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Britain’s strategic failure: Suez Canal 1854–1882

By the time the Ever Given, a 1,300-foot-long cargo vessel, had been dislodged from its horizontal grounding on a bank of the Suez Canal in late spring, the world had been reminded of the crucial role of a major artery of international trade.  Cutting off traffic within the waterway for six days not only had an immediate effect.  It has also caused a months-long backlog among ports and other delivery mechanisms.  Assumptions about the stability of global supply chains and the efficacy of alternatives have been turned on their head.  Reliance on the status quo prompted a sclerotic response.  None of these failures of imagination are new.  In fact, the history of this particular naval passage bears out the repeated failure of great powers to assess the significance of transformations in global supply lines and their impact on relations among great powers.

Since the Suez Canal’s inception, its control has been the subject of considerable strategic wrangling, as well as the impetus for intrigue.  Yet the political and economic competition in the 19th century surrounding its construction usually constitutes only a footnote in accounts of the later Suez Crisis of 1952.  Examining the imperial clash at the heart of earlier episodes of competition to control the waterway elucidates relevant themes in the evolution of great power competition over vital lines of trade.


The Suez Canal transformed transportation among three continents.  In a few short years of operation, it became the dominant route between European powers and their colonies in Asia and East Africa.  When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, the main seaborne path to Asia required a long, dangerous, and tedious voyage around the Cape of Good Hope.  Though all naval powers would benefit from the expedient new route, one country in particular had significant potential for the advancement of its interests through the planned waterway.

Britain stood to gain much from the construction of the Suez Canal.  Most notably, the canal would enhance the Empire’s relationship with its greatest imperial prize: India.  By dramatically reducing the travel time and distance between Britain and the subcontinent, the waterway would allow Britain to further pursue its main economic and strategic interests in that region.  Despite these potential advantages of the Suez Canal for Britain, the Empire opposed the development of the canal for over a decade after Said Pasha, then Viceroy of Egypt, granted the concession for its construction in 1854.  Given the beneficial circumstances for Britain, why did the Empire pursue its original policy of obstruction for such a prolonged period?  And what led Britain to reverse its position, ultimately usurping the canal?

Several important factors led to Britain’s early opposition to the Suez Canal. Longstanding British fears about loss of the India trade contributed to the Empire’s predisposition against the construction of the canal. This general motivation compounded with specific strategic concerns and deep political prejudice to sustain an impolitic foreign policy toward the canal well into its construction. Acknowledgement by British officials of the canal’s imminent completion led to gradual change in British policy on the matter. After acquiring control of the Suez Canal Company1 and enjoying several years as its biggest customer, Britain usurped the canal with its invasion of Egypt in 1882.  These changes demonstrate that in a little less than 20 years, the Empire had dramatically shifted its policy toward the waterway.

The Canal’s Advantages for Britain

For obvious reasons, the British Empire stood to gain the most of any European power from the new waterway.  Britain’s favorable circumstances were linked to its imperial holdings in Asia.  By the mid-19th century, Britain had significant economic and strategic interests in India, its largest colony.  By dramatically decreasing the travel distance and time between Britain and the subcontinent, the Suez Canal was poised to advance these interests significantly.  Ministers in foreign ministries across Europe estimated that the canal shaved nearly 4,200 kilometers from the average voyage to India,2 halving the distance between the Port of Bristol and Bombay.3  Nautical passage through Egypt’s harsh desert also reduced the travel time between Europe and India by up to five weeks for the largest European vessels.4  These developments augured a sharp decrease in transit costs that served Britain’s economic interests in India.

The economy of the British Empire depended on consistent, safe and efficient passage to the subcontinent.  Contrary to the experience of most mid-19th-century colonies, India underwent intensive economic development along mercantilist lines. Rather than fostering the typical contemporary laissez-faire relationship between colony and home country, Britain’s governing powers extorted taxes and monopolies on primary goods, such as salt, throughout the period of the British Raj.5  British officials also vigorously promoted Indian production of goods essential for the Empire’s industries while manipulating tariffs to help exports.  The Raj even went so far as to guarantee high rates of interest on railway construction to ensure penetration into India’s interior.6  Reducing the costs of travel between Britain and the subcontinent would allow for more frequent and intensive trade with the colony.

