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The majesty of Egypt is present throughout the country: ancient Luxor, the Sphinx, the Nile, the pyramids ? even the sky over the vast desert.

Perhaps the beginning of Egyptian history starts with the Nile, whose resources allowed people to plant food and prosper. The first pyramid was built in the 27th century B.C. and over the next 500 years the monuments grew increasingly prestigious. As the Roman Empire expanded and gained power it began taking an interest in Egypt. When the empire fell apart, Nubians, North Africans and Persians arrived. Egypt acquired full independence from Britain after World War II. Currently, Hosni Mubarak is in his fourth term as president and continues to steer Egypt in mostly a free-market, Western direction, despite the pressures exerted by Islamic fundamentalists within the country.

The population consists mostly of Egyptians, Berbers and Arabs, as well as Nubians. The national language is Arabic, although in well-developed areas of Cairo you can find some  who speak English. The vast majority of people follow Islam.

To reach Egypt there are good connections between many European cities and the capital, Cairo. The national airline is EgyptAir and Air Sinai also has good flights. Other international airports are in Alexandria, Luxor, Aswan, Hurghada (Al-Ghardaka) and Sharm el-Sheikh. Domestic air travel is fast, but ghastly expensive. Egypt has a well-developed system of buses and trains, and it provides a great opportunity to get a feel for the local culture.

The main cities in Egypt are on the Nile, as the rest of the country is rather inhabitable desert. In the summer (June ? August) everywhere south of Cairo is too hot to enjoy. Summer is also the time when the Mediterranean coast is at its most crowded. March ? May is probably the ideal time to visit. Cairo probably best represents what Egypt is today: a mix of the ancient, the old and the modern, as mud buildings stand beside ancient ruins along the street where air-conditioned buses drive next to donkeys and camels. Another prominent city, Luxor, once the ancient city of Thebes, has famous ancient monuments. Aswan is a wonderful market city at the mouth of Lake Nasser where the Nile is possibly at its most beautiful. It is located far in the south and serves as a type of ?bridge? to the rest of Africa.

If you are interested in water sports, Egypt is home to some of the best scuba diving in the world. Hurghada and further south, Safaga (Port Safaga/Bur Safaga), formerly a small fishing village, only recently became great tourist attractions. They sit on the shores of the Red Sea and snorkeling or diving will get you a view of the underwater gardens. Hurghada's fun nightlife and Safaga's proximity to the Red Sea Mountains also earn them their popular reputations.

People traveling to the southern Sinai Peninsula resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh should be extremely cautious as there have been simultaneous bombings in cafés and eateries commonly visited by tourists.