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The Suez Crisis

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    Posted: 10 Aug 2012 at 08:09
In 1956 Britain and France invaded Egypt in an attempt to retake control of the Suez Canal, nationalized in the post WW2 nationalist fervour sweeping the region. It had been illegally seized by Egypt. On the other hand, Egypt had a history of being used in a cavalier fashion by the British, whenever the need arose. Was the action justified? How much of a case did the Egyptions have, if any? Why the conspiracy with Israel, if the the cause was thought legitimate?
 
Also, what did the outcome say generally about colonialism in the 1950's? Was it a watershed moment; the end of traditional European colonial hedgemony, or just a belated realization that this had occured some time ago? It seemed to be Britain's last kick at the can; France held on for a while after- they weren't quite finished with Algeria.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Aug 2012 at 08:55
It wasn't the end of colonialism, but it marked definitively the point at which the new superpowers and the old colonial powers were shown for what they really were in terms of geopolitical power projection.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Aug 2012 at 10:05
The Canal was not illegally seized. The canal was on Egyptian soil and belonged to Egypt. It was illegally seized by the Brits in 1882 and the Egyptians simply claimed what they owned. Panama didn't pay any compensation for the US for its canal why should Egypt?
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Aug 2012 at 11:02
Constantine is right that Suez definitively marked the world of the new superpowers, but it is worth adding that it directly followed the Soviet intervention in Hungary which played its part in the same development.

However it played no such role in illuminating the future development of the Middle East, since in '56 the US was still supporting Egypt against Israel. Israeli-US alliance still lay some way in the future.  

Suez was a rather clumsy attempt at deception, but it's not correct to say that the seizure of the Canal by Egypt was 'legal' without compensation (unless the claim is that force majeure is always legal). The canal was built by a French company with mostly British capital and was organised and managed by them: it was private capital. The Panama Canal situation was different, since it was built and developed by the US government, and no private capital was involved. 

The point is a bit academic though since Egypt in fact paid compensation for the nationalisation. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Aug 2012 at 12:39

The canal mandate for the company that built it was 99 years from 1856. This basically means that the company legally lost its control in 1955. Plus Egypt was a major shareholder in the canal so it is partially owned by the Egyptian government.

 
What is not discussed are the events of 1882 and after when the British government coersively confiscated the canal from them to pay the Egyptian government debts despite the fact that Egypt was already paying those debts according to a plan. So basically what the Egyptians did was the reverse of the British did in 1882. No one deserves to be compensated since the mandate had already finished.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote David Greenwich Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Aug 2012 at 13:24
I think that in the context of the illegality and immorality of Imperialism, the question of the legality of the seizure of the canal was a bit redundant.
 
Suez is remembered in the UK as marking the end of the imperialist project and giving the final confirmation that the UK was no longer an independent superpower as our ally the USA stopped the Suez venture by pulling the financial plughole on the UK, which meant we couldn't fund the invasion force.
 
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Aug 2012 at 14:15
Britain didn't confiscate the Canal company, it bought Ismail's shares from him, so that he could pay his other debts. The company itself remained French.

Going back to 1856 raises the question of political control of the Zone - and indeed of all Egypt - which is a different matter and has to cope with the hazy question of Egypt's sovereignty and its relation to the Ottoman empire. It's even disputable that Ismail had the authority to set up the Canal company at all. But the convention with the Porte of 1888-1904, the declaration of the protectorate in 1914, the declaration of an independent kingdom in 1922, and the treaty of 1936 as well as the British acceptance of the treaty's termination in 1954 all are strictly irrelevant to the existence of the company itself and its assets.

And, as I said, Egypt (Nasser's Egypt) recognised the need for compensation, and paid it.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10 Aug 2012 at 20:44
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

Constantine is right that Suez definitively marked the world of the new superpowers, but it is worth adding that it directly followed the Soviet intervention in Hungary which played its part in the same development.

However it played no such role in illuminating the future development of the Middle East, since in '56 the US was still supporting Egypt against Israel. Israeli-US alliance still lay some way in the future.  

Suez was a rather clumsy attempt at deception, but it's not correct to say that the seizure of the Canal by Egypt was 'legal' without compensation (unless the claim is that force majeure is always legal). The canal was built by a French company with mostly British capital and was organised and managed by them: it was private capital. The Panama Canal situation was different, since it was built and developed by the US government, and no private capital was involved. 

The point is a bit academic though since Egypt in fact paid compensation for the nationalisation. 
 
 
Even if the seizure was illegal how was the involvement of the sovereign was legal while the rights of the private parties were involved?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote David Greenwich Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Aug 2012 at 00:29

I was referring to Egypt's seizure of the canal, as we tend to think of it in the UK.

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote David Greenwich Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Aug 2012 at 00:30
AS far as I know private companies don't have status within international law except under the protection of sovereign entities.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Aug 2012 at 07:20
Not really. They do. And they can actually sue a sovereign to defend their property rights.  But International Law is a very generic term. You may be right in that private parties do not have status under International Public Law which is about the relations between the states and international organizations.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Aug 2012 at 11:28
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

Constantine is right that Suez definitively marked the world of the new superpowers, but it is worth adding that it directly followed the Soviet intervention in Hungary which played its part in the same development.

