Britain Invades Egypt - History

Britain Invades Egypt - History

The British invaded Egypt in response to anti foreign riots. The British defeated the army of Arabi Pasha at Al Tell. On September 15th they captured Cairo. Arabi pasha the nationalist leader was deported to Ceylon.

As with America in Vietnam, the ultimate target of the Egyptian campaign was not the country being fought over. The aim was to limit the influence of another great power.

By the late 1790s, Britain was France’s staunchest opponent. A trade and colonial powerhouse, Britain limited France on the high seas and supported her opponents on land.

For a brief moment in 1796-7, an invasion of the island nation looked plausible. Radicals were causing trouble in London. Naval mutinies broke out at Nore and Spithead. Ireland, often the thorn in Britain’s side, was filled with murmurs of revolt.

However, the French could not pull an invasion force together. By the time Napoleon was overseeing this potential project in 1798, the moment had passed. The huge military and logistical resources needed to invade the British Isles could not be mustered.

A less direct approach was needed.

Vital British interest

British Sherman tanks advance in North Africa during World War Two © The Suez Canal provided Britain with a shorter sea route to its empire and, as the 20th century dawned and oil grew in importance, it provided a short sea route to the oilfields of the Persian Gulf. Britain was therefore committed to protect the canal.

During the two World Wars, the Suez Canal came under attack. Soon after the outbreak of World War One, Britain declared Egypt a protectorate and British and Indian forces were sent to protect the canal. Turkey, which had entered the war as Germany’s ally in 1914, sent troops to seize the canal in February 1915. This attack was beaten back and by 1916 British defensive lines had been driven deep into the Sinai desert to prevent any further attempt.

The defeat of Turkey in 1918 resulted in much of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire being divided between Britain and France, leaving Britain in control of the oilfields of what is now Iraq.

The fighting ebbed and flowed until 1942, when Axis forces seemed poised to break through to the Suez Canal.

In 1922, Britain gave nominal independence to Egypt, but it was some years before an agreement was reached. The Anglo-Egyptian Treaty signed in London in 1936 proclaimed Egypt to be an independent sovereign state, but allowed for British troops to continue to be stationed in the Suez Canal zone to protect Britain’s financial and strategic interest in the canal until 1956, at which time the need for their presence would be re-examined and, if necessary, renegotiated.

Soon after the outbreak of World War Two, Italy, Germany’s ally, sent forces to invade Egypt from Libya. A British and Commonwealth counter-offensive in December 1940 drove the Italians out of Egypt, but in March 1941 the Italians, reinforced by the German Afrika Korps, attacked again and pushed the Allied forces back.

The fighting ebbed and flowed along the North African coast until the summer of 1942, when the Axis forces seemed poised to break through to the Suez Canal and beyond.

Their new offensive, launched on 1 July, lasted most of the month, but the Allied lines held. In August, Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery was appointed commander of the British Eighth Army. On 23 October 1942, he launched a major offensive from El Alamein which forced the German-Italian Panzer Army into retreat.

Subsequent Anglo-American landings in Morocco and Algeria on 8 November cut off the Axis forces in Tunisia, and on 13 May 1943 they surrendered. The canal was safe once more.

Britain Invades Egypt - History

The importance of Egypt to Britain rose dramatically after the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. At a stroke there was a new route from Europe to the Far East that halved the journey time between Britain and India. At this point Egypt was developing rapidly along western lines, but the following decade saw increasing tension between Britain and Egypt, resulting in the British attack on Egypt in 1882. This gallery looks in detail at the war of 1882 and its conclusive engagement, the Battle of Tel-el-Kebir.

The causes of war

From 1805 Egypt had been nominally part of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire, but it was effectively ruled by a dynasty established by the strong and modernising ruler Muhammad Ali. By 1869, it had benefited from years of investment (much of it British and French) in irrigation, railways, cotton plantations and schools. By 1876, however, its ruler the Khedive Ismail Pasha had run up debts of almost £100 million. In spite of the Khedive's sale of his 45% holding in the Suez Canal to Britain for £4 million in 1875, Egypt was heading for financial ruin.

'The rise of Urabi Pasha'

The crisis led to heightened French and British intervention in Egypt: the Khedive was forced to accept Anglo-French control of his treasury, customs, railways, post offices and ports. This amounted to an erosion of Egyptian sovereignty, which provoked a nationalist mobilisation in the form of a demonstration by unpaid army officers under the leadership of Ahmad Urabi Pasha Al-misri (also known as Arabi). By September 1881, Urabi and his followers were powerful enough to force the new Khedive, Tawfiq, to replace his government with one more favourable to the nationalist movement. In January 1882 Urabi himself, who commanded huge personal popularity, became Minister of War.

'Gunboat diplomacy'

The appearance of a popular nationalist movement inside Egypt and a defiantly independent government alarmed both Britain and France who were concerned about access to the Suez Canal and their financial investments in Egypt. In the hope that a show of force would help to undermine the nationalists, they sent a small joint fleet under the command of Admiral Sir F. Beauchamp Seymour (Commander-in-Chief of Britain's Mediterranean fleet) to Alexandria, on Egypt's Mediterranean coast. The fleet arrived on 19-20 May. Meanwhile, Egyptian forces had been busy shoring up Alexandria's defences in anticipation of an attack.


In 1882 opposition to European control led to growing tension amongst notable Egyptians, the most dangerous opposition coming from the army. A large military demonstration in September 1881 forced the Khedive Tewfiq to dismiss his Prime Minister. In April 1882, France and the United Kingdom sent warships to Alexandria to bolster the Khedive amidst a turbulent climate, spreading fear of invasion throughout the country.

Tawfiq moved to Alexandria for fear of his own safety as army officers led by Ahmed Urabi began to take control of the government. By June Egypt was in the hands of nationalists opposed to European domination of the country. The naval bombardment of Alexandria by the Royal Navy had little effect on the opposition which led to the landing of a British expeditionary force at both ends of the Suez Canal in August 1882.

The British succeeded in defeating the Egyptian Army at Tel El Kebir in September and took control of the country putting Tawfiq back in control. The purpose of the invasion had been to restore political stability to Egypt under a government of the Khedive and international controls which were in place to streamline Egyptian financing since 1876. It is unlikely that the British expected a long-term occupation from the outset. However, Lord Cromer, Britain's Chief Representative in Egypt at the time, viewed Egypt's financial reforms as part of a long-term objective. Cromer took the view that political stability needed financial stability, and embarked on a programme of long-term investment in Egypt's productive resources, above all in the cotton economy, the mainstay of the country's export earnings.

In 1906 the Denshawai incident provoked a questioning of British rule in Egypt. British administration ended nominally with the establishment of a protectorate and the installation of sultan Hussein Kamel in 1914, but a British military presence in Egypt lasted until June 1956.

In 1914 as a result of the declaration of war with the Ottoman Empire, of which Egypt was nominally a part, Britain declared a Protectorate over Egypt and deposed the anti-British Khedive, Abbas II, replacing him with his uncle Husayn Kamel, who was made Sultan of Egypt by the British. A group known as the Wafd Delegation attended the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 to demand Egypt's independence. Included in the group was political leader, Saad Zaghlul, who would later become Prime Minister. When the group was arrested and deported to the island of Malta, a huge uprising occurred in Egypt.

From March to April 1919, there were mass demonstrations that became uprisings. This is known in Egypt as the 1919 Revolution. Almost daily demonstrations and unrest continued throughout Egypt for the remainder of the Spring. To the surprise of the British authorities, Egyptian women also demonstrated, led by Huda Sha‘rawi (1879–1947), who would become the leading feminist voice in Egypt in the first half of the twentieth century. The first women's demonstration was held on Sunday, 16 March 1919, and was followed by yet another one on Thursday, 20 March 1919. Egyptian women would continue to play an important and increasingly public nationalist role throughout the spring and summer of 1919 and beyond. [1]

British suppression of the anticolonial riots led to the death of some 800 people. In November 1919, the Milner Commission was sent to Egypt by the British to attempt to resolve the situation. In 1920, Lord Milner submitted his report to Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary, recommending that the protectorate should be replaced by a treaty of alliance. As a result, Curzon agreed to receive an Egyptian mission headed by Zaghlul and Adli Pasha to discuss the proposals. The mission arrived in London in June 1920 and the agreement was concluded in August 1920.

In February 1921, the British Parliament approved the agreement and Egypt was asked to send another mission to London with full powers to conclude a definitive treaty. Adli Pasha led this mission, which arrived in June 1921. However, the Dominion delegates at the 1921 Imperial Conference had stressed the importance of maintaining control over the Suez Canal Zone and Curzon could not persuade his Cabinet colleagues to agree to any terms that Adli Pasha was prepared to accept. The mission returned to Egypt in disgust.

In December 1921, the British authorities in Cairo imposed martial law and once again deported Zaghlul. Demonstrations again led to violence. In deference to the growing nationalism and at the suggestion of the High Commissioner, Lord Allenby, the UK unilaterally declared Egyptian independence on 28 February 1922. Britain, however, continued in control of what was renamed the Kingdom of Egypt. British guided the king and retained control of the Canal Zone, Sudan and Egypt's external and military affairs. King Fuad died in 1936 and King Farouk inherited the throne at the age of sixteen. Alarmed by the Second Italo-Abyssinian War when Italy invaded Ethiopia, he signed the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, requiring Britain to withdraw all troops from Egypt by 1949, except at the Suez Canal. During World War II, British troops used Egypt as its primary base for all Allied operations throughout the region. British troops were withdrawn to the Suez Canal area in 1947, but nationalist, anti-British feelings continued to grow after the war. [2]

Coup of 1952 Edit

On 22–26 July 1952, a group of disaffected army officers (the "free officers") led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew King Farouk, whom the military blamed for Egypt's poor performance in the 1948 war with Israel. Popular expectations for immediate reforms led to the workers' riots in Kafr Dawar on 12 August 1952, which resulted in two death sentences. Following a brief experiment with civilian rule, the Free Officers abrogated the 1953 constitution and declared Egypt a republic on 18 June 1953.