Furthermore, the British Empire maintained significant strategic interests in India.  Most tactical calculations made by the Foreign Office regarding India related to the Empire’s military strength and its ability to challenge Russia’s advance in Central Asia.7  Emphasizing its might as a naval power, Britain maintained only a small standing army.8 One of its main reserves of troops lay in India. What began as a contingent of just over 45,000 soldiers serving the British East India Company grew into three standing armies, totaling 131,000 troops, by 1862. By 1880, the Raj’s forces had grown to 137,000 troops. Half of the Empire’s expenditures in India were specifically dedicated to military forces, totaling 12,207,681 pounds from 1884 to 1885.9  In addition to sustaining the general security over its global empire that access to British-Indian troops provided, Britain was desperate to maintain its troops in India as a check against Russia’s advance toward the colony.  By the 1870s, Russian troops had moved within 650 kilometers of India’s Punjab province.  Had Russian forces crossed India’s border, British-Indian troops would have been the colony’s main defense.10  Consistent and efficient transit over the seaborne passages to the subcontinent remained vital to maintaining the readiness of troops.11  The Suez Canal stood to strengthen the colony and the Empire’s defenses by expediting the process of replenishing the supplies of British-Indian troops.

The Indian Mutiny of 1857 highlighted the strategic advantages of a shorter route to the subcontinent.  During the insurrection, the British Empire learned a hard lesson about the cumbersome distance between its capital and the centers of power within the colony.  Officials in London heard about the mutinies in Meerut, Delhi, and Cawnpore 30, 40 and 50 days respectively after each event’s date.12  Troopships dispatched from Britain faced a three-month delay before arrival in India. Consequently, Delhi was relieved by troops from the Punjab, without aid from a single British soldier.13  Had the delays been cut in half, Britain might have suffered significantly less damage to its prestige and imperial holdings.

British Opposition to the Suez Canal

One might guess that the clear economic and strategic advantages of the canal for Britain would have led its government to craft a foreign policy aimed at hastening the waterway’s construction.  Yet the historical record reveals that Britain’s policy dating back to the original canal concession centered on obstruction of the project.  This policy eventually changed when the government tacitly agreed to the development of the canal in 1864.

Britain’s foreign policy perspective on the canal was first evident in the responses of prominent statesmen to proposals for a waterway across Egypt’s isthmus.  In 1847, both Thomas Waghorn, known for his pioneering of Britain’s postal service, and future Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, expressed reservations about a canal between the ports of Said and Suez.  Waghorn believed that a canal should only be constructed if it expressly served British interests, which he argued was not possible given the Empire’s lack of influence in Egypt.14  Palmerston asserted that such a canal would be too costly and impracticable.  He favored an overland route instead.15

While Waghorn died in 1850, Palmerston’s hostility toward the project grew stronger in subsequent years.  In 1851, he responded to the idea of a canal through Egypt by stating: “it shall not be made, it cannot be made, it will not be made; but if it were made there would be a war between France and England for the possession of Egypt.”16  Up to the end of his last term as Prime Minister, Palmerston’s Foreign Secretary, Earl Russell, continued to refuse British support for the canal project, asserting that its completion was not in Britain’s interests: “the British Government can in no case guarantee, promote, or favour the Suez Canal, which they would wish to see abandoned.”17  Palmerston’s influence over British public opinion, bloated by his vindication in the Don Pacifico affair and the death of his political rival, the Duke of Wellington, provided for this stance to persist until his death in 1861.18

