Module Twenty One, Activity One

An Introduction to the Geography of Egypt

The purpose of this lesson is to give you background information on Egypt. This is the first of four lessons and gives valuable information to help you understand the upcoming lessons.



Egypt Flag            Egypt Coat of Arms

Egypt is the transcontinental land bridge located in Northeastern Africa. The official name for the country is Arab Republic of Egypt. The world's longest river, the Nile River, and the largest desert in the world, the Sahara Desert can be found in Egypt.

The Location of Egypt
It is often believed the Egypt is a part of the Middle East, due to its' close proximity and land bridge to the region. But, Egypt is actually an African country. The country of Egypt is found in Northeastern Africa. It borders Israel to the northeast, Sudan to the south, Libya to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the east.

Egypt Location Map            Egypt Area Map


Landscape and Climate of Egypt
The Egyptian climate is very hot, dry and dusty due to the Sahara Desert found in most of the country. If you look at the map below you will see that the Sahara Desert covers a majority of Egypt.

World Desert Map

Image courtesy USGS

The landscape of Egypt also contains the Nile River. It is the Nile River that supports the majority of the Egyptian population and is the primary source for agriculture in Egypt. The river itself is 4,145 miles long. The Nile empties into the Mediterranean Sea, since it flows from south to north. The Nile starts in East Africa, and has two main tributaries the White Nile (source in Uganda) and the Blue Nile (source in Ethiopia).

The Nile River in Northeastern Africa

Nile River Map

Imaged courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license.

Due to the desert climate, hot, driving windstorms call Khamsin (meaning 50 in Arabic; they called it this due to the fact that these Saharan winds can blow for around 50 days every year) occur in spring. These windstorms occur from February to June. It blows across the hot Saharan desert from the south when there is little humidity and temperatures can reach around the 100 degree range. The winds carry large amounts of dust and sand. These winds and blazing sandstorms can be deadly.

Flooding of the Nile River
The Nile River delta in Egypt was prone to flooding during the wet season of the year. It would overflow its banks once during the year and would deposit silt (earthy matter, fine sand, or the like carried by moving or running water and deposited as a sediment) onto the land, making it very fertile. Early farmers would dig canals which would end up being flooded by the Nile. They would then block it off to store the river's water. The early farmers even based their seasons on the Nile River: Akhet was the time of the flood, Peret was the time of sowing, and Shemu was the time of harvest. There were times though, when the floods would not come and this would mean drought, famine and devastation for Egypt. Because of this inconsistency, in 1952 President Gamal Abdal-Nasser decided to control the flood by building a new dam across the Nile River called the Aswan High Dam.

The Aswan Dam

Aswan Dam Aswan Dam 2

Image courtesy PBS

Image courtesy Africa Focus Database - University of Wisconsin

In 1971 the Aswan High Dam was built. It is an embankment dam (a dam composed of a mound of earth and rock; the simplest type of gravity dam). It is one of the largest embankment dams in the world. The purpose of this dam is to control the yearly flooding that occurs in the Nile River Valley along with providing hydroelectric power and water for irrigation. It captures floodwaters during the wet season and releases water in times of drought. Not only that, but it produces electricity, more than 10 billion kilo-watt hours every year. Along with these beneficial reasons for building this dam, there have been some negative side effects (These are discussed in Activity Four: Current Issues Afflicting Egypt) and also discussed below. Below is a graph comparing the Hoover Dam in the United States, to the Aswan High Dam in Egypt; how much more does the Aswan Dam hold compared to the Hoover Dam? What does this mean for Egypt?

Dam Comparison

Controversy over the Aswan Dam
Even though the Aswan Dam provides power and water for irrigation, there has been some controversy over the negative effects of the dam. It has caused many environmental issues such as flooding land and displacing thousands of people and also flooding valuable archaeological sites. Fishing has declined in the Mediterranean due to the fact that many of nutrients that used to flow down the Nile are now being trapped by the dam. The Nile delta is also losing much of its fertility, since the Nile no longer floods its banks each year, bringing a fresh supply of nutrient rich top soil, which means artificial fertilizers now have to be used.


