The Egypt War of 1882
The importance of Egypt to Britain rose dramatically after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. At a stroke there was a new route from Europe to the Far East that halved the journey time between Britain and India. At this point Egypt was developing rapidly along western lines, but the following decade saw increasing tension between Britain and Egypt, resulting in the British attack on Egypt in 1882. This gallery looks in detail at the war of 1882 and its conclusive engagement, the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir.
The causes of war
From 1805 Egypt had been nominally part of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire, but it was effectively ruled by a dynasty established by the strong and modernising ruler Muhammad Ali. By 1869, it had benefited from years of investment (much of it British and French) in irrigation, railways, cotton plantations and schools. By 1876, however, its ruler the Khedive Ismail Pasha had run up debts of almost £100 million. In spite of the Khedive's sale of his 45% holding in the Suez Canal to Britain for £4 million in 1875, Egypt was heading for financial ruin.
'The rise of Urabi Pasha'
The crisis led to heightened French and British intervention in Egypt: the Khedive was forced to accept Anglo-French control of his treasury, customs, railways, post offices and ports. This amounted to an erosion of Egyptian sovereignty, which provoked a nationalist mobilisation in the form of a demonstration by unpaid army officers under the leadership of Ahmad Urabi Pasha Al-misri (also known as Arabi). By September 1881, Urabi and his followers were powerful enough to force the new Khedive, Tawfiq, to replace his government with one more favourable to the nationalist movement. In January 1882 Urabi himself, who commanded huge personal popularity, became Minister of War.
The appearance of a popular nationalist movement inside Egypt and a defiantly independent government alarmed both Britain and France who were concerned about access to the Suez Canal and their financial investments in Egypt. In the hope that a show of force would help to undermine the nationalists, they sent a small joint fleet under the command of Admiral Sir F. Beauchamp Seymour (Commander-in-Chief of Britain's Mediterranean fleet) to Alexandria, on Egypt's Mediterranean coast. The fleet arrived on 19-20 May. Meanwhile, Egyptian forces had been busy shoring up Alexandria's defences in anticipation of an attack.