Like many other national symbols worldwide, the Egyptian flag is highly respected and carries many meanings. It is hoisted on many buildings where official government business occurs. In addition, the country displays its flag every July 23 to mark Revolution Day. Abusing the flag is a punishable crime in Egypt.
Several questions could help one understand why the flag is a critical component of Egyptian society.
When did it come into existence? What are its components? Were other flags used before this one? What does it symbolize to warrant the great respect it receives?
Let us embark on the captivating journey of discovering the answers to these questions, beginning with the flag’s long and rich history.
The History of the Egyptian Flag
Egypt is among the oldest civilizations still in existence today. However, the country has undergone numerous transformations which have impacted its symbols of sovereignty and power, including its official flag.
The Flag of 1805
The first recorded history when Egypt had a national flag was in 1805 when Egypt became an Ottoman Empire province.
The 1805 flag resembled the one used by the Ottoman Empire. It had a red banner, three stars, and three white crescents. The stars and crescent in this flag symbolized Mohamed Ali’s victory over Europe, Asia, and Africa. They also represented Ali’s sovereign power over Egypt, Hejaz, and Sudan.
Mohamed Ali chose a flag that looked like the empire’s flag because he wanted to seize the throne and becoming a Sultan. However, the Ottoman Empire collapsed in 1914, but Egypt decided to retain its flag.
The 1919 revolution almost resulted in the country changing its flag. Instead, those who championed the revolution used a flag with a green background and symbols of a white cross and crescent to symbolize the unity of Muslims and Christians in their clamor for independence from the British colonial masters.
The Flag of 1923
Egypt got its second flag in December 1923 when the British granted the country independence. King Fuad altered his leadership title from “Sultan” to “King.”
King Fuad made a royal decree that saw the country adopt a new flag to mark Egypt’s self-rule. The 1923 flag had a green background and a big crescent that surrounded three white stars.
Two different theories explain the king’s decision to adopt this flag.
The first presumption is that the green background represented Islam, the country’s dominant religion. The three little stars represented Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, the country’s other major religions.
The second theory proposed that the green symbolized the country’s vast agricultural activities along the Nile. At the same time, the three crescents stood for Egypt, Sudan, and Nubia and the Muslims, Jews, and Christians who resided in this territory.
The country adopted the “Eslamy Ya Misr” as its national anthem in 1923. Mustafa Sadeq, an Egyptian poet, composed the music, while Safar Ali wrote the anthem. The country’s police academy still uses this anthem.
The Flag of 1953
In 1953, the country’s leadership structure changed, and kingship was abolished following a revolution that began a year earlier. The revolutionists rejected the flag associated with the Egyptian monarchy and adopted a new one.
They changed Egypt’s flag to a three-striped flag consisting of red, white, and black horizontal lines to represent Egypt’s transition into a republic. In addition, the flag included the Saladin eagle to represent the revolution.
The revolutionist had developed and hoisted their new flag next to the national flag in 1952. However, it eventually became the national flag when the country abolished the monarchy.
The red color represented the bloodshed in the clamor for the country’s independence from the British. The white stood for a peaceful end of the monarchy system without bloodshed, while the black symbolized an end to oppression from the British colonizers and monarchy.
The country adopted a new anthem to accompany its new flag. The Egyptians sang the “Nashi Al Huriyya” song as their new anthem. Mohamed Abdel Wahab, an Egyptian poet, and Kamel el Shennawy, a journalist, are accredited with writing the anthem.
The Flag of 1958
In 1958, the Egyptian flag changed again when the country joined the United Arab Republic, a union between Egypt and Syria.
The UAR used a new flag that resembled the 1953 Egyptian flag with a few alterations. The flag replaced the image of the Saladin eagle with two green stars to represent the two states in the alliance. The union was short-lived and ended in 1961 when Syria declared itself free from Egyptian rule. Egypt maintained the UAR title until 1971, despite being the only country in the “union.”
