Less than one-tenth of the land area of Egypt is settled or under cultivation. This territory consists of the valley and delta of the Nile, a number of desert oases, and land along the Suez Canal. More than 90 percent of the country consists of desert areas, including the Libyan Desert in the west, a part of the Sahara, and the Arabian Desert (also called the Eastern Desert), which borders the Red Sea and the Gulf of Suez, in the east. The Libyan Desert (also known as the Western Desert) includes a vast sandy expanse called the Great Sand Sea. Located here are several depressions with elevations below sea level, including the Qattarah Depression, which has an area of about 18,000 sq km (about 7000 sq mi) and reaches a depth of 133 m (436 ft) below sea level, the lowest point in Africa; also found here are the oases of Siwah, Kharijah, Bahriyah, Farafirah, and Dakhilah. Much of the Arabian Desert occupies a plateau that rises gradually east from the Nile Valley to elevations of about 600 m (about 2000 ft) in the east and is broken along the Red Sea coast by jagged peaks as high as about 2100 m (about 7000 ft) above sea level. In the extreme south, along the border with Sudan, is the Nubian Desert, an extensive region of dunes and sandy plains. The Sinai Peninsula consists of sandy desert in the north and rugged mountains in the south, with summits looming more than about 2100 m (about 7000 ft) above the Red Sea. Jabal Katrinah (2637 m/8652 ft), the highest elevation in Egypt, is in the Sinai Peninsula, as is Mount Sinai, where, according to the Old Testament, Moses received the Ten Commandments.
The Nile enters Egypt from Sudan and flows north for about 1545 km (about 960 mi) to the Mediterranean Sea. For its entire length from the southern border to Cairo, the Nile flows through a narrow valley lined by cliffs. Lake Nasser, a huge reservoir formed by the Aswan High Dam, extends south across the Sudan border. The lake is about 480 km (about 300 mi) long and is about 16 km (10 mi) across at its widest point. About two-thirds of the lake lies in Egypt. South of a point near the town of Idfu, the Nile Valley is rarely more than 3 km (2 mi) wide. From Idfu to Cairo, the valley is about 23 km (about 14 mi) in width, with most of the arable portion on the western side. In the vicinity of Cairo the valley merges with the delta, a fan-shaped plain, the perimeter of which occupies about 250 km (about 155 mi) of the Mediterranean coastline. Silt deposited by the Rosetta (Arabic Rashid), Damietta (Arabic Dumyat), and other distributaries has made the delta the most fertile region in the country. However, the Aswan High Dam has reduced the flow of the Nile, causing the salty waters of the Mediterranean to erode land along the coast near the Nile. A series of four shallow, brackish lakes extends along the seaward extremity of the delta. Another larger lake, Birkat Qarun, is situated inland in the desert north of the town of Al Fayy?m. Geographically and traditionally, the Nile Valley is divided into two regions, Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt, the former consisting of the delta area and the latter comprising the valley south of Cairo.
Although Egypt has about 2450 km (about 1520 mi) of coastline, two-thirds of which are on the Red Sea, indentations suitable as harbors are confined to the delta. The Isthmus of Suez, which connects the Sinai Peninsula with the African mainland, is traversed from the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Suez by the Suez Canal.
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