Egypt was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 to 1805 when the appointment of Khedives in Cairo virtually removed the power of the Turkish Sultan over the region.
After nationalist agitation the British government recognized Egypt's sovereign independence in 1922. The following year Sultan Ahmad Fuad became King Faud I.
In 1936 an Anglo-Egyptian Treaty provided for the gradual withdrawal of British forces except for those needed to protect the Suez Canal. On the outbreak of the Second World War the British Army had 36,000 men guarding the canal and the Arabian oil fields.
On 13th September, 1940, Marshall Rodolfo Graziani and five divisions of Italian Army began a rapid advance into Egypt but halted in front of the main British defences at Mersa Matruh. Although outnumbered, General Archibald Wavell ordered a British counter-offensive on 9th December, 1940. The Italians suffered heavy casualties and were pushed back more than 800km (500 miles). British troops moved along the coast and on 22nd January, 1941, they captured the port of Tobruk in Libya from the Italians.
Adolf Hitler was shocked by the defeats being suffered by the Italian Army and in January 1941, sent General Erwin Rommel and the recently formed Deutsches Afrika Korps to North Africa. Rommel mounted his first attack on 24th March 1941, and after a week of fighting he pushed Archibald Wavell and the British Army out of most of Libya. However, under Lieutenant General Leslie Morshead the British managed to hold vital forward supply base at Tobruk.
On 18th November, 1941, Auchinleck and the recently formed Eighth Army went on the offensive. Erwin Rommel was forced to abandon his siege of Tobruk on 4th December, and the following month had moved as far west as Archibald Wavell had achieved a year previously.
Aware that Wavell's supply lines were now overextended, Rommel, after obtaining reinforcements from Tripoli,launched a counterattack. It was now the turn of the British Army to retreat.
After losing Benghazi on 29th January, Claude Auchinleck ordered his troops to retreat to Gazala. Over the next few months the Eighth Army, under Lieutenant General Neil Richie, established a line of fortifications and minefields. Erwin Rommel launched his offensive on 26th May. The Italian infantry attacked at the front while Rommel led his panzers round the edge of the fortifications to cut off the supply routes.
Ritchie outnumbered Rommel by two to one but he wasted his advantage by not using his tanks together. After defeating a series of small counter-attacks Rommel was able to capture Sidi Muftah. On 12th June, two of the three British armoured brigades were caught in a pincer movement and were badly defeated. Two days later Neil Richie, with only 100 tanks left, abandoned Gazala.
Rommel returned to Tobruk and took the port on 21st June, 1942. This included the capture of over 35,000 British troops. However, Rommel now only had 57 tanks left and was forced to wait for new supplies to arrive before heading into Egypt.
The following month Erwin Rommel and the Deutsches Afrika Korps were only 113km (70 miles) from Alexandria. The situation was so serious that Winston Churchill made the long journey to Egypt to discover for himself what needed to be done. Churchill decided to make changes to the command structure. General Harold Alexander was placed in charge of British land forces in the Middle East and Bernard Montgomery replaced Claude Auchinleck as commander of the Eighth Army.
On 30th August, 1942, Erwin Rommel attacked at Alam el Halfa. Montgomery responded by ordering his troops to withdraw to El Alamein and to establish a good defensive line from the coast to the impassable Qattara Depression. Montgomery was now able to make sure that Rommel and the German Army was unable to make any further advances into Egypt.
Over the next six weeks Montgomery began to stockpile vast quantities of weapons and ammunition to make sure that by the time he attacked he possessed overwhelming firepower. By the middle of October the Eighth Army totalled 195,000 men, 1,351 tanks and 1,900 pieces of artillery. This included large numbers of recently delivered Sherman M4 and Grant M3 tanks.
On 23rd October Montgomery launched Operation Lightfoot with the largest artillery bombardment since the First World War. The attack came at the worst time for the Deutsches Afrika Korps as Erwin Rommel was on sick leave in Austria. His replacement, General George Stumme, died of a heart-attack during the 1000 gun bombardment of the German lines. Stume was replaced by General Ritter von Thoma and Adolf Hitler phoned Rommel to order him to return to Egypt immediately.
The Germans defended their positions well and after two days the Eighth Army had made little progress and Bernard Montgomery ordered an end to the attack. When Erwin Rommel returned he launched a counterattack at Kidney Ridge (27th October). Montgomery now returned to the offensive and the 9th Australian Division created a salient in the enemy positions, which they managed to hold despite a series of German attacks.
Winston Churchill was disappointed by the Eighth Army's lack of success and accused Montgomery of fighting a "half-hearted" battle. Montgomery ignored these criticisms and instead made plans for a new offensive, Operation Supercharge.
