Egypt is the largest Arab country, and has played a central role in Middle Eastern politics.
In the 1950s President Gamal Abdul Nasser pioneered Arab nationalism and the non-aligned movement, while his successor Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel and turned back to the West.
Egypt's great cities - and almost all agricultural activity - are concentrated along the banks of the Nile and its delta.
The economy depends heavily on agriculture, tourism, and cash remittances from Egyptians working abroad - mainly in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries.
However, rapid population growth and the limited amount of arable land are straining the country's resources and economy, and political unrest has often paralysed government efforts to address the problems.
President: Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
Retired Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was elected president in May 2014, almost a year after he removed his elected predecessor, the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, from office in a coup.
In addition to Egypt's struggling economy, President Sisi has to deal with an Islamist insurgency on its borders with Israel and Gaza.
Egypt is a major regional media player. Its TV and film industries supply much of the Arab-speaking world with content and its press is influential.
TV is the favourite medium and there are several big hitters in the sector, including the state broadcaster.
The authorities have been increasing controls over traditional and social media to an unprecedented degree.
Reporters Without Borders says Egypt is "one of the world's biggest prisons" for journalists.
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Some key dates in Egypt's modern history:
1805 - Ottoman Albanian commander Muhammad Ali establishes dynasty that rules until 1952, although nominally part of the Ottoman Empire.
1869 - Suez Canal is completed, but it and other infrastructure projects nearly bankrupt the country and lead to gradual British takeover.
1922 - Egypt gains independence, although British influence remains significant until mid-1950s.
1952 - Coup brings Gamal Abdel Nasser to power. He sets up Egypt in opposition to the conservative Arab monarchies of the Gulf and Western interests in the Middle East.
1956 - Britain, France and Israel invade over nationalisation of Suez Canal, but withdraw at US insistence.
1978 - President Anwar Sadat makes peace with Israel.
1981 - President Sadat is assassinated by Islamist extremists.
2011 - Arab Spring popular uprising topples President Hosni Mubarak.
2013 - Coup ousts the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi, the country's first freely-elected president. Army chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi takes over.