Bathymetric chart, northern Gulf of Suez, route to Cairo, 1856

Before 1859, Britain denied the canal’s feasibility whenever possible.  The Palmerston Governments of the 1850s continued their general arguments that a canal was too costly and impractical to ever see the light of day.19  Nothing changed under the brief Derby government from 1858 to 1859.  Benjamin Disraeli, then Chancellor of the Exchequer under the Earl of Derby, referred to the Suez Canal as “a most futile idea—totally impossible to be carried out.” 20  In 1859, only a few months before John Hawkshaw, President of England’s Institution of Civil Engineers, reported the steady success of the canal’s construction, Lord Palmerston reasserted the futility of the project in Parliament.  Palmerston’s ally on the matter, a noted civil engineer named Robert Stephenson, summarized the sentiments of the majority against the proposed resolution for British support of the canal: “Nothing can be effected, even by the most unlimited expenditure of time, and life, and money, beyond the formation of a stagnant ditch between two almost tideless seas, unapproachable by large ships under any circumstances…”21

Until 1865, Britain actively impeded the construction of the Suez Canal.  Although a private agreement between the French and British Governments precluded their ambassadors in Constantinople from publicly pressing the Sultan with their opposing positions on the matter,22  Britain attempted to undermine the project from the first days of construction in 1859.23  In the months after digging began, Sir Henry Bulwer, Britain’s Ambassador to the Porte, had letters sent from the Sultan’s Viziers to Egypt’s local authorities, ordering them to stop construction immediately and to wait for the Sultan’s official approval, as stipulated in the original concession.24  These attempts had minimal success, halting construction only briefly in November 1859 when a Turkish emissary convinced the European Consuls in Egypt to cease the incursion on Ottoman sovereignty by Ferdinand de Lesseps, the French entrepreneur who developed the Suez Canal.25  While this disruption was short-lived, Britain influenced the canal’s development greatly by joining with the Porte later in the year to oppose construction of the “the French canal.”  This precipitated a crisis between Egypt and the Canal Company because Chèrif Pasha, Said’s chief minister, responded a month later by ordering the immediate cessation of construction.26  These efforts, along with Britain’s repeated public jockeying to stop forced labor on the canal,27 helped to destabilize the relationship between de Lesseps, the Canal Company’s stock holders, the Ottoman Sultan, and the Egyptian Viceroys which oversaw the project.28  While invoking its traditional role as fair-weather protector of the Ottoman Empire, Britain also backed the Sultan’s appeals to alter the original canal concession, contributing to the tensions which were ultimately resolved through “imperial arbitration” by France in 1864.  Yet even this difficult episode succeeded only in slowing construction of the canal, which opened in 1869.29

The Origin of Britain’s Anti-Canal Policy

Britain’s general predisposition against the development of the Suez Canal was the result of longstanding fears held by government and military officials about maintaining the Empire’s control over seaborne paths to India.  This fear grew from past observation of trade with the subcontinent.30  In 1785, Colonel James Capper wrote in a report to the British East India Company:

When the Venetians lost their India trade no violence, no finesse was used to deprive them of it; the trade died away of itself, because the Portuguese and other European nations, passing round the Cape of Good Hope, could…afford to under-sell them in those articles of India commerce which they received only by the more tedious, dangerous, and expensive channel of the Red Sea…31

Ironically, Capper used the gradual obsolescence of Venice’s route through the Red Sea to describe the vulnerability of the route around the Cape of Good Hope that replaced it.  The Colonel’s description is particularly relevant because he states that the economic efficiency of the new route alone ended Venetian control of imported Indian goods.  Observations like Capper’s provided the basis for the long-held British perspective that a less efficient route under British dominion was preferable to a more efficient route controlled by another power.  Capper’s historical imagination of the succession of power over the international commerce of India represents the tendency of contemporary strategists to draw misguided lessons from the past regarding trade with the subcontinent.32  This tendency echoed in Prime Minister Palmerston’s arguments to maintain Britain’s quasi-monopoly on the route to India around the Cape of Good Hope rather than supporting the Suez Canal.33  Some historians, such as Charles Hallberg and Katharine Bell, argue that the fundamentally conservative foreign policy outlooks of the governments under Palmerston, Russell and Derby sustained this perspective on the Suez Canal even in the face of its clear economic and strategic advantages for Britain.34

