From 1958 to 1961 Egypt was officially the Southern Region of the United Arab Republic, the Northern Region being Syria (5). With 26 million people to Syria's 41/2 million, Egypt was in every way the dominant partner in the union, which had much less effect on it than on Syria.
Egypt's population is crowded into the 4 per cent. of its total area which the Nile irrigates. Although the civilization of the Nile valley is so ancient, many links with the past have been broken by repeated waves of foreign invasion and conquest. Since the early invasions by Arabs who blended with the basic Hamitic stock, Egypt has been Arabic-speaking and predominantly Moslem, though there are over a million Christian Copts, and the chief cities contain large mixed communities originating from other Mediterranean countries such as Greece.
The British, who seized Egypt in 1882 from the already nominal rule of the Ottoman Turks, formally declared a protectorate only in 1914, and granted a qualified independence in 1936. During the second world war they reasserted their control, but afterwards withdrew their troops into the Suez Canal zone, where they hoped to retain a base for Middle East defence. Egyptian nationalists resented and harassed the British garrisons, which were finally withdrawn just before the Suez crisis of 1956 (7).
In 1952 a military coup deposed King Farouk, last of a dynasty founded by an Albanian soldier who had made himself ruler of Egypt and been recognized as such by the Turkish sultan, and overthrew Egypt's parliamentary government, which had been corrupted by cliques of rich men. In 1954 Colonel Abdul Gamal Nasser, the foremost of the young revolutionary officers, became president of the new republic. The ruling army junta attacked the old order of society with land reforms and other measures to improve the lot of the peasants, and sought to develop new industries. Its anti-western nationalism and growing dependence on barter trade with the communist powers (who took Egypt's cotton in return for armaments) made its relations with Russia seem disturbingly close at times. But the Egyptian communists were banned and jailed; the union with Syria in 1958 was largely an anti-communist move; and later there were periods of open antagonism between Cairo and Moscow.