Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Egypt, Past and Present

This card shows one of the jewels in my growing collection, the burial chamber of King Tutankhamun in Egypt, which I received in a swap with lovely Salma. I was browsing through my cards, deciding which one to blog about today, and as is often the case, I realized that I know very little about Egypt. I know a little of the ancient history, but what is Egypt like today? I want to know.

But first, let me tell you about King Tut. He is famous today, but not because he was a special king, only because his tomb is the most complete Egyptian burial tomb ever discovered. Usually, the burial tombs of Egyptian kings were plundered and stripped of their valuables over the thousands of years they've existed, but this tomb remained undiscovered until 1922, when Howard Carter and his archaeological team unearthed the tomb. And what of King Tut? Not much is known - he was nine years old when he became king, and died ten years later. His rule began in approximately 1332 BC, and no one is very sure who his parents were - possibly Akhenaten, the only monotheistic king Ancient Egypt ever had. King Tut didn't have enough time to have a profound effect while he was alive, but today he's been able to teach us a lot about ancient Egypt.

Nowadays, Egypt is the most populous nation of the Middle East, home to 83 million people. Although Egypt is a fairly large country, most of the land is desert, and nearly all people live along the Nile River - 99% of the population lives on only 5.5% of the country's land area. So Egypt is crowded. There is also a lot of uniformity, from what I can gather. Ninety-nine percent of the population is ethnic Egyptian, and 90% of the population is Sunni Muslim. The remaining minority is almost entirely Coptic Christian, the name given to Egyptian Orthodoxy. The government is nominally a semi-presidential republic with an elected president, but the current president, Hosni Mubarak, has served five terms and is often accused of election rigging. Egypt has also been criticized for frequent human rights violations, including the use of torture and the mistreatment of women. 

But I don't want to bash Egypt. It is one of the most stable, successful countries in the region, with a strong economy and (mostly) peaceful diplomatic relations. Present-day Egyptian culture has some great high notes, including world-famous festivals and a thriving pop music industry, as well as some very highly-regarded soccer teams. 

This video gives a photographic tour of Egypt that shows some of the modern culture as well as the ancient history available to see in Egypt.


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