Primary British Motives

Britain’s general historical motivation to oppose construction of the canal compounded with specific strategic concerns and deep political prejudice to sustain an impolitic policy toward the canal through 1865.  From the 1850s through the early 1860s, Lord Palmerston genuinely believed that the canal posed a serious threat to Britain’s most vital interests.  Understanding his concerns requires appreciation of his frame of reference: rather than concerning himself with the projected immediate economic advantages of the canal, he analyzed the waterway with the primary goal of preserving 200 years of imperial gains from France.  He saw the Ottoman Empire as an impregnable barrier between Europe and Britain’s empire in Asia, and he believed that the waterway would serve as the lifeline for French colonization of Egypt’s isthmus.  He worried that at the very least, an incomplete canal would form a wide, deep, and defensible military trench, separating Egypt from the Syrian provinces of the Ottoman Empire.35  He estimated that such a defensive feature would link with the preexisting Nile barrage, and permit the defense of Egypt from Ottoman incursions. 36  Palmerston aired his calculations in Parliament in 1857, stating:

The scheme [behind the Suez Canal] is one hostile to the interests of this country—opposed to the standing policy of England in regard to the connection of Egypt with Turkey—a policy which has been supported by…the Treaty of Paris. The obvious political tendency of the undertaking is to render more easy the separation of Egypt from Turkey… [the plan for the Suez Canal] is in every way so adverse to British interests…the object which M. de Lesseps and some of the promoters have in view will be accomplished, even if the whole of the undertaking should not be carried into execution…”37

But this public statement did not convey Palmerston’s imagined worst case scenario. The Prime Minister believed that the canal could become a “second Bosphorus,” which would divert trade to channels through Austria while serving as a naval passage for French ironclad ships38 which could at any time capture British controlled Aden and Mauritius, forever destroying the insularity of India.39  In communication with de Lesseps in 1855, Palmerston avoided creating friction with France by merely hinting at his wide range of strategic concerns:

I do not hesitate to point out to you my apprehensions; they consist first, in the fear of seeing the commercial and maritime relations of Great Britain upset by the opening of a new route which, while giving passage to the navigation of all countries, will take away the advantages we possess at the present time. I will also acknowledge to you that I fear the uncertainty of the future concerning France, the future which every statesman must consider in all its unpleasant eventualities. 40

Palmerston’s reasoning and his will to act on his concerns influenced the statesmen of his time.  In concurrence with then Prime Minister Palmerston, Foreign Secretary Lord Clarendon, who had also served in the Earl of Aberdeen’s preceding government, remarked in 1855 that France could seize the canal at both ends during a time of war, and for that reason “it would…be a suicidal act on the part of England to assent to the construction of the canal.”41

Lord Palmerston’s fears resonated in the minds of statesmen both in and outside his cabinets through the early 1860s.  In his 1861 dispatch to Sir Henry Bulwer, Britain’s Ambassador in Constantinople, then Foreign Secretary Lord Russell restated the strategic concern that the canal could serve as a passage for French warships on their way to India.  “It is not to be denied,” he argued, “that in time of war a canal 300 feet wide might…afford facilities to ships of war going from Toulon to Indian Seas.”42  Upon visiting the canal construction in 1862, Bulwer corresponded with Russell to assert that viceroyal cowardice along with the irresponsibility of European capitalists would allow the fruition of French colonial designs in Egypt, stating that “Port Said, Timsah and Suez will be French towns.  The new lands called into cultivation will become…French territory, and governed actually by French authority.”43  The year before Britain’s government lent tacit support to the project, future Secretary of State for India and later Prime Minister Lord Robert Cecil argued that “[Britain] can never suffer the highway of nations to fall into hands that may close it…The Isthmus of Suez…must never be subject to the will of a first-rate Power.”44  These severe evaluations of the adverse impact of the canal on the part of high ministers in England’s government reveal the degree to which influential statesmen of the period subscribed to Palmerston’s perspective on the waterway.

