One of the best known stories in the Bible, the Exodus or Exit from Egypt, is the escape of the Israelites from slavery under the Pharoahs. The particular Pharoah in question is not specified in the Bible (and speculation about who it is has been a scholarly pastime for centuries), but whoever it was, he was clearly cut from the same cloth as the most stubborn, stupid and self-destructive leaders of history.
It’s only after numerous plagues – which kill off a goodly portion of his subjects – that he agrees to let the Israelites go. And even then, he changes his mind once more, pursuing them with his army…
…only to be killed, along with his army, when Moses unparts the Red Sea and the Israelites make good their escape to the Sinai, where they spend the next four decades preparing to invade Canaan and begin the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has continued, intermittently, ever since.
The best known of all of the Egyptian Pharaohs, largely due to the sensational circumstances of his tomb’s discovery in 1924. At the time he was placed in it, Tutankhamen is believed to have been about 18 years old, and to have been Pharaoh for about a decade. His age has led many to speculate that he may have been assassinated by his regents, who wished to keep power and legally would not be able to do so once the Boy King reached adulthood.
However, recent research points at a combination of diseases (chiefly malaria, which he seems to have suffered from several times in his short life) and congenital defects (most likely due to the inbreeding that was common in many pharaonic dynasties) as the actual cause of his death – although the political advantages remain the same regardless of the cause.
Napoleon had grand dreams of empire when he embarked for the Middle East in 1798. And at first, they seemed warranted. His forces took Malta in June 1798, and then eluded the British Navy for nearly two weeks as they crossed the Mediterranean to Egypt. On July 1, the fleet landed at Alexandria, although Napoleon himself was still at sea.
Perhaps this is why his orders were ignored, and his forces invaded the city during the night, taking it with little resistance. Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign was a mixed success: on land his forces triumphed over the Egyptians and ended the rule of the Mamelukes; at sea, they lost a disastrous engagement with the British. Undaunted, Napoleon continued with his plans to invade Syria, but a combination of harrying from the British at sea and the Ottomans on land, coupled with uprisings of the conquered (notably at Cairo in October 1798) eventually forced him to withdraw. The lasting results of his invasion were few: Egypt remained an Ottoman possession, although the decline of the Ottoman Empire was now undeniable; and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone led to great advances in archaeology, making it possible to translate hieroglyphics into modern languages.
Tutankhamun, or King Tut, was one of the most mysterious of the Egyptian pharaohs, largely because his successors had tried very hard to eradicate all records of his existence. Fortuitously, this meant that his tomb was lost for centuries, and not found until the 1920s, allowing archaeologists a good idea of what a pharaonic tomb that hadn’t been plundered and vandalised looked like.
The innermost chamber of it, where the boy king himself lay, was the last part to be unsealed. Archaeologist Howard Carter, the leader of the dig, was the first to see into the tomb. When asked what he saw, he replied “Wonderful things”. He was right. The collection of artifacts from this tomb is the most complete existing for any Egyptian ruler, and has traveled the world many times in the century since its discovery.
Gamal Abdel Nasser was a colonel in the Egyptian army who wasn’t satisfied with the status quo of post-colonial Egypt. He had formed highly critical opinions of his political masters, especially King Farouk, as a result of his experiences in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Returning to Egypt, and drawing some inspiration from the contemporary coup d’etat in Syria, he began plotting revolution.
In 1952, the revolution began in earnest. Nasser and his allies eventually triumphed, with Muhammad Naguib becoming the first Egyptian President on June 18, 1953. But tensions between the factions of Nasser and Naguib were not eased by victory or the new responsibilities of government. After an assassination attempt that Nasser was able to blame on Naguib’s faction, which found its power greatly diminished by Nasser’s crackdown on them. Finally, in 1956, Nasser became the President de jure – he had had the de facto power of the title for a year or so by that point.