Being a guy, I've mostly avoided learning much about thread counts and percale and all those other details of white goods. But with the recent bed-acquisition activity, I've seen an annoyingly large number of references to "Egyptian cotton," and to its implicit high quality. (Our new mattress pad incorporates this term in the packaging three times.) So what is "Egyptian cotton"? Why it is so esteemed - at least by marketers? Does Egypt really produces that much cotton?
With a little help from Google and Wikipedia, it turns out that "Egyptian cotton" is actually the name of a kind of cotton with especially long fibers, which makes it easy to weave into light, sturdy, and soft fabrics. "Egyptian cotton" really is grown in Egypt, using a type of plant imported from the United States in the 19th century. During the American Civil War, Egypt became a major producer of cotton for British mills, though it has long since lost its primacy and now ranks as a minor producer in terms of the number of bales grown annually.
For what it's worth, the top cotton producers, in terms of the number of bales produced, are China (35.5 million bales in 2008-09), India (26.5), the United States (14.5), Pakistan (9.4), Brazil (6.4), Uzbekistan (5.1), the "African franc zone" in west and central Africa (3.4), Turkey (2.6), Australia (1.5), and the EU and Turkmenistan (1.3 each). Syria (1.0) and Egypt (0.6) run just behind. It's curious that so many of the big cotton producers are also hotbeds of Islamic extremism.