In addition to these strategic concerns, deep political prejudice undergirded British opposition.  Britain contested the construction of the waterway because it was promoted by a Frenchman and because it seemed to be a French undertaking.45  These facts made the canal appear menacing to Britain’s relationship with India, the jewel of its Empire.  Evidence of this chauvinistic objection lies in France’s nonthreatening policy toward the canal.  Article XIV of the original concession proclaimed that the canal would forever be a “neutral passage.”46  Furthermore, there was little evidence that France was plotting to use the canal to fulfill imperial designs in Egypt.47  The Suez Canal Company remained privately traded from November 1858, when de Lesseps floated the stock in Paris.48  Britain’s strong aversion to the project, which ultimately served the Empire’s interests, remained an example of its blinding bias against a hereditary enemy.49

A New Policy toward the Canal

After spending over a decade obstructing the progress of the Suez Canal, Britain began to incorporate the passage into its imperial designs in 1865.  The transition between opposition to and tacit support for the project resulted from the acknowledgment by British officers that de Lesseps would eventually complete the canal.  After his second tour of canal construction sites in 1865, Bulwer wrote to Russell to recommend that British warships be stationed at Suez, that British warehouses and hospitals be built on the Isthmus and that Englishmen be encouraged to settle in Egypt.  He framed these suggestions as means of offsetting French influence that would result from the canal, which he referred to as “a plan less and less disguised.”50  This correspondence represents the shift in attitude—toward accepting the eventual completion of the canal—that led Britain finally to lend its support to the project in March of 1865.  That same year, Lord Cowley, Britain’s Ambassador to France, and Drouyn de Lluys, then French Foreign Minister, decided on principles that would govern a new contract between de Lesseps and Ismail Pasha, then Viceroy of Egypt.51

The British Empire’s new plans also emerged through official pronouncements.  Immediately after the completion of the canal in 1869, the Earl of Clarendon, then Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, wrote to de Lesseps regarding the project:

The successful opening of the Suez Canal has been received with great and universal satisfaction… [Her Majesty’s Government congratulates you] on the establishment of a new means of communication between East and West, and on the political and commercial advantages which we may confidently expect will result from your efforts.52

Queen Victoria followed suit by awarding de Lesseps the Grand Cross of the Order of the Star of India and by making him a Freeman of the City of London.  These honors were bestowed at a magnificent fête held at the Crystal Palace.53

Suez Canal, between Kantara and El-Fedane, 1869.

Britain followed its preliminary diplomatic gestures with swift action to take advantage of the Suez Canal.  The Empire quickly altered the path of its ships to Asia. By 1870, 289,234 tons of British goods passed through the canal,54 making up 71 percent of the total tonnage transported through the waterway.55  From 1871 to 1876, Britain moved more tonnage through the canal than all other European powers combined.56  Transit to India around the Cape of Good Hope became no longer economically sound.57  Britain tapped the military potential of the canal in October 1871 when it began sending troopships to India through the waterway, reducing the cost of maintaining what had become the world’s most expensive army.58  A British telegraph line was also laid through the Red Sea in 1871 to improve communication between London and Bombay.59  Yet these aggressive steps to take full advantage of the canal represented only the beginning of London’s new foreign policy regarding the waterway.

Britain gained influence over the Suez Canal Company by purchasing a large portion of its stock. In 1875, after years of maintaining the large external debts accumulated by Said Pasha, his successor Ismail Pasha sold Egypt’s share in the canal, nearly 44 percent of the stock, to Britain.60  Benjamin Disraeli, who was again serving under Derby as Chancellor of the Exchequer, financed the bold purchase with a short-term loan from Lionel de Roshschild.61  The acquisition gave Britain considerable control over practices in the canal.62  Though France still controlled the majority of the shares, Britain’s new influence—it had gained the maximum of 10 shareholder votes63 – enabled the Government to keep Russian naval vessels from passing through the canal while securing Britain’s ever-increasing trade through the waterway.64

With the outbreak of the Russo-Turkish War in 1877, Britain further asserted its interest in the Suez Canal’s security.  On May 6, a note sent from Prime Minster Derby asked Russia to respect the Suez Canal as a primary British interest and affirmed that “an attempt to blockade or otherwise interfere with the Canal or its approaches would be regarded as a menace to India and a grave injury to the commerce of the world.”65  Russia responded with a conciliatory note renouncing any belligerent action against the canal.66 These developments represented Britain’s strengthening will to protect the waterway.

