Clio Edition 4 - page 9

Nasser changes everything
The British lived comfortably in the knowledge that the
Suez Canal was safe under their control, especially as they
still ruled the weak Kingdom of Egypt, but the coming to
power of Nasser in 1956 changed everything. After the Free
Officers Movement coup took place in 1952, the British had
to relinquish power in the region, but the Suez Canal stayed
under an uneasy British rule while the new Egypt sorted
itself out first; it took until 1956 for Egypt to stabilise under
Nasser’s rule and for him to begin his attack on the Suez.
Egypt vs UK vs Israel vs Iran vs USA vs USSR
Egypt and its canal were being pressured by a large number
of parties, all with different aims. The British had previously
angered the Egyptians with a heavy-handed attack on
an Egyptian police barracks in 1951 (one of the catalysts
for the coup the next year) and wanted reconciliation.
Agreements in October 1954 with Egypt led to an easing
of relations over the Suez, as the British agreed to begin
removing troops in 20 months and to leave Sudan by 1956.
Egypt also had aggressive aims to become the leader of the
Arab world, and to have Egypt at the helm of a Pan-Arab
coalition. Egypt and Iraq were jostling for this position and
Britain’s close relationship with Iraq angered Nasser. At the
same time, the US were also trying to get involved in order
to stop Soviet expansion in the area, but to no avail. They
attempted to create a Middle East Defense Organization
(MEDO) as a NATO equivalent for the Middle East, but
Nasser resisted. The US noticed that not only were the Arab
states more occupied with fighting each other, but that they
were "more fearful of Zionism than of the Communists",
according to Secretary of State, John Dulles. The Soviets,
under Khrushchev’s new leadership, decided Egypt was a
great foothold for increasing Soviet standing in the Middle
East. They made themselves available for Nasser to purchase
arms from, if the USA (Nasser’s first choice) were to back
down. Nasser made further moves to upset the USA, such
as recognizing the People’s Republic of China, and trying
to play the two superpowers off against one another. This,
in turn, resulted in the Americans bringing a halt to their
financing of the Aswan High Dam, thus Egypt had no option
but to turn to a willing Soviet Union for their arms and
infrastructure projects. As soon as the British troops left the
Suez, Nasser made his move.
Guy Mollet and Anthony Eden
On the 26th of July 1956, Nasser, impatient with Britain,
France and the USA, took the decision to nationalise the Suez
Canal. The Egyptian army rolled in, the previous operating
company was frozen and the canal closed to Israeli shipping.
The nationalisation surprised the UK and its Commonwealth
but the actions obviously threatened British interests across
the world. At the time, Eden was hosting a dinner for the
King and PM of Iran, who both advised Eden to “hit Nasser
hard, hit him soon, and hit him by yourself ”, an opinion
shared by much of the British public at the time. Across
the channel, French Premier Guy Mollet was outraged by
Nasser’s decision and was determined not to let him get
away with it, echoing the thoughts of the French public.
Three days later, the French cabinet decided upon military
action with Israel. Mollet had sacrificed his anti-colonialism
principles by embarking on the Algerian war, and prioritised
his relationship with NATO. As a result, he was very
Mollet and Eden meeting
Mollet with the glasses
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