26 July   2006

 50 years after Suez

The Ghosts of Suez are hovering above Downing Street

By Adel Darwish


Prime Minister Tony Blair's handling of last month Middle East crisis alarmed British elder diplomats as they sensed the ghosts of Suez hovering above Downing Street.


Fifty years ago( July 26, 1956)  Anthony Eden's dinner party for young King Faisal II of Iraq and his Prime Minister the seasoned Nuri Pasha al-Said, was interrupted by news of Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser  had Nationalised Suez Canal, just nine years before its concession agreement granted by the Egyptian government was to run out. Grabbing the world's most vital water-way, was illegal under both Egyptian and international laws. The shareholders weren't just  big investors, but a considerable number were Egyptians and others, including WW2 widows, investing their life savings, or disability and war compensation.


Nasser's hand was closing on Britain's windpipe ( Royal Navy was still the main protector of almost all Gulf Arab nations as well as Aden).


Eden, a great patriot who believed in peace and cementing lasting friendships with former colonies and protectorates to strengthen the Commonwealth as a great free-trade  block, felt deeply betrayed by Nasser.


Two years earlier, as a Foreign Secretary, Eden persuaded his reluctant Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill  to accept a new friendship treaty with colonel Nasser( Churchill cited  illegitimacy of his 1952 military coup). Honouring the  1936 Anglo-Egyptian treaty to vacate the canal  20 years, Britain handed the base to Egypt in June 1956; turning a blind eye to Nasser's propaganda falsely claiming that his coup ended 74 years of British presence.

By appeasing Nasser, Eden hoped would build long term with Egypt, an ally and a pillar of the British-devised Arab League, launched a decade earlier by King Farouk and King Abdel-Aziz ibn Saud forming the leagues  main axis.

Nasser dismantled the liberal multiparty parliamentarian democracy, suspended constitution, rigged referenda to  declare a republic and moved to the Soviet block after arms deal with Czechoslovakia.


July 26  diners were joined by Arabists and experts summoned to Downing street. All, including opposition leader Hugh Gaitskell, agreed that public opinion would support a strong action. Nuri Pasha agreed but  warned against acting in collusion with Israel.


Although international law as on his side, Eden did not seeking a UN mandate, but chose a military course  that ended his career and inflicted unprecedented damage on British interests. A series of military coups(King Faisal II and Nuri Pasha were brutally murdered in 1958 coup) inspired by Nasser finished off budding Arab democracies and unleashing vicious forces still rampage through the region today.


, A UN mandate in 2003 would have left an international force in a stable Iraq today acting as a deterrence against Iran; but taking a wrong leaf from Eden's book, Blair went into war with President Bush ( seen as more threat to world peace than  Bin Laden according to  European opinion polls).

During both Suez and Iraq the case of 1930s appeasement of Hitler ( whose style, and propaganda was adopted by both Cl Nasser and Saddam Hussein) were wheeled out (Blair  added  weapons  of mass destruction) to create a false justification of war.


Eden joined the French, who had already cooked up a plan with the Israelis to attack Sinai creating a pretext for deploying Anglo-French troops to separate the combatants. Just like last month when British diplomats- and politicians ( see page XX) warned Blair that failing to appear even handed or sail a course independent from that of President Bush who publicly endorsed Israel's disproportionate attacks on Lebanese civilians, would damage British interests much more than  Eden's mistake  did.


Like Blair today, Eden and his cabinet, deceived themselves with their own spin about the special relationship with America; yet despite Nasser (far from a libertarian democrat championing American values) clearly embracing the soviet block, while Russian tanks brutally suppressed Hungarians seeking their freedom, American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and President Eisenhower gave Britain the cold shoulder instead of standing `shoulder to shoulder'.


Seeing a historic opportunity to take over Britain's ( and France's) sphere of influence, President Eisenhower( a much wiser man than the White House current resident), put America's self interest before the British ally, siding  with Cl Nasser.


Ironically, Eisenhower opposition at the time, helped rescue Britain from the mistake of Eden as he, wisely, clutched UN secretary general Dag Hammarskj÷ld emergency plan to replace Anglo-French troops with blue-helmets. Unfortunately for Blair, no such rescue is available today.  After he entered Iraq with the American president, both discovered that the door which closed behind them had no handle on the inside.

Copyright © Adel Darwish & Mideastnews and its parent company World Media UK Limited 2006. All rights reserved. No part of this site may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by any means or used for any business purpose without the written consent of the publisher. Whilst every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained herein is as accurate as possible, the publisher cannot accept responsibility for any consequences arising from its use. 

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