The Suez Canal, Arabic Qan?t al-Suways, since its existence has been considering one of the most important sea-level waterway running north-south direction in Egypt.
The Canal connects the Mediterranian and the Red Seas and caters the shortest distance between Europe and Indian-Western Pacific Oceans.Because of its geographic significance, it is one of the most heavily used canals in the world from its opening. Therefore, there have been always power struggles to gain the control of the canal by dominant powers.
In order to understand the significance of the Suez Canal for Britain and the impacts of the Crisis on her, this chapter will be explaining brief history of the Suez Canal, the main actors of the Crisis which are Britain,France and Egypt, then it will continue with the brief history of the Suez Canal Crisis. The idea of constructing a canal dates back to BC but the first attempts to build a modern canal were originated Napolean Bonapart when he invades Egypt. His ultimate aim was to decrease the British influence and establish the French one in the region.
Projects for a canal were made in 1834 when Ferdinand de Lesseps received an Act of Concession from the viceroy of Egypt, Sa??d Pasha, to construct a canal. in 1856 plan approved by the Suez Canal Company (Compagnie Universelle du Canal Maritime de Suez) the right to operate a maritime canal for 99 years after completion of the canal. The construction finally began in 1856 and in August 1869 the waterway was completed. Due to external debts, the British government bought the shares owned by Egyptian interests from Said Pasha, in 1875, for 400,000 pounds sterling. Yet, France continued to hold 52% of the interest. Under the terms of an international convention signed in 1888 (The Convention of Constantinople), and Egypt had very limited power to control the canal according to this treaty. Article I allowed the all ships of nations to pass without discrimination in peace and war.
On the other hand, Britain considered the Suez canal as vital to the continuation of its naval power and as a tool of her colonial interests. Therefore, the provisions of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 allowed Britain to maintain a defensive force along the Suez Canal Zone. First, Along with the decline of the Ottoman Empire, Britain became the main hegemonic power in Egypt and in general in the Middle East.There were primarily two important significances of the Middle East for Britain and for the world. First, since the Middle East caters the main oil supply for European colonial powers and those powerfully need natural resources to provide an energy to their industries, it was crucial for Britain to mere power in this region.Secondly, since by the 19th century, Britain was the main industrialist and imperialist power in the world with the colonization race amount other colonial powers, Britain gained several colonies in South East Asia and in Asia particularly, such as India, the most important one, and with the Suez Canal, Egypt became more important for British interests due to its strategic location.Therefore it is helpful to bear in mind these important facts to understand the Suez Crisis in this context.
Second, after the World War II, France was struggling to regain its economic, military and political power in the world politics. The main problem was the independence tendencies of the French colonies in Africa and in South East Asia, the well-known example was Algeria.During the 1950s, France had bloody confrontations with its colonies and it led to the loss of prestige for France.
Therefore, French decision-makers desired to shape the Suez Crisis in order to create favorable influence for herself. First, if Nationalist Charismatic Egyptian leader Nasser would step down, Algeria would not get a military and economic support from Nasser.Thus, France will be in a stronger position in Algeria.Secondly, the Suez Canal had a political and strategic significance for France.Since the Napolean Bonapart invaded Egtpy in 1896, Egypt became the strategic point in French Foreign Policy.Furthermore, the Canal was built by mainly French initiative and she has the %52 shares of the Canal, it was a prestige issue for France to control the canal.
Egypt was undoubtedly a central figure in the whole process. After the decline of Ottoman Empire’s power in the Middle East and specifically in Egypt, Egypt became a crucial place for European colonial powers mainly for Britain and France.This significance grows then the Suez Canal constructed in that region because the canal both provided the shortest distance between the European continent and the colonies of these powers. Egypt from the begging had very limited control over the canal and this undoubtfully created disease among Egyptian people and certainly led to Nasser to came to power with nationalist feelings.
