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Nasser Nationalizes the Suez Canal

The 50’s and 60’s were the height of the Cold War between the two polarized powers of the world. Many countries of the world were able to use the Cold War to their advantage by receiving competing assistance from both sides in the war. Egypt was no different than these many other underdeveloped nations in that it wanted to use the Cold War to its advantage as well.

Egypt was being led by Gamal Abdel Nasser who announced an aggressive development program in 1952 for which he was lobbying for funds from around the world. He started by raising funds mainly through the UN, World Bank and the Western Democratic nations but soon sought the assistance of Communist nations. When an arms deal with Czechoslovakia went through, U.S. Secretary of State John Dulles announced withdrawal of U.S. funds and assistance for Nasser’s development program. In response to the harsh treatment of Egypt by the United States, Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal on July 26, 1956.

The nationalization of the canal took the world by surprise, especially the British and French stockholders who owned the Suez Canal Company. Although Nasser promised that the company would be compensated for its loss, Britain, France, and Israel began plotting to take back the canal and overthrow Nasser as well. Britain, France, and Israel united in secret in what was to become known as the tripartite collusion, something that they denied publicly for many years. Israel opted to participate in the plans against Egypt to gain favor in the sight of western nations because the small developing nation was in constant fear of being overrun by Arab nations.

Arrangements were made for Israel to make the initial invasion of Egypt and overtake one side of the Suez Canal. The British and French attempted to follow the Israeli invasion with diplomacy, but they were unsuccessful, so they were forced to send in troops to occupy the canal. However, the action on the part of the tripartite collusion was not viewed in favor by the US or the Soviet Union since their intervention signified their predominance in the area.

The troops were withdrawn from the Canal Zone in December under the direction of the United Nations. The canal was returned to Egypt’s possession and reparations were paid by Egypt under the supervision of the World Bank. Overall, the actions of the tripartite collusion were not at all beneficial to the democratic plight in the Cold War because they drew 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 war.


Trevor Mostyn, Ed., Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Middle East and North Africa, (Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 282.
Richard Goff,  The Twentieth Century: A Brief Global History, (NY: McGraw-Hill Inc., 1994).
The Suez Canal,
 Encyclopedia Americana, (Grolier Inc., 1988), pp. 845-846. 

Edited by: Chad E. Anderson, [email protected]
Researched by: Kristin Kreger, [email protected]
Written by: Kristian A. Werling, [email protected]
May 5, 1997

Source: WebChronology Project.