The Geography of Egypt
Egypt spans North-East Africa and the Peninsula of Sinai in Asia, with shorelines along the Mediterranean and Red Seas. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the north; Libya to the west; Sudan to the south; the Red Sea to the east; and Israel and Gaza to the north-east. The country covers an area of around 1,001,450 square kilometres (386,662 square miles), which is approximately the same size as Texas and New Mexico combined, four times the size of the UK and double that of France.
Egypt’s land borders are approximately 1656 miles (2665 kilometres) in total length and comprise of the following: Libya, 693 miles (1,115 kilometres); Sudan, 791 miles (1,273 kilometres); Israel, 165 miles (266 kilometres); and Gaza, 7 miles (11 kilometres). Its coastline is 1,892 miles (3,049 kilometres) long and comprises of: the Mediterranean Sea, 650 miles (1,050 kilometres); the Red Sea, 472 miles (760 kilometres); the Gulf of Aqaba, 140 miles (225 kilometres); the Gulf of Suez, 390 miles (628 kilometres); and the Suez Canal, 240 miles (386 kilometres).
Flowing from south to north, the River Nile cuts the Sahara desert into two and this causes one of Egypt’s main peculiarities: 95% of its (estimated) 80 million people occupy only 5.5% of the land: the remaining 94.5% belongs to the uninhabitable Sahara Desert. To the west of the River Nile the Sahara is known as the Western (or Libyan) Desert, while it is known as the Eastern Desert in the area to the East between the River Nile and the Red Sea. In the Western Desert there are some oases that support their own populations: the Fayoum, Siwa, Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla, and Kharga, while in the east any areas of population tend to be restricted to the valleys (or wadis), as well as along the Red Sea coastline.
Another of Egypt’s peculiarities is to be found in the Western Desert. “The Great Sand Sea” is a massive area of sand that contains many depressions, and some of these are actually below sea level! One good example is a depression known as the “Qattara Depression” which is approximately 7,000 square miles (18,000 square kilometres) in area and reaches a depth of around 436 feet (133 metres) below sea level. This makes it the lowest point in the whole of Africa.
The Eastern Desert slowly rises between the River Nile and the Red Sea, culminating in several peaks that reach a height of about 2,000 feet (600 metres), and along the coastline some can reach almost 7,000 feet (2,100 metres). Lying to the south of the Eastern Desert, and along the Sudanese border, is a widespread area of dunes and sandy plains that is known as the Nubian Desert.
The third of Egypt’s peculiarities is that it is one of only two countries that straddle two continents. While Turkey connects Europe and Asia, Egypt connects Africa and Asia; with the Suez Canal being the border between these two continents. The peninsula that lies between the Suez Canal and the border with Gaza and Israel is known as the “Sinai Peninsula”, an area which is generally a sandy desert in the north slowly becoming craggy mountains in the south; where some of the peaks reach a height of more than 7,000 feet (2,100 metres). This is where Egypt’s highest point can be found, the impressive 8,625 feet (2,629 metres) of Mount Catherine, which slightly dwarfs the more famous Mount Sinai, or Moses Mountain, that only reaches a peak of 7,497 feet (2,285 metres).
The River Nile is a south-north flowing river that is now accepted as the longest river in the world and, apart from Egypt, its waters are shared by: Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda, which also makes it a major international river. It has two major tributaries, the White Nile and Blue Nile, the White Nile being the longer of the two, rising in the Great Lakes region of central Africa; but its exact source has not yet been determined, it is located in either Rwanda or Burundi. The shorter Blue Nile is the source of most of the water and fertile soil. It begins at Lake Tana in Ethiopia before flowing into Sudan from the southeast. The two rivers converge, to form the River Nile, near the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. Overall the river is 4,258 miles (6,853 kilometres) in length.
In Egypt, the River Nile enters from Sudan and reaches the Mediterranean Sea after its 960 mile (1,545 kilometres) journey, but the initial stage of this journey through Egypt is not performed as the River Nile, but as Lake Nasser.
When the Aswan High Dam was built, the waters behind it became the world’s largest man-made lake, which was named in honour of President Nasser. The whole lake is about 340 miles (550 kilometres) long and reaches 22 miles (35 kilometres) at its widest point, close to the Tropic of Cancer. Its average depth is 83 feet (25.2 metres) reaching a maximum of 590 feet (180 metres). It has a total surface area of 2,030 square miles (5,250 square kilometres) with a storage capacity of 32 cubic miles (132 cubic kilometres) of water. 83% of Lake Nasser is in Egypt, extending to the south into Sudan, where it is known as Lake Nubia.
Between the Mediterranean coastline cities of Alexandria and Port Said, roughly 149 miles (240 kilometres), and stretching down to just outside Cairo, about 99.5 miles (160 kilometres), is the triangle of extremely fertile land known as the Nile Delta. Silt is brought upriver by the Nile and deposited here, which not only adds to the fertility of the area, but also means that the river is often blocked and has to find a new course. Since ancient times the Nile has changed its course through this region, with many towns and cities being abandoned due to it altering its flow. This part of Egypt, throughout history, has been known as Lower Egypt, whereas the region from Cairo to the Sudanese border has always been referred to as Upper Egypt. This can be confusing when looking at a map of the country, but understandable when knowledge of the river’s flow is understood.