When the colonial beat the coloniser: The downfall of the British Empire
Suez Crisis – „A Catastrophic Failure“
The idyll of war: Israeli gun and gunman during the Suez Crisis.
The idyll of war: Israeli gun and gunman during the Suez Crisis.

Anthony Eden resigned as British Prime Minister on January 9, 1957. Although he officially gave up the position due to his poor health, it was clear to his contemporaries that he resigned over the failed intervention to retake the Suez Canal from Egypt.

The crisis started in 1956, with the announcement of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser to nationalise the Suez Canal owned by British and French companies. To Prime Minister Eden, it seemed that a new oppressive dictator was on the rise in Egypt. Therefore, he decided to intervene and convinced the French and Israeli Governments to join his operation. Militarily, the three forces defeated the Egyptian army. Yet, they were robbed of their victory since both the Soviet Union and the United States clearly objected to the operation: The Soviets threatened to send troops to Egypt and the US cut off financial aid for Great Britain and caused its withdrawal from Egypt. Hostilities ended on November 6, 1956 and an agreement was reached so that Egypt could keep the canal.

Collapse with consequences

The botched operation, which British historian Eric Hobsbawm called “a catastrophic failure”, had long-lasting consequences. First, it showed that Britain no longer was a first-rate super power and that the British Empire was in decline. To compensate the enormous costs of the operation, the British Government decided to substantially reduce the country’s military force which in turn reduced the capacity of GB to act on the world stage.

Second, the fact that Nasser withstood the attack of western and Israeli forces made him a hero for all kinds of anti-colonial movements through-​out Africa. The British defeat in Egypt accelerated the process of decolonialisation, with Morocco and Ghana becoming independent immediately after the end of the crisis.

The Suez crisis marked the end of the old European super powers. The Age of Empires had come to an end. The Cold War was dawning as the United States and the Soviet Union ascended as the two new super powers.

Guest author :Jan Freytag

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