Nasser's rule Edit

Emergence of Arab socialism Edit

Nasser evolved into a charismatic leader, not only of Egypt but of the Arab world, promoting and implementing "Arab socialism."

When the United States held up military sales in reaction to Egyptian neutrality regarding the Soviet Union, Nasser concluded an arms deal with Czechoslovakia in September 1955.

When the US and the World Bank withdrew their offer to help finance the Aswan High Dam in mid-1956, Nasser nationalized the privately owned Suez Canal Company. The crisis that followed, exacerbated by growing tensions with Israel over guerrilla attacks from Gaza and Israeli reprisals, support for the FLN's war of liberation against the French in Algeria and against Britain's presence in the Arab world, resulted in the invasion of Egypt in October by France, Britain, and Israel. This was also known as the Suez War. According to the historian Abd aI-Azim Ramadan, Nasser's decision to nationalize the Suez Canal was his alone, made without political or military consultation. The events leading up to the nationalization of the Suez Canal Company, as other events during Nasser's rule, showed Nasser's inclination to solitary decision making. He considers Nasser to be far from a rational, responsible leader. [3]

United Arab Republic Edit

In 1958 Egypt joined with the Republic of Syria and annexed the Gaza Strip, ruled by the All-Palestine Government, to form a state called the United Arab Republic. It existed until Syria's secession in 1961, although Egypt continued to be known as the UAR until 1971.

Nasser helped establish with India and Yugoslavia the Non-Aligned Movement of developing countries in September 1961, and continued to be a leading force in the movement until his death.

Regional intervention Edit

Nasser had looked to a regime change in Yemen since 1957 and finally put his desires into practice in January 1962 by giving the Free Yemen Movement office space, financial support, and radio air time. Anthony Nutting's biography of Gamal Abdel-Nasser identifies several factors that led the Egyptian President to send expeditionary forces to Yemen. These included the unraveling of the union with Syria in 1961, which dissolved his United Arab Republic (UAR), damaging his prestige. A quick decisive victory in Yemen could help him recover leadership of the Arab world. Nasser also had his reputation as an anti-colonial force, setting his sights on ridding South Yemen, and its strategic port city of Aden, of British forces.

Nasser ruled as an autocrat but remained extremely popular within Egypt and throughout the Arab world. His willingness to stand up to the Western powers and to Israel won him support throughout the region. However, Nasser's foreign and military policies were central in provoking the Six-Day War in 1967. This conflict saw the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian armed forces routed by the Israelis.

Israel afterward occupied the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, Golan Heights from Syria, and West Bank from Jordan. This defeat was a severe blow to Nasser's prestige both at home and abroad. Following the defeat, Nasser made a dramatic offer to resign, which was only retracted in the face of mass demonstrations urging him to stay. The last three years of his control over Egypt were far more subdued.

Sadat era Edit

Sadat era refers to the presidency of Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat, the eleven-year period of Egyptian history spanning from the death of president Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970, through Sadat's assassination by fundamentalist army officers on 6 October 1981. Sadat's presidency saw many changes in Egypt's direction, reversing some of the economic and political principles of Nasserism by breaking with Soviet Union to make Egypt an ally of the United States, initiated the peace process with Israel, re-instituting the multi-party system and abandoning socialism by launching the Infitah economic policy.

Under Soviet influence Edit

After Nasser's death, another of the original revolutionary "free officers," Vice President Anwar el-Sadat, was elected President of Egypt. Nasser's supporters in government settled on Sadat as a transitional figure that (they believed) could be manipulated easily. However, Sadat had a long term in office and many changes in mind for Egypt and by some astute political moves was able to institute a "corrective revolution", (announced on 15 May 1971 [4] ) which purged the government, political and security establishments of the most ardent Nasserists. [5] Sadat encouraged the emergence of an Islamist movement which had been suppressed by Nasser. Believing Islamists to be socially conservative he gave them "considerable cultural and ideological autonomy" in exchange for political support. [6]

Following the disastrous Six-Day War of 1967, Egypt waged a War of Attrition in the Suez Canal zone. In 1971, three years into this war, Sadat endorsed in a letter the peace proposals of UN negotiator Gunnar Jarring, which seemed to lead to a full peace with Israel on the basis of Israel's withdrawal to its pre-war borders. This peace initiative failed as neither Israel nor the United States of America accepted the terms as discussed then. To provide Israel with more incentive to negotiate with Egypt and return the Sinai to it, and also because the Soviets had refused Sadat's requests for more military support, Sadat expelled the Soviet military advisers from Egypt and proceeded to bolster his army for a renewed confrontation with Israel. [7]

In the months before the 1973 war Sadat engaged in a diplomatic offensive and by the fall of 1973 had support for a war of more than a hundred states, including most of the countries of the Arab League, Non-Aligned Movement, and Organization of African Unity. Syria agreed to join Egypt in attacking Israel.

In October 1973, Egypt's armed forces achieved initial successes in the Crossing and advanced 15 km, reaching the depth of the range of safe coverage of its own air force. After Syrian forces were being repulsed, the Syrian government urged Sadat to move his forces deeper into Sinai. Without air cover, the Egyptian army suffered huge losses. In spite of huge losses they kept advancing, creating the chance to open a gap between army forces. That gap was exploited by a tank division led by Ariel Sharon, and he and his tanks managed to penetrate, reaching Suez City. In the meantime, the United States initiated a strategic airlift to provide replacement weapons and supplies to Israel and appropriate $2.2 billion in emergency aid. OPEC oil ministers, led by Saudi Arabia retaliated with an oil embargo against the US. A UN resolution supported by the United States and the Soviet Union called for an end to hostilities and for peace talks to begin. On 5 March 1974 Israel withdrew the last of its troops from the west side of the Suez Canal and 12 days later Arab oil ministers announced the end of the embargo against the United States. For Sadat and many Egyptians the war was much more a victory than a draw, as the military objective of capturing a foothold of the Sinai was achieved.

Under Western influence Edit

In foreign relations Sadat instigated momentous change. President Sadat shifted Egypt from a policy of confrontation with Israel to one of peaceful accommodation through negotiations. Following the Sinai Disengagement Agreements of 1974 and 1975, Sadat created a fresh opening for progress by his dramatic visit to Jerusalem in November 1977. This led to the invitation from President Jimmy Carter of the United States to President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin to enter trilateral negotiations at Camp David.

The outcome was the historic Camp David accords, signed by Egypt and Israel and witnessed by the US on 17 September 1978. The accords led to 26 March 1979, signing of the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty, by which Egypt regained control of the Sinai in May 1982. Throughout this period, US–Egyptian relations steadily improved, and Egypt became one of America's largest recipients of foreign aid. Sadat's willingness to break ranks by making peace with Israel earned him the enmity of most other Arab states, however. In 1977, Egypt fought a short border war with Libya.

Sadat used his immense popularity with the Egyptian people to try to push through vast economic reforms that ended the socialistic controls of Nasserism. Sadat introduced greater political freedom and a new economic policy, the most important aspect of which was the infitah or "open door". This relaxed government controls over the economy and encouraged private investment. While the reforms created a wealthy and successful upper class and a small middle class, these reforms had little effect upon the average Egyptian who began to grow dissatisfied with Sadat's rule. In 1977, Infitah policies led to massive spontaneous riots ('Bread Riots') involving hundreds of thousands of Egyptians when the state announced that it was retiring subsidies on basic foodstuffs.

Liberalization also included the reinstitution of due process and the legal banning of torture. Sadat dismantled much of the existing political machine and brought to trial a number of former government officials accused of criminal excesses during the Nasser era. Sadat tried to expand participation in the political process in the mid-1970s but later abandoned this effort. In the last years of his life, Egypt was wracked by violence arising from discontent with Sadat's rule and sectarian tensions, and it experienced a renewed measure of repression including extra judicial arrests.

Conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood Edit

Another change Sadat made from the Nasser era was a bow towards the Islamic revival. Sadat loosened restrictions on the Muslim Brotherhood, allowing it to publish a monthly magazine, al-Dawa, which appeared regularly until September 1981 (although he did not allow the groups reconstitution.) [8]

In the late 1970s, he began calling himself `The Believer President` and signing his name Mohammad Anwar Sadat.` He ordered Egypt's state-run television to interrupt programs with Salat (call to prayer) on the screen five times a day and to increase religious programming. Under his rule local officials banned the sale of alcohol except at places catering to foreign tourists in more than half of Egypt's 26 governorates. [9] 2

Mubarak era Edit

Presidential inauguration Edit

On 6 October 1981, President Sadat was assassinated by Islamic extremists. Hosni Mubarak, Vice President since 1975 and an air force commander during the October 1973 war, was elected President later that month. He was subsequently confirmed by popular referendum for three more 6-year terms, most recently in September 2005. The results of the referendums are however of questionable validity as they, with the exception of the one conducted in September 2005, listed only Mubarak as the sole candidate.

Mubarak maintained Egypt's commitment to the Camp David peace process, while at the same time re-establishing Egypt's position as an Arab leader. Egypt was readmitted to the Arab League in 1989. Egypt also has played a moderating role in such international forums as the UN and the Nonaligned Movement.

1990s - economic reforms and struggle with radical Islamists Edit

From 1991, Mubarak undertook an ambitious domestic economic reform program to reduce the size of the public sector and expand the role of the private sector. During the 1990s, a series of International Monetary Fund arrangements, coupled with massive external debt relief resulting from Egypt's participation in the Gulf War coalition, helped Egypt improve its macroeconomic performance. The economy of Egypt flourished during the 1990s and 2000s. The Government of Egypt tamed inflation bringing it down from double-digit to a single digit. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita based on purchasing-power-parity (PPP) increased fourfold between 1981 and 2006, from US$1355 in 1981, to US$2525 in 1991, to US$3686 in 2001 and to an estimated US$4535 in 2006.

