The Nile River
The Greek historian Herodotus wrote that “Egypt was the gift of the Nile.” An unending source of sustenance, it played a crucial role in the development of Egyptian civilization. Because the river overflowed its banks annually and deposited new layers of silt, the surrounding land was very fertile.
The Nile River originates in East Africa in Lake Victoria and in Ethiopia in Lake Tana.
The White Nile flows north from Lake Victoria through Uganda and into Sudan, where it converges with the Blue Nile at the city of Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. The Blue Nile originates in Lake Tana in Ethiopia. From Khartoum, the Nile River flows north through the Nubian Desert into Egypt, where it eventually reaches the Mediterranean Sea. The fresh water of the Nile is a lifeline that enables agriculture and transportation and supports a growing human population in the region.
The Nile River is also home to a variety of animals and plant life. Tropical rainforest is found along parts of the Nile. On the Sudanese plains there is open grassland with thorny trees which becomes swampy during the rainy season. Traveling north of Khartoum there is desert, and vegetation along the Nile in Egypt is the result of irrigation.
Until the Aswan High Dam was completed in 1968, the river flooded its banks yearly, depositing silt and nutrients onto the soil and causing enormous damage to infrastructure. As far back as when the pharaohs ruled Egypt, the people used flood irrigation to grow their crops. Today, water is pumped from the controlled Nile River onto the fields to water crops. This change has increased the number of crops that can be grown per year. However, it has also caused a buildup of salt in the soil, resulting in declining soil quality. Without annual flooding, the salts cannot be dissolved away but remain in the soil, reducing yields. Almost a third of Egypt’s population works in agriculture; about half the population is rural.
Egypt has one of the longest histories of any country. Ancient Egypt saw some of the earliest developments of writing, agriculture, urbanization, organized religion, and central government.
Egypt’s long and rich cultural heritage is an integral part of its national identity, which has endured and often assimilated, various foreign influences, including Greek, Persian, Roman, Arab, Ottoman Turk, and Nubian.
Apart from the Nile Valley, the majority of Egypt’s landscape is desert, with a few oases scattered about. Egypt is the driest and the sunniest country in the world. Winds create prolific sand dunes that peak at more than 100 feet (30 m) high. Egypt includes parts of the Sahara desert and of the Libyan Desert. These deserts protected the Kingdom of the Pharaohs from western threats and were referred to as the “red land” in ancient Egypt.
Cairo, Egypt’s capital, lies at the northern end of the Nile River.
With a population of more than ten million, it is the largest North African city and home to more Arabs than any other city in the world. It is considered the cornerstone city of Arab culture. Cairo is so crowded that more than a million people live in its old cemetery, the City of the Dead.
Cairo’s residents, and the millions of people in Egypt, depend on the Nile River for their survival. About 95% of Egypt’s population lives within fifteen miles of the Nile River. As the population has grown, urban expansion has encroached on the farmland of the Nile Valley. Egypt can no longer produce enough food for its people; about 15% of its food comes from other countries, mainly the United States.
Conflicts between democratic reforms and Islamic fundamentalism are evident in Egypt. Egypt is a predominantly Sunni Muslim country with Islam as its state religion. It’s been ranked as the fifth-worst country in the world for religious freedom. 84% of Egyptians polled supported the death penalty for those who leave Islam; 77% supported whippings and cutting off of hands for theft and robbery, and 82% support stoning a person who commits adultery.
The growing population has been a major concern. In Egypt’s case, democratic reformers were able to promote a strong program of family planning and birth control to help reduce family size, which in 2008 was at 2.8 children per woman and declining. The government even created a popular Egyptian soap opera to promote the concept that it was appropriate in an Arab culture to use family planning and have a small family. The prime-time program, called And the Nile Flows On, told the story of a young village bride dealing with the issues of pregnancy and life complicated by the interjection of a progressive sheik and a meddling female doctor. The drama addressed many family planning and religious issues regarding the acceptability of breaking with tradition to address the growing population problem in Egypt.