Create a T-chart covering the negative and positive aspects of the Aswan Dam. Discuss the influence a human built object can create on the surrounding areas, not only to human life, but to vegetation and animals. Do the benefits outweigh the negative aspects of the dam?</

The Vegetation of Egypt:
The natural vegetation of Egypt is varied, even though it may have a lack of rainfall. The Western Desert has little to no plant life, but if forms of water exist, there is a growth of different plants like perennials and grasses. Coastal regions have a very rich plant life and along the Nile and canals there are a variety of water plants. There are not many native trees found in Egypt. Varieties found include: Phoenician juniper, acacia, eucalyptus and sycamore. There are other varieties found in Egypt that were not native, like casuarinas, jacaranda, Poinciana, and lebbek. Date palms are cultivated and found throughout the Nile Valley. A variety of fruit trees (mostly citrus) can also be found.

Date Palms
Date Palms located off the Mediterranean Coastline Image courtesy Africa Focus Database – University of Wisconsin
Orange Grove
Orange Grove in Egypt Image courtesy Africa Focus Database – University of Wisconsin

Economy of Egypt

Egypt – the "Breadbasket of the Middle East"
I. Agriculture

When a person thinks of the word breadbasket, what comes to mind? Some may think of the agriculturally important Midwest in the United States which is also called the breadbasket due to its farming and agricultural production. In Egypt, the term also means the same. Egypt's economy has historically had an agricultural focus. Because of the flooding of the Nile River (as described above) it has had very fertile soil. 32% of the population is employed through agriculture and it is the most important sector of the economy. There are still many traditional farms in Egypt, but modern farming is becoming more important due to the rise in population. But one must question: how can a country occupied mostly by desert, be the "breadbasket" of the Middle East? If you look at the photo below, you will notice that the desert in the photo, meets lush, green land used for farming. Irrigation from the Aswan Dam and artificial fertilizers are used to create such lush farmland in a desert region. As you learned above, the Aswan Dam helped control the flooding of the Nile River Valley, so this area is still used for farming in a controlled environment. Table Two (below) shows the different products produced in Egypt.

Desert Meets Farmland Egypt
This photo shows where the desert meets the farmlands. Image courtesy Africa Focus Database – University of Wisconsin
Wooden Plow in Wheat Field
This photo shows a farmer in 1976 using a wooden plow in a wheat field. Image courtesy Africa Focus Database – University of Wisconsin
Egypt Water Buffalo
Boy leads a Water Buffalo to water. Image courtesy Africa Focus Database – University of Wisconsin

II. Industry, Natural Resources and Tourism
Industry, natural resources, and tourism are the other important economic sectors of Egypt. Important deposits of oil and natural-gas are one hope to strengthen the economy, along with the expanding of local manufacturing industries like the clothing industry. As of 2010 the economic sector of Egypt consisted of agriculture at 14.7%, industry at 35.5%, and services at 48.8%. Tourism is another important piece of the economic sector with the wealth of rich artifacts that attract visitors from around the world. Below are the lists of the agricultural products, natural resources, industries, and exports and imports of Egypt. One problem that does exist in Egypt's economy is that of instability. There is not a stable economic base in Egypt, which causes deep  problems for the country.


Looking at Table Two and Three below, what can you learn about the economy of Egypt? Do they lose or make money off of their products (exports)? How would the markets and suppliers affect this?

Table Two: Products, Resources, and Types of Industry in Egypt

Products resources and types of industry in egypt table

Table Three: Exports and Imports of Egypt

Exports and Imports of Egypt Table Exportation of Petroleum

Petroleum is a major export for Egypt. Even though they do not compare internationally to countries like Saudi Arabia, which in 2005 had petroleum make up 89.5% of their exports, petroleum makes up 47.9% of the exports for Egypt. In 2005, Egypt's principal export of petroleum and products brought in around 5 billion U.S. dollars. It is a major source of revenue, but unfortunately they still spend more money importing products than they do exporting, resulting in a deficit.

How does Egypt make up for this deficit? Look at the chart above and figure out how large their deficit is between the exports and imports. Egypt, to address this deficit, receives aid, remittances, and borrows money from other countries and institutions such as the IMF (International Monetary Fund). Many Egyptian workers are employed in the oil fields of neighboring countries. Egyptian workers leave the country and send the money they earn elsewhere, home to Egypt (this is a form of remittance).