Usurpation via Invasion

The monumental shift in British foreign policy toward the Suez Canal culminated in 1882, when England invaded Egypt.  Though Britain’s intervention was primarily in response to violence against Europeans in Alexandria and the Delta area,67 the landing of British troops near the canal remains the strongest evidence that the Empire’s interests in the conflict were deeply connected to the fate of the waterway.68  Further evidence lies in Admiral Hoskins’ solicitation of permission from the Khedive to secure the canal during the invasion. His request was granted days after the landing took place69 in a note from the Khedive urging him “to occupy such points of the Isthmus of Suez…useful for the free traffic on the Canal.”70  When Britain took Cairo in 1882 and turned Egypt into a de facto protectorate, the Empire had by extension usurped the Suez Canal, ensuring British control of the waterway for decades to come.71

The irony of the conflict illuminates the degree to which Britain had incorporated control of the canal into its interests.  The paradox of the invasion lay in its proponent: a liberal government voted into office to curb imperial expansion.72  Despite Prime Minister William Gladstone’s election slogans, he sent British and Indian troops nearly 4,500 kilometers from their garrisons to attack the newly organized Army of Egypt in its homeland.73  Such a hypocritical order was only tolerated as a result of the sentiments of the day.  Hawks in Parliament analogized the canal to the right of way enjoyed by English property owners whose lands were reachable only through private lots.74  Access to India through the waterway had become Britain’s inherent right, so these politicians argued.

Britain used the invasion to serve its immediate interests in the Suez Canal.  After British troops secured the canal, officials in London stipulated that British commercial ships would enjoy precedence in traffic through the waterway for three days.75  In the following months British laborers replaced the Arabs who had forcefully taken over the canal during the conflict, allowing the Suez Canal Company to begin employing workers and generating profits on its original terms.76  A gun boat was also sent to Port Said to protect the movement of British goods through the canal.77  These acts to immediately restore not only the naval but also the commercial purposes of the canal elucidate the link between Britain’s invasion and the security of the waterway.


The transition in British foreign policy toward the Suez Canal between 1854 and 1882 captures an initial failure of imagination and the ultimate recapitulation of strategic assumptions.  Despite the significant advantages of the canal for Britain, the Empire opposed its development for over a decade after the concession for the waterway’s construction was granted in 1854.  Longstanding fears about losing the India trade combined with specific strategic concerns and deep political prejudice to sustain Britain’s original, deeply flawed foreign policy toward the canal.  The acknowledgement of the canal’s eventual completion by British officials led their government to radically redirect their policy.  After the lengthy period of obstruction, British interests in the canal grew to the point that preserving the waterway’s security served as a justification for the invasion of Egypt.

Nautical chart of the Suez Canal 1870

Although this account provides only a baseline for understanding what occurred, context suggests there is more to the story.  Liberal British leaders of the 1850s remain celebrated for their highly pragmatic approach to foreign affairs.  British historians Harold Temperley and Lillian Penson describe Palmerston’s policy as a “a mixture of bravado, audacity, and common sense…[that] succeeded because the elements were carefully mixed…he shrewdly guessed that the enemy did not want to fight.” 78  Yet Palmerston and his Foreign Secretary, Russell, ignored the obvious strategic and economic advantages of the Suez Canal for their country.  They claimed with little evidence that the canal posed a major threat to British interests.  Rather than initiating a policy aimed at developing and ultimately taking full advantage of the canal, these leaders focused on preventing its existence.  Had they not miscalculated the merits of the Suez Canal, Britain could have avoided its scramble to exploit the waterway.  A more practical policy might also have allowed Britain to secure the waterway without converting Egypt into a de facto protectorate.