However it played no such role in illuminating the future development of the Middle East, since in '56 the US was still supporting Egypt against Israel. Israeli-US alliance still lay some way in the future.  

Suez was a rather clumsy attempt at deception, but it's not correct to say that the seizure of the Canal by Egypt was 'legal' without compensation (unless the claim is that force majeure is always legal). The canal was built by a French company with mostly British capital and was organised and managed by them: it was private capital. The Panama Canal situation was different, since it was built and developed by the US government, and no private capital was involved. 

The point is a bit academic though since Egypt in fact paid compensation for the nationalisation. 
 
 
Even if the seizure was illegal how was the involvement of the sovereign was legal while the rights of the private parties were involved?

I'm not sure I understand your point. I don't think the seizure was illegal, I think it would have been illegal if compensation had not been paid, but it was. I put the word 'legal' in quotes to indicate that the question of legality is somewhat subjective anyway. 

The point about the Panama Canal issue was that since the US Government had built and maintained it, the US government was perfectly entitled to give it to Panama without compensating anyone. Much the same is true of the Suez Canal zone (as opposed to the canal itself) which Britain had already left under the 1936 treaty, a couple of years before the treaty expired. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Aug 2012 at 17:26
I don't understand your point either.
 
You're saying that Britain couldn't leave the Canal because it belonged to the private investors. I don't really see the connection here.
 
It would be more understandable if Britain intervened based being the owner of Canal as a sovereign, as was in the case of US-Panama Canal according to you.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote David Greenwich Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Aug 2012 at 18:22
I think in any case the UK went to war not on the basis that they were preventing an illegal seizure of the canal but they were engaged in a peacekeeping mission designed to separate the fighting Israeli and Egyptian forces (even though the confrontation was a put up job arranged in advance with Israel).
 
I think the legality issues are a bit irrelevant.  It was an unwise venture poorly conducted.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Aug 2012 at 19:37
Yes, that makes more sense to me.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Aug 2012 at 20:31
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

I don't understand your point either.
 
You're saying that Britain couldn't leave the Canal because it belonged to the private investors. I don't really see the connection here.
 
It would be more understandable if Britain intervened based being the owner of Canal as a sovereign, as was in the case of US-Panama Canal according to you.

You're confusing the canal, which was listed in Paris and French-managed albeit with British shareholders, with the Canal Zone, which like other Egyptian territory was the subject of a variety of agreements up to the Anglo-Egyptian treats of 1936, under which Britain agreed to withdraw its forces from Egypt - including the canal zone - by 1956, an agreement which it ended up complying with two years early in 1954. 

Britain therefore had already left the canal zone well before Nasser's nationalising of the Canal itself. 

The situation is comparable to that of Iraq, also a former Ottoman territory that became a British protectorate with WWI and its aftermath, but was recognised by Britain as an independent country temporarily occupied by Britain in the 'thirties. Britain withdrew its occupying forces post ww2, and Iraq eventually nationalised the Iraq Petroleum Company in 1972. Britain's withdrawal and the nationalisation of the oil company were totally separate issues.

The point about the US in Panama is that the US government, which owned the canal, voluntarily agreed to give it to Panama. So it would have to have compensated itself for its own action. 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote David Greenwich Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Aug 2012 at 02:20
Is it me or is this discussion completely unfocussed?
 
There are here issues to do with imperialism, international law, fairness in relation to investment,
the rights of private companies in relation to international law, the ethics of foreign policy and war... to name a few. But some people seem to be posting as if the point they are making is clear when it isn't.  To be clear, please reference one of these points and then specify in detail what it is you are arguing.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Captain Vancouver Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Aug 2012 at 03:55
There have been some good points raised here. Let's say that the seizure of the canal was not illegal, at least in a technical sense. It leaves the question: at what point is it reasonable to pull a Rambo? Or is it ever?
 
If, lets say for a hypothetical example, China were to spend 50 billion on a massive solar power project in North Africa, one which seemed to be critical for not only China, but to an extent the larger world, and it was nationalized by some local government, with intentions not completely clear, should the world accept the idea of sovereignty of territory, or weigh other economic and geopolitical consequences, the end product of which may necessitate military intervention?
 
Although almost laughable today, at the time the Suez Canal was seen as very important to the world, Britain in particular. Today the Persian Gulf is capable of generating all manner of military postering and potential actions. Tomorrow this may not be the case. Under what conditions, if any, is military intervention, riding roughshod over national territory, reasonable to protect assets deemed essential to the world's economy and well being? 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Aug 2012 at 11:10
The captain's hypothetical Chinese situation does not parallel the Suez one: it's more like the Panama Canal situation. At Suez it was not Britain or France that owned the canal, but a private non-governmental group, listed on the stock exchange.

The nationalisation of the canal was perfectly legal because Egypt paid compensation to shareholders based on market price of shares. If it had not paid compensation the legality would have been questionable.

If one discounts the pretence that Britain and France were merely intervening to stop a local war, then the invasion was certainly illegal, because it contravened the UN charter, much as the US intervention in Iraq in 2003. It was of course also pointless from the start.
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