There was less progress in political reform. The November 2000 People's Assembly elections saw 34 members of the opposition win seats in the 454-seat assembly, facing a clear majority of 388 ultimately affiliated with the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). A constitutional amendment in May 2005 changed the presidential election to a multicandidate popular vote rather than a popular validation of a candidate nominated by the People's Assembly and on 7 September Mubarak was elected for another six-year term with 87 percent of the popular vote, followed by a distant but strong showing by Ayman Nour, leader of the opposition Ghad Party and a well-known rights activist.

Shortly after mounting an unprecedented presidential campaign, Nour was jailed on forgery charges critics called phony he was released on 18 February 2009. [10] Brotherhood members were allowed to run for parliament in 2005 as independents, garnering 88 seats, or 20 percent of the People's Assembly.

The opposition parties have been weak and divided and are not yet credible alternatives to the NDP. The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, had remained an illegal organization and may not be recognized as a political party (current Egyptian law prohibits the formation of political parties based on religion). Members are known publicly and openly speak their views. Members of the Brotherhood have been elected to the People's Assembly and local councils as independents. The Egyptian political opposition also includes groups and popular movements such as Kefaya and the 6 April Youth Movement, although they are somewhat less organized than officially registered political parties. Bloggers, or cyberactivists as Courtney C. Radsch terms them, have also played an important political opposition role, writing, organizing, and mobilizing public opposition. [11]

Decrease of influence Edit

President Mubarak had tight, autocratic control over Egypt. However, a dramatic drop in support for Mubarak and his domestic economic reform program increased with surfacing news about his son Alaa being extremely corrupt and favored in government tenders and privatization. As Alaa started getting out of the picture by 2000, Mubarak's second son Gamal started rising in the National Democratic Party and succeeded in getting a newer generation of neo-liberals into the party and eventually the government. Gamal Mubarak branched out with a few colleagues to set up Medinvest Associates Ltd., which manages a private equity fund, and to do some corporate finance consultancy work. [12]

Civil unrest since 2011 Edit

2011 revolution and aftermath Edit

Beginning on 25 January 2011, a series of street demonstrations, protests, and civil disobedience acts have taken place in Egypt, with organizers counting on the Tunisian uprising to inspire the crowds to mobilize. The demonstrations and riots were reported to have started over police brutality, state of emergency laws, unemployment, desire to raise the minimum wage, lack of housing, food inflation, corruption, lack of freedom of speech, and poor living conditions. [13] The protests' main goal was to oust President Hosni Mubarak's regime.

On 11 February 2011, Mubarak resigned and fled Cairo. Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had stepped down and that the Egyptian military would assume control of the nation's affairs in the short term. [14] [15] (See also 2011 revolution.) Jubilant celebrations broke out in Tahrir Square at the news. [16] Mubarak may have left Cairo for Sharm el-Sheikh the previous night, before or shortly after the airing of a taped speech in which Mubarak vowed he would not step down or leave. [17]

On 13 February 2011, the high level military command of Egypt announced that both the constitution and the parliament of Egypt had been dissolved. The parliamentary election was to be held in September. [18]

A constitutional referendum was held on 19 March 2011. On 28 November 2011, Egypt held its first parliamentary election since the previous regime had been in power. Turnout was high and there were no reports of irregularities or violence, although members of some parties broke the ban on campaigning at polling places by handing out pamphlets and banners. [19]

A constituent assembly, founded on 26 March 2012, started to work for implementing a new constitution. Presidential elections, were held in March–June 2012, with a final runoff between former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik and Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarian Mohamed Morsi. On 24 June 2012, Egypt's election commission announced that Morsi had won the run-off.

Morsi's presidency Edit

On 8 July 2012, Egypt's new president Mohamed Morsi said that he's overriding a military edict that dissolved the country's elected parliament and calling on lawmakers back into session.

On 10 July 2012, the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt negated the decision by President Mohamed Morsi to call the nation's parliament back into session. [20] On 2 August 2012, Egypt's Prime Minister Hisham Qandil announced his 35-member cabinet comprising 28 newcomers including four from the influential Muslim Brotherhood, six others and the former military ruler Tantawi as the Defence Minister from the previous Government. [21]

2012-2013 Egyptian protests Edit

On 22 November 2012, Egyptian Mohamed Morsi issued a declaration immunizing his decrees from challenge and seeking to protect the work of the Constituent Assembly drafting the new constitution. [22] The declaration also requires a retrial of those accused in the Mubarak-era killings of protesters, who had been acquitted, and extends the mandate of the constituent assembly by two months. Additionally, the declaration authorizes Morsi to take any measures necessary to protect the revolution. Liberal and secular groups previously walked out of the constitutional constituent assembly because they believed that it would impose strict Islamic practices, while Muslim Brotherhood backers threw their support behind Morsi. [23]

The move has been criticized by Mohamed ElBaradei who stated "Morsi today usurped all state powers & appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh" on his Twitter feed. [24] [25] The move has led to massive protests and violent action throughout Egypt. [26]

After Morsi Edit

During the months after the coup d'état, a new constitution was prepared, which took effect on 18 January 2014. After that, presidential and parliamentary elections have to be held within 6 months.

The Anglo-Egyptian Condominium

Having conquered the Sudan, the British now had to govern it. But the administration of this vast land was complicated by the legal and diplomatic problems that had accompanied the conquest. The Sudan campaigns had been undertaken by the British to protect their imperial position as well as the Nile waters, yet the Egyptian treasury had borne the greater part of the expense, and Egyptian troops had far outnumbered those of Britain in the Anglo-Egyptian army. The British, however, did not simply want to hand the Sudan over to Egyptian rule most Englishmen were convinced that the Mahdiyyah was the result of 60 years of Egyptian oppression. To resolve this dilemma, the Anglo-Egyptian Condominium was declared in 1899, whereby the Sudan was given separate political status under which sovereignty was jointly shared by the khedive and the British crown, and the Egyptian and the British flags were flown side by side. The military and civil government of the Sudan was invested in a governor-general appointed by the khedive of Egypt but nominated by the British government. In reality, there was no equal partnership between Britain and Egypt in the Sudan. From the first the British dominated the condominium and set about pacifying the countryside and suppressing local religious uprisings, which created insecurity among British officials but never posed a major threat to their rule. The north was quickly pacified and modern improvements were introduced under the aegis of civilian administrators, who began to replace the military as early as 1900. In the south, resistance to British rule was more prolonged administration there was confined to keeping the peace rather than making any serious attempts at modernization.

The first governor-general was Lord Kitchener himself, but in 1899 his former aide, Sir Reginald Wingate, was appointed to succeed him. Wingate knew the Sudan well and, during his long tenure as governor-general (1899–1916), became devoted to its people and their prosperity. His tolerance and trust in the Sudanese resulted in policies that did much to establish confidence in Christian British rule by a devoutly Muslim, Arab-oriented people.

Modernization was slow at first. Taxes were purposely kept light, and the government consequently had few funds available for development. In fact, the Sudan remained dependent on Egyptian subsidies for many years. Nevertheless, railway, telegraph, and steamer services were expanded, particularly in Al-Jazīrah, in order to launch the great cotton-growing scheme that remains today the backbone of Sudan’s economy. In addition, technical and primary schools were established, including the Gordon Memorial College, which opened in 1902 and soon began to produce a Western-educated elite that was gradually drawn away from the traditional political and social framework.

Scorned by the British officials (who preferred the illiterate but contented fathers to the ill-educated, rebellious sons) and adrift from their own customary tribal and religious affiliations, these Sudanese turned for encouragement to Egyptian nationalists, and from that association 20th-century Sudanese nationalism was born. Its first manifestations occurred in 1921, when ʿAlī ʿAbd al-Laṭīf founded the United Tribes Society and was arrested for nationalist agitation. In 1924 he formed the White Flag League, dedicated to driving the British from the Sudan. Demonstrations followed in Khartoum in June and August and were suppressed. When the governor-general, Sir Lee Stack, was assassinated in Cairo on November 19, 1924, the British forced the Egyptians to withdraw from the Sudan and annihilated a Sudanese battalion that mutinied in support of the Egyptians. The Sudanese revolt was ended, and British rule remained unchallenged until after World War II.

The Earl of Cromer: Why Britain Acquired Egypt in 1882

sourceThe Earl of Cromer, Modern Egypt, 2 Vols., (New York: Macmillan, 1908), Vol. I.xvii-xviii.

introductionEvelyn Baring, the Earl of Cromer, served as consul-general of Egypt from 1883 to 1907. In this passage from Comer's Modern Egypt (1908), he explains the British rationale for taking control of Egypt in 1882. A nationalist uprising had broken out in Egypt in 1881 against a backdrop of widespread economic distress and growing anti-European sentiment. Known as the Urabi Revolt, this uprising prompted deep concern among Britons, who feared that instability in Egypt could threaten the Suez Canal—the British imperial lifeline to India—as well as local British investments. Britain took action in 1882 by bombarding the coast of Alexandria and occupying Egypt. British authorities maintained that the occupation would be a short-term affair, but in fact Britain kept a hold over Egypt for the next seventy years and only withdrew its last troops from the Suez Canal in 1956.

Egypt may now almost be said to form part of Europe. It is on the high road to the Far East. It can never cease to be an object of interest to all the powers of Europe, and especially to England. A numerous and intelligent body of Europeans and of non-Egyptian orientals have made Egypt their home. European capital to a large extent has been sunk in the country. The rights and privileges of Europeans are jealously guarded, and, moreover, give rise to complicated questions, which it requires no small amount of ingenuity and technical knowledge to solve. Exotic institutions have sprung up and have taken root in the country. The capitulations impair those rights of internal sovereignty which are enjoyed by the rulers or legislatures of most states. The population is heterogeneous and cosmopolitan to a degree almost unknown elsewhere. Although the prevailing faith is that of Islam, in no country in the world is a greater variety of religious creeds to be found amongst important sections of the community.

