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History Coursework 2003-Suez Crisis Essay

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What can you learn from Source A about Anthony Eden’s reasons of opposing Colonel Nasser?

Anthony Eden was Prime Minister at the time of the Suez Crisis in 1956. His political career began in 1923 and by 1926 he had become a parliamentary private secretary at the Foreign Office. He was very involved with the League of Nations, believing in their principles and at the age of 38, became Foreign Secretary. At this time international affairs were seen as being aggressive and Anthony Eden was forced to resign from Neville Chamberlain’s Government over his policy of appeasement.

He joined the Government during World War Two and became Secretary of State for war under Churchill. After the war times were very difficult with the Cold War at its peak and trouble in the Middle East.

Colonel Nasser became dictator of Egypt in 1954 after leading a successful revolution against King Farouk. British troops left Egypt for the first time since 1882, and as soon as they had gone, Nasser declared the Suez Canal to be the property of the Egyptian Government. The Suez Canal was a vital shipping route for oil being brought to Britain.

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Eden wrongly saw Colonel Nasser as the next Hitler and was determined to make a stand against him. “Nasser has a finger on our wind pipe”, he remarked. Nasser was going to be taught a lesson.

Nasser was seen as a nationalist who was determined to rid Egypt of foreign influence and make Egypt the Arab world’s leading state. He had tried to buy arms from the West but eventually had to buy them from Czechoslovakia and western powers were concerned that Nasser was leading Egypt towards communism. His seizure of the Suez Canal was justified in his mind by the refusal of Britain and US to finance his ambitious project to build the Aswan Dam across the Nile.

In Source A, Eden says Nasser is “not a man who can be trusted”, and also “we all know this is how dictators behave and we all remember the cost of giving in to Hitler”. This shows that Eden cannot help comparing his resignation over appeasement with the situation unfolding over Suez. This Source may be biased considering it was Eden’s speech to justify the stand he took over the Suez Crisis.

Study Sources B and C. How useful are these two sources as evidence of Egyptian public opinion during the Suez Crisis?

Source B shows a photograph of Colonel Nasser taken during the Suez Crisis surrounded by cheering crowds, this would appear to show that his people were very happy with his handling of affairs. Source C is a cartoon drawn by an Egyptian cartoonist just after the Suez Canal was nationalised. It shows that the Egyptians considered Eden rather weak and stupid, and they felt they were in a strong position. They felt happy that Nasser was standing up to the old imperialist powers that had influenced them in the past, and defied them.

However, the sources B and C do not really tell us a lot about public opinion, because the photo only shows a small number of people, and the cartoon is only one man’s opinion, and we don’t know whether it was published and where, and even if it was in a newspaper, that doesn’t necessarily constitute public opinion.

Study Sources D, E and F. Did public opinion in Britain support Eden’s decision to take military action against Egypt?

Looking at the Sources D, E and F, it would appear that the over-all public opinion in Britain did not support Eden’s decision over military action.

Source D is an extract from the Daily Mirror calling Nasser ‘Grabber Nasser’ and shows that the newspaper considers him to be a dangerous dictator, comparing him to Hitler and Hitler’s end, suggesting that we should take a stand against him. However, Source E shows a photograph of a demonstration in London and clearly shows the public in this photograph to be against military action and call for Eden’s resignation. However, the people in the photo do not seem to be too upset about it as quite a few are smiling.

The signs in the photo are also slightly suspicious as quite a few look the same and some are in very strange positions. It does not say where this photo was from. I would say that this source is not too reliable. Source F is another extract from the Daily Mirror, this time, a letter from a reader. Again, this source is not entirely reliable as it is only one person’s view. This may well represent a number of people who would have written along the same lines, but it is still not entirely clear just from the sources given that the majority of public opinion was against Eden’s decision to take military action. Maybe a public opinion poll would have shown us this information better.

Study Sources G and H. Does Source G support Selwyn Lloyd’s statement (source H) about Britain’s motives for military action against Egypt?

Source G is an extract from a letter written by Anthony Eden to the President of the United States regarding Suez. In this he states his primary concern is to free the Suez Canal from Egypt’s control. His secondary purpose is to remove Nasser from power and replace him with a regime more favourable to the western powers.

Source H is from a book written by Selwyn Lloyd, the Foreign Secretary at the time of the Suez crisis. In his book, he sees the objectives as, firstly, to prevent a war breaking out in the Middle East. The second objective was to control Nasser, and the third, to return the Suez Canal to international control.

Both sources agree that the Canal being under international control was one of the main purposes, but Anthony Eden puts this as the first purpose, whereas Selwyn Lloyd sees this as the third objective.

They both agree that the control or removal of Nasser was the secondary purpose, as they both saw him as a threat to the general stability in the region, and looked upon him as another Hitler, or Mussolini. Although Eden says in his letter that he does not think of Nasser as a Hitler, he did make the connection between Nasser and Hitler in his speech in Source A.

Selwyn Lloyd believes the primary purpose was to prevent a general outbreak of war in the Middle East. This region was troubled due to the establishing of Israel in 1948 as a homeland for the Jews. Israel was attacked by its Arab neighbours Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. However the Israelis were able to hold on to the land given to them as they had superior equipment and financial backing from Jews in the US. By 1952, after further fighting, there was tension in the region. Egypt had built up a military strength and was seen as an aggressor. Britain was worried that Nasser would attack Israel and throw away the uneasy peace that prevailed, plunging the whole Middle East into war.

Study all the sources. ‘Britain was humiliated by international opinion and made to look foolish’. Use the sources and your own knowledge to say whether you agree with this view of the Suez Crisis.

Britain and France suggested a secret plan to Israel to solve the Suez Crisis. Egypt had closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping so when the British and French suggested the secret plan to fight Nasser, the Israelis were happy to cooperate. The Israelis would attack the Egyptians in the Sinai desert. Then the British and French would issue an ultimatum ordering both sides to pull back on either side of the canal. They knew that Nasser would reject this, as it would leave Israeli troops on their territory.

This then would allow the Anglo-French forces to land by sea and air along the canal and seize it back. The plan went as expected and the Anglo-French forces landed at the mouth of the canal at Port Said on 5th November. At this point the plan started to unravel, as the US immediately condemned the invasion and threatened to cancel an important loan to Britain if the forces didn’t withdraw. Then Khrushchev, the Soviet leader threatened to join the conflict and use force to drive the troops from the Middle East. India condemned the whole enterprise and Australia withheld her support. On 6th November, Eden lost his nerve and withdrew his forces so the French followed.

Nasser emerged from the affair with credit as he had defied the old imperial powers and so was very popular at home and among the Arab states. Israel had nothing to show for the fighting in terms of land but they had opened the Gulf of Aqaba to their shipping and had shown Egypt that they were a power to be reckoned with. The US had shown themselves to be firm in their handling of the Western allies and this went down well in the poor countries. Russia had come to the same conclusion, and only Britain and France had nothing to be pleased about. They had been made to look foolish and humiliated by international opinion. Rarely had a British government encountered such a storm of hostility.

Whilst I agree that Britain was made to look foolish, to have done nothing and allowed Nasser to keep control of the Suez Canal without challenging him was not an option, as they would have then looked weak. As Britain had no troops in the region, we could not have allowed Nasser to have the canal under his control as he could have held us to ransom and would feel that he had won. At least even though we may have been humiliated, it did stop Nasser from thinking that he could do as he wished without being challenged.

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