UK's role in sabotaging Nasser's plans for developing Suez Canal: BBC
In June 1958, Egypt begins planning an ambitious project to develop the canal with the aim of using the transit fees obtained to invest in national development projects.
In a report for BBC Arabic, Aamer Sultan cites declassified British documents revealing that the UK was behind the sabotage of Egypt's request for getting a loan from the World Bank to develop the Suez Canal 65 years ago.
The documents reportedly show that the British army played a key role in London's decision to preclude Egypt's loan request from the Word Bank to develop the Suez Canal.
The late Egyptian President and Pan-Arab leader Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal Company. Nasser's decision was a watershed moment in Egyptian history. The decision caused the Suez Crisis, one of the major consequences of which was the withdrawal of the British Empire from the Middle East. Nasser's nationalization prompted the tripartite aggression against Egypt, also commonly known as the Suez Crisis: Israeli, British, and French forces attacked Egypt in an attempt to revoke the nationalization decision.
The aggression was quickly deterred due to international pressure by the two major superpowers at the time: both the US and the USSR were displeased with such a disturbance of global peace. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev even threatened to rain nuclear missiles on Western Europe if the aggressor forces did not withdraw from Egypt.
In June 1958, Egypt began planning an ambitious project to develop the canal with the aim of using the transit fees obtained to invest in national development projects.
The canal-development project aimed to develop the canal so that it can accommodate bigger ships: the depth of the canal was to be increased to 11 meters to accommodate ships with deeper keel, and the shipping lane was to be widened to be 12 meters wide to accommodate ships with wider decks and bigger hulls, also to dig a parallel canal to allow for the simultaneous passage of ships headed in different directions.
This development plan, also dubbed the "Nasser Project", aimed to increase traffic to garner more profits in foreign currencies off of transit fees.
The Egyptian government was expected to request a loan of around 200 million dollars from the World Bank.
The British embassy in Cairo was quick to report back to their offshore government to strategically assess Nasser's intended project. The Minister of Defense referred the issue to the Armed Forces Chiefs of Staff Committee.
Read more: Egypt Hikes Suez Canal Transit Tolls
After assessing British interests and stakes in developing the canal, and in light of the hefty losses which they suffered after the nationalization of the Suez Canal and the consequent tripartite aggression, the British government decided to reject the initiative and deliberated to sabotage the project.
In The Military Aspects of the Suez Canal Development report, the British Minister of Defense said that "there are no military advantages in the proposal..." and that there are strong military objections to it.
The report warned that this initiative would threaten the Baghdad Pact alliance and Britain would lose a foothold in the Middle East. The rationale was that if the World Bank, to which the UK was a major contributor, would finance a project that would empower Nasser against his regional competitors in the Baghdad Pact coalition (Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan), the UK's client states in the coalition would feel betrayed and would consequently rebel.
"The United Kingdom's strategy in the Middle East is based on foundations, including support for the Baghdad Pact," the report reads.
"Since the countries of the alliance [Baghdad Pact] always suffer from a shortage of funds necessary for both military and civilian purposes, as is the case with other countries with which the British government is linked in the Middle East, we believe that a loan to Egypt, contributed to by the US and the UK, ranges between 120 and 200 million pounds and would be seen by the United Kingdom's allies and friends in the Middle East as flagrant appeasement [for Egypt]."
The Baghdad Pact back then acted as the West's front line for containing the spread of communism, and equivocally Nasser, with his brand of Arab Nationalism, imbued with socialism, was one of the key allies of the Soviet Union such that he set an iconic example of defying colonialism in favor of national interest for the nations of the global south.
In the context of the Cold War, British decision-makers assessed the development of the Suez Canal as not only a win for the East off of Western money but also could potentially trigger dissent among the West's local client states.