Suez Crisis

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Wars of Ill Bethisad
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Name(s):Suez Crisis (as known worldwide), The Imperialist Aggression (as called by contemporary Egyptian propaganda)
Start of hostilities:1956 July 29th
End of hostilities:1956 December 5th
Winning side:Losing side:
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Egypt
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Federated Kingdoms
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France
Resulting treaty/treaties:Dayan Agreement
Major consequences:recognition of Egyptian sovereignty over the Suez Canal, economic crisis in Egypt, growth of Pan-Arabism as major political ideology, change of mentalities by Europeans about their colonies and underdeveloped nations in general, rise of oil prices and consequent search for alternative sources of energy

Contents

Background

The construction of the Suez Canal

For centuries the construction of a man-made passage connecting the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, and therefore Europe and Far East by sea, remained just a dream. A lombard engineer, Alois Negrelli, was commissioned by his country’s government to project such passage. At that time Lombardy started to be interested in creating its own colonial empire and being the atlantic and northern sides of Africa already occupied by other European nations the interest went to East Africa.

In 1854 Lombardy obtained a concession from viceroy Said I, ruler of Egypt and vassal of the Ottoman Empire, to create a company to construct a maritime canal open to all nations’ ships and that should permit to Lombardy its expansion throughout Eastern Africa.

The company was to operate the canal by leasing the relevant land, for 99 years from its opening, for navigation.

The Suez Canal Company came into being in 1858 having equal shares from the Lombard government and Said I, under the leadership of Negrelli himself. On that same year excavations started using local men power and Lombard plans. It was a gigantic work reminding the old Egypt pyramids construction.

Meanwhile the internal political problems in Lombardy forced government to sell its share to France, in 1865, which replaced lombard lease for 99 years after navigation opening. Negrelli was then replaced by a french diplomat named Ferdinand de Lesseps ending lombard dreams of overseas empire building.

English-French domination over the canal

Said I was succeeded by his nephew, the Khedive Ismail I. The khedive started to modernise Egypt but such caused an enormous debt to European nations, notably to the Federated Kingdoms. Ismail I started then to sell part of his canal share to England to pay his debts.

In 1869 the Suez Canal was finally opened to navigation. By this time the Suez Canal Company had as stronger shareholder France (50%) while Egypt had 30% and England 20%. In 1875 Ismail I sold to the English government the last Egyptian shares at a 2 million pounds price. Since then the company was owned both by France and England in equal parts.

In 1888 the Convention of Istanbul declared the canal a neutral zone under joint protection of France and England. During Khedive Tewfik’s rule (1879-1892) England increased its support to Egypt and sent troops in order to protect the english interests over the canal and to assist the new weak khedive.

For the next decades english troops stayed in Egypt and granted the safeness of the Suez Canal navigation. Even when Egypt became independent, in 1922, the Suez Canal remained in England and France hands. English troops only left Egypt in 1949 although the Suez Canal Company always remained an England-France joint company.

The rise of the nationalists

Such situation was always disliked by egyptian nationalists, notably by the pan-arabists who were becoming the major opposition political force to the Khediveship. For them the canal should be completely owned by Egypt as the canal itself was wholly located in Egyptian territory. Although recognising the economic benefits that the canal had brought to Egypt since its construction they considered that European nations were by far much more benefited than Egypt. In fact since 1869 european nations profited much not only by sea trade but also in military terms during The Great Wars.

In 1952 the last khedive, Said II, was deposed by one of those pan-arabist nationalists, the General Gamal Abdel Nasser who became the first president of the newly established republic. Both snorist Russia and the CSDS at first flirted with the newly established political power in Egypt hoping to get advantages over the Suez Canal in a time that was not yet known the ideological tendency of President Nasser.

President Nasser started a whole large number of reforms, in matters of political rights, society and economy. Foreign companies were nationalised and as result several foreign governments replied him with an embargo. Relations between Egypt and some of the industrialised countries (especially FK and France) became tense and Nasser turned to the CSDS looking for foreign supports. Danubia also started to sell Egypt huge number of modern weapons (selling over 200 combat planes plus over 100 aircraft for various purposes, 500 tanks, thousands of machine guns, four cruisers, two attack submarines and five destroyers). Danubia mostly, but also other communist countries such as Chukotka and Bavaria, also sent assistants in military issues. Such volume of weapons was unlike of any that Middle East had ever seen and made of Egypt the biggest regional military power. Meanwhile Russia retreated all its support to Egypt and became extremely critic to Nasser and his growing closer position with Communism.

The nationalisations, the persecutions to the Scots of Egypt and the increasing presence of Danubian military and weapons contributed to make FK/French-Egyptian relations to go into a downward spiral.

Casus belli

On January 1956 Nasser announced the construction of a huge dam on the Nile River, near Aswan, so the terrible floods stop to occur and making more arable and irrigated land.

