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Egypt: Colonialism and the Rise of Egyptian Nationalism

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, French and British colonialism had profound effects on Egyptian society. Napoleon Bonaparte’s invasion of Egypt in 1798 exposed native Egyptians to the principles of the French Revolution and encouraged modernization and secularization. In 1882, Britain seized control of the Egyptian government, which had fallen heavily in debt to European powers. Egypt gained partial independence from the United Kingdom in 1922, and finally achieved full independence following the end of World War II. The semi-independent state that emerged in Egypt in 1922 was committed to liberal constitutionalism and secular rule. In 1928, Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood as a mainstream Sunni Islamic reformist movement. Egypt’s unstable condition in the aftermath of World War II served as a catalyst for the Brotherhood’s development into a religio-political organization advocating conservative Islamic values and resorting to violence. The latter half of the twentieth century was marked by the rapid growth of Egyptian nationalism and Egypt’s attempts to reassert itself as both a regional leader and a world power. The overthrow of the monarchy in 1952 by army officers led to single-party rule, modernization, and Arab socialism, though the state remained officially secular. The Arab Republic of Egypt was declared in 1953, and, in 1956, Gamal Abdel Nasser became the second president of the Republic. Nasser began a violent conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood that culminated in harsh state repression and the hanging of one of the organization’s leaders, Sayyid Qutb, in 1966.