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The Tripartite Invasion, 1956

General Nasser takes control


The Tripartite Invasion, or 1956 War, was perhaps the single most important event in the history of African independence. The fallout from this unsuccessful attempt by Britain, France, and Israel to maintain an influence over the Suez Canal created a climate in Africa which both encouraged and escalated the struggle for independence.

At the end of the Second World War, only four African countries could claim to be independent from colonial rule: Ethiopia (which had been under British administration following Italian occupation of 1935 - 41), Liberia, South Africa, and Egypt. However, the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt was still under occupation by British troops. As a result of the failed Tripartite Invasion, another six countries gained full independence by 1958, 16 more in 1960, and by the end of the 60's only seven continental African countries were still under colonial power.

The cause of the war has a certain irony. American Cotton Kings, whose ancestors benefited so much from the trans-Atlantic slave trade, were concerned over competition from Egyptian cotton farmers. They demanded that the USA stop funding improvements to the Aswan Dam which would increase Egyptian cotton output threefold. A domino effect resulted in Britain and the World Bank also withdrawing funding. Colonel Nasser, the Egyptian premier, requiring funds to finance the Aswan Dam project, reacted by nationalising the Suez Canal.

When Egypt achieved independence from Britain in 1922, it had certain limitations imposed on it. Specifically, the right for Britain to maintain garrisons and navel bases in the Suez Canal Zone. An Anglo-Egyptian agreement in 1936 replaced the 1922 unilateral declaration of independence (which had been imposed by Britain), setting a 20-year period for the removal of British forces.

Following the Second World War, Britain embarked on a policy of de-colonisation. In contrast to the experiences of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, it was decided that granting self-rule in Africa would have to be a long term process - a viewpoint supported by the United Nations. The majority of Egyptians were in favour of a much faster process. Britain had used Egypt as a base during the Second World War, interested mainly in defeating the German forces in the Libyan desert. It had little interest in the domestic politics of a country which was unfortunately riddled by governmental corruption. When the pro-British Wafd government fell in 1952, the previously secret Free Officers Movement, El-Dhobatt El-Ahrar, staged a military coup (23-26 July, 1952).

The Free Officers Movement was formed in 1939 by Second Lieutenant Gamal Abdul Nasser and eight like-minded officers (including Anwar al-Sadat, who would be president form 1970-81). Convinced that reform of the Egyptian army was necessary as a precursor to ejecting the British from Egypt, Nasser carefully recruited members to his underground organisation. While fighting for the Allies at El Alamein, he was able to make subversive contact with German and Italian agents. By the end of the war, Nasser had been successful in maintaining his cover and had reached the rank of major.

Although General Muhammad Naguib was the public face of the new administration, Nasser (now promoted from major to colonel) maintained control through the Revolutionary Command Committee. A earlier prime minister, Ali Mahir, was offered the premiership of the new administration, but resigned on 7 September, 1952. General Naguib became president, prime minister, minister of war and commander-in-chief of the army. By 1954 King Ahmad Farouk was deposed and General Naguib declared president of an Egyptian Republic. Nasser and Naguib had different ideas on how the country should be run, and Naguib was removed from office on two occasions.

On 26 October, 1954, the Muslim Brotherhood attempted to assassinate Colonel Nasser. The Muslim Brotherhood was dissolved on 29 October, following widespread public demonstrations - which included the burning of its headquarters by an enraged mob. General Naguib, who was implicated in the assassination attempt, was ousted by Colonel Nasser on 13 November and placed under house arrest. Nasser finally took control of the country on 17 November.

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