8. Egypt and North East Africa

Egypt retained much of the geo-politico form it assumed thousands of years ago during the times of the pharaohs. It became a province of the Roman Empire before falling to the Muslim conquests. It eventually became a member of the Ottoman Empire under semi-autonomous Mamluk rule into the nineteenth century. Britain took a closer interest in the country once the Suez Canal established a short route to the East and the Indian Raj.

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Egypt and the Sudan

1798 Napoleon Bonaparte invades Egypt with a view to assisting Tipu Sultan of Mysore, a dangerous opponent of the British in India. Nelson’s victory at Battle of the Nile forestalls his ambitions in India.

1807 A British force tries to maintain Alexandria as a base against the Ottoman Empire but is forced to withdraw from Egypt by Mohamed Ali Pasha, regarded as the founder of modern Egypt.

1869 Opening of the Suez Canal, financed by a joint Franco-Egyptian company and built by Frenchman Ferdinand de Lesseps. It links the Mediterranean and Red seas, providing a short cut to India and the East from Britain.

1875 The 44% Egyptian share of the canal is offered for sale and bought by the British government. The spendthrift Khedive is soon forced to put most of his financial affairs into Anglo-French hands.

1877 The Khedive appoints General ‘China’ Gordon, a charismatic British soldier, governor of the Sudan and all territory outside Egypt itself. He has some success in subduing the slave trade, but is unsuccessful when he tries to eradicate extreme corruption and inefficiency among the Egyptian officials. He resigns in 1879.

1882 Egyptian army officers revolt against foreign influence in their country. France is unable to respond. A British expeditionary force under General Garnet Wolseley wins the battle of Tel el-Kebir and occupies Cairo. Britain assumes control of government and the army as well as finance, but Egypt remains nominally an Ottoman possession under the Khedive’s rule, although it is actually controlled by the British Consul-General.

1883 The British assume joint responsibility for administration of the Sudan alongside their role in Cairo. Col. Hicks Pasha is sent to Sudan by the Khedive on a forlorn attempt to deal with an uprising led by a religious leader called the Mahdi. He and almost his entire command lose their lives in an ambush at Al Obeid.

1884 The British government instructs that the Sudan should be evacuated. General Gordon is sent to Khartoum to supervise the evacuation. Most civilians return to Egypt but Gordon and part of the garrison remain to defend the city and become besieged.

1885 Khartoum falls and Gordon and his troops are massacred. A relief column reluctantly sent by the British government arrives a few days later, but withdraws when it learns of Gordon’s demise.

1898 A British expedition led by General Kitchener destroys the Mahdi’s army at Omdurman and brings Sudan back to Anglo-Egyptian control. Kitchener then confronts a French party at Fashoda, which is in Sudan, to plan a route for a Trans-Africa railway. Kitchener settles the matter diplomatically and the French withdraw.

1914 Britain deposes the pro-Turkish Khedive and the Suez Canal is closed to all but allied or strictly neutral shipping. Egypt is declared a British Protectorate under a new Sultan.

1922 Increasing nationalist action eventually brings the Protectorate to an end. Egypt becomes an independent kingdom, but Britain reserves rights over the Anglo-Egyptian condominium of Sudan, the Suez Canal and protection for foreign interests and Egyptian minorities.

1936 British troops are withdrawn from Egypt except for the Canal Zone, but a clause allows their return in time of war.

1939-45 Egypt is more or less an occupied country as Britain uses it as a defence base and supply route to theatres of war.

1948-9 Egyptian and Arab armies are defeated by the new state of Israel after Britain withdraws from its mandate in Palestine.

1952 The King of Egypt is overthrown.

1953 Britain and Egypt agree independence for Sudan to be effective in 1956.

1954 UK agrees to withdraw from the Suez Canal Zone.

1956 Egypt nationalises the Suez Canal, followed by the Six Day war with Israel and the Franco-British failed seizure of the canal. The Anglo-Egyptian condominium in Sudan ends and Sudan becomes an independent country.


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