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Egyptian Flags: A Century of Symbolism

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Egyptian Flags: A Century of Symbolism

US Withholds Military Aid to Egypt Over Human Rights but ...
Photo Credit: Mariam Soliman via Wikimedia Commons

Egypt’s soul is in constant evolution; its streets are a jigsaw-swing of different crowds and its name sounds itself differently in every language. Egypt has developed over the years, taken itself from under monarchies and into modernity – a visual history tracked by its flags. Egyptian flags are the manifest representation of both socio-political and cultural inclinations, and with every pull of the tide, it changes to suit its present ideologies.

Flag used in Egypt during the rules of Ismail Pasha and Tawfik Pasha (1867–1881) | Photo Credit: WikiCommons

The Khedivate Flags

The first Egyptian flag was introduced during the Mohamed Ali Dynasty, when Egypt was still woven into the fraying Ottoman empire (i.e. Egypt Eyalet). Still, its existence as a Khedivate granted Mohammed Ali and his successors loose reigns and virtual independence. They operated collectively under a series of different, Ottoman-inspired flags, all with a red backdrop and alternating numbers of stars and crescents.

Flag used in the Egypt Eyalet (1844–1867) | Photo Credit: WikiCommons
Flag of the Khedivate of Egypt (1881–1914) and the Sultanate of Egypt (1914–1922) | Photo Credit: WikiCommons

Suggested meanings differ. Some scholars note that the three stars and crescents were symbolic of Ottoman victories across the continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Others maintain that the prevalence of three connotes Muhammed Ali’s sovereignty over Egypt, Sudan and al-Hegaz. The crescent is assumed from Islamic iconography, and remains a refernce to Islam’s use of the lunar calendar.

The flag was still used after the Ottoman withdrawal from Egyptian affairs in 1914; from then, Egypt was considered a sultanate and a British protectorate.

Flag of the Kingdom of Egypt (1922–1953) and co-official flag of the Republic of Egypt (1953–1958) | Photo Credit: WikiCommons

Kingdom of Egypt

By 1922, the United Kingdom withdrew from Egypt as well, formally recognizing it as an independent state on the sole clause that the monarchy refrain from using sultanate terminology. Instead, Fouad I was pushed into changing his title from Sultan to King, and upon doing so, took to changing the national flag as well. Forgoing Ottoman reds, King Fouad I adopted an organic, rich green (given Egypt’s agricultural nature) but maintained the crescent-star detailing.

The meaning behind the visuals, however, were also changed. Instead, three stars were made to symbolize the three legs of the Kingdom: Egypt, Nubia, and Sudan. In the same vein, King Fouad I kept the crescent as an ode to Egypt’s predominantly Muslim population.

Egyptian Revolution Flag (1953–1958) | Photo Credit: WikiCommons

The Coup d’État of ‘52

In a coup d’état turned revolution, Gamal Abd el-Nasser seized power from the monarchy in the summer of 1952. Alongside the support of the Free Officers party, he introduces a new set of symbols to his new pan-Arab Egypt. Although King Farouk I’s flag remained for a while after his deposition, a new national flag was eventually erected – a predecessor in design to that of modern day Egypt.

Striped from across in red, white, and black, the flag cradled an Egyptian falcon meant to reference the ancient god Horus, not to be confused with Egypt’s later adaption of an eagle. Each color was a dedicated ode to Egyptianism at the time; red embodied the bloodshed in Egypt’s war against colonialism, the white represented the purity of the Egyptian heart, and the black was indicative of the dark ages which needed overcoming.

Abd el-Nasser’s flag is better known as Egypt’s “Revolutionary and Liberation” flag, and was the source of inspiration for several Arab flags including those of Iraq, Syria, Sudan, and Yemen.

Flag of the United Arab Republic (1958–1971) | Photo Credit: WikiCommons

United Arab Republic of Syria and Egypt

Similar to the flags that preceded it, the unity of Syria and Egypt was transient and symbolized using the same toolkit exercised before; the two stars embody both states, center their struggle for stability amidst war.

Flag of Egypt.svg
Present National Flag of Egypt | | Photo Credit: WikiCommons

The Arab Republic of Egypt

Last, perhaps for the foreseeable future, is Egypt’s hoisted national flag. First introduced in 1974 by President Anwar al-Sadat, it is reminiscent of the vision Gamal Abd el-Nasser first brought to life. Though instead of Horus, the key emblem was changed to that of the Eagle of Saladin, entirely gold.

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With a heart for radio and an appetite for culture, Mona is a writer and illustrator based in Cairo. At the Erasmus University Rotterdam, she obtained a BSc and MA in Media, Culture, and Society, while actively writing for the faculty magazine. After graduating, Mona was an academic advisor at the American University in Cairo, as well as Managing Director of a small, campus-based advertising firm. Gears shifting, her knack for cultural research took over - enter: Egyptian Streets. Mona’s focus is tapered to issues of identity politics, culture, and social architecture.

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