To build such huge dam Nasser asked for financial help to foreign states, including France and FK despite the embargo since 1952. This was promptly refused and in order to finance the construction of the Aswan dam the Suez Canal Company, the last remaining foreign holding in Egypt, was finally nationalized. It was supposed the paying of a toll by all passing ships to be enough to finance the dam. But the navigation by ships from the countries which made the embargo was barred. That foreign governments couldn’t allow.

Warfare

Invasion

On 29th July 1956 dawn simultaneous landings by English, Scottish, Kemrese and French troops, preceded by heavy air and naval bombings, in both north and south part of the Sinai Peninsula started the invasion. Half of the invaders casualties happened that day. Egyptians were expecting at any moment an invasion at the Suez Gulf and not as south as Sharm el-Sheik area. Such took them by surprise. In north invasion started east Port Said.

On the next day a third landing was made in west Port Said while Egyptian army tried to defend from the invaders coming from the east. The purpose of French and FK troops was to envelope Port Said, taking control of the north entry to the canal. After few days of bloody fighting Port Said was taken. Then FK-France troops moved south in order to meet with the south landing troops. By this time victory seemed easy for the invading troops as Egyptians were retreating and French and FK aircraft were even able to bomb the Cairo. Nasser replied in hanger and Egyptian navy and aviation persecuted and sunk forty ships from the invading countries which were at international waters both in the Mediterranean and the Red Seas.

International reactions

Reactions to the invasion were diverse. The heads of state and government from the Arab Community met in Beyrut for an emergency meeting on which almost all were unanimous in condemning FK and France for the invasion. Even Kuwayt and the Hashemite kingdoms (the Hijaaz and Iraaq), close allies to the FK and definitely ideologically far away from Nasser, openly criticised the invasion. It was a rare situation on which almost all member states were unanimous. Only exceptions were the Lebanon, a small non-oil producing country which preferred the canal to remain a neutral area as all its imports had to pass through this sea route, and Libya at the time also a non-oil producing country and ideologically also far away from Nasser.

At the League of Nations all Arab countries (except Lebanon and Libya) jointly presented a motion on which FK and France were condemned. Such was also supported by other countries, especially Moslem ones. To this the Commonwealth of Nations member states together with France replied with a motion condemning Egypt. This one also found support by several European nations much dependable from oil imports and sea trade. Also supports to this motion came from the snorist countries.

Finally a third motion appeared. Xrivizaja, Greece and Turkey presented a motion condemning both Egypt and France and FK. For them both nationalising an important sea route so as foreign powers trying to take control of it was unacceptable as it would create a dangerous precedent. These three countries felt threatened as they controlled the Bosporus (Greece and Turkey) and the Malacca Strait (Xrivizaja), important navigation routes.

In some Arab countries there were riots and demonstrations against France and FK. Some of their embassies were attacked by the mob in Damascus, Marrakech and Baghdaad. Was here where the worst attack happened. All english diplomatic staff had to be evacuated by dirigible from the embassy’s roof while arab nationalists invaded it. The whole embassy became in ruins. In Algeria, France, there were riots and the army was called to take control of the situation. Dozens of people were killed in Algiers.

War fronts

Egypt finally counterattacked after one week of war. From south the invaders were already in Ras Sudar, about thirty miles south from Suez city. From north they were near Ismailia, about half way between the two extremities of the canal.

On the second week of war Egyptians attacked in full strength in both fronts. In the north front the invaders were able to keep their positions while in the south one tremendous air fights tended to egyptian advantage. In fact many French-FK aircrafts were shot down and two war vessels were sunk leaving the troops in Ras Sudar without appropriate sea and air support. For them there was no other option than start to retreat.

Meanwhile what can be called as a third front opened not in Egypt but in Algeria. A widespread offensive by the National Liberation Front (FLN) took the French by surprise. Until then the independentist guerrilla just had outdated weapons from the Second Great War. Now they appeared with modern danubian made weapons supplied in large number by Egypt, some of them quite heavy. These weapons had been smuggled by nomads from Egypt to Algeria through Libya and Carthage. With guerrilla becoming everyday more daring and efficient together with several other riots by arab nationalists French government had no choice than to retreat part of its forces from Egypt to control the situation in Algeria.

Stalemate

The number of retreating French troops left FK ones in delicate situation as FK wasn’t able to send reinforcements to replace the leaving French. By this time both countries had just left the Second Great War less than ten years ago and their economic resources weren’t yet as strong they used to be, mostly spent in their reconstruction efforts.

Both sides in conflict appeared to be stopped in Ismailia. Now the Egyptian forces had full control of all canal south of Ismailia while the FK-France troops controlled the north side. No one seemed to be able to bit its enemy and the war, although yet short, was becoming too costly for all sides. Ismailia became a martyr city with terrible fights for controlling it. All civilians had already left the ruined city.

Peace talks and end of hostilities

For everyone the situation was disliked. Since the beginning of the crisis no one could cross the Suez Canal causing a major damage to both European and Egyptian economies. Oil and merchandises prices in general had strong rises so as strated to be delivered with much delay (as they had to go all around Africa as before the canal construction) and many Europeans started to think it would be better to end the war soon than to keep a situation that didn’t profit anyone, except oil producing countries which were having enormous profits. In Europe governments started to pressure both France and FK to find a negotiable solution.

