Egypt, land of Pyramids and Pharos, straddles the Mediterranean and Red Seas, linking Africa, Europe, the Middle East, south Asia. Four times the size of the UK, it has borders with Libya, Sudan, the Gaza Strip, Israel and Jordan, and faces Saudi Arabia across the Gulf of Aqaba.

The strategically important Suez Canal is to the north, running between Suez and Port Said, while the Red Sea tourist resort of Sharm al-Skeikh is in the far south.

Much of the country in between is desert and only 4 per cent of the land is cultivated, mainly adjacent to the 1,000 mile long Nile and the Nile Delta.

The Foreign Office reports that Egypt is hot and dry in the summer, mild in the winter with rainfall increasing nearer the coastlines. Temperatures increase southwards, and on average, these vary between 22 and 37 degrees Centigrade in the summer and 9 and 19 degrees Centigrade in the winter.

Politically stable, in that President Mubarak has been in power since 1981, Egypt is not known for its political freedom and has recently introduced more stringent anti-terrorism legislation.

Under President Mubarak the country has achieved healthy economic growth and is currently around 7 per cent. Even so, despite earnings from its canal, agriculture and service industries such as tourism, the country is dependent on imports and has a budget deficit. Inflation is running at close to 9 per cent.

Egypt is a signatory to all the major UN human rights conventions. But the Foreign Offices says one of the key human rights concerns in Egypt is the widespread mistreatment of detainees and use of torture in police stations, especially in cases involving political detainees although 'the government has taken some steps to address the problem'.

The Foreign Office also warns that there is a high threat from terrorism in Egypt. 'Attacks can be indiscriminate and against civilian targets, including places frequented by foreigners'.

There has recently been a strengthening of security measures, including around popular tourist areas.

British visitors (there were just over 1m in 2006), require visas. These can be obtained from an Egyptian Consulate outside Egypt or on arrival for stays of up to a month. Applications for visa extensions should be made at Egyptian Passport and Immigration Offices.

Although there is no limit to the amount of sterling that can be taken into Egypt (larger sums should be declared on arrival) there is a limit of 5,000 Egyptian pounds on the maximum local currency that can be taken out.

According to the Foreign Office, some of the British nationals who have purchased land in Egypt have encountered problems. In parts of Egypt and increasingly, in the area of the West Bank in Luxor, land tenure rights can be restricted by local legislation.

'If you intend to purchase a property in Egypt we strongly advise you to engage a local lawyer', says the Foreign Office. 'It is important that your lawyer obtains an extract from the local land registry to satisfy you that the property or land in question is formally registered. You should again seek legal advice before entering into any contract. Don't sign anything that you do not understand'.

A list of English speaking lawyers and of translators is available from the British Embassy in Cairo.

Property buyers are also warned that the Egyptian land registry is liable to be out of date or incomplete - although the main cities and resort towns tend to have more reliable records.

Special rules apply, however, in Sharm el Sheikh which limited property rights to a maximum of 99 years. In other areas of Egypt it is still possible to buy freehold properties.

British and other EU nationals travelling to Sharm El Sheikh or Taba resorts for up to 14 days do not require a visa prior to travel - they will receive an entry permission stamp upon arrival. However, foreign property owners in Egyptian must have residency.