Academic journal article Hemispheres

The Suez Conflict of 1956 at the United Nations Organization: On the 60th Anniversary of the War

Academic journal article Hemispheres

The Suez Conflict of 1956 at the United Nations Organization: On the 60th Anniversary of the War

Article excerpt


Towards the end of World War II we observe political life in Egypt coalescing around two major objectives: namely, the end of the British occupation and the introduction of socio-political reforms. With the country's political forces divided the initiative of overthrowing the corrupt monarchy, which had become largely subject to British interests, was taken up by the army and - more precisely - by junior officers, organized under the banner of the Free Officers headed by Colonel Jamal Abdel Nasser.1 The negatively-assessed experience of the Palestinian war, in which they had participated, led to the intensification of the internal crisis and accelerated the activity of the Free Officers, whose assumption of power (on 23 July 1952) was largely due to the skillful utilization of favorable military and political circumstances. After the abdication of King Farouk on 26 July 1952, Egyptians began to give their strong backing to the new order, which came to be known as the July Revolution.

The shape of the new political authorities and institutions in Egypt was crystallizing during a period of internal disputes and confrontations during the years 1952-1954. Among the achievements of this period were the Agrarian Reform Law and the agreement with Britain concerning Sudan. This was followed by the British-Egyptian agreement on the evacuation of British troops from Egypt, which was completed a little more than a month before the outbreak of the Suez conflict. By June 1956, the organizational and legal foundations of the new political system had also been determined.

The end of 1954 and the beginning of 1955 had witnessed an apparent thaw in Egypt's relations with the West, which to a certain extent was connected with British-American rivalry for the attainment of influence and ultimately domination in the Middle East. In the post-World War II period, the British role in the region was steadily weakening, while the United States started to take over British positions. In essence, the Middle East began to offer a different role for Great Britain (a defensive one - imperial routes, oil supplies) than for the United States (offensive - as an element of global strategy). The conclusion of the Baghdad Pact at the beginning of 1955 under the auspices of Great Britain revealed British desire to assume leadership in the region.2

Egypt treated the improvement in its relations with Britain as the beginning of an era of cooperation based on equal rights and benefits for both sides. This cooperation might involve also other Arab countries, naturally after their independence. The conclusion of the Baghdad Pact Treaty created a deep breach in relations between Egypt and Arabs on the one hand and Britain leading the West on the other. Striving to exert indisputable hegemony in the Middle East, the British planned to expand the Treaty to other than Iraq Arab states. The main obstacle to these plans was Egypt. Other sources of tension between Egypt and the West were: the strong support rendered by the West to Israel and the instrumental use of Israel as an element of pressure exerted in due course upon Arabs, the refusal to supply Egypt with arms indispensable to stop Israeli expansion, the intentional drop in Western (and especially British) orders for Egyptian cotton - the main export commodity of Egypt's mono-cultural type of agriculture.

The British (and the West in effect) wanted to win Egypt over for their policy or, at least, to neutralize it. When they failed in their efforts, they became convinced that the only source of their misfortune in the Middle East was Nasser. Consequently, he had to be removed through the use of force. Quite a similar stance was adopted by the French government, which made Nasser responsible for the success of the Algerian uprising (initiated in 1954). The United States on the other hand preferred to assume the role of a seemingly neutral arbitrator, while in fact attempting to use the region for its geopolitical ends. …

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