Today is the anniversary of the start of the Suez Crisis, when Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal and Britain, France, and Israel decided to make him pay for it. This is the kind of thing I would normally write about, but the thing is I already wrote about it back in May for my Patreon subscribers. I’ve decided to unlock that essay both because of the anniversary and as an example of the kind of content you’re missing unless you subscribe now. Enjoy!
The first thing I guess we should talk about is why the Suez Canal was so important to begin with. This almost goes without saying–in a world where sailing direct from Europe to the Indian Ocean had previously required either going around Africa or, I don’t know, hauling your ships overland through Egypt, a canal that cuts through part of Egypt and connects the Mediterranean and Red Seas is going to be a very big deal. Such a big deal, in fact, that the European engineers who finally conceived and carried out the project in the 1860s were nowhere near the first people to make the attempt. The Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt had a canal that ran from the Nile River east to the Red Sea and either the Romans or the Arabs built something similar that we know was in operation by the 8th century. Geographical and engineering challenges eventually shut these canals down. The idea for a canal connecting the Mediterranean to the Red Sea directly was initially proposed by Napoleon during his aborted conquest of Egypt in the late 18th century. The project was abandoned at that time due to the belief that the Red Sea was at a slightly higher altitude than the Mediterranean. Later surveys showed that it was not, so the project suddenly became feasible by the mid-19th century.