Suez Canal loses prestigious reputation

Two crises broke out 60 years ago. The first, in Hungary, was called a revolution and the second, in Egypt, was labelled a crisis.

The Egyptian crisis began when Gamal Abdel Nasser, former president of Egypt, nationalized the British and French-owned Suez Canal, raising a red flag to the already-declining British Empire. The nationalization of this canal left a lasting political impact on the Middle East.

Britain controlled the Suez Canal since the late 19th century and profited off of its revenue. Its loss was critical to the decline of Britain’s economy and infrastructure.

This occurred during the height of the Cold War, when the encirclement of the Soviet Union took place through regional treaties. Though anti-communism spread in the West, in its shortsightedness Britain, France and the United States slighted what became the Non-Aligned Movement that steadfastly refused to join one side or the other.

Nasser hoped to construct a dam along the Nile River, so he nationalized the Suez Canal to raise funds to pay for it. England plotted to overthrow him, and France and Israel joined in this enterprise.

France had its skin in the game since its oil-rich colony Algeria revolted against its century-old masters. By crushing Nasser, the French naively believed they could put a stop to guerrilla warfare in Algeria.

Israel also gladly signed on to what became a misadventure. Nasser formed a blockade at Eilat, Israel’s port to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, denying it access to trade in Asia as a response. Moreover, France sweetened the pot by sharing nuclear secrets with Israel.

However, the tripartite invasion by Britain, France and Israel was badly coordinated and it gained condemnation from then-leader of the Soviet Union Nikita Khrushchev and then-president of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower. Israel was forced to withdraw from the fight for the Suez Canal.

England and France were humiliated as the United States began to intervene in Israeli affairs. The Eisenhower administration assumed that a non-aligned nation was synonymous with a pro-Soviet nation, so the U.S. government abruptly withdrew its offer to fund the dam. Khrushchev subsequently offered to fund it instead.

In the end, Nasser emerged with a better reputation. England lost its imperial prestige and France ultimately lost Algeria. The Canal was destroyed and along with the destruction came the crippling of world shipping and oil flow.

If the United States had been friendlier with Israel and more open to other non-aligned nations, the Suez Canal would be as major a trade route now as it once was. The canal later took years to re-open, this time under Egyptian control.