Egypt is a cultural mix with a strong heritage steeped in Arab history with a secular side that is open to the outside world. The cultural forces that create this paradox have not always been in unison. Egypt has a major connection to Western society because of tourism. The Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx are major attractions that pull in millions of people per year from around the world. Tourism opens up Egypt to outside elements from various cultural backgrounds, most of which are secular. It also provides employment for about 12% of Egypt’s workforce and revenue for the country.
Egyptian cuisine is notably conducive to vegetarian diets, as it relies heavily on legume and vegetable dishes. Although food in Alexandria and the coast of Egypt tends to use a great deal of fish and other seafood, for the most part Egyptian cuisine is based on foods that grow out of the ground. Meat has been very expensive for most Egyptians throughout history, so a great number of vegetarian dishes have been developed.
Common meats are rabbit, pigeon, chicken, and lamb. Cow and sheep brains are also eaten.
Politics in Egypt has been in turmoil, with protests against the President Abdel Fattah el Sisi. There have been accusations of corruption and abuses of power. You’ll have to check current events to see what the situation is and if Sisi retains his power or not!
Sudan and South Sudan
Comparable in size to the entire United States east of the Mississippi River, Sudan was formerly the largest country in Africa. The capital city of Khartoum lies where the Blue Nile River converges with the White Nile. Khartoum’s government has a black Arab majority and follows Islam, complete with Sharia laws. The African Transition Zone crosses Sudan and separates the Arab-Muslim north from the mainly African-Christian south. There was a civil war between the north and the south for decades.
In 2003, various groups in Darfur complained that the Khartoum government was neglecting them. A militia group calling itself the Janjaweed was recruited by the local Arabs to counter the resistance in Darfur. The Janjaweed began an ethnic cleansing campaign that pushed into the Darfur region, burning villages, hurting women, and killing anyone who opposed them. Refugees began to flee into the neighboring country of Chad.
In this particular case, the campaign was not based on religious divisions, because both sides were Muslim. This was an ethnic conflict in that the people of Darfur are of a traditional African background and the people of northern Sudan consider themselves Arab, even though they may have dark skin. An estimated 300,000 people died in this conflict. There were more than 2.7 million refugees, many of them in Chad. Just as the government of Sudan denied the slave trade, it denied that it supports the Janjaweed. The African Union provided a modest number of peacekeeping troops before the UN stepped in to provide security. Food, water, and care for the refugees taxed the region’s aid and support system.
Before a peace agreement brokered in 2005, military soldiers from the north would raid the villages in the south, taking women and children as slaves. Slavery in the region of the Sudan has a long history, beginning in the ancient Nubian and ancient Egyptian times and continuing up to the present. Though the Sudanese government denied the slave trade, thousands of Africans were owned by northern black Arabs in Sudan, and many still are. The world community has made little effort to intervene. The price for a slave in Sudan is about fifty US dollars.
The differences in religion, ethnicity, and culture have always divided southern Sudan from the north. In January 2011, the southern region of Sudan voted on a referendum that allowed the south to break away and become an independent country called the Republic of South Sudan.
The acceptance of this new republic changed the map of the region and the dynamics between South Sudan and North Sudan. The new Republic of South Sudan was formalized in July of 2011. Juba was designated as the capital. The many clans and indigenous groups made it difficult for unity and cohesiveness in the new country. Armed groups in the various states continued to cause internal division, while at the same time boundary disputes continued to be worked out with North Sudan.
South Sudan is covered in tropical forests, swamps, and grasslands. It has an equatorial tropical climate with a rainy season featuring high humidity. It’s considerably greener than Sudan (in the north). South Sudan’s protected area of Bandingilo National Park hosts the second-largest wildlife migration in the world. Animals like giraffes, cheetahs, lions, hyenas, African wild dogs, and multiple species of antelope live in this park.
South Sudan’s forest reserves also provide habitat for other animals like elephants, chimpanzees, and bongo.
South Sudan is home to the ethnic groups of the Dinka, Nuer, Bari, and the Azande.