Egyptians sang the “Walla Zaman Ya Selahy” as their national anthem during the time Egypt used the UAR name. Kamal al Tawil composed this anthem, first performed by Om Kulthum, a celebrity Egyptian singer. Iraq also used the anthem’s melody without lyrics between 1965 and 1981.
The Flag of 1972
Egypt entered a political federation with Libya and Syria on January 1, 1972. As a result, the three countries of the Federation of Arab Republics, Egypt included, adopted a new unifying flag.
The 1972 flag resembled the one it used earlier when it was part of the UAR, but the falcon replaced the two stars. The falcon’s image symbolizes nationalism.
The federation lasted for five years and collapsed in 1977. Once again, Egypt continued using the federation’s flag until 1984 despite its political partners abandoning their alliance.
The Flag of 1984
The current flag Egypt uses was first hoisted on October 4, 1984, when Egypt reverted to a single republic following failed attempts to enter a political union with its Arab neighbors.
The Egyptian flag comprises red, white, and black colored stripes and an emblem of an eagle.
Meaning and Symbolism of the Egyptian Flag
The Egyptian flag has pan-Arab colors of red, white, and black. It also has a golden eagle. Mecca’s Sheriff Hussein introduced this color combination to symbolize the organization during the First World War.
The colors on the flag represent the different struggles Egyptians encountered, particularly related to the right to freedom from the British colonial power and the relatively peaceful revulsion that changed the country to a republic.
The red stripe represents the blood Egyptians shed as they fought the British.
Egyptians originally adopted a strategy of non-violent protests in their fight for independence. They launched their appeal for freedom by sending activists to Reginald Wingate, the British high commissioner, to request the British end their protectorate over Egypt and Sudan.
As the leaders engaged the British leadership in Egypt, other Egyptian leaders coordinated the grassroots mass movement drives for independence. The people of this movement used the civil disobedience philosophy to capture the British’s attention.
Meanwhile, the Wafd Party was gaining popularity among Egyptians as a vehicle for political reforms. Party officials toured several Egyptian towns and villages as they collected signatures to authorize its leaders to represent the people in demanding self-rule and British withdrawal.
The growing popularity of the Wafd Party made the British uncomfortable as they feared that the leadership could use their influence to call for social unrest. The British reacted to their fears by arresting Zaghul, the party’s leader, on March 8, 1919. In addition, they exiled him and two other Wafd party leaders to Malta.
Instead of deterring unrest, arresting these leaders only encouraged it, and violence occurred from March 15th through the 31st, 1919. By the time the disturbance ended, 800 people had lost their lives, and more than 1600 were injured. In addition, several villages had been burned down, and significant properties were plundered.
A commission of inquiry into the disturbances prompted the British prime minister to abandon the Egyptian protectorate, allowing the country to secure independence. Those who died during the struggle for independence are represented through the red stripe at the top of the Egyptian flag.
The white stripe represents peace in Egypt and the bloodless end of the Egyptian monarchy. The monarchy began when the country secured its independence from the British and ended when the Egyptians executed a revolution to make their country a republic.
White represents the Egyptians’ pure hearts during the bloodless revolution. It also represents hope for a bright future.
The black color reminds the Egyptians of the oppression and injustice their forefathers suffered under British rule. It also demonstrates the end of colonial oppression when they earned their independence from British control and reminds them to cherish the freedom of self-rule.
The Egyptian flag has a golden eagle which can be spotted in the coat of arms of many Arab nations.
The eagle has a reputation for being one of the most powerful and resilient birds. The steppe eagle, Egypt’s national bird, represents the power and strength of the Egyptian people. It also represents nationalism among Arabs.
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The photo featured at the top of this post is © H.studio/Shutterstock.com
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- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Egypt
- MEEA, Available here: https://meea.sites.luc.edu/volume15/pdfs/The-Egyptian-Revolution-and-Post-Socioeconomic-Impact.pdf
- Macaulay, Available here: https://eportfolios.macaulay.cuny.edu/egyptianstudies/2011/05/04/coat-of-arms/