Official nameArab Republic of Egypt

Official nameArab Republic of Egypt

LocationOccupying the exotic south-eastern corner of the Mediterranean, just to the right of Libya, above Sudan.

LanguageClassical Arabic is the official language, used in newspapers and understood by other Arabic countries. Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (ECA) is a completely different dialect, to be heard in the streets.

Population61.5 million, making it the highest populated Arabic country.

Size997,738 sq km. Belgium would fit into it almost 33 times.

National DishNot exactly up there with other Arab cuisine. One of the most famously revolting dishes is melokhia, made of a tough leaf stewed in chicken stock, the result of which is a slimy green soup of such heinous consistency and flavour that it was once banned by the 11th-century Caliph Al-Hakim. The staple is fuul, mashed fava beans, usually served in "shammy", a kind of pitta bread.

Best MonumentIn a country which has made its tourist dollar on monuments left by the Pharaohs, not to mention the Greeks, Romans, early Christians and Muslims, there are plenty of candidates. If we discount Luxor as a huge open-air museum in itself, then within the city, the Temples of Karnak would certainly qualify. More of a sprawling compound (1.5km by 800m) than a temple, just one visit would not be adequate to take in fully these ancient remains. The Temples were originally dedicated to the Theban gods.

Most Famous CitizenAlthough he would dearly like to become British, Mohamed al-Fayed is probably the most famous Egyptian citizen theses days, as much for being Dodi's father as for owning Harrods and the Paris Ritz. Closely followed by Tutankhamun, of course.

Best Moment In HistoryAfter such travellers as Mark Twain, Gustave Flaubert and Florence Nightingale discovered Egypt in the early 1800s, Egyptomania swept through the western world in a tide of writing, painting and architecture that was devoured by northern Orientalists. This popularity, however, saw Europe make off with such key antiquities as the Rosetta Stone (currently to be found in the British Museum) which the Egyptian government would now rather like back.

Worst Moment In HistoryIn 1882, Britain took pity on Egypt, seeing it as a country that couldn't look after itself, and lent the country money that it could never repay, to help out. This, of course, had nothing to do with the fact that the British wanted to secure the Suez Canal for its own use...

Essential AccessoryPockets full of loose change. Tipping ( baksheesh) is expected for all services, from the mere opening of doors and being shown fresh produce in the grocers.

What Not To DoUse Egypt as an alternative Ibiza. Drinking is accepted socially but not to the point of dancing in the street. But if you do want bikini-clad party action then head for the lively beach resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh or Dahab on the oasis-rich tip of the Sinai Peninsula. Dahab is the Ko Pha-Ngan of the Middle East, complete with stoned travellers and tie-dye T-shirts. Be warned though, while drinking is tolerated, drugs are not. Police presence is minimal but if you are caught, the penalties are high; dealing in and smuggling drugs attracts sentences of 25 years or death by hanging.

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