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Suez Crisis of 1956: Impacts on Britain Essay

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Updated: Jun 27th, 2020


The Suez crisis is a notable event that occurred in Britain, in the year 1956. It resulted in Britain’s political divide and international conflicts. The crisis came about when Britain and United States failed to fulfil their promise of aiding Egypt in the construction of the Aswan High Dam. The Egyptian president opted to nationalize the canal so as to raise funds to construct the dam as opposed to when the canal offered free passage to all who used it.

This brought about conflict between Britain and Egypt as they all wanted control over the Suez Canal. Britain and France joined forces against Egypt and at first they emerged winners but later on Egypt regained control over the canal, in 1957. The crisis made Britain and France feel defeated and gave up their African colonial empire. This paper discusses the Suez crisis and its impacts to the British Empire (Boyce 1999).

Background Information

According to Stockwell (2000), Britain had a very large empire until the beginning of the end of World War II. Its size reduced greatly as various colonies gained independence and hence the British control over them was eliminated. The first impact was felt when India, which was so essential to Britain, got independence. The British Empire had a diverse composition during the early days as there were colonies guided by politics and those guided by religion.

This led to conflicts as politics and religion made the colonists to rebel against the governors. There was therefore the need to have an informal imperial system governed by moral prudence as opposed to doctrine. During independence, British companies had power in the economies of its former colonies but later its powers fell to a great extent. The end of the British Empire is associated with the rise of anti-colonial nationalism and disorientation of political structures. The fall down of British imperial powers is traced from the effects of the Second World War and the Suez Crisis. Even before the Suez crisis, there were tensions since the canal had been closed to Israel shipping.

The Suez crisis was meant to make Nasser the Egyptian president the great Arab nationalist champion as Egypt retained control over the Suez Canal zone. It was a war among three nations; Britain, France and Israel attacking Egypt, each with its own specific reasons. The crisis was brought about by the nationalization of the Suez Canal by Nasser which was a form of revenge against Britain and France. The problem is that although the canal was run effectively even after the nationalization, Britain and France felt that they still had the right to control the canals operations especially because of its importance in provision of international passage.

Events leading to the Suez Crisis

The period of the crisis was after the Second World War where each country was working hand to consolidate its control and have power. Britain wanted to have strategic alliances which could have guaranteed dominance and economic power. For this it looked at the northern part oil reserves. Suez was considered a strategic position to assist the country gain military power and control. This made the country to embrace the canal.

To ensure that it remained in control of the canal, it increased its presence in Egypt and caused what was referred to as Anglo-Egyptian relations. However, instead of them living in harmony they wanted to dominate Egypt. This led to an increased poverty, inflation, and social unrests; political parties which enlightened the general population on how they were to be treated by the Britons led the repellence against the Britons. The control that the Britons wanted to have upon the canal was opposed in all means and ways by the Egyptians leading to Suez Canal crisis.

Effects of the Suez Crisis in Britain

The effects of the Suez crisis were very harsh and negative to the British Empire the major one being decolonization. It led to the fall of the British cabinet, severe oil shortages, and also the banking system almost collapsed. These are very critical aspect of the economy and make the nation very weak as they touch on the vital areas of the economy (e.g. finance and governance). There was general weakening of Britain and France and also emergence of decolonization.

The Suez crisis involved all elements of politics and led to the fall of the European colonialism, the rise of the Arab nationalism, the Israel- Palestine conflicts and the need to have the American power involved in search for a solution to the crisis. The Suez crisis has also brought about many misconceptions regarding political power and authority and also fears, ambitions, and suspicions regarding politics.

After the Suez crisis and its implications, Britain managed to join the European Economic Community in 1973 though it was too late and it had too much to settle and rectify, for instance, the problem of immigrants in the country. Apart from the Suez crisis, Britain had been involved into other crises, for example, devaluation of the pound and elimination of its military forces from the Suez Canal zone and could hardly bear the burden.

Although Nasser aimed at establishing a new revolutionary Egyptian government that planned to push out Britain out of Egypt and nationalize the Suez Canal, it led to the urge of the British to attack Egypt so as to take control of the Suez Canal. The Soviet Union on realizing this threatened to interfere in support of Egypt. This in return aggravated the United States of America to pressurize Britain to pull out from Egypt or take the risk of experiencing economic fall down. The United Nation also warned Britain to withdraw and let go the Suez Canal.


According to Springhall (2001), decolonization is the surrender of external political autonomy largely western European over non-colonized non-European peoples and the emergence of independent territories that were once ruled by the west. It can also be termed as the transfer of power from empire to nation-state where the countries gain their powers and govern themselves. It is as well seen as the attempt to substitute imperialist control with commercial or planned correlation.

Decolonization can only be understood after relating various aspects, for instance, the state of the world after the Second World War, the legitimization of nationalist movement, and the colonial policies of urban powers. Some of the causes of decolonization were the realization, by the colonizing empire, of the inability to maintain the colonies in terms of cost especially in comparison to the benefits associated with it. Another reason was the urge and desire of the colonies to have their own power and gain independence.

Effects of Decolonization

Decolonization is associated with disintegration of international systems in terms of economic and financial, cultural and geographical aspects that the western nations had controlled over other nations. It also led to security problems both within and internationally. Britain lost its powers, authority, and wealth after the Second World War although it still retained some territories lost during the war.

The positive impacts to the colonizers though not planned include removal of responsibilities towards the colonies since they no longer had to support them financially or in any other manner. The colonizers nonetheless were still able to receive benefits from the former colonies, for example, labour and goods at a fair price. It is on the other hand a bad issue to the colonies since it brought about several negative effects like loss of properties and in some cases deaths, especially where violence is involved.

