Initial moves toward industrialization in Egypt in the 19th century were frustrated by the European powers, primarily Great Britain, which preferred to have the country remain a market for their manufactured goods. During and after World War I (1914-1918), new efforts resulted in the development of a small industrial base capable of meeting some of the domestic demand. During World War II (1939-1945), this base was greatly expanded, especially in the area of textiles. After the overthrow of the monarchy in the early 1950s, the government assigned top priority to industrial expansion. In 1965, after the completion of the first five-year plan, the total value of industrial production, including electric power and mining output, had reached some $2.71 billion annually, and by the early 1990s the gross value of manufacturing and mining exceeded $13 billion per year.
Leading branches of the manufacturing sector are processed food, refined petroleum, textiles, and chemicals. Important products of Egyptian industry include cotton yarn (259,000 metric tons per year in the early 1990s), jute yarn and fabrics (45,000), wool yarn (16,000), raw sugar (975,000), sulfuric acid (92,000), nitrogenous fertilizers (676,000), paper (223,000), cement (14.1 million), motor-vehicle tires and tubes (3.3 million units), and television receivers (333,000 units). Other industrial activities included the manufacture of iron and steel (at Hulwan), the assembling of motor vehicles, and the refining of oil (at several locations). These and other industries employed 21 percent of the labor force in the early 1990s.
Smaller-scale industrial enterprises of significance to the economy include tanning, brewing, and the manufacture of pottery, perfumes, handicrafts, cottonseed oil, flour and other processed foodstuffs, and asphalt. Most industrial activity is centered around Cairo and Alexandria.