Where do people live in Egypt?
As of July 2006, the population of Egypt was 78, 887, 007 people. Egypt has a rapidly growing population. It is the fastest growing population of the Arab World. As you can see from the map below, a majority of the population of Egypt tends to populate certain areas, such as, the Nile River Valley and the Mediterranean Coastline. With such a large population (and a growing population), one can see the concern that there is not enough arable land (there is only 2.92% of arable land) to support the population. After looking at the map below, how many people per square mile would you find around the Nile River? See if you can find what states in the US would be comparable to this.

Egypt Population Density


Major Cities in Egypt

Egypt Area Map

After looking at this map, what can you assume about why the major cities (Cairo and Alexandria) were founded in those particular spots?

Ethnicity in Egypt
In Egypt 98% of the population is Arab-speaking Egyptians. The other two percent of the population comes from a variety of ethnic groups such as: Berber, Nubian, Bedouin, Beja, Greek, Armenian, and other European descent (French and Italian primarily).

Religion in Egypt
90% of the population of Egypt is Muslim (Sunni Muslims). The other 9% is made up of Coptic Christians and 1% Other Christians.

Street Scene Cairo
Street Scene in Cairo Image courtesy Africa Focus Database - University of Wisconsin
View of Cairo and the Nile
View of Cairo and the Nile Image courtesy Africa Focus Database - University of Wisconsin

Cairo is the capital of Egypt and the largest city in all of Africa. It is not only the administrative capital, but also the cultural, commercial and industrial center of Egypt. Cairo holds many of the famous historical attractions such as: Blue Mosque, Museum of Islamic Arts, the Egyptian Museum (, the Coptic Museum, and the Al Gawhara Palace Museum. Nearby in Giza are the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx. All of these historical structures attract tourists to Cairo each year. The estimated population is approaching about 14 million. Cairo is facing many problems due to this rise in population. There is currently a problem with unemployment, pollution, and a housing shortage. Many migrants from the rural areas have low skill levels and little hope at regular employment. The infrastructure of Cairo is overburdened and recently the water table has been rising due to leaking sewer lines.

Egypt Museum
The Egyptian Museum; Cairo, Egypt Image courtesy Africa Focus Database - University of Wisconsin
Sphinx Khafre
Side view of The Sphinx and the Pyramid of Khafre Image courtesy Africa Focus Database - University of Wisconsin

Alexandria is the second largest city in Egypt and the main port of Egypt. Founded in 332 B.C.E. by Alexander the Great, Alexandria was built with the purpose that it would become a great naval base and the capital of the province. Many things stood in the way of Alexander's plan for Alexandria. When it was built it became the center of scholarship, science, and had the world's largest library collection (see more details in Activity 2: Egyptian Society and History).It also became the center of Greek and Roman culture and learning, and became a center of Christianity. After the Roman Empire gained control of Egypt (see Activity 2: Egyptian Society and History) Alexandria became the capital city but then suffered many setbacks. The first was the massacre of the Jewish and male population (any boys and males able to carry weapons and fight) in 215 E.C. when they opposed Roman rule (this occurred during the Jewish-Greek Civil Wars). After many years (and different rulers) Alexandria became vulnerable to the Arabs. They established their capital in a portion of Cairo. After this, Alexandria was no longer the capital of Egypt, but it was and still is a city of great importance. Alexandria now accounts for over 1/3 of Egypt's industrial output. It is the most important economic and industrial center of Egypt. It is also Egypt's cosmopolitan city where a large number of expatriates (an expatriate is someone who has left their country of residence to move to another country) from European and other Middle Eastern countries settle.

You have now learned a lot of information about Egypt. Take a few minutes to write about some of the problems Egypt is facing and why. Also, think about what these problems mean for Egypt's future. (See Activity Four: Current Issues Afflicting Egypt) The next lesson (See Activity Two: Ancient Egyptian Society and History) focuses on the Ancient History of Egypt, its rich history has helped to create the country it is today.

Go on to Activity Two or select one of the other activities in this module