Such pressures went to the League of Nations which started to look for a neutral country to find a solution. Judea offered to solve the conflict. Its ambassador at the organisation, Moshe Dayan, presented then the draft of a plan which was presented to FK, France and Egypt. During the whole September 1956 Dayan travelled to all belligerent countries where he met all heads of government and state.

Finally in mid-November, after several refusals and concessions from all sides, what is called today the Dayan Agreement came out. Basically according to Dayan’s plan the agreement should consist in the following eight principles:

1-France and the Federated Kingdom should retreat their troops from Egypt.

2-It was recognised to Egypt the sovereignty over the Suez Canal but its neutrality should be monitorised by mandated troop contingent from the League of Nations.

3-Egypt should be responsible for the safety of the sea route and maintenance of the canal.

4-Egypt wasn’t allowed to refuse the passage for any military or civilian ships from any nation.

5-Egypt could make those ships to pay a toll but no country should be discriminated by the paying of a higher toll.

6-War prisoners and bodies of deceased soldiers lost in combat should be returned by all parts in conflict.

7-None of the belligerent nations was allowed to interfere in internal affairs of each other.

8-Egypt should pay compensations to France and England for their losses in nationalising the Suez Canal.

The Dayan Agreement was signed by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs from the three countries at the League of Nations headquarters on 5th December 1956 ending officially the Suez Crisis. The canal was re-opened to navigation in February 1957 after being cleaned from mines by Egypt (as according to third paragraph of the agreement).

Aftermath

For Egypt the end of the Suez Crisis was more a political victory than a real military one. In fact Egypt was unable to expel the invaders as they retreated mostly due to international pressure and their own economic problems than to egyptian military capability. But egyptian propaganda worked well in making think the Egyptians, and Arabs in general, about their victory over two of the major world powers under the leadership of President Nasser. On the other hand also France and the FK claimed victory as, for their point of view, were them who forced Egypt to sign peace and were them who were able to re-open the canal to navigation.

Before 1956 Nasser was the undisputed egyptian political leader. Now he had become the undisputed leader of the Arab nation. It was the height of Nasser’s popularity. From now on Nasser was the inspiration for many arab leaders, notably to the syrian Shukri al-Kuwatli and later to the future leaders of Iraaq and Libya, Abdul Karim Qassim and Ahmad Qadhdhafi respectively.

But Egypt left the war under a tremendous economic crisis. Such can explain partially why Nasser had chosen Syria in his pan-arabist project that would later give origin to the United Arab Republic. Syria was by then one of the most developed arab countries.

For France and the Federated Kingdom it had a taste of a political and military humiliation. Despite their tremendous military power they weren’t able to defeat completely Egypt as the war ended in a stalemate. It wasn’t exactly a victory but a half victory.

The Suez Crisis caused a change of mentalities among European politicians, and people in general. From now on they tended to see their colonies and underdeveloped countries as equal and not their old paternalistic and superiority way. During the next fifteen years European colonial empires granted independence to many of their colonies and granted self-governing bodies to many of the remaining ones.

The Suez Crisis was also decisive for the worldwide recognition of the danubian capacity of making weaponry. Since then the CSDS was positioned as a top class weapon making country. Such contributed to both CSDS and Russia to start a certain peaceful coexistence, never fronting each other directly.

The crisis caused the rise of oil prices to a level never seen before due to the temporary disruption of the navigation through the canal caused by warfare. European leaders understood that they were too dependent from the oil coming from the Arabian Gulf and such contributed decisively to the search of alternative sources of energy, notably the Tesla Generators and the nuclear power.

After the crisis was over the oil prices remained reasonably high due to speculators and the cartel policies by COPEN. Such prices financed ambitious developing plans in some of the oil producing countries, notably the “White Revolution” in Persia, “The Three Leaps Forward” in Saudi Arabia and the rule of Abdul Karim Qassim in Iraaq. These plans remained quite successful until the so-called Oil Crisis of Hijra 1393, when oil prices decreased dramatically due to iraaqi oil overproduction.

Moshe Dayan was awarded with the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1973 due to his career devoted to international understanding on which his Dayan Agreement was decisive. Although according to the Dayan Agreement none of the countries should interfere in internal affairs of each other Egypt under Nasser’s rule always kept a certain support to rebel movements in Algeria and in the FK protectorates in the Arabian Peninsula. Due to this diplomatic relations between the three countries were just normalised in 1961 after Nasser stepped down from office. Today Egypt enjoys amicable economic and diplomatic relations with both France and the FK.

Today the Suez Crisis is considered as the first modern war in the Middle East due to the widespread use of motorised artillery and aircraft. Since then warfare in the region never was the same.

It is also considered a key event in post-Great Wars period due to all its worldwide consequences.

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