Britain’s initial policy toward the Suez Canal illustrates a larger theme in 19th century great power politics.  An underlying fear of resurgent French hegemony lay beneath the haphazard justifications of the waterway’s early English opponents.  Though Napoleon was long dead, his memory menaced British statesmen into the late 1800s.  Even the most capable Victorian leaders failed to realize that the threat of French supremacy had perished at Waterloo.  After that decisive battle, France’s army disintegrated and its borders retracted to their pre-Revolution boundaries.  Several alliances conceived by Prince von Metternich contained the former French Empire, preserved a European balance of power, and protected against destructive convergences of democracy, secularism, and revolution elsewhere in Europe. 79  No design by Napoleon III—not even his presumed scheme to colonize Egypt—could ever have recovered his nation’s former “gloire.”  Yet Britain misjudged the “sphinx of the Tuileries.”  Palmerston’s mention of “unpleasant eventualities,” Cecil’s allusion to France as a “first-rate power,” and Russell’s preoccupation with French military strength—all of these demonstrate Britain’s overarching miscalculation.  This flawed British perspective makes early English foreign policy toward the Suez Canal more than simply an example of a great power’s capacity to undermine a future linchpin of its empire.  Britain’s initial opposition to the waterway represents its enduring overestimation of French power and strategy.


George Edward Bogden

George Edward Bogden has had a long career merging policy and academia.  This has included being awarded degrees from the Universities of Yale and Oxford.  He is the Editor in Chief of the New York University Journal of Law & Liberty.  George is currently a Senior Fellow at the Hungary Foundation in Budapest where he is studying regional and global politics surrounding COVID19.