On 1st November 1942, Montgomery launched an attack on the Deutsches Afrika Korps at Kidney Ridge. After initially resisting the attack, Rommel decided he no longer had the resources to hold his line and on the 3rd November he ordered his troops to withdraw. However, Adolf Hitler overruled his commander and the Germans were forced to stand and fight.
The next day Montgomery ordered his men forward. The Eighth Army broke through the German lines and Erwin Rommel, in danger of being surrounded, was eventually given permission by Hitler to retreat. Those soldiers on foot, including large numbers of Italian soldiers, were unable to move fast enough and were taken prisoner.
For a while it looked like the the British would cut off Rommel's army but a sudden rain storm on 6th November turned the desert into a quagmire and the chasing army was slowed down. Rommel, now with only twenty tanks left, managed to get to Sollum on the Egypt-Libya border.
The British Army recaptured Tobruk on 13th November, 1942, bringing the battle at El Alamein to an end. During the campaign half of Rommel's 100,000 man army was killed, wounded or taken prisoner. He also lost over 450 tanks and 1,000 guns. The British and Commonwealth forces suffered 13,500 casualties and 500 of their tanks were damaged. However, of these, 350 were repaired and were able to take part in future battles.
Winston Churchill was convinced that the battle of El Alamein marked the turning point in the war and ordered the ringing of church bells all over Britain. As he said later: "Before Alamein we never had a defeat, after Alamein we never had a defeat."
In 1952 General Mohammed Neguib and Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser forced Farouk I to abdicate. After the Egyptian Revolution Neguib became commander-in-chief, prime minister and president of the republic whereas Nasser held the post of Minister of the Interior.
In April 1954 Nasser replaced Neguib as prime minister. Seven months later he also became president of Egypt. Over the next few months Nasser made it clear he was in favour of liberating Palestine from the Jews. He also began buying fighter aircraft, bombers and tanks from the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia.
Gamal Abdel Nasser redistributed land in Egypt and began plans to industrialize the country. He also began the building of the Aswan Dam. Nasser was convinced that this would extend arable lands in Egypt and would help the industrialization process. He also advocated Arab independence and reminded the British government that the agreement allowing to keep soldiers at Suez expired in 1956.
President Dwight Eisenhower became concerned about the close relationship developing between Egypt and the Soviet Union. In July 1956 Eisenhower cancelled a promised grant of 56 million dollars towards the building of the Aswan Dam. Nasser was furious and on 26th July he announced he intended to nationalize the Suez Canal. The shareowners, the majority of whom were from Britain and France, were promised compensation. Nasser argued that the revenues from the Suez Canal would help to finance the Aswan Dam.
Anthony Eden, the British prime minister, feared that Nasser intended to form an Arab Alliance that would cut off oil supplies to Europe. Secret negotiations took place between Britain, France and Israel and it was agreed to make a joint attack on Egypt.
On 29th October 1956, the Israeli Army, led by General Moshe Dayan, invaded Egypt. Two days later British and French bombed Egyptian airfields. British and French troops landed at Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal on 5th November. By this time the Israelis had captured the Sinai peninsula.
President Dwight Eisenhower and his secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, grew increasingly concerned about these developments and at the United Nations the representatives from the United States and the Soviet Union demanded a cease-fire. When it was clear the rest of the world were opposed to the attack on Egypt, and on the 7th November the governments of Britain, France and Israel agreed to withdraw. They were then replaced by UN troops who policed the Egyptian frontier.
Gamal Abdel Nasser now blocked the Suez Canal. He also used his new status to urge Arab nations to reduce oil exports to Western Europe. As a result petrol rationing had to be introduced in several countries and two months after the invasion Anthony Eden resigned from office.
Nasser was now acknowledged as leader of the Arab world. Egypt now joined with Syria to form the United Arab Republic. In March 1958 Yemen and the United Arab Republic formed the United Arab States. Nasser also encouraged Arab nationalism and revolution took place in Iraq. However, deployment of US and British armed forces stopped this happening in Jordan and the Lebanon.
Nasser status was undermined by the heavy losses suffered during the Six-Day War. He resigned on 9th June 1967 but following large demonstrations supporting him he reversed this decision. Nasser remained in office until dying of a heart attack in 1970. He was replaced by his friend Anwar Sadat.
High defence spending severely damaged the Egyptian economy and in 1977 President Anwar Sadat decided to obtain a peace settlement with Israel. He announced the Sadat Initiative and offered to go to Jerusalem and plead the Arab cause before the Knesset. This offer was accepted and Sadat visited Israel to meet Menachem Begin (19th - 21st November).
Although criticised by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the governments of Syria, Libya and Algeria, Sadat had discussions with Begin at Leeds Castle and Camp David. In September 1978, with the support of Jimmy Carter, the president of the United States, Sadat and Begin signed a peace treaty between the two countries. As a result both men shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978.