well. They enjoy establishing relationships and will take time to get to know you before proceeding to business contracts. Lavish entertaining is a matter of great pride and a part of the culture.
The wise business traveler and expatriate should savor the time it takes to see and understand Egyptian culture, while enjoying the sights and sounds of this exotic land.