In addition too these peculiarities, which are of a normal character, it has to be borne in mind that in 1882 the [Egyptian] army was in a state of mutiny the treasury was bankrupt every branch of the administration had been dislocated the ancient and arbitrary method, under which the country had for centuries been governed, had received a severe blow, whilst, at the same time, no more orderly and law-abiding form of government had been inaugurated to take its place. Is it probable that a government composed of the rude elements described above, and led by men of such poor ability as Arabi and his coadjutators, would have been able to control a complicated machine of this nature? Were the sheikhs of the El-Azhar mosque likely to succeed where Tewfik Pasha and his ministers, who were men of comparative education and enlightenment, acting under the guidance and inspiration of a first-class European power, only met with a modified success after years of patient labor? There can be but one answer to these questions. Nor is it in the nature of things that any similar movement should, under the present conditions of Egyptian society, meet with any better success. The full and immediate execution of a policy of "Egypt for the Egyptians," as it was conceived by the Arabists in 1882, was, and still is, impossible.

History, indeed, records some very radical changes in the forms of government to which a state has been subjected without its interests being absolutely and permanently shipwrecked. But it may be doubted whether any instance can be quoted of a sudden transfer of power in any civilized or semi-civilized community to a class so ignorant as the pure Egyptians, such as they were in the year 1882. These latter have, for centuries past, been a subject race. Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs from Arabia and Baghdad, Circassians, and finally, Ottoman Turks, have successively ruled over Egypt, but we have to go back to the doubtful and obscure precedents of Pharaonic times to find an epoch when, possibly, Egypt was ruled by Egyptians. Neither, for the present, do they appear to possess the qualities which would render it desirable, either in their own interests, or in those of the civilized world in general, to raise them at a bound to the category of autonomous rulers with full rights of internal sovereignty.

If, however, a foreign occupation was inevitable or nearly inevitable, it remains to be considered whether a British occupation was preferable to any other. From the purely Egyptian point of view, the answer to this question cannot be doubtful. The intervention of any European power was preferable to that of Turkey. The intervention of one European power was preferable to international intervention. The special aptitude shown by Englishmen in the government of Oriental races pointed to England as the most effective and beneficent instrument for the gradual introduction of European civilization into Egypt. An Anglo-French, or an Anglo-Italian occupation, from both of which we narrowly and also accidentally escaped, would have been detrimental to Egyptian interests and would ultimately have caused friction, if not serious dissension, between England on the one side and France or Italy on the other. The only thing to be said in favor of Turkish intervention is that it would have relieved England from the responsibility of intervening.

By the process of exhausting all other expedients, we arrive at the conclusion that armed British intervention was, under the special circumstances of the case, the only possible solution of the difficulties which existed in 1882. Probably also it was the best solution. The arguments against British intervention, indeed, were sufficiently obvious. It was easy to foresee that, with a British garrison in Egypt, it would be difficult that the relations of England either with France or Turkey should be cordial. With France, especially, there would be a danger that our relations might become seriously strained. Moreover, we lost the advantages of our insular position. The occupation of Egypt necessarily dragged England to a certain extent within the arena of Continental politics. In the event of war, the presence of a British garrison in Egypt would possibly be a source of weakness rather than of strength. Our position in Egypt placed us in a disadvantageous diplomatic position, for any power, with whom we had a difference of opinion about some non-Egyptian question, was at one time able to retaliate by opposing our Egyptian policy. The complicated rights and privileges possessed by the various powers of Europe in Egypt facilitated action of this nature.

There can be no doubt of the force of these arguments. The answer to them is that it was impossible for Great Britain to allow the troops of any other power to occupy Egypt. When it became apparent that some foreign occupation was necessary, that the Sultan would not act save under conditions which were impossible of acceptance, and that neither French nor Italian cooperation could be secured, the British government acted with promptitude and vigor. A great nation cannot throw off the responsibilities which its past history and its position in the world have imposed upon it. English history affords other examples of the government and people of England drifting by accident into doing what was not only right, but was also most in accordance with British interests.


Libya Edit

Cyrenaica, the eastern province of Libya, had been an Italian colony since the Italo-Turkish War (1911–1912), although resistance continued until 1932. With Tunisia, a part of French North Africa to the west and Egypt to the east, the Italians had to defend both frontiers and established a North Africa Supreme Headquarters, under the command of the Governor-General of Italian Libya, Maresciallo dell'Aria (Marshal of the Air Force), Italo Balbo. Supreme Headquarters had the 5th Army (5ª Armata) (Generale [General] Italo Gariboldi) in the west and the 10ª Armata (Tenente Generale [Lieutenant-General] Mario Berti) in the east, which in mid-1940 had nine metropolitan divisions with an establishment of about 13,000 men each, three Milizia Volontaria per la Sicurezza Nazionale (Blackshirt) divisions and two Italian Libyan colonial divisions with an establishment of 8,000 men each. Reservists had been recalled in 1939, along with the usual call-up of new conscripts. [1]

Egypt Edit

The British had based military forces in Egypt since 1882 but these were greatly reduced by the terms of the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936. The small British and Commonwealth force garrisoned the Suez Canal and the Red Sea route, which was vital to British communications with its Far Eastern and Indian Ocean territories. Ruled indirectly by the British, Egypt remained neutral during the war. [2] In mid-1939, Lieutenant-General Archibald Wavell was appointed General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of the new Middle East Command, over the Mediterranean and Middle East theatres. Until the Franco-Axis armistice, French divisions in Tunisia faced the Italians on the western Libyan border forcing the garrison to divide and face both ways. [3]

In Libya, the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito Italiano) had about 215,000 men and in Egypt the British had about 36,000 troops, with another 27,500 men training in Palestine. [3] British forces included the Mobile Division (Egypt) commanded by Major-General Percy Hobart, one of two British armoured training formations, which in mid-1939 was renamed the Armoured Division (Egypt) and on 16 February 1940, it became the 7th Armoured Division. The Egyptian–Libyan border was defended by the Egyptian Frontier Force and in June 1940, the headquarters of the 6th Infantry Division (Major-General Richard O'Connor) took over command in the Western Desert, with instructions to drive back the Italians from their frontier posts and dominate the hinterland, if war began. The 7th Armoured Division, less the 7th Armoured Brigade, assembled at Mersa Matruh and sent the 7th Support Group forward towards the frontier as a covering force. [4]

The RAF also moved most of its bombers closer to the frontier and Malta was reinforced to threaten the Italian supply route to Libya. The HQ of the 6th Infantry Division, still lacking complete and fully trained units, was renamed the Western Desert Force on 17 June. In Tunisia, the French had eight divisions, capable only of limited operations and in Syria were three poorly armed and trained divisions, with about 40,000 troops and border guards, were on occupation duties against the civilian population. Italian land and air forces in Libya greatly outnumbered the British in Egypt but suffered from poor morale and were handicapped by some inferior equipment. In Italian East Africa were another 130,000 Italian and East African troops with 400 guns, 200 light tanks and 20,000 lorries Italy declared war from 11 June 1940. [5]

Terrain Edit

The Western Desert is about 386 km (240 mi) long, from Mersa Matruh in Egypt, west to Gazala on the Libyan coast, along Via Balbia, the only paved road. The Sand Sea, 150 mi (241 km) inland, marks the southern limit of the desert at its widest at Giarabub and Siwa in British parlance, Western Desert came to include eastern Cyrenaica in Libya. From the coast, extending into the hinterland lies a raised, flat plain of stony desert about 500 ft (152 m) above sea level, that runs 124–186 mi (200–300 km) in depth until the Sand Sea. [6] The region is inhabited by a small number of Bedouin nomads and local wildlife consists of scorpions, vipers and flies. [7]

Bedouin tracks link wells (birs) and the easier traversed ground desert navigation is by sun, star, compass and "desert sense", good perception of the environment gained by experience. (When the Italian invasion of Egypt began in September 1940, the Maletti Group (Raggruppamento Maletti, Major-General Pietro Maletti) lacking experience of desert conditions, got lost leaving Sidi Omar, disappeared and had to be found by aircraft.) In spring and summer, days are miserably hot and nights very cold. [7] The Sirocco (Gibleh or Ghibli), a hot desert wind, blows clouds of fine sand, reducing visibility to a few yards and coating eyes, lungs, machinery, food and equipment. Motor vehicles and aircraft need special oil and air filters and the barren ground means that water and food as well as military stores, have to be transported from outside. [8]

Italian Army Edit

In 1936, General Alberto Pariani had been appointed Chief of Staff of the Italian Army and began a reorganisation of divisions to fight wars of rapid decision, according to thinking that speed, mobility and new technology could revolutionise military operations. In 1937, traditional three-regiment divisions (divisione ternaria) began to change to two-regiment binary divisions (divisione binaria), as part of a ten-year plan to reorganise the standing army into 24 binary, 24 triangular, twelve mountain, three motorised and three armoured divisions. [9] The effect of the change was to increase the administrative overhead of the army, with no corresponding increase in effectiveness new technology such as tanks, motor vehicles and wireless communications were slow to arrive and were inferior to those of potential enemies. The dilution of the officer class to find extra unit staffs was made worse by the politicisation of the army and the addition of Blackshirt Militia. [10] The reforms also promoted the tactics of frontal assault to the exclusion of other theories of war, dropping the emphasis on fast mobile warfare backed by artillery. [11] By September 1939, sixteen divisions of the 67 in the Italian Army (excluding the garrison of Ethiopia) had been converted to divisione binaria and had received their establishment of arms and equipment. The remaining divisions had obsolete equipment, no stock of replacements and lacked artillery, tanks, anti-tank guns, anti-aircraft guns and transport. [12]

