Why did Egypt nationalize the Suez Canal

Nationalization of the Suez Canal has paid off for Egypt

A light wind blows over Mohammed Ali Square in Cairo when President Gamal Abd el Nasser steps up to the lectern on the early evening of July 26, 1956. First he entertains the crowd in a humorous tone with examples of Egyptian superiority and the helplessness of other states. Then he announced a radical political step: "Right now we are taking over the Suez Canal Society in order to achieve a new size for our honor and dignity."

The nationalization of the 160 kilometer long canal between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean Sea - nobody expected that. Not the Egyptians on the square and not the foreign observers.

As of now Egyptian property

Nasser's announcement has already become a reality. Because during the speech, Egyptian armed forces occupied all branches of the international stock corporation of the Suez Canal. The canal, which was opened in 1869, and with it the large income from shipping no longer belong to Great Britain, France and the other shareholders involved in the company. From now on they are Egyptian property.

A freighter is sailing peacefully through the Suez Canal today

A decisive moment, 34 years after the country officially gained independence from Great Britain, says Sonja Hegasy from the "Center for the Modern Orient" in Berlin. "It was certainly the last step towards the final decolonization of Egypt. Although the end of the British troop presence in the Suez Canal had already been decided and regulated by contract, there were still opportunities for the British to say: 'If it was there If there is unrest in Egypt, then we have the right to intervene there and reinstall troops there, 'and in principle, nationalization was the last step in freeing ourselves from foreign rule. "

Doing business with Eastern opponents in the Cold War

But Nasser doesn't just want to strengthen his country's political independence. He also wants to secure supplies for the constantly growing population. To this end, a dam was to be built in the Aswan area on the Nile - a huge project that Great Britain, the World Bank and the USA initially want to finance. That changes, however, when the West learns that Nasser is also doing business with the Eastern opponents in the Cold War. He had bought Soviet weapons from Czechoslovakia.

Nasser hopes that the nationalization of the Suez Canal will bring double benefits: more money and more political freedom. The former colonial power Great Britain does not like that. The British Foreign Secretary Eden senses bold, dictatorial ambitions in Nasser.

Secret military counter-attack

Two weeks after Nasser's speech in Cairo, the crisis can no longer be stopped: Britain, together with France and Israel, which is concerned about its access to the canal in the face of tense relations with Egypt, is secretly planning a military counter-attack. Neither does Nasser's announcement that it will pay millions in compensation to the shareholders involved in the Suez Canal Company.

On October 29th, Israel attacks Egypt. Britain and France pose as mediators and issue an ultimatum for Israeli-Egyptian negotiations. When Nasser rejects this, Egypt is also attacked from the air by the British and French. But the United Nations Security Council intervenes: At the end of the year, a major military escalation can be averted, above all with UN troops acting as a buffer until the spring of 1957 - this is in fact the first blue helmet deployment in history.

One of the three most important sources of foreign exchange

Although Nasser was clearly inferior militarily, he emerged stronger from the crisis. He gave his country power and confidence. His plan worked out, says Hegasy: "It definitely worked out for the Egyptians: The Aswan Dam was built, the Suez Canal shareholders had to be compensated, but by and large it is still one of the three major foreign exchange sources for Egypt. "