What Was The Suez Crisis?

The Suez Canal in Egypt was an important asset for Britain after the Second World War. It was central to maintaining links with its remaining overseas possessions and the main source of oil in the Middle East. Britain had retained a series of military bases in Egypt located along the length of the canal in an area known as the Canal Zone.

The Egyptian authorities increasingly objected to the British presence and in October 1951 they broke the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, which had allowed Britain to station troops in the country until 1956. They began to actively encourage attacks on British installations and personnel. These attacks took the form of orchestrated demonstrations, riots, attacks on servicemen and their families and the sabotage of facilities often condoned by or with the active participation of the Egyptian Police. In January 1952 these attacks led to British troops storming the Egyptian police barracks at Ismailia to suppress unrest in the area. 

Following a military coup by the Free Officers Movement and subsequent revolution, the Egyptian ruler, King Farouk was forced to abdicate in July 1952. The Revolutionary Command Council, which replaced him, intensified Egyptian demands to control of the Suez Canal and seized all European-owned property. Two years later, Britain agreed to withdraw its troops from the Canal Zone by June 1956.

In July 1956 to mark the anniversary of the 1952 coup, President Gamal Abdel Nasser, nationalised the Suez Canal Company. The Company was a joint British-French enterprise, which had owned and operated the Suez Canal since its construction in 1869. Britain saw this as a threat to its economic interests and prestige, and responded by ordering 'Operation Musketeer', a co-ordinated attack with France and Israel to seize back the Canal Zone. In November 1956, after beating the Egyptian Air Force, British and French forces occupied Port Said and other strategic points at the northern end of the canal. In a campaign, which saw the last operational parachute drop by British airborne forces and first ever use of helicopters to carry assault troops, a strong Anglo-French military presence was established. Meanwhile, Israeli forces occupied the Sinai, a sparsely-populated desert region in Egypt, halting their advance only 10 miles from the eastern side of the canal. However, around the world the landings were seen as an act of aggression by former colonial powers. Under intense pressure from the international community, particularly the United States, British and French troops were rapidly withdrawn to be replaced by a United Nations force.

Egypt was granted ownership and sovereignty of the Suez Canal by the United Nations and in April 1957 it was re-opened to shipping.