Morale was considered to be high and the army had recent experience of military operations. The Italian navy had prospered under the Fascist regime, which had paid for fast, well-built and well-armed ships and a large submarine fleet but the navy lacked experience and training. The air force had been ready for war in 1936 but had stagnated and was not considered by the British to be capable of maintaining a high rate of operations. The 5th Army (5ª Armata) in Tripolitania, the western half of Libya opposite Tunisia, had eight divisions the 10ª Armata with six infantry divisions garrisoned the province Cyrenaica in the east. At the end of June, after the Fall of France, four divisions were transferred from the 5th Army to the 10ª Armata . When Italy declared war on 11 June, the 10ª Armata comprised the 1st Libyan Division Sibelle on the frontier from Giarabub to Sidi Omar and XXI Corps from Sidi Omar to the coast, Bardia and Tobruk. The XXII Corps was moved south-west of Tobruk, to act as a counter-attack force. [1] Before war was declared, Balbo expressed his doubts to Mussolini

It is not the number of men which causes me anxiety but their weapons . equipped with limited and very old pieces of artillery, almost lacking anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons . it is useless to send more thousands of men if we cannot supply them with the indispensable requirements to move and fight. [13]

and demanding more equipment including 1,000 trucks, 100 water tankers, more medium tanks and anti-tank guns, which the Italian economy could not produce or the army transfer from elsewhere. In Rome, Badoglio, the chief-of-staff, fobbed him off with promises, "When you have the seventy medium tanks you will dominate the situation", as Balbo prepared to invade Egypt on 15 July. [14] After Balbo was killed in an accident, Benito Mussolini replaced him with Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, with orders to attack Egypt by 8 August. Graziani replied that the 10ª Armata was not properly equipped and that an attack could not possibly succeed Mussolini ordered him to attack anyway. [15]

10ª Armata Edit

The ten divisions of the 10ª Armata (Lieutenant-General Mario Berti) comprised the XX Motorised Corps (Tenente Generale Giuseppe di Stefanis), XXI Corps (Tenente Generale Lorenzo Dalmazzo), XXII Corps, XXIII Corps (Generale di corpo d'armata Annibali Bergonzoli) and the new Gruppo Divisioni Libiche (Libyan Corps). The army comprised metropolitan infantry divisions, Blackshirt (Camicie Nere [CCNN]) infantry divisions and Libyan colonial divisions. [16] The XXIII Corps with the metropolitan divisions "Cirene" and "Marmarica", the Blackshirt Division "23rd Marzo", the 1st and 2nd Libyan divisions (Lieutenant-General Sebastiano Gallina) and the Maletti Group was to conduct the invasion. [17] Bergonzoli had about 1,000 lorries, first to move the "Cirene" and "Marmarica" divisions, followed by the "23rd Marzo". The Libyan divisions had 650 vehicles, enough to move equipment, weapons and supplies but the infantry would have to walk the Maletti Group had 450 vehicles, enough to move its troops. The Maletti Group comprised three battalions of Libyan infantry, additional artillery, much of the Italian armoured vehicle element in Libya and almost all of the Fiat M11/39 medium tanks. XXI Corps, with the Sirte and "28th Ottobre" divisions formed a reserve and XXII Corps with the "Catanzaro" and "3rd Gennaio" divisions were left at Tobruk because of the transport shortage. [17]

5° Squadra Edit

The 10ª Armata was supported by the 5° Squadra of the Regia Aeronautica, with 336 aircraft. [13] The command had four bomber wings, a fighter wing, three fighter groups, two reconnaissance groups and two squadrons of colonial reconnaissance aircraft, with 110 Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 bombers, fifty Breda Ba.65 ground attack aircraft, 170 Fiat CR.42 fighters and six IMAM Ro.37, Caproni Ca.309 and Caproni Ca.310bis long-range reconnaissance aircraft. [18] On 9 September, another sixty-four bombers, seventy-five ground-attack aircraft and fifteen reconnaissance aircraft arrived from Italy. [19] [a] The 5° Squadra was organised to follow and support the army in the field as a self-contained unit but Berti could expect little support from the Regia Marina, because ten submarines had been lost since Italy declared war, the fleet was too important to risk and was short of fuel. [13]

Italian plans Edit

Three times, deadlines were set for an Italian invasion and cancelled the first plan was intended to coincide with an expected German invasion of England on 15 July 1940. Balbo took all the trucks from the 5th Army and the Fiat M11/39 medium tanks being delivered from Italy, to reinforce the 10ª Armata for a crossing of the frontier wire and an occupation of Sollum as soon as war was declared. After a British counter-attack was repulsed and the Italian armies were replenished, the advance would continue. Although this plan was based on a realistic appreciation of what the Italian armies in Libya could achieve, it fell through when the invasion of England was cancelled. [20] [b] The second plan, for 22 August, was for a limited advance to Sollum and Shawni el Aujerin to the east, with three columns moving on three lines of advance. Once Sollum had been occupied, an advance on Sidi Barrani would be considered, an example of advance-in-mass, used on the northern front in the Ethiopian War. The Italian non-motorized infantry divisions were to use the only road but the summer heat in August, which would have affected them most, led to another postponement. [21]

The third plan was for an invasion on 9 September with Sidi Barrani as the objective, which Graziani disclosed to his staff six days before Mussolini ordered the invasion. The non-motorised, metropolitan divisions would advance along the coast and attack through Halfaya Pass, occupy Sollum and continue to Sidi Barrani. A southern column of the Libyan divisions and the Maletti Group was to advance along the Dayr al Hamra–Bir ar Rabiyah–Bir Enba track, to outflank the British on the escarpment. The Maletti Group was to drive south and east through the desert but the Italian staff failed to provide proper maps and navigation equipment when moving to its assembly and jumping-off points, the group got lost and XXIII Corps Headquarters had to send aircraft to help lead the group into position the Libyan divisions arriving late at the rendezvous near Fort Capuzzo. [22]

The embarrassment of the Maletti Group added to doubts about the lack of lorries, transport aircraft and British domination of the terrain, which led to another change of plan. The fourth plan was set for 13 September, with Sidi Barrani and the area to the south as the objective. The 10ª Armata, with only five divisions, due to the shortage of transport and the tanks of the Maletti Group, would advance in mass down the coast road, occupy Sollum and advance through Buq Buq to Sidi Barrani. The 10ª Armata was to consolidate at Sidi Barrani and bring up supplies, destroy a British counter-attack and resume the advance to Matruh. The non-motorized infantry divisions were to use the coast road because they would be ineffective anywhere else. A similar operation had been conducted on the northern front in Ethiopia but went against mobile warfare theory, for which there were ample forces to execute. Graziani believed the only way to defeat the British was by mass, having overestimated their strength. [23]

Western Desert Force Edit

Against an estimated 250,000 Italian troops based in Libya and about 250,000 more in Italian East Africa, Wavell had a ration strength of about 36,000 troops in Egypt fourteen non-brigaded battalions of British infantry the 2nd New Zealand Division (Major-General Bernard Freyberg) with one infantry brigade, an understrength cavalry regiment, a machine gun battalion and a field artillery regiment. The 4th Indian Infantry Division (Major-General Noel Beresford-Peirse) had two infantry brigades and some artillery, the 7th Armoured Division (Major-General Sir Michael Creagh) had two armoured brigades with two armoured regiments each instead of three. [24] The 7th Support Group, with three motorised infantry battalions, artillery, engineers and machine-gunners, was to harass the Italians and to fight delaying actions between the border and Matruh if attacked but to retain the capacity to engage the main Italian force. [25]

At Matruh an infantry force would await the Italian attack, while from the escarpment on the desert flank the bulk of the 7th Armoured Division, would be ready to counter-attack. The covering force was to exaggerate its size and the 7th Support Group was to use its mobility to cover the desert flank, while along the coast road, the 3rd Coldstream Guards, a company of the 1st Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) and a company of Free French Motor Marines, with supporting artillery and machine-gunners, would fall back in stages, demolishing the road as they retired. [26] At the end of May 1940, the Royal Air Force in the Middle East had 205 aircraft, including 96 obsolete Bristol Bombay medium bombers and modern Blenheim light bombers, 75 obsolete Gloster Gladiator fighters and 34 other types. In July, four Hawker Hurricane fighters arrived but only one could be spared for the Western Desert Force. By the end of July, the Mediterranean Fleet had won control of the Eastern Mediterranean and were able to bombard Italian coastal positions and transport supplies along the coast to Matruh and beyond. [27]

Border skirmishes Edit

On 17 June, using the headquarters of the British 6th Infantry Division, the headquarters of the WDF (Lieutenant-General O'Connor) was formed to control all troops facing the Italians in Cyrenaica, a force of about 10,000 men, with aircraft, tanks and guns. O'Connor was to organise aggressive patrolling along the frontier and set out to dominate no-man's land by creating "jock columns", mobile combined-arms formations based on units of 7th Armoured Division. [28] These small, well-trained, regular forces made the first attacks on Italian convoys and fortified positions across the border. [29] British patrols closed up to the frontier wire on 11 June, with orders to dominate the area, harass the garrisons of the frontier forts and lay ambushes along the Via Balbia and inland tracks. [30]

Some Italian troops were unaware that war had been declared and seventy were captured on the track to Sidi Omar. [30] Patrols ranged north to the coast road between Bardia and Tobruk, west to Bir el Gubi and south to Giarabub. Within a week, the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert's Own) had seized Fort Capuzzo and at an ambush east of Bardia, captured the 10ª Armata Engineer-in-Chief, Brigadier General Romolo La Strucci. Italian reinforcements arrived at the frontier, began to conduct reconnaissance patrols, improved the frontier defences and recaptured Fort Capuzzo. On 13 August, the British raids were stopped to conserve the serviceability of vehicles the 7th Support Group took over to observe the wire for 60 mi (97 km) from Sollum to Fort Maddalena, ready to fight delaying actions if the Italians invaded Egypt. [31]