The Dinka mainly live on traditional agriculture and pastoralism, relying on cattle husbandry as cultural pride, not for commercial profit or for meat, but cultural demonstrations, rituals, marriages’ dowries, and milk feedings for all ages. The Dinka are known for being very dark, thin, and tall, as seen in this video:
Many in South Sudan still live traditional lifestyles and some still follow indigenous animist beliefs.
For many, cattle is a symbol of wealth and the target of sometimes violent and deadly raids.
The water supply in South Sudan is faced with numerous challenges. Although the White Nile runs through the country, water is scarce during the dry season in areas that are not located on the river.
About half the population does not have access to an improved water source, defined as a protected well, standpipe or a handpump within one kilometer. The few existing piped water supply systems are often not well maintained and the water they provide is often not safe to drink.
Sudan’s (North Sudan) has extremely dry areas in the north with grasslands and tropical savanna to the south. The dry regions are plagued by sandstorms, known as haboob, which can completely block out the sun.
In the northern and western semi-desert areas, people rely on the scant rainfall for basic agriculture and many are nomadic, traveling with their herds of sheep and camels.
Nearer the River Nile, there are well-irrigated farms growing cash crops. Agriculture is Sudan’s most-important sector, employing 80 percent of the workforce, but most farms remain rain-fed and susceptible to drought. Sudan is rated the fifth hungriest nation in the world.
As stated before, the legal system in Sudan is based on Islamic Sharia law. Stoning, flogging, and crucifixion are legal punishments. Sudan’s public order law allows police officers to publicly whip women who are accused of public indecency. Muslims who convert to Christianity can face the death penalty. Due to a 1991 penal code (Public Order Law), women were not allowed to wear trousers in public, because it was interpreted as an “obscene outfit.” The punishment for wearing trousers could be up to 40 lashes, but after being found guilty in 2009, one woman was fined the equivalent of 200 U.S. dollars instead.
In Sudan, 34% of girls are married off before the age of 18. The current legal marriage of girls in Sudan is at age 10. According to the Corruptions Perception Index, Sudan is one of the most corrupt nations in the world.
Sudan has 597 groups that speak over 400 different languages and dialects. As you can imagine, there are many different cultures, beliefs, and cuisines based on these particular groups. Sudanese cuisine is varied by region and is greatly affected by the cross-cultural influences in Sudan throughout history. Meals include elmaraara and umfitit, which are made from sheep’s offal (including the lungs, liver, and stomach), onions, peanut butter, and salt. They are eaten raw. Some stews are made with okra, sheep’s fat, cattle or sheep hooves, and onions. Goat meat and fish is also consumed. There are a variety of porridges made from sorghum, or millet. Peanuts are also used in a variety of dishes. Other regional cuisine is influenced by Arab cuisine such as falafels.
Despite the corruption and difficulties in the country, there are many kind people living out their lives. The following video gives a bit of balance to some of the harsh statistics listed above:
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Additional information and image credits:
Nile River map By Hel-hama – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=27624659
Egypt map By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32293866
Blue Nile Falls By A.Savin (Wikimedia Commons · WikiPhotoSpace) – Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70359416
Cairo By Melaad2009 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35324077
Koshary By Dina Said – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36970215
Egyptian cuisine https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egyptian_cuisine
Foi Gras By Charles Haynes from Bangalore, India – Foie Gras, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3062138
Feeter By Mohamed Ouda – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36953489
Sudan map By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32650016
South Sudan map By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/
Bayuda desert well By Clemens Schmillen – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55450762
Darfur refugee camp in Chad By Mark Knobil from Pittsburgh, usa – Camp, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2173345
African wild dog By Charles J Sharp – Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=37060053
Caracal By € Van 3000 from belgium belgikske belgiquistan – United Tribes ov Europe – Caracal, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2380530
Woman preparing food By Dominik HES – Dominik HES, CC BY-SA 3.0 cz, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9639421
Kisara By Mohamed Elfatih Hamadien – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36046698