Recovery Measures

The Second World War led to British economic tribulations which on the other hand encouraged better imperial economic integration. Britain needed to maintain its empire and commonwealth bond so as to retain its status of powers, for example, in 1949 the British government had reinvented the commonwealth with the main aim of retaining India as a republic. The British economic recovery required incorporation with other territories for example Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

It also needed added efforts in the exploitation of other colonies so that it could boost its economic status. The security forces also needed reinforcement to improve security status both within and internationally. The other important aspect was to hold on to its bases and treaties including the Suez Canal region which was important for passage and in enhancing trade among territories although this needed collaboration with other nations for support. The British government also gave its colonies the chance to have their governments and later have independence though they were to remain under the British financial and strategic control.

The Suez crisis of 1956 however clearly showed that the financial and security levels of Britain were very weak despite the measures taken after the Second World War. This lowered the influence and powers of Britain over its colonies and also world wide making it difficult to control political, social and economic matters of the colonies since various conflicts arouse. The collaboration of France and West Germany to be in charge over the European Economic Community and the failure of Britain to get support from the United States of America left Britain at a losing end.

The Suez Crisis led to Britain’s loss of colonies as it no longer had powers to maintain them. It tried to join France and West Germany in the European Economic Community but failed twice. This could have been a good opportunity to help raise its economic and financial status. Britain was therefore forced to let go most of its colonies to avoid more conflicts with nationalist movements. It accepted defeat and a good example is when it allowed Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to have own governments in 1959 (Hyam, 2010).


According to McNamara (2003), there were six principles that were set to govern the Suez Canal in future. They consist of; respecting the autonomy of Egypt, the mode of setting up charges and tolls ought to be decided through an accord between Egypt as a nation and the users, wadding of the canal’s control from politics of any nation, a fair share of the funds that should be allocated to growth, existence of open transit through the canal at no cost and without favouritism in regard to opinionated and procedural aspects, and resolution of clash between the Suez canal and the (Egyptian) government, by mediation with appropriate terms of provisions for the payment and reference as well.

The resolution proposals aimed at ensuring that the canal is in Egypt and she should be given an upper hand in its operation. The fact the canal could be developed for international benefit was secondary to what the Egyptians wanted. However, they recognized that the world needed the canal. The best solution would be one that accommodates the needs of the world and those of Egypt.

There were various suggestions on how to solve the crisis problem and one of it was the proposal of the Belgian amendment that was aimed at enabling the British and French to withdraw in an orderly manner without causing lots of chaos and humiliation although it was not successful. This is because in attempts to solve the crisis not all members involved cooperated, for example, the normal procedures that were stipulated were not followed and some officials were deliberately excluded from very vital meetings without justified reasons and were not informed of what had taken place.

There were also no records to document what happened during the meetings and hence there was no accountability in the dealings. The United Nations was expected to resolve the crisis and even threats were proposed by Israel, that they would take military actions against it. In a nut shell Suez Crisis brought humiliation to Britain worldwide and lowered its national pride as it was now well known that Britain was no longer powerful and needed support and some authorities from the United States of America to carry out its operations.

Despite all these, some early imperial connections are still present especially those related to language and governance. These are very crucial in a world in which globalization has become a great and essential aspect for survival. The common wealth has also maintained its effectiveness as a comprehensive network of connections that are of great value to many states associated with it. The resolution of the crisis made the route accessible but controlled by the Egyptians. Though they are the custodian of the canal, they must abide to set rules and regulations that it cited to respect. There are numerous improvement made by Egyptian government but it also gets aid from international bodies and countries using it.

Financial Viability of Suez Canal

This inland waterway is used as a linkage between the Mediterranean and the Red sea; it consequently becomes the shortest way to go through when connecting west and the east. Its strategic position facilitates transport in the northern with Egypt as the major beneficiary. It is deep and thus can accommodate large vessels. Sea transport is considered as one of the most reliable form of transport and is cheap compared with other modes of transport.

This makes Egyptian trade fast and cheap. It links major world’s oil fields. Its position has made oil from Northern Africa get access to the world markets. It is the world largest canal and since its incorporation it has recorded minimum accidents but has continued to support maritime transport. It is one of the routes that have facilitated international trade. Egypt is Africa’s second largest economy after republic of South Africa.

The development in the country is believed to have resulted from the canal. There are taxes paid for using the canal, employment, and facilitated international trade. All these are to the benefit of Egypt. Tourism is another benefit that Egypt derives from the canal. Tourists from all over the world visit the country to get a glance on the historical site. They generate foreign income much needed by the country. It’s a connection between India and Europe, this move has facilitated the two continents’ trade. The link is also used by Britain to get access to Indian Ocean.


Although Britain has faced many challenges, the Suez crisis has mainly brought about its downfall as it incapacitated its operations and ruined its reputation. It disrupted its governance, economical and financial aspects and also led to loss of power and authority of the British Empire, which forced it to forego most of its colonies as it could no longer maintain them. The canal has economic benefits to the people of Egypt and the world in general. So far, it remains as the world largest canal. This has facilitated maritime transport. It has reordered minimum accidents and can accommodate large ship. With technology, the area security and cargo control has been facilitated. These are the advantages that the Britons had seen in their efforts to retaining the canal.

Reference list

Boyce, DG, Decolonization and the British Empire, 1775-1997, Britain, Macmillan Press Ltd, 1999.

Hyam, R, Understanding the British Empire, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2010.

McNamara, R, Britain, Nasser and the Balance Of Power in the Middle East, 1952-1967: From the Egyptian Revolution to the Six-Day War, London, Routledge, 2003.

Springhall, J, Decolonization since 1945: The Collapse of European Overseas Empires, London, Macmillan, 2001.

Stockwell, S E, The Business Of Decolonization: British Business Strategies In The Gold Coast, London, Oxford University Press, 2000.

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