U.S. Department of State Background Note
Egypt is the most populous country in the Arab world and the second-most populous on the African Continent. Nearly all of the countrys 79 million people live in Cairo and Alexandria; elsewhere on the banks of the Nile; in the Nile delta, which fans out north of Cairo; and along the Suez Canal. These regions are among the worlds most densely populated, containing an average of over 3,820 persons per square mile (1,540 per sq. km.), as compared to 181 persons per sq. mi. for the country as a whole.
Small communities spread throughout the desert regions of Egypt are clustered around oases and historic trade and transportation routes. The government has tried with mixed success to encourage migration to newly irrigated land reclaimed from the desert. However, the proportion of the population living in rural areas has continued to decrease as people move to the cities in search of employment and a higher standard of living.
The Egyptians are a fairly homogeneous people of Hamitic origin. Mediterranean and Arab influences appear in the north, and there is some mixing in the south with the Nubians of northern Sudan. Ethnic minorities include a small number of Bedouin Arab nomads in the eastern and western deserts and in the Sinai, as well as some 50,000-100,000 Nubians clustered along the Nile in Upper (southern) Egypt.
The literacy rate is about 58% of the adult population. Education is free through university and compulsory from ages six through 15. Rates for primary and secondary education have strengthened in recent years. Ninety-three percent of children enter primary school today, compared with 87% in 1994. Major universities include Cairo University (100,000 students), Alexandria University, and the 1,000-year-old Al-Azhar University, one of the worlds major centers of Islamic learning.
Egypts vast and rich literature constitutes an important cultural element in the life of the country and in the Arab world as a whole. Egyptian novelists and poets were among the