  1. The company’s full name was “Compagnie universelle du canal maritime de Suez” or in English the “Universal Suez Ship Canal Company.”  It is hereafter referred to as the “Suez Canal Company.”
  2. Sarah Searight, The British in the Middle East (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1969), 144.
  3. Searight, The British in the Middle East, 145.
  4. Hugh J. Schonfield, The Suez Canal in World Affairs (London: Constellation Books, 1952), 34.
  5. John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, “The Imperialism of Free Trade,” The Economic History Review VI, no. 1, (1953): 4.
  6. Gallagher and Robinson, “The Imperialism of Free Trade,” 5.
  7. Gallagher and Robinson, “The Imperialism of Free Trade,” 6.
  8. John Foran, “Dependency and Resistance in the Middle East, 1800–1925,” in Political Power and Social Theory vol.8, ed. Diane E. Davis and Howard Kimeldorf (Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 1988), 7.
  9. Rajit K. Mazumder, Indian Army and the Making of Punjab (Delhi: Permanent Black, 2003), 8.
  10. Mazumder, Indian Army and the Making of Punjab, 13.
  11. Foran, “Dependency and Resistance in the Middle East,” 12.
  12. The Times, June 8, 1857; The Times, June 27, 1857; The Times, August 15, 1857.
  13. Thomas R. Metcalf, The Aftermath of Revolt, India, 1857–1870 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965), 130.
  14. D. A. Farnie, East and West of Suez, (London: Oxford University Press, 1969), 24.
  15. Farnie, East and West of Suez, 23.
  16. Mountstuart. E. Duff, Notes from a Diary, 1886–1888 (London: Murray, 1887), 81.
  17. K. Bell, British Policy Towards the Construction of the Suez Canal, 1859–65,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 15 (1965): 137.
  18. Herbert C. F. Bell, Lord Palmerston, (London: Longmans, 1936), 355–61.
  19. Fairne, East and West of Suez, 50–55.
  20. Arnold Wilson, Suez Canal: Its Past, Present, and Future (New York: Arno Press, 1997), 21.
  21. Farnie, East and West of Suez, 49.
  22. Charles Hallberg, The Suez Canal, Its History and Diplomatic Importance (Paris: Octagon Books, 1974), 135.
  23. Hallberg, The Suez Canal, 132.
  24. Bell, “British Policy Towards the Construction of the Suez Canal,” 123.
  25. Alice Edythe Mange, The Near Eastern Policy of Napoleon III (New York: Greenwood Press Reprint, 1975), 135.
  26. Mange, The Near Eastern Policy of Napoleon III, 136.
  27. Farnie, East and West of Suez, 57.
  28. Bell, “British Policy Towards the Construction of the Suez Canal,” 131.
  29. Bell, “British Policy Towards the Construction of the Suez Canal,” 129–32.
  30. Schonfield, The Suez Canal in World Affairs, 7–8.
  31. James Capper, Observations on the Passage to India through Egypt (London, 1785), 39.
  32. Schonfield, The Suez Canal in World Affairs, 9–10.
  33. Farnie, East and West of Suez, 31.
  34. See Farnie, East and West of Suez, 30–31, and K. Bell, The Constantinople Embassy of Sir Henry Bulwer, 1858–65 (London: University of London Press, 1961), ch. 11.
  35. Farnie, East and West of Suez, 30.
  36. Schonfield, The Suez Canal in World Affairs, 28
  37. Schonfield, The Suez Canal in World Affairs, 32
  38. Farnie, East and West of Suez, 31.
  39. Hallberg, The Suez Canal, 122.
  40. Robert T. Harrison, Gladstone’s Imperialism in Egypt (Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1995), 44.
  41. Hallberg, The Suez Canal, 135.
  42. Bell, “British Policy Towards the Construction of the Suez Canal,” 128.
  43. Bell, “British Policy Towards the Construction of the Suez Canal,” 136.
  44. Robert Cecil, “The Danish Duchies,” Quarterly Review (1864): 284.
  45. Hallberg, The Suez Canal, 133.
  46. “Firman of Concession,” granted by the Khedive Mohammad Pasha al-Said to Ferdinand de Lesseps, 1854.
  47. Hallberg, The Suez Canal, 133–34.
  48. Farnie, East and West of Suez, 48–49.
  49. Hallberg, The Suez Canal, 133.
  50. Bell, “British Policy Towards the Construction of the Suez Canal,” 131.
  51. Georges Douin, Histoire du Regne du Khedive Ismail: L’Apogée 1867–1873 (Rome: Istituto Poligrafico, 1933), 165.
  52. Douin, Histoire du Regne du Khedive Ismail, 45.
  53. Stephan Gollasch, Bella S. Galil, and Andrew N. Cohen, The Marine Caravan: The Suez Canal and the Erythrean Invasion (New York: Springer Netherlands, 2006), 219.
  54. Schonfield, The Suez Canal in World Affairs, 168.
  55. Josel A. Obieta, The International Status of the Suez Canal (Netherlands: Nijhoff, 1960), 8.
  56. Schonfield, The Suez Canal in World Affairs, 56.
  57. Schonfield, The Suez Canal in World Affairs, 44.
  58. Hallberg, The Suez Canal, 117
  59. Hallberg, The Suez Canal, 160
  60. Hallberg, The Suez Canal, 237-38.
  61. Hallberg, The Suez Canal, 242–43.
  62. “The Premiership,” The Economist 141 ( 4 December 1875): 8.
  63. The discrepancy between the percentage of the stock (44 percent) and the percentage of shareholder votes (3.6 percent) that Britain held resulted from the Suez Canal Company’s statutes which limited the number of shareholder votes each individual investor could control.
  64. Farnie, East and West of Suez, 244.
  65. Sneh Mahajan, British Foreign Policy 1874–1914 (Washington, DC: Taylor & Francis, 2007), 19.
  66. Farnie, East and West of Suez, 260.
  67. Hallberg, The Suez Canal, 60–2.
  68. Obieta, The International Status of the Suez Canal, 9-11.
  69. Obieta, The International Status of the Suez Canal, 10.
  70. Obieta, The International Status of the Suez Canal, 9.
  71. Obieta, The International Status of the Suez Canal, 11–12.
  72. John Newsinger, “Liberal Imperialism and the Occupation of Egypt in 1882,” Race and Class 49, no. 54 (2008): 55.
  73. Hallberg, The Suez Canal, 267.
  74. Farnie, East and West of Suez, 292.
  75. Obieta, The International Status of the Suez Canal, 63.
  76. The Times, 28 October 1882.
  77. The Times, 22 November 1882.
  78. Harold Temperley and Lillian M. Penson, Foundations of British Foreign Policy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1938), 284.
  79. Paul K. Davis, 100 Decisive Battles: From Ancient Times to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 297.

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