Why did the Soviet Union support Egypt in 1956
during the Suez Canal crisis?
At the same time as the Hungarian uprising,
a serious crisis developed over control of the Suez Canal, which connects
the Mediterranean Sea with the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea. Built
between 1859 and 1869 by the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, it was
acquired largely by Great Britain in 1875. By the provisions of the
Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, Great Britain enjoyed the right to maintain
defense forces in the Suez Canal
Egyptian nationalists repeatedly demanded that
Great Britain evacuate the Canal Zone, and in 1954 the two countries signed
an agreement, superseding the 1936 treaty that provided for withdrawal of
all British troops, and in 1956 all British troops
When Egypt concluded an arms deal with
Czechoslovakia, the U.S. Secretary of State John Dulles announced the withdrawal
of all U.S. funds and assistance for President Gamal Abdel Nasser's, who
had come to power in the 1953 nationalistic revolution, development program.
In response to this treatment by the United States and the refusal of Western
powers to fund the Aswan Dam on the Upper Nile River, Nasser nationalized
the Suez Canal on 26 July 1956.
The nationalization of the canal surprised the
world, especially the British and French stockholders who owned the Suez
Canal Company. Although Nasser promised compensation to the company for its
loss, Britain, France and Israel began plotting to take back the canal and
overthrow Nasser as well. When attempts to reach an agreement with Egypt
on a new form of international control for the Canal failed, Israel accused
Egypt of planning an attack and sent the Israeli army across the Sinai Peninsula
toward the Canal. (Britain, France and Israel had united in secret,
something that they denied publicly for many years, and made arrangements
for Israel to make the initial invasion of Egypt and capture one side of
the Suez Canal.) When further British and French diplomatic initiatives failed,
they sent troops to occupy the
The United States opposed this action
as a violation of the principle of self-determination. The American delegation
at the United Nations voted in favor of a General Assembly resolution calling
for an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of the invading troops. Great
Britain, France and Israel eventually accepted these
In March 1957, under the supervision of a U.N.
police force, the Suez Canal was cleared of wreckage and opened to
shipping. The canal was returned to Egypt, and reparations were paid
by Egypt under the supervision of the World Bank. Overall the actions of
Britain and France served to draw Nasser and Egypt into further relations
with the USSR. The fight over the canal also laid the groundwork for the
Six Day War in 1967 due to a lack of a peace settlement following the 1956
In January 1957, President Eisenhower asked
Congress for authorization to use military force, if requested, by any Middle
Eastern nation to check aggression and, second, to set aside a sum of $200
million to help those Middle Eastern countries that desired aid from the
United States. Congress granted both requests. This policy became known
as the Eisenhower Doctrine.
16 November 1950, Egypt demanded
that British leave the Suez Canal zone.
8 October 1951 Egypt renounced
its 1936 treaty with britain
19 October 1951 British troops
took control of the canal led to fighting in the zone and unrest in
26 July Nasser announced that
Egypt was taking over the Canal; British and french reacted angrily; british
troops had just left after an agreement had been reached allowing free passage
through the canal and british right to reoccupy if necessary; Since they
has refused to finance the Aswan high Dam; Nasser proposed to use the revenue
from the canal to finance the dam
23 June 1956, Nasser elected president
of Egypt without opposition.
19 July 1956, Britain and US refused
to provide financing for the Aswan dam project.
26 July 1956, Nasser nationalized
the Suez Canal Company.
28 July 1956, Britain froze Egyptian
assets in London.
1 August 1956, US, Britain and
France hold talks about the Suez Canal.
29 October 1956, Israeli forces
crossed the Egyptian frontier and drove toward canal.
30 October 1956, Anglo-French
ultimatum issued to Egypt and Israel asking that both withdraw ten miles
from the canal zone. The ultimatum also asked Egypt to allow a "temporary"
occupation of the zone, which Egypt rejected.
31 October 1956, Anglo-French
forces attacked Egypt in the Canal zone. Israeli occupied the Gaza
Strip and key points on the Sinai Peninsula.
5 November 1956, British and French
captured Port Fuad and Port Said.
6 November 1956, cease fire forced
by U.S. pressure.
8 November 1956, hostilities
21 November 1956, first UN
peacekeepers arrived in the zone.
22 December 1956, the last
Anglo-French forces left the canal.
1 March 1957, Israel agreed to
withdraw from the Gaza Strip and Sinai.
There are short biographies available of some
of the principles involved in the 1956 Suez crisis:
There is a short
essay online that
discussed many of the key players and factors.
of the Suez Canal is another short article about Disraeli's purchase of the shares to the canal, as is a paper
and another short
Peacekeeping forces made their debut as a result of the
crisis (see also www.un.org/en/peacekeeping/missions/past/unefi.htm).
After Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal, President
to join Britain, France and Israel in an invasion of Egypt. He later
the nation about the Mideast crisis on 20 February 1957.
A concise reading list might include:
W. Scott Lucas, Divided We Stand: Britain, the US. and the Suez
Crisis (1995); Keith Kyle, Suez (1991); William Louis and Roger
Owen, eds., Suez 1956: The Crisis and Its Consequences (1989);
and Anthony Eden, The Suez Crisis of 1956 (1960).