Most don’t realize it but Egypt did not achieve its full independence until 1951 when the military, led by Colonel Gamal Abdal Nasser, overthrew the monarchy and King Farouk, a puppet of the British. The British role in Egypt, which was both inept and avaricious, began with the building of the Suez Canal by France, to which the British objected because it compromised its naval superiority and was built by slave labor. When Ismal Pasha, the ruler of Egypt, ran into serious financial difficulties, he sold the shares that France had given him to the British, who paid four million pounds for them and eventually bought up all the rest. During the revolt against Egypt’s ruler in 1881, the British intervened, set up a puppet regime and took full control over the canal.
Determined to keep control over Suez, the British forced the Egyptians to enter into the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936, guaranteeing British control of the Suez Canal. After the coup led by Nasser in 1951, the British began withdrawing troops and by 1956, they were all gone. When Nasser took power, he approached CIA to reorganize Egypt’s intelligence services, indicating that he was interested in having a close relationship with the United States. But in 1956, upon the completion of the British occupation, Nasser nationalized the canal to the chagrin of the British and France, who joined with Israel in invading Egypt to take it back. Eisenhower sent the Seventh Fleet to intercept the British and worked on a United Nations resolution to end the invasion. But the damage was done to U.S.- Egyptian relations when John Foster Dulles became convinced that Nasser’s socialism was incompatible with America’s objectives in the region and advised Eisenhower not to build the Aswan Dam, a major project that the Soviets were all too happy to complete, effectively driving Nasser into the Soviet camp.
An important byproduct of Soviet influence was that Nasser sent his most promising military personnel to study and train in the Soviet Union, including Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak, an up-and-coming pilot. This was the period of Soviet ascendancy in the Third World, with the United States looked upon as a neo-colonial power. The Soviet Union was a supporter of the fledgling socialist Israel. Gromyko made the first speech at the United Nations at Lake Success supporting the right of the Jewish people to a homeland in Palestine, and the Soviet Union was the original sponsor of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 that partitioned Palestine in 1947. But by 1967, the Soviets had switched sides, believing that in doing so it could eventually take over the Middle East by promoting socialism and revolution. Syria, which had been receiving American aid, quickly fell into the Soviet camp and joined with socialist Egypt in forming the United Arab Republic, which presented itself as a socialist country allied with the Russians but never was a truly unified country.
What happened next is open to speculation. Sources who served in United States Naval Intelligence related to me that the 1967 “Six Day” war was either a result of failed intelligence by the Russians or a deliberate attempt by them to provoke a war between Egypt and Israel that the Russians believed Egypt would win. In the event, the Russians informed Nasser, wrongly as it turned out, that Israel was preparing to attack and advised him to mobilize. He ordered his air force to do as the Russians had advised and when Israeli intelligence got wind of this, they attacked in a preemptive strike. They invaded Egypt, seized the Sinai with little difficulty and then invaded Syria on the grounds that it was part of the same country as Egypt, although this was a well-known fiction. Israel seized the Golan Heights and for good measure took Jerusalem from the Jordanians, who had seized it in the 1948 war.
After Nasser died of a massive heart attack following his humiliating defeat, Sadat took power and attacked Israel during Yom Kippur
in 1973, catching Israel by surprise. Israel took heavy losses as Egyptian troops moved to invade but they were saved when Nixon sent Golda Meir the aircraft and other military hardware for which she had pleaded. The Israelis drove the Egyptians back but in 1979 entered into a peace treaty according to which Israel returned the Sinai and Egypt agreed to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel, effectively recognizing Israel’s right to exist. Sadat even addressed the Knesset, pledging that there would be no more war.
This was anathema to young Islamic nationalist Egyptians, some of whom assassinated Sadat in 1981. A traumatized Mubarak took over and imposed a state of emergency that exists to this day, turning Egypt into a police state. Turning to the United States for military and economic aid, he transformed Egypt into a virtual colony of the United States. And while the wealthy and powerful Egyptian families have flourished under this arrangement, the bulk of the population has not shared in the illusory Egyptian economic growth. Young Egyptians, who make up the majority of the population, resent what they see as a puppet government totally beholden to the United States, which itself, follows the lead of Israel in its Near East policies. They see Mubarak as a betrayer of Egyptian independence and as a sycophant to America and Israel. For this reason and because of Mubarak’s oppressive, corrupt regime that has failed to address the critical economic issues facing the country, the Egyptian people have rebelled and have taken to the streets.
The young people support the Palestinian cause passionately, seeing the Israeli occupation as an American-supported and a Mubarak-tolerated vestige of Western Imperialism. Ruled for generations by the Turks as part of the Ottoman Empire and then as a colony of the British, they see everything that is happening as a throwback to the days of Egyptian humiliation. Egypt had been a rich country when Britain took it over and looted it. Today they look over at a prosperous Israel and seethe. As one student demonstrator shouted into a television camera, “We are angry and we are fed up.” They resent Obama, Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Americans calling for an “orderly transition” They see this as just more of the same neo-colonialism. But if you ask Hillary Clinton if America has an empire, she will look at you with bewilderment and say that America supports the aspirations of the Egyptian people, even as Mubarak sends his mounted thugs to assault the Egyptian people. The longer this drags on, the greater the chance that the Moslem Brotherhood will, in the end, take over the country.