9–10 September Edit

XXIII Corps (General Annibale Bergonzoli) was to lead the 10ª Armata attack into Egypt to Sidi Barrani along the coast road with non-motorised and motorised formations. The corps had been given more lorries the 62nd Infantry Division Marmarica and 63rd Infantry Division Cirene were part-motorised, the 1st Blackshirt Division 23rd Marzo was motorised, as were the Maletti Group and the 1st Raggruppamento Carri. The part-motorised infantry divisions would move by shuttling forward and the non-motorized infantry would have to march the 60 mi (97 km) to Sidi Barrani. [32] Bergonzoli wanted the 1st Raggruppamento Carri as an advanced guard, two motorised infantry divisions in line and one motorised division in reserve. The two Libyan non-motorised infantry divisions would have to move on foot, with the Maletti Group bringing up the rear. [32] The 1st Raggruppamento Carri was held back in reserve, except for the LXII Light Tank Battalion, which was attached to the 63rd Division "Marmarica" and the LXIII Light Tank Battalion assigned to the 62nd Division "Cirene". The 2nd Raggruppamento Carri stayed at Bardia except for the IX Light Tank Battalion attached to the 2nd Libyan Division "Pescatori". The II Medium Tank Battalion was with the Maletti Group, which had three fully motorised Libyan infantry battalions. [33]

On 9 September, the activity of the Regia Aeronautica increased and bombers from 55 Squadron, 113 Squadron and 211 Squadron RAF retaliated with attacks on airfields, transport, supply dumps and a raid on Tobruk by 21 aircraft. Later in the day, 27 Italian fighters made a sweep over Buq Buq and the RAF flew more sorties against Italian airfields. British air reconnaissance revealed much ground movement at Bardia, Sidi Azeiz, Gabr Saleh and towards Sidi Omar from the west, which was interpreted as the beginning of the Italian invasion. The forward move of the 10ª Armata showed the limits of Italian mobility and navigation, when the Maletti Group got lost moving up to Sidi Omar, on the frontier wire. On 10 September, the armoured cars of the 11th Hussars spotted the Maletti Group and a thick mist shielded the British as they shadowed the slow Italian assembly. As the mist cleared, the hussars were attacked by Italian aircraft, tanks and artillery. [13]

13–14 September Edit

On 13 September, the 1st Blackshirt Division 23rd Marzo re-took Fort Capuzzo and a bombardment fell on Musaid, just over the Egyptian side of the border, which was then occupied. Artillery-fire and bombing began on Sollum airfield and barracks (which were empty), which raised a dust cloud. When the dust cleared the Italian army could be seen drawn up, ready to advance against the British covering force of the 3rd Coldstream Guards, some field artillery, an extra infantry battalion and a machine-gun company. The Italians advanced along the coast with two divisions leading, behind a screen of motorcyclists, tanks, motorised infantry and artillery. [33] The Italian formation made an easy target for artillery and aircraft but the 1st Libyan Division "Sibelle" soon occupied Sollum barracks and began to move down the escarpment to the port. [34]

On the inland plateau, an Italian advance towards Halfaya Pass was opposed by a covering force of a 3rd Coldstream company, a Northumberland Fusilier platoon and some artillery, which began to withdraw in the afternoon, as more Italian infantry and tanks arrived. [34] During the evening, two columns of the 2nd Libyan Division Pescatori, the 63rd Infantry Division "Cirene" and the Maletti group from Musaid and the 62nd Infantry Division "Marmarica" from Sidi Omar, converged on the pass. [34] Next day, the Italian units on the escarpment began to descend through the pass, towards the Italian force advancing along the road from Sollum. An 11th Hussar squadron, the 2nd Rifle Brigade and cruiser tanks of the 1st Royal Tank Regiment (1st RTR) harassed the Italian force on the escarpment. Just after noon, the British troops on the coast retreated to Buq Buq and met reinforcements from the 11th Hussars and a motorised company of Troupes de marine (French marines), which was enough to maintain contact with the Italians. The British withdrew to Alam Hamid on 15 September and Alam el Dab on 16 September, trying to inflict maximum losses without being pinned down and destroying the coast road as they went, damage which was made worse by the amount of Italian traffic. [35]

16 September Edit

The uncommitted part of the 1st Raggruppamento Carri, followed the 1st Libyan Division "Sibelle" and the 2nd Libyan Division "Pescatori" towards Bir Thidan el Khadim. At Alam el Dab near Sidi Barrani, about fifty Italian tanks, motorised infantry and artillery tried an outflanking move, which forced the Coldstream Guards to retreat. [36] The armoured group was engaged by British field artillery and made no further move but by dark the 1st Blackshirt Division 23 Marzo had occupied Sidi Barrani. Above the escarpment, the British covering forces fell back parallel to those on the coast road and the threat from the desert flank did not materialise. British aircraft flew many reconnaissance and bombing sorties and 5° Squadra made sweeps with up to 100 fighters and bombers on British forward airfields and defensive positions. [37] The British anticipated that the Italian advance would stop at Sidi Barrani and Sofafi and began to observe the positions with the 11th Hussars, as the 7th Support Group withdrew to rest and the 7th Armoured Division prepared to confront an advance on Matruh. Italian radio broadcasts about the invasion suggested that the advance would continue from Sidi Barrani but it soon appeared that the Italians were digging-in on an arc to the south and south-west at Maktila, Tummar (east), Tummar (west), Nibeiwa and on top of the escarpment at Sofafi as divisions further back occupied Buq Buq, Sidi Omar and Halfaya Pass. [38]

Analysis Edit

The 10ª Armata advanced about 12 mi (19 km) a day to enable the non-motorised units to keep up and at Sidi Barrani, built fortified camps. No bold mechanised strokes or flanking movements had been made by the armoured units, XXIII Corps had guarded the infantry instead and the 10ª Armata suffered fewer than 550 casualties during the advance. The Raggruppamento Maletti, 1st Raggruppamento Carri and the 1st Blackshirt Division "23rd Marzo" had failed to operate according to Italian armoured warfare theory. Lack of preparation, training and organisation had led to blunders in assembling and directing the Raggruppamento Maletti and over-caution with the other tank battalions of 1st Raggruppamento Carri. The rushed motorisation of the 1st Blackshirt Division "23rd Marzo", which had not been trained as a motorised division, disorganised the relationship between drivers and infantry. [36]

The advance reached Sidi Barrani with modest losses but failed to do much damage to the British. [36] On 21 September, there were sixty-eight Fiat M.11/39 tanks left of the seventy-two sent to Libya. The 1st Medium Tank Battalion had nine serviceable and twenty-three unserviceable tanks and the 2nd Medium Tank Battalion had twenty-eight operational and eight non-operational tanks. Italian medium tank strength was expected to increase when deliveries of the new Fiat M13/40, which had a powerful Cannone da 47/32 M35 47 mm gun, began. The II Medium Tank Battalion with thirty-seven M13/40 tanks arrived in Libya in early October, followed by the V Medium Tank Battalion with forty-six M13/40 tanks on 12 December. In mid-November the Italians had 417 medium and light tanks in Libya and Egypt. [39] Wavell wrote,

The greatest possible credit is due to Brigadier William Gott, MC, commanding the Support Group, and to Lieutenant-Colonel John Campbell, MC, commanding the Artillery, for the cool and efficient way in which this withdrawal was carried out, also to the troops for their endurance and tactical skill.

Repair works began on the coast road, renamed Via della Vittoria from Bardia and construction of a water pipe begun, which were not expected to be ready before mid-December, after which the advance would be resumed as far as Matruh. [37]

Mussolini wrote on 26 October

Forty days after the capture of Sidi Barrani I ask myself the question, to whom has this long halt been any use—to us or to the enemy? I do not hesitate to answer, it has been of much use, indeed, more to the enemy…. It is time to ask whether you feel you wish to continue to command. [41]

and two days later, on 28 October, the Italians invaded Greece, beginning the Greco-Italian War. Graziani was allowed to continue planning at a leisurely pace and an Italian advance to Matruh was scheduled for mid-December. [41]

Casualties Edit

In 1971, Kenneth Macksey wrote that the 10ª Armata suffered 530 casualties, 120 killed and 410 wounded against a British loss of "but forty men. and little equipment". [42] In 1993, Harold Raugh wrote of about 2,000 Italian casualties against less than fifty British. [43] In 1995, the writers of Germany and the Second World War noted that equipment losses for both sides had not been accurately tabulated. [44] In 1997, Giorgio Bocca wrote that the Western Desert Force suffered casualties of forty men killed, ten tanks, eleven armoured cars and four lorries destroyed. [45] In his 1999 MA thesis, Howard Christie wrote that from 9 to 16 September, the 10ª Armata suffered casualties of 120 men killed and 410 wounded. Several tanks and lorries broke down and six aircraft were lost, two to accidents. [36]

Subsequent operations Edit

On 17 September, the Mediterranean Fleet began to harass Italian communications and Benghazi harbour was mined. A destroyer and two merchant ships were sunk by torpedo and a destroyer hit a mine at Benghazi and sank. RAF Blenheims destroyed three aircraft on the ground at Benina. The road on the escarpment near Sollum was bombarded by a navy gunboat and targets near Sidi Barrani by two destroyers, from which fires and explosions were seen. Captured Italians spoke of damage, casualties and a loss of morale. An attempt to bombard Bardia by a cruiser and destroyers was thwarted by Italian torpedo bombers, which hit the stern of the cruiser and put it out of action. Bombardments continued during the lull, which led to camps and depots being moved inland. Small British columns on land were set up to work with armoured car patrols, moving close to the Italian camps, gleaning information and dominating the vicinity. [46]

