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Britain, Egypt and the Suez Canal

British rule

The Suez Canal was constructed in 1869 allowing faster sea transport to India, which increased Britain's long-standing strategic interest in the Eastern Mediterranean. Britain established a protectorate over Cyprus in 1878, and to suppress a nationalist revolt that threatened its interests, occupied Egypt in 1882. Britain then established a permanent military presence in Egypt. Protectorates were held over most of the Gulf states by 1900.

The establishment of an Egyptian protectorate was a blow to Egyptian nationalists (Wafdists). Britain calmed the nationalists by making indefinite promises of self-rule. British policy makers such as Milner believed that it would be unwise to defy the Wafdists, who had gained popular support by resisting formal British rule.

In 1922 the British compromised by ending the protectorate and granting Egypt nominal independence. Britain retained control of finance and foreign affairs and maintained a garrison to secure the Suez Canal. The Wafdist government was unsatisfied by this limited version of autonomous government and asserted itself against the British, sometimes violently. The Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 removed many remaining restrictions on Egyptian autonomy, although Britain retained the Suez Garrison.

Britain withdraws

In 1952 Colonel Nasser came to power in a coup led by General Naguib. In 1954 the withdrawal of British and French troops from the Suez base was agreed. Withdrawal took place in 1956, and weeks afterwards Nasser nationalised the Canal. The British and French sent troops to re-occupy the canal but the US used economic pressure to force a withdrawal, ending British involvement.