Egypt has always been an important meeting point between east and west. The invasion of Egypt by Napoleon in 1798 made it easy for western intellectuals to understand Islamic cultures and Egypt itself. Having had an exceptional national history, Egypt presents
opportunities for studies in archeology, anthropology, religious history, literature history and art history.

From 1841 Egypt was a province within the Ottoman empire and began undergoing plans of modernization. Expenses related to the construction of the Suez Canal and an overwhelming need of luxury broke down the Egyptian economy and led to big riots in 1881. The British forces then occupied the canal zone in 1882 and in 1916 the British government declared Egypt as a protectorate in order to secure their interest in the canal zone.

In 1922 the British accepted Egypt’s demand for independence and Khedive Fouad took title of king but the British still maintained influence over the administration. In 1952 riots broke out in Egypt and later in 1954 the free-radicals threw a coup d’etat and seized and declared Egypt to be an independent republic. King Farouk was then exiled. Gamal Abdel Nasser was appointed president in 1956.

Egypt had several alliances after the revolution, first with the US, and when it proved fruitless, Nasser gradually moved Egypt’s alliance to the non-allied states within the Arab league. At the same time Egypt went into a weapon’s supply treaty with the Soviet Union. The Nasser period was dominated by domestic reorganization politics, land reforms, important developments of education and health services, and other public sectors.

Throughout the Nasser period, Egypt continued to move into a socialistic system. The relations to Israel and Palestine proved to be an immense problem for Egypt and the other Arab states during this period. After Nasser’s death in 1970, Anwar Sadat oriented Egypt more towards the West and a private-capitalistic economy. A peace agreement took place between Egypt and Israel which led to a weakening in the relations between Egypt and the other Arab countries but led to massive aid from the US.

Sadat’s improvements to the economy led to an improvement for a small percentage of the population while the larger masses were still struggling. This caused radical groups such as the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ and ‘al-Jihad’ to gain support. A high ranking officer of one of these organizations assassinated Sadat in October of 1981.

Hosni Mubarak succeeded Sadat as president. Although he continued with the same policies as Sadat, Mubarak was more respected amongst the people and managed to achieve better relations with the other Arab states. Mubarak tried to create a balance between Islamic and Arab ideas on the one hand and maintain good relations with the West on the other hand. Egypt begins playing a vigorous role in the negotiations. Many Islamist groups seek to destabilize the government and establish an Islamic state, with Shariah as a fundamental basis for the legislation of society and seek to make the country independent of western economic influence.

Egypt’s eventful history clearly influenced its art and its artists. Present Egyptian society is best known for its many contrasts. There are contrasts present between rich and poor, between Christians and Muslims, between urban and rural, between the national and international movements, and many others. These contrasts also have a big influence on the artists of Egypt and the kind of art they create.