Operation Compass Edit

On 8 December the British launched Operation Compass, a five-day raid against the fortified Italian camps set up in a defensive line outside Sidi Barrani. Berti was on sick leave and Gariboldi had temporarily taken his place. The raid succeeded and the few units of the 10ª Armata in Egypt that were not destroyed were forced to withdraw. By 11 December, the British began a counter-offensive and the rest of the 10ª Armata was swiftly defeated. The British pursued the remnants of the 10ª Armata to Sollum, Bardia, Tobruk, Derna, Mechili, Beda Fomm and El Agheila on the Gulf of Sirte. The British lost 1,900 men killed and wounded, about ten per cent of their infantry, in capturing 133,298 Italian and Libyan prisoners, 420 tanks and over 845 guns and aircraft. The British were unable to continue beyond El Agheila, due to broken-down and worn out vehicles and the diversion of the best-equipped units to the Greek Campaign. [47]

5ª Armata (5th Army) Edit

Air Marshal Italo Balbo, Supreme Commander Italian Forces in North Africa. Details taken from Christie (1999) unless specified. [48]

Western Frontier (Tunisia, Generale Italo Gariboldi) [49]

  • X Corps
    • 25th Infantry Division "Bologna"
    • 60th Infantry Division "Sabratha"
    • 17th Infantry Division "Pavia"
    • 61st Infantry Division "Sirte"
    • 27th Infantry Division "Brescia"
    • 1st Blackshirt Division Division "23rd Marzo"
    • 2nd Blackshirt Division "28th Ottobre"
    • 2nd Libyan Division "Pescatore" (reserve to 5ª Armata)

    10ª Armata Edit

    Eastern Frontier, (Libya, General Mario Berti [on leave in Italy, Gariboldi deputising])

    • XXI Corps
      • 62nd Infantry Division "Marmarica"
      • 63rd Infantry Division "Cirene"
      • 64th Infantry Division "Catanzaro"
      • 4th Blackshirt Division "3rd Gennaio"
      • 1st Libyan Division "Sibelle" (10ª Armata reserve)

      5° Squadra, Regia Aeronautica Edit

      On 10 June 1940 there were 363 Italian aircraft in North Africa 306 operational and 57 trainers 179 aircraft were unserviceable.

      • Bomber
        • 10th Stormo: 30 Savoia-Marchetti SM.79
        • 14th Stormo: 12 SM.79, 1 Fiat BR.20
        • 15th Stormo: 35 SM.79, 8 Savoia-Marchetti SM.81, 3 BR.20
        • 33rd Stormo: 31 SM.79
        • 2nd Stormo: 36 Fiat CR.32, 25 Fiat CR.42
        • 10th Gruppo: 27 Fiat CR.42
        • 50th Stormo: 11 Breda Ba.65 (ground attack), 3 IMAM Ro.41 (reconnaissance), 23 Caproni Ca.310 (light bomber/reconnaissance)
        • 64th Gruppo: 8 IMAM Ro.37bis, 5 RO.1bis
        • 73rd Gruppo: 6 RO.37bis, 1 RO.1bis
        • 143rd Squadron: CANT Z.501/6 (maritime reconnaissance)
        • I Gruppo Aviazione Presidio Coloniale: 18 Caproni Ca.309, CA.310, RO.37 (light bomber/reconnaissance)
        • II Gruppo Aviazione Presidio Coloniale: 21 CA.309, CA.310 and RO.37 (light bomber/reconnaissance)

        Western Desert Force (WDF) Edit

        • Commander-in-Chief Middle East, General Sir Archibald Wavell
          • Commander Western Desert Force: Lieutenant-General R. N. O'Connor
          • 4th Armoured Brigade, Mersa Matruh
            • 1st Royal Tank Regiment
            • 6th Royal Tank Regiment
            • 7th Hussars
            • 8th Hussars
            • 1st K.R.R.C. Battalion
            • 2nd Motor Battalion (The Rifle Brigade)
            • 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards
            • 1st Royal Northumberland Fusiliers
            • 3rd Royal Horse Artillery
            • F Battery, 4th Royal Horse Artillery
            • 11th Hussars (attached to 7th Support Group from 7th Armoured Brigade)

            Sidi Barrani Edit

            Operations on the Libyan–Egyptian Border

            Other Commonwealth Forces in Egypt Edit

            • 4th Indian Division (less one infantry brigade) Nile Delta
              • 5th Indian Infantry Brigade
              • 11th Indian Infantry Brigade
              • Divisional Troops

              10ª Armata Edit

              Marshal Rodolfo Graziani, Supreme Commander Italian Forces in North Africa.

              • XXI Corps (10ª Armata Reserve, Tobruk)
                • 61st Infantry Division "Sirte"
                • 2nd Blackshirt Division "28th Ottobre"
                • LX Light Tank Battalion (L3)
                • 64th Infantry Division "Catanzaro"
                • 4th Blackshirt Division "3rd Gennaio"
                • 1st Blackshirt Division "23rd Marzo" (motorised for the invasion of Egypt)
                • 62nd Infantry Division "Marmarica" (part motorised for the invasion)
                • LXIII light tank battalion (L3) (reinforcing the 62nd Division "Marmarica")
                • 63rd Infantry Division "Cirene" (part motorised for the invasion)
                • LXII light tank battalion (L3) (reinforcing the 63rd Division "Cirene")
                • 1st Libyan Division "Sibelle" (non-motorised)
                • 2nd Libyan Division "Pescatore" (non-motorised)
                • IX light tank battalion (L3) (reinforcing the 2nd Libyan Division "Pescatore")

                Comando Carri Armati della Libia Edit

                • 1st Raggruppamento Carri (reserve to XXIII Corps, under command 10ª Armata)
                  • I Medium Tank Battalion (M11)
                  • XXI Light Tank Battalion (L3)
                  • XX Light Tank Battalion (L3)
                  • LXI Light Tank Battalion (L3)
                  • II medium tank battalion (M11)
                  • 3 Motorized Libyan infantry battalions

                  WDF Edit

                  Commander-in-Chief, Middle East: General Sir Archibald Wavell Commander Western Desert Force: Lieutenant-General R. N. O'Connor

                  The British Invasion of Egypt, 1882

                  Liberal fire-brand William Gladstone launched his election campaign to become British Prime Minister in 1880 during what was being described by contemporaries as the ‘Great Depression’. [i] The ‘People’s William’ was elected primarily on the back of his promise to reverse the Conservative Party’s jingoistic, imperialist foreign policy under Benjamin Disraeli’s tenure. The parallels between Britain at this time and the position the United States currently finds itself in – severe economic depression and a newly elected charismatic leader intent on reversing years of aggressive foreign policy – are striking. This is not to imply that the trajectory of the United States will mirror that of the British Empire – for there is never a predetermined historical path. The purpose of this paper is to examine the processes that conflicted with and ultimately undermined Gladstone’s pledge to end British expansion overseas, which resulted in the invasion of Egypt just two years after his election. It is the unravelling of these processes that will perhaps be of greatest relevance for today’s reader.

                  Five years after the Suez Crisis of 1956, Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher published their groundbreaking work on British imperialism, Africa and the Victorians. [ii] Here, they argued that the British occupation of Egypt in 1882 had ‘inflated the importance of trivial disputes between European powers and set off a ‘Scramble for Africa.’ [iii] For these authors, foreign bailiffs had antagonised Egyptian ‘proto-nationalist’ sentiments by knocking on their gates at the onset of a world economic downturn. Indeed, European financiers demanded prompt repayment of their state loans at markedly high rates of interest, at times reaching 27%. [iv] The subsequent pressure levied upon the Egyptian people by the Khedive Ismail’s [v] administration in the form of increased taxation, was said to have united disparate and discontented factions under the nationalist umbrella of Urabi Pasha. Alarmed by the potential hostility an Egyptian nationalism posed, Prime Minister Gladstone reluctantly agreed to commit troops to rescue the deteriorating situation. Thus, a ‘crisis on the periphery’ precipitated a British presence in the region to restore order, secure property rights, protect ‘Christian’ life from harm’s way and safeguard the strategically important passage to India.

                  It is worth considering why, by 1882, Egypt was so central to British policy-making decisions that a vast naval contingent led by General Wolseley began to fire on the port city of Alexandria and then launch a land-invasion. At this point a brief context of Egypt’s developmental path is necessary.


                  The Khedive Mohammed Ali, ruler of Egypt 1811-1849, had initiated a process of modernisation to his governmental apparatus in the first half of the nineteenth century. He also set about building a professional army and securing spheres of influence in Sudan, Syria and the Persian Gulf, all measures designed to loosen the grip that the Ottoman Empire had over Egypt. Yet these changes did not affect the majority of Egyptians and there remained a class of agricultural labourers and peasants – Fellahin – who continued to live according to the fluctuating levels of the Nile and the four seasons, just as their ancestors had done millennia’s back. [vi] Despite Ali’s reign often characterised as being one of extensive state-building, Egypt remained a relatively backward country in comparison to most European industrial powers of the time. Nevertheless, there were some important signs of progress. For instance, trade in Egyptian raw materials such as cotton, in exchange for British manufactured goods increased rapidly from the 1850s – no doubt spurred on by Britain’s decision to adopt free trade as official economic policy from 1846.

