The vexillogical history of Egypt is unique in the Arab world, deriving from its long connection with the Ottoman Empire. While many other Arab nations followed the tradition of the four-color Pan-Arab Flag, Egyptian flags down to the establishment of a republic in 1952 were based on the Ottoman Flag. But in in that year there appeared the Arab Liberation Flag, horizontally striped red, white and black and charged with the Eagle of Saladin. Up to 1958 it was flown jointly with the national flag inherited from the monarchy and then a variant with two green stars on the white stripe replaced them both. Since that time Egyptian national flags have been based on the design of the Arab Liberation Flag.

See here for military and naval flags of Egypt.


MAMLUK EGYPT 1341-1517


Flag of the Mamluk Sultanate

After the Muslim conquest Egypt formed part of various caliphates and sultanates. These polities had no national flags in the modern sense but green, black, red, yellow and white banners were used, these being colors associated with Islam or the ruling dynasties. With the overthrow of the Ayyubid Sultanate Egypt fell under the rule of the Mamluks, a warrior caste from the Crimea and the Caucasus in the service of the Ayyubids. Though technically they were slaves the Mamluks enjoyed a higher social status than freeborn Egyptians and as time went on the Ayyubid sultans grew more and more reliant on them. Eventually these warrior-slaves revolted and by 1341 a Mamluk Sultanate, centered on Egypt, had consolidated itself. Besides Egypt proper it included Palestine, Syria and the western coast of the Arabian Peninsula. The banner most commonly associated with Mamluk Egypt was tailed, colored yellow with a white crescent, and may be regarded as the first flag of Egypt.



Ottoman Empire    National Flag


Ottoman Empire    Merchant Ensign


Ottoman Empire    Variant Merchant Ensign


Khedivate of Egypt    1867-1914

The flags of the Ottoman Empire were usually red, often with a white crescent and star, and many variants are known to have been used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. By the beginning of the nineteenth century the flags shown above were in use. The merchant ensign was plain red but masters of merchant vessels who had made the pilgrimage to Mecca were permitted to fly a special ensign horizontally striped red-green-red. Because the Mamluks, though defeated, had not been displaced the Ottomans always had difficulty asserting their authority over Egypt and the province enjoyed a great deal of autonomy. They were finally suppressed by Muhammad Ali, an Ottoman general of Albanian origin who made himself the governor of Egypt in 1805. Like the Mamluks he proved difficult to control, soon proclaiming himself Khedive of Egypt, i.e. the ruler of an autonomous vassal state. Though they recognized the nominal sovereignty of the Sultan, Muhammad Ali and his successors behaved like independent monarchs. Not until 1867 did the Ottoman Sultan give in and recognize this situation and until then the Ottoman flag was the flag of Egypt. As a recognized khedivate, however, Egypt was entitled to its own flag, which was based on both the Ottoman flag and the personal banner of Muhammad Ali (later the flag of the 1914-22 Sultanate; see below).



Ottoman Empire    National Flag


The Union Jack


Sultanate of Egypt    1914-22


Flag of the 1919 Revolution


Pan-Arab Flag

Between 1882 and 1914 the Khedivate of Egypt was nominally under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire though in fact Britain exercised an informal protectorate over the country. With the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, which ranged the British and the Ottomans on opposite sides, the protectorate was formalized. Until then the flag of the Ottoman Empire, identical to the contemporary Turkish flag, was Egypt's national flag. After 1914 the personal standard of Muhammad Ali was adopted as the flag of what was now titled the Sultanate of Egypt. This flag was always flown in conjunction with the Union Jack, which took precedence. The protectorate was unpopular with Egyptians and there was much unrest, culminating in a revolutionary outbreak in 1919. The flag of the nationalist revolution was green, a color traditionally associated with Islam, bearing a white crescent for the country's Muslim majority and a cross for the Coptic Christian minority. Unlike most other Arab countries, the four-color Pan-Arab Flag played no role in the development of a national flag though later on the colors red, white, black and green did figure in the design of the Arab Liberation Flag and of the United Arab Republic flag used between 1958 and 1972.



National Flag


Royal Flag

The 1919 revolution convinced the British government that the protectorate over Egypt must be brought to an end and this was duly done via a unilateral British declaration of Egyptian independence in 1922. The Sultanate was transformed into a kingdom and the Sultan into a king. Yet British influence remained paramount, with extensive control over defense and foreign policy. Britain's grip was somewhat relaxed by the terms of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 but even so the British retained a major say in Egyptian affairs, including the right to station troops in the country for the defense of the Suez Canal.

The national flag of the Kingdom of Egypt was green with a white crescent and three white stars. It thus combined design elements of the national flag of the  Khedivate, the Sultanate and the flag of the 1919 nationalist revolution. With a royal crown added in the upper hoist it served as the King's personal flag.



Arab Liberation Flag

In 1952 a dissident group within the Egyptian Army calling itself the Free Officers launched a coup, deposing King Farouk in favor of his infant son Fuad. The following year the Free Officers abolished the monarchy and proclaimed Egypt a republic but this did not immediately lead to the adoption of a new national flag. However, the so-called Arab Liberation Flag, a horizontal red-white black tricolor charged with the golden Eagle of Saladin was often flown in conjunction with the green crescent and stars flag. Red stood for courage and the blood shed for independence, white for purity and virtue, and black for the oppressive past. Sometimes the breast of the eagle bore the arms of the state as shown above. The eagle is said to have been the personal symbol of the great Arab hero Saladin and though this is disputed it is a popular symbol of Arab nationalism.

When Egypt joined with Syria to form the United Arab Republic this flag fell into disuse. But the basic design and colors were adopted for the flags of many Arab nations and in Egypt itself the Arab Liberation Flag was to make a comeback in 1984.



National Flag


Presidential Flag

In 1958 Egypt and Syria signed a treaty of union. Thus was created the United Arab Republic (UAR), a polity that it was hoped would eventually encompass all Arab states. The flag of the new nation was a horizontal red-white-black tricolor with two green stars for Egypt and Syria on the white stripe. It thus merged the tradition of the Arab Liberation Flag with that of the Pan-Arab Flag. The coat of arms of the UAR was the Eagle of Saladin with a shield striped red-white-black bearing two green stars. These arms appeared in the upper hoist of the presidential flag. The union proved unworkable and Syria withdrew from it in 1961 but Egypt continued to style itself as the United Arab Republic and to use the flags of the UAR.



National Flag    1972-84


Presidential Flag    1972-84


National Flag Since 1984


National Flag    Variant Design


Presidential Flag Since 1984

In 1971 on the initiative of Libya a Federation of Arab Republics (FAR) was created. Besides Libya it included Egypt and Syria, and all three countries adopted a new, identical national flag: the red-white-black tricolor with the coat of arms of the FAR, a golden yellow Hawk of Quraish, on the white stripe. A presidential flag was also adopted with the arms moved to the upper hoist. This symbol is associated both with the Prophet Mohammed and his tribe and the Arab people as a whole. (The Arabs have long been noted for their falconry skills, and falcons and hawks are favorite pets.)

In conformity with the title of the Federation, Egypt renamed itself the Arab Republic of Egypt. Though the merger was approved by referendum in all three countries disagreements as to its terms soon brought the FAR project to grief and the federation was dissolved in 1977. Seven years later Egypt discarded the FAR flag in favor of a similar one with the new state coat of arms: a golden yellow Eagle of Saladin, marking a return to the tradition of the Arab Liberation Flag. This, the current flag of Egypt, is sometimes seen with the arms in outline only as depicted above. The presidential flag has the arms repeated in the upper hoist, with the shield striped red-white black.