In 1952, a military coup overthrew the Egyptian monarchy. After a period of upheaval, former lieutenant colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser became president in 1954.
Nasser adopted a ‘neutralist’ position in the Cold War, open to ties with both the West and the Soviet Union, and this led the US and UK to withdraw funding for the Aswan Dam project.
Nasser retaliated by taking the Suez Canal, which was partly controlled by the British and French governments, into full state ownership. He also announced plans to close the canal to Israeli shipping.
Britain, France and Israel initially attempted to find a diplomatic solution, but realised that Nasser wasn’t going to compromise. So they drew up proposals to retake control of the canal by force.
The plan was to combine an Israeli attack through the Sinai Peninsula with Anglo-French air raids, followed by an invasion by British and French ground troops.
This plan, which was put into action at the end of October, was initially successful and quickly achieved most of its military targets. But the unexpected nature of the invasion prompted a large public backlash in Britain.
The US also opposed it and started to sell British government bonds. As a result, the UK government was forced to declare a unilateral ceasefire within days.
This humilating climbdown led to the resignation of Prime Minister Anthony Eden. Longer term, it provided a major boost for Arab nationalism, encouraging future dictators across the region to seize power, including Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. It also led to the withdrawal of France from Nato for four decades.