                  The accession of the Khedive Ismail to the throne in 1863 is often regarded as a watershed in Egyptian history. [vii] Ismail’s drive to create a strong, centralised state according to a European model saw significant changes to Egyptian society as a whole. Not only did this new Egypt participate in the Paris World Exhibition in 1867, thus demonstrating its modernising credentials, but it also witnessed the opening of the great mechanical feat of the Suez Canal in 1869. Ismail’s Egypt was showing outward signs of its intentions to open up and embrace an age of increasing cultural, political and economic integration. Rapid infrastructural changes also emerged at this point – railroads, telegraphs, harbours, schools and land irrigation projects were built and a dramatic expansion of the export economy began. For the fellahin however , these developments meant even harsher conditions of forced labour, taxation, debt and interest payment increases. Yet, even the new tax burdens exerted upon ordinary Egyptians did not suffice to cover the costs of Ismail’s grand projects. Egypt therefore became increasingly reliant upon foreign loans to fund modernisation.It is at this juncture that the histories of modern Egypt, Britain and other European states became intertwined. [viii] The city of Alexandria evolved from a strategically important coastal enclave into a thriving, ‘polyglot capitalist community’. [ix] Between the years 1876-1890, the traffic between Europe and the Eastern world multiplied threefold, highlighting the impact that the Suez Canal had on connecting previously detached economies. [x] According to Colin Newbury, the Khedive Ismail went as far as to claim that Egypt was becoming a ‘part of Europe’ during this transitional period. [xi] On the eve of occupation, as many as 100,000 Europeans lived in Egypt. [xii]

                  By 1882, 37% of Gladstone’s personal wealth was invested in Egyptian stocks. It is difficult to quantify whether or not he forsook his strong liberal convictions and ‘treasury principles’ for personal gain as Peter Cain and Anthony Hopkins have argued. [xiii] As Alexander Scholch has relayed, on numerous occasions and even as late as June 26 th 1882, Gladstone made proclamations in the Houses of Parliament over his continuing opposition to sending troops into Egypt. [xiv] And as ‘men-on-the-spot’ such as Auckland Colvin and Edward Malet provided lurid reports warning of the repercussions in allowing an authoritarian Egyptian nationalism to take power, there continued a significant section in the Liberal Party who were committed to a pacific foreign policy. It remains unclear how far the threats of splitting the Party, as intimated by leading figures such as the staunch Unionist, the Marques of Hartington, and a desire to present a patriotic image of the Liberal Party to the British electorate contributed to Gladstone’s ‘U-turn’. Interestingly, Eric Stokes claimed that Lenin, political heir to Marx’s historical materialism, perceived many components of the late nineteenth century ‘new imperialism’ to be part of a wider ‘non-economic superstructure’. [xv] Party-political considerations and issues of national prestige can then be seen as fundamental in the way that decision-making processes in this era evolved. [xvi]

                  Desperate Times in Egypt

                  In the so-called ‘periphery’, Egypt had reached a ‘condition of disaster’ as early as the 1870s. For Benjamin Kidd, an early British sociologist, a situation of ‘misgovernment, extravagance, and oppression without example’ had been reached by this time. [xvii] A ‘reckless, ambitious, and voluptuous ruler’ had created a climate where all of the elements of national bankruptcy and ruin could prevail. [xviii] In 1875, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli had purchased cut-price government shares in the Suez Canal (funded by the banking magnate Lionel de Rothschild) that amounted to 44% of its total stock. Subsequently, when Egypt was declared bankrupt in the following year, Britain was its principal creditor. [xix] Furthermore, up to 80% of Egyptian exports went to Britain by 1880 and 44% of all its imports originated there. [xx] For Cain and Hopkins the eventual occupation was a ‘moment of conjuncture arising out of long-term interaction between the expansion of British interests and the aspirations of Egyptian rulers.’ [xxi] However, Alfred Milner, later under-secretary of finance in Egypt, claimed at the moment of invasion that British objectives were solely to install ‘honesty, humanity and justice’ in Egypt. [xxii] Both accounts may possess elements of truths regarding the reasons and motives behind the invasion, but equally, both fail to address a far more pertinent question – why did the moment of conjuncture happen when it did and how was the rhetoric of war (under the guise of humanitarianism) able to achieve such widespread and popular support?

                  France and West Africa

                  As the Great Depression began to set in from 1873, it was France, more than any other industrialised nation that was affected most negatively. [xxiii] Paradoxically, the opening of the Suez Canal, a project that Napoleon had once encouraged and French capital funded, affected its trade interests in West African ‘legitimate commerce’ considerably. [xxiv] This was due to the fact that the Suez now connected the Mediterranean with the Red Sea, making new markets in the East more readily accessible for European states in search of vegetable oil. [xxv] Thus, this shift towards a ‘single global economy’ [xxvi] facilitated not only integration, but economic crisis for regions such as West Africa. With the rates of profits for French merchants falling and the ascent of new industrial powers such as Germany and the USA, motored by steel and electricity, public opinion in France was said to have been agitating for the reestablishment of a French global status. [xxvii] Such feelings were exasperated by the recent and humiliating military defeat to Prussia in 1871 and increasingly protectionist policies that both Washington and Berlin were implementing throughout this decade. Eventually, in 1879 France invaded Senegal, seeking to incorporate its territory within a French tariff system.

                  International Rivalry

                  It is within this context, of a global economic downturn and heightened international rivalries that Britain’s shift in foreign policy manifested itself in the form of the invasion of Egypt. If this newly intensified international competition influenced British plans to invade, then Robinson and Gallagher’s ‘crisis on the periphery’ thesis in relation to Egypt appears to disintegrate. In the words of Cain and Hopkins, ‘the tail did not wag the dog.’ [xxviii] By asserting the role and machinations of City of London financiers and their political brethren in Westminster, Cain and Hopkins’ analysis has at times stymied attempts to forge a broad interpretation of the Scramble for Africa. Critiquing the Hobsonian ‘Bondholder thesis’ as being crude and conspiratorial, they claim that it was rather an ‘organic connection’ between statesmen and capitalists that finally compelled action. [xxix] They fail to adequately attend to the reason why their metaphorical dog became so aggressive at the specific time it did. It is no coincidence that Britain reacted to earlier French excursions into the West African interior rather than initiated a military campaign itself. After all, Britain remained the only major power committed to the system of free trade (the operations of the City of London depended on the unfettered movement of capital) and so only when this was threatened by the prospect of heightened tariff barriers being imposed by a rival such as France did industrialists and financiers actively court government intervention. [xxx] In short, concerns over the consequences that the growing network of French protectionist territories may have had on Britain’s industrial and speculative finance sectors led Britain to consider a pre-emptive strike on Egypt in order to safeguard its ‘sovereignty’ and readdress the international balance of power .

                  Role of the Press

                  Fuelling these concerns over the safety of overseas investments were groups including the influential Rothschild dynasty that had substantial financial holdings in Egyptian shares. In addition, the Egyptian based Corporation of Foreign Bondholders, worried by the increasingly popular Urabi nationalist movement, began to mobilise the financial press and British Members of Parliament who had personal investments in Egypt, behind military action. The extent to which the daily press was involved in the debate over British foreign policy can be seen by looking at the coverage of The Times newspaper at this time. In October 1881, The Times made an impassioned plea for British intervention in Egyptian financial affairs and later called unequivocally for a full-scale invasion. [xxxi] Of course, it would be a gross overestimation to claim that the press persuaded ministers and public opinion wholesale to their side and portion responsibility for the military campaign onto Fleet Street. However, the role of the press in regards to the invasion can be seen as a contributory one that helped consolidate different factions behind one objective. This objective, to ‘protect’ the economy of Egypt in order to suit the needs of substantial British investments, was the culmination of different elements that had fused together over several decades.

                  By 1900, approximately 90% of the African continent had been annexed and was under some form of European control. Precisely because of this unprecedented process in world history, it would be detrimental to view one case study, such as the British invasion of Egypt, in isolation from the wider cultural, political and economic climate of the nineteenth century. As this essay has illustrated, the motivations, rhetoric and actions of individuals and groups (both in the metropole and periphery) all contributed to the ‘new imperialism’ of the late nineteenth century. Consequence it would seem seldom ran parallel with original intention. For just as the process of modernisation tied Egypt into the economic orbit of its future occupier, Britain, so the opening of the Suez Canal proved to be the bane of the French Empire. And as ‘Gladstonian liberalism’ swept to power at the 1880 elections on the back of denouncing aggressive Conservative Party foreign policy, a change in political and economic conditions made it conceivable that Gladstone would lead Britain into invading Egypt just two years later. The Scramble for Africa and the many events contained within it cannot be treated as a neat, chronological process then. Its uneven edges continue to inflict sharp reminders to historians seeking to extract a master narrative. If one thing is clear from studying the invasion of Egypt, it is that a spirit of optimism over Britain’s role as a global force for good continued to permeate throughout society. Writing in 1906, Lady Lugard captured both the spirit and legacy of this time perfectly. ‘The work done by England in Egypt is anther proof of our capacity for autocratic rule. We are justified therefore in thinking ourselves as a people who may face with reasonable hopes of success still vaster questions of tropical administration.’ [xxxii] The invasion of Egypt, as unlikely as it had seemed upon Gladstone’s election victory in 1880, set the tone for British foreign policy well into the twentieth century.

                  [i] From 1873 until at least the middle of the 1880s world export prices fell dramatically.

                  [ii] R, Robinson and J. Gallagher, Africa and the Victorians: The Official Mind of Imperialism (1961)

                  Fact File : Italy Invades Egypt

                  Theatre: North Africa
                  Area: Egypt and Cyrenaica (now Libya)
                  Players: Allies: Western Desert Force under Major General O'Connor, comprising 7th Armoured Division and 4th Indian Infantry Division (replaced by 6th Australian Division on 19 December 1940). Italy: 22nd Corps, comprising 4th Blackshirt Infantry Division at Sidi Barrani, 2nd Blackshirt Infantry Division at Sollum and 64th Infantry Division at Buqbuq.
                  Outcome: A timid advance into Egypt by massively superior Italian forces was rebuffed and the British drove the Italians back past Benghazi, taking thousands of prisoners.

                  Italian leader Benito Mussolini assumes a characteristic pose as he speaks to an audience in Italy in 1934©

                  The remnants of the Italian forces retreated to Bardia, in Cyrenaica. On 3 January 1941, the British began their attack. After only three days, the Italians surrendered Tobruk followed on January 24. All in all, another 75,000 Italians had surrendered.

                  On 3 February, O'Connor ordered his tanks to cut though the desert and intercept the Italian retreat to Agheila. At Beda Fomm, the two sides engaged and the Italians were soon surrendering in droves: 3,000 British troops took 20,000 prisoners. However, a further move on Tripoli was blocked by the need for troops in Greece, reducing British strength in North Africa.

                  The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.