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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.