In 1952 the Egyptian monarchy was overthrown and Gamal Abdel Nasser took control of the country. Nasser wanted to cut Egypt with its colonial links, he successfully negotiated terms with Britain and the last British troop left Egypt on June 13 1956. However there was still a British presence in Egypt, as together with France they owned the Suez Canal Company, and exploited the cheap Middle Eastern oil travelling through the Suez, this infuriated Nasser.
A key objective for Nasser was to build the Aswan Dam as it would provide electricity and agriculture and hopefully bring Egypt out of poverty. But the dam would cost a lot of money which Egypt didn’t have, so Nasser asked the USA and Britain for a loan, which was approved. Relations between Nasser and the West were okay, until Nasser sought military assistance from the Soviet Union.
The West now believed that Egypt was a Soviet puppet, this was allegedly confirmed by an M16 document, this forced the USA and Britain withdrew their funds for the dam. When Nasser heard this from the press he was outraged – he needed that money for the dam! He then made a decision which would shock the world – he nationalised the Suez Canal and the Egyptian army seized buildings owned by the Suez Canal Company.
Britain and France wanted the Suez back in their hands, but the USA was less concerned – along with Canada’s foreign minister Lester Pearson they sought a political solution via the UN. However Israel was interested in expanding their borders over the Sinai desert and joined secret talks with Britain and France – a plan was devised. On October 29 Operation Musketeer was underway and Israel invaded Egypt. The following day the USA tried to convince Israel to withdraw troops, unknown to the Americans it was all part of a plan. In London, the British Prime Minister Anthony Eden gave Israel and Egypt an ultimatum – end the war or Britain and France would intervene. As planned Israel accepted but Egypt refused, this was the excuse Britain and France were waiting for. On October 31 French and British bombers destroyed key Egyptian airports and other key targets. In Washington Eisenhower denounced the invasion, and on November 2 Canadian foreign minister Lester Pearson proposed a United Nation Emergency Force.
The Soviet Union threatened nuclear attacks on London and Paris unless Britain and France pulled out, World War Three was intimate! but the threats were ignored and on November 6, twenty two thousand Anglo-French troops landed at the northern entrance of the canal, Nasser made it hard for the British and French to reclaim the canal, he sank ships and blew up bridges, leaving the canal in ruins.
Back in London Eden was under immense pressure, Britain’s supply of oil was cut off and the public didn’t want another war, they took to the streets and protested in several anti-war marches, and to make matters worse Britain’s economy was plummeting. The USA refused to help Britain financially, and after nine days of war Eden agreed to a cease fire, Lester Pearson’s newly created UNEF replaced Anglo-French troops. The war was over.
Eden was forced to resign and French Prime Minister Guy Mollet’s government fell. Nasser became a hero in the Arab World for defending Egypt from the mighty colonial powers. Lester Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to world peace with his idea of a United Nations Peace Keeping Force, who continues to work around the world today trying to keep the peace.
Source – BBC & National Geographic