Egypt's first recorded ruler, or pharaoh, was Menes (or Narmer, fl.3100? BC ), who united the southern and northern kingdoms and founded the capital at Memphis. Notable successor pharaohs included Cheops (Khufu, fl.26th cent. BC ), who built the Great Pyramid at Giza; Thutmose III (r.1504?–1450 BC ), who greatly extended the empire through conquest; Amenhotep III (r.1417– 1379 BC ), who ruled at the summit of ancient Egyptian civilization and built extensive monuments; his son Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten, or Ikhnaton, r.1379–1362 BC ), who, with his queen, Nefertiti, instituted a brief period of monotheism; and Tutankhamen (r.1361–1352 BC ), whose tomb containing valuable treasures was found practically intact in 1922. Cleopatra VII (69– 30 BC ) was involved in the political conflicts of the Romans.
Philo Judaeus (13? BC – AD 50?) attempted to combine Greek philosophy with Judaism. Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemaeus, fl.2d cent. AD ) was the foremost astronomer of ancient times. Egyptian-born Plotinus ( AD 205?–270) was a neoplatonic philosopher in Rome.
The most notable of Egypt's rulers under the Muslim caliphate was Saladin (Salah ad-Din, 1138–93), sultan of Egypt and Syria and founder of the Ayyubid dynasty. The founder of Egypt as a part of the Ottoman Empire was Muhammad 'Ali (1769–1849), of Albanian origin, the first of a dynasty that ended with the deposition of Faruk in 1952. 'Arabi Pasha (Ahmad 'Arabi, 1841?–1911) led a popular uprising against British intervention in 1882 but was defeated. Later, the fiery political fight against British rule was waged by Sa'ad Zaghlul Pasha (1860?–1927), a founder of the Nationalist Party, Wafd.
No one had greater influence on Egypt during the 1950s and 1960s than Gamal Abdel Nasser (Jamal 'Abd al-Nasir, 1918–70), the moving spirit of the army's revolt against the monarchy in 1952. As prime minister (1954–56) and president (1956–70), Nasser set Egypt on its socialist course and attempted to unify the Arab world through confederation. His successor as president, Anwar al-Sadat (as-Sadat, 1918–81), continued Nasser's policies but with important modifications, especially in relation to Israel; with Menachem Begin he shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1978 and negotiated the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty of 1979. Upon Sadat's assassination in 1981, Muhammad Hosni (Husni) Mubarak (b.1928), who had been air force chief of staff (1969–72) and vice-president (1975–81), became president of Egypt, a post he held as of 2000.
The poet Sami al-Barudi (1839–1904) wrote popular and highly regarded verses about Islam's heroic early age. 'Abbas al-Aqqad (1889–1964) has been called the greatest contemporary Arab poet and the most original Arab writer. Involved in a political plot, he was jailed and composed an Arab "De Profundis" about his life in prison. Taha Husayn (1889–1973), the most widely known modern Egyptian intellectual leader, was minister of education from 1950 to 1952. The poet and essayist Malak Hifni Nasif (1886–1918) sought an improvement in the status of women. Ahmad Zaki Abu Shadi (1892–1955) was a renowned poet, essayist, and dramatist. Mahmud Taymur (1894–1973), a leading dramatist, wrote popular social satires and comedies. Um Kalthum (Fatma al-Zahraa Ibrahim, 1898?–1975) was the most famous singer of the Arab world. Mohammed Hassanein Heikal (b. 1923), journalist and author, was the outspoken editor of the influential newspaper Al-Ahram (1957–74) until he was forced by the government to resign. In 1988, Naguib Mahfouz (b.1912) won the Nobel Prize for Literature.