Fifty years ago on July 26, an ambitious Egyptian army colonel, Gamal Abdel Nasser, shocked the world when he defied the most powerful nations in the West and nationalized the Suez Canal. 75% of Europe's oil was shipped thru the canal making it the most important waterway of its day. Nasser's takeover of the Suez Canal would spin the world into a crisis that a half-century later still echoes across the divide between the West and the Arab world.
The struggle for control of the Suez Canal would be the final blow to Great Britain's empire and her role as a world power. It became a rallying point for Arab nationalism and, with the Soviet Union vying for a foothold in the Middle East, caused a dangerous escalation of the Cold War. The crisis also prompted a new role for the United Nations when Canada's External Affairs Minister, Lester B. Pearson, convinced the United Nations to establish a new type of operation sending a peace-keeping force into Egypt. It was the first time such a force had ever been used and it created a peacekeeping legacy for Canada that has lasted nearly 50 years.
When Nasser nationalized the Canal, Britain's Prime Minister Anthony Eden was furious. Britain and France the two co-owners of the canal vowed to take it back; but how? An Anglo-French army would need time to prepare for an invasion and America, fearful of escalating an already dangerous situation, opposed any military action.
But France and Britain were determined, and in a shocking display of political hubris, embarked on a plan which today sounds strikingly familiar: if there was no obvious threat to world security, they would invent one.
In a series of covert meetings, Britain and France allied with Israel, and together the three countries made a secret pact. Israel agreed to invade Egypt and pretend to attack the Suez Canal. The British and French role would be to pretend to protect the Suez Canal from the fighting. To do this, they must deceive the world into believing that, in the name of peace, they must invade Egypt.
The scheme was as ridiculous as it was ineffective. Before British and French troops ever landed in Egypt the world cried foul. They were condemned at the United Nations, berated by the United States and threatened with nuclear retaliation by the Soviet Union. With no support, the invasion ground to a halt. The United Nations, guided by Lester Pearson's idea for peacekeeping, showed that it could unite for peace under the UN's famous blue banner.
CBC's award-winning documentary production team travels to Egypt, Israel, Britain, Canada and the United States to capture eyewitness accounts of the events surrounding the Suez Crisis. Using archival footage -- including rare newsreels found in Cairo the documentary reveals a gripping story of one the 20th Century's most compelling and complex political dramas ever played out on the world stage.
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