The plan to overthrow Egyptian Prime Minister Nasser through military action during the Suez crisis turned into a debacle for British Prime Minister Eden, it liberated Egypt from British domination and marked Great Britain's end as a colonial power.
Women at tahrir Square, Cairo
Tahrir Square, Cairo Egypt 1956 © Bock-Schroeder Foundation

The causes of the crisis lie in the structure of the use of the Suez Canal. In the early 1950s, open resistance to colonial rule in Egypt arose. Following the takeover of Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Suez Agreement finally agreed on the withdrawal of British troops. The British troops withdrew from Egypt in 1946, but remained in the Suez Canal Zone. To eliminate mass misery in Egypt, Nasser was planning the construction of the Aswan dam, and had successfully turned to the Soviet Union. Western countries, especially the USA, had refused development aid to the new regime. On July 26 1956 Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal. The Egyptian army occupied the offices of the Suez Canal Society. The fees for the use of the Suez Canal were now intended to cover the costs of building the dam. The shareholders of the Sues company were financially compensated.

Man at tahrir Square, Cairo
Tahrir Square, Cairo Egypt 1956 © Bock-Schroeder Foundation

Great Britain saw itself attacked both economically and geostrategically. France also turned against Egypt, as President Nasser supported the struggle of the Algerian Liberation Front (FLN) against the French colonial power with arms supplies. In the course of 1956, the conflict between Egypt and Israel intensified, which had to defend itself increasingly against attacks by Fedayeen from Egyptian territory and from the Egyptian occupied Gaza Strip. Egypt did not recognise the state of Israel and denied any diplomatic relations with its Western-oriented neighbour. It had blocked the Strait of Tiran, cutting Israel off from maritime trade through the Red Sea and closing the Suez Canal to Israeli ships.

Soldiers says goodbye to his son
Israel 1956 © Bock-Schroeder Foundation

On October 29, Israel launched the invasion of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula (Operation Kadesh) and quickly advanced towards the Canal. On 31 October, Great Britain and France began bombing Egypt. The crisis had turned into a short but intensive war, civilians suffered, soldiers died in battle and were taken prisoners of war.

Soldiers at tahrir Square, Cairo
Tahrir Square, Cairo Egypt 1956 © Bock-Schroeder Foundation

Contrary to expectations, the European powers received no backing from the USA for their actions. Against the background of the Cold War, Washington pursued a containment policy and regarded good relations with Third World states as more important than British-French power and economic interests.

2 soldiers preparing soldier catering
Israel 1956 © Bock-Schroeder Foundation

In order to avoid further escalation of the conflict, Washington and the Soviet Union requested an "emergency special session" of the United Nations General Assembly. On November 6, due to political pressure, especially from the USA, Great Britain, France and Israel ceased fighting and Great Britain and France signed a ceasefire with Egypt. On 7 March 1957, the last Israeli soldiers left Egyptian territory.

Children celebrating
Cairo Egypt 1956 © Bock-Schroeder Foundation

After the initial military success, the Suez crisis had turned into a humiliation, especially for Great Britain. Subsequently, Prime Minister Anthony Eden had to resign, the British economy and currency came under pressure. The loss of Britain's world power became obvious - it was the last attempt of the former world power to assert its interests militarily without cooperation of the new superpower USA.

2 Men with their riffles
Israel 1956 © Bock-Schroeder Foundation