Furthermore, Nasser became the ‘only leader’ in the Middle East who could oppose Empirelism1The Suez Crisis also referred as the ‘Tripartite Aggression’ emerged from the decision of nationalist Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser on 26 July 1956 to nationalize the Suez Canal and dismiss the Suez Canal Company, due to the cancelation of the offer by Britain and the United States to finance the constructing of the Aswan High Dam in Egypt which was a reaction to Nasser’s emergence of closeness with the Soviet Union, exporting guns from Chekoslavalia and recognizing the communist People’s Republic of China. French Ambassador in Washington estimated such a decision before and pointed out that “They will do something about the Suez.That is the only way they can touch the Western countries”2 The decision created a shock effect on Britain and British Prime Minister Antony Edan who was the successor of William Churchill, immediately began to work on possible actions to regain the control of the Suez Canal. In order to regain the control over the Canal, there was only one possibility which was overthrown Nasser and success a new president who willing to work with Britain.However, the crucial point was that, in the Cold War atmosphere, the US opposed the idea of direct military action.
Because it could lead to anti-capitalist and nationalist tendencies among Egyptians and Arabs. Therefore, at the begging, Britain sought diplomatic solutions and applied the UN to create a pressure on Nasser.However, when Britain and France realized that diplomatic ways are not going to provide an immediate and favorable solution for them, they prepared a secret military action to regain control of the Suez Canal and if necessary to overthrow Nasser.’The plan cooked in Paris and adopted by London’3 was as follows: Israel would invade the Sinai and the United Kingdom and France would pretend to be alarmed and enter the fray in order to restore the peace. 3 In accordance with the plan, Israel opens a war to Egypt by invading the Sinai Peninsula on October 29, 1956.In two days, British and French authorities declared an ultimatum to both Israel and Egypt to evacuate the Suez Canal.As it was expected Nasser did not stay clear from the Suez Canal and as a result of that on November 5 French and British forces landed at Port Fuad and Port Said to capture the canal.
This action took serious opposition from international society. the US president Eisenhower stated that ” As it is the manifesto right of any of these nations to take such decisions and actions, it is likewise o?r right -if our judgment so dictates- to dissent…For we do not accept the use of force as a wise and powerful instrument for the settlement of international dispute”5 Soviet leader sent a very serious latter to both French and British leader that proposed threat of intervention.For instance the letter sent by the Soviets to Antony Edan includes “in what situation would Britain find herself if she were attacked by stronger states possessing all types of modern destructive weapons ?”6 crucial historical point was that Dwign Eishonower were strongly condemning the occupation and applied both political and economic actions to force Britain, France, and Israel to end their action. Under the strong pressure of international sanctions and the aggressive diplomatic American response to the occupation action, the three countries reluctantly agreed to a cease-fire and to withdrawal from Suez.Anglo-French troops left the Canal Zone on December 22, 1956, within the UN decision.
The losers of the Suez were the United Kingdom and France and lesser Israel.Both had to forget their dreams of restoring their colonial power again. Eden’s foreign secretary in 1956 Selwyn Lloyd acknowledged, “Suez became an excuse. It was the scapegoat for what was happening to Britain in the world, and for all that flowed from the loss of power and economic weakness.
“7 .’Nasser was the smartest and prudent actor in the game’8 and mistakes were made by Britain, France and Israel Among other things, they turned their energy towards the idea of a united Europe. West Germany’s first chancellor Konrad Adenauer stated that: “France and Britain will never be powers comparable to the United States and the Soviet Union, nor Germany either.There remains to them only one way of playing decisive role in the world; that is to unite to make Europe”9 The Suez Crisis was one of the most important events during the Cold War period and it affected many countries and regions.Secondly, it is highly proper to examine this issue in order to understand its impacts particularly on Britain since Egypt and in general, the Middle East was supposed to be under British sphere of influence from the begging of the 19th century.However, with the WWII Britain gradually lost its hegemony in the region and the Suez Crisis was the most proper example of this process.Britain affected by the Crisis in many ways such as economically, politically and militarily.In addition, it was a beginning process of a new concept of ‘Special Relationships’ between the US and Britain which was a crucial cornerstone for both powers and a significant indicator of the weakness of Britain in terms of economy and militarily.Lastly, the history of the Suez crisis provides a comprehensive case study of the utility and limitations of economic diplomacy means the use of economic means to influence relations among states10