1882 and 1956, A Shift in World Powers

Suez-Canal-HThe 1882 British conquest of Egypt and the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis were both events that seem to be parallels in history.  They were centered on the Suez Canal, sparked by an uprising and involved foreign Western powers invading Egypt.  The British conquest of Egypt, also known as the Anglo-Egyptian war of 1882, was started by an Egyptian revolt led by Ahmed Urabi.  The British invaded Egypt in order to squash the seemingly well-supported rebellion and also in order to keep the Suez Canal from falling into the wrong hands.  The Suez Canal Crisis was sparked by Gamal Abdul Nasser when he nationalized the Suez Canal.  This also involved British and other foreign forces invading Egypt in order to protect their interests in the Suez Canal.  However, these events had very different results.  Egypt lost the Anglo-Egyptian War and the country began a long life under British control.  The Suez Canal Crisis ended instead with an Egyptian victory, one of the greatest victories in Egyptian history.  The main difference between these two events that led to the success of one and the failure of the other was the change in world super powers.

The Anglo-Egyptian War of 1882 that lead to British control over Egypt was started by the actions of Ahmed Urabi.  Ahmed Urabi was a man born low in the social caste.  He was born a peasant, or otherwise known as fellah.  When Urabi grew up he joined the military and was promoted, becoming the youngest colonel in the Egyptian Army.  In 1881, the young nationalist started a revolt against Tewfik Pasha, the Khedive of Egypt, in response to the underrepresentation of Egyptians in the government and the unfair success of Europeans in Egypt.  Europeans who made up less than 2% of the workforce were taking home 15% of the total income.  Hardworking fellahin were not making as much money and thus many of them supported Urabi.  Urabi and his men marched on Tewfik Pasha forcing him to elect a new cabinet and chamber, one that would work towards a new and fair constitution for Egypt.  But the Khedive wrote to Britain of the internal threat and in 1882 Britain invaded Egypt.  The British forces far out numbered Urabi’s and so the revolt was crushed and a new British military rule over Egypt started.  Egypt could do nothing as Britain, one of the major world powers, decided to take action.

The Suez Canal Crisis started out similarly to the events of 1882.  Gamal Abdul Nasser had just taken the country by storm, implementing his nationalist ideals.  Similar to Urabi, Nasser led a military revolt against the ruling Royal Family and King Farouk.  However, instead of just insisting that the government be changed, Nasser forced Farouk to abdicate the thrown and Nasser became the new leader.  As the new ruler of Egypt, Nasser decided to turn his attention to the thing that caused Egyptians much pain, the Suez Canal.  After Britain continued to refuse to remove their troops from the Canal Nasser took action.  He ordered the Egyptian military to seize the Canal and nationalize it.  Britain, enraged by this action, enlisted the help of France and Egypt’s hostile neighbor, Israel, in order to invade Egypt and retake the Canal. Similar to 1882, Egyptian forces were once again overwhelmed as the combined might of three countries bore down on them and the Suez Canal fell to foreign powers.  However, unlike the Anglo-Egyptian War, this invasion of Egyptian soil wouldn’t last long.  As soon as the United States heard of the invasion, President Eisenhower, furious about Britain not informing him of this decision, rebuked the three countries and threatened them with economic sanctions if they continued to stay on Egyptian soil.  Britain, France and Israel soon left and victory went to Egypt.

The Anglo-Egyptian War and the Suez Canal Crisis; both were events centered on the Suez Canal and both involved foreign Western powers in Egypt, specifically Britain.  Both events were sparked by a revolt led by military officers, Ahmed Urabi and Gamal Abdul Nasser, and both leaders had nationalistic ideals.  However, the one thing that resulted in a different outcome during the Suez Canal Crisis was the emergence of the United States as a world power.  This was one crucial fact that allowed Nasser’s nationalization of the Suez Canal to be a success. During the Urabi revolt and Anglo-Egyptian War, Egypt found itself facing against one of the most powerful countries at the time, Great Britain.  Egypt then found itself in the same situation nearly a decade later but this time there were three very powerful enemies.  However, in that decade, the United States had grown to take the place of Britain as the most powerful and influential country besides the USSR.  This shift in power granted Egypt victory during the Suez Canal Crisis.