The flag of Egypt (Egyptian Arabic: علم مصر) is a tricolour consisting of the three equal horizontal red, white, and black bands of the Arab Liberation flag dating back to the Egyptian Revolution of 1952. The flag bears Egypt's national emblem, the Eagle of Saladin centered in the white band. The flag's current form was adopted on October 4, 1984.
The Free Officers who toppled King Farouk in the Revolution of 1952 assigned specific symbolism to each of the three bands of the Arab Liberation flag. The red band symbolises the period before the Revolution, a time characterized by the struggle against the monarchy, and the British occupation of the country. The white band symbolizes the bloodless nature of the Revolution itself. The black band symbolises the end of the oppression of the Egyptian people at the hands of the monarchy, and foreign imperialism.
Egypt's use of the Arab Liberation flag inspired its adoption by a number of other Arab states. The same horizontal tricolour is used by Iraq, Syria, and Yemen (and formerly Libya), the only difference being the presence (or absence) of distinguishing national emblems in the white band.
When Muhammad Ali successfully seized power in Egypt, the country was officially a province of the Ottoman Empire. However, throughout his reign, and that of his sons and grandsons, Egypt enjoyed virtual independence as a Khedivate. To signify his autonomy from the Ottoman Porte, Muhammad Ali introduced a new Egyptian flag of three white crescents and three stars on a red field. It has been suggested that this was to symbolise the victory of his armies in three continents (Africa, Asia, and Europe), and his own sovereignty over Egypt, Sudan, and Hejaz. The similarity with the flag of the Ottoman Empire was deliberate, as Muhammad Ali harbored grandiose ambitions of deposing the Ottoman dynasty, and seizing the sultanic throne himself.
After the Urabi Revolt in 1882, British forces occupied the country, igniting ever greater nationalist resentment. This reached a peak in the Revolution of 1919, when both the red flag introduced by Muhammad Ali, and a special green banner bearing a crescent and cross were used in protests against the British (the latter symbolizing that both Egypt's Muslim and Christian communities supported the nationalist movement against the occupation).
In 1922, Britain agreed to formally recognize Egyptian independence, but only on the condition that the Sultan of Egypt, Fuad I, change his title to King. Upon so doing, the now King Fuad issued a Royal Decree formally adopting a new national flag of a white crescent with three white stars on a green background in it.
The three stars symbolised the three component territories of the Kingdom, namely Egypt, Nubia, and Sudan, whilst the green symbolised the predominant religion of the country, Islam. It has also been suggested that the three stars represented the three religious communities of the country: Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Following the Revolution of 1952, the Free Officers retained the flag of the Kingdom, but also introduced the Arab Liberation flag of red, white, and black horizontal bands, with the emblem of the Revolution, the Eagle of Saladin, in the center band. This earlier version of the eagle differs somewhat from the one later adopted. Even when the Kingdom was formally abolished by the declaration of the Republic on July 18, 1953, the flag of the Kingdom remained in official use until the formation of the United Arab Republic in 1958.
In 1958, Egypt and Syria united as the United Arab Republic (U.A.R.) and adopted a national flag based on the Arab Liberation flag, with two green stars (representing the two countries of the union) replacing the Eagle of Saladin in the white band. A modified version of the Eagle of Saladin was adopted as the U.A.R.'s coat of arms.
Though Syria withdrew from the U.A.R. in 1961, Egypt continued to use the official name of the United Arab Republic until 1971, when the country was renamed officially as the Arab Republic of Egypt. In 1972, when Egypt formed the Federation of Arab Republics along with Syria, and Libya, the U.A.R. flag (whose design Syria would reuse for their own flag, eight years later) was replaced by a common flag for the Federation, once again based on the Arab Liberation flag. The two green stars in the white band were replaced by the Hawk of Qureish, which had been the coat of arms of Syria prior to the formation of the U.A.R. in 1958. The Hawk of Qureish was also adopted as the Federation's coat of arms. The shade of red used in the red band was lightened slightly.
Whilst the Federation of Arab Republic was dissolved in 1977, Egypt retained the Federation's flag until October 4, 1984, when the black Hawk of Qureish was replaced in the white band (and on the coat of arms) (the 1958 version as opposed to the 1952 version). In addition, the shade of red in the red band was restored to the slightly darker shade of the red band in the pre-Federation flag.
The flag is hoisted on all Egyptian governmental buildings on Fridays, national holidays, the opening session of the People's Assembly, and any other occasions as determined by the Minister of the Interior. The flag is hoisted daily on border posts, customs buildings, Egyptian consulates and embassies overseas on Revolution Day (July 23), and other national holidays, as well as during the visit of the Egyptian President to the country hosting the diplomatic mission.
Abusing the flag in any way is a criminal offense and is punishable under law as it implies contempt of the power of the state. Penal provisions also govern abuse of foreign flags or national emblems of other countries.
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