Convention of Constantinople

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Convention of Constantinople
Convention of Constantinople 1888.jpg
Representatives of each respective country
TypeMultilateral Trade Treaty
Drafted2 March 1888
Signed29 October 1888
LocationConstantinople, Ottoman Empire
Effective8 April 1904 [1][2]
Signatories United Kingdom
 Russian Empire
 French Republic
 German Empire
 Ottoman Empire
 Kingdom of the Netherlands
Restoration (Spain) Kingdom of Spain
DepositaryOttoman Empire

The Convention of Constantinople,[3][4] a treaty signed by the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire on 29 October 1888, regulates the use of the Suez Canal.

In 1882 the Anglo–Egyptian War resulted in Britain acquiring physical control over the Suez Canal and Egypt. France, which had previously dominated the canal and whose investors still controlled the majority of shares in the Suez Canal Company, hoped to weaken British control and attempted to sway European opinion for internationalizing the canal.

The two powers compromised by neutralizing the canal through the treaty. Article I, guaranteeing passage to all ships during war and peace, was in tension with Article X, which allowed the Khedive to take measures for "the defence of Egypt and the maintenance of public order." The latter clause was used to defend their actions by the British in the Second World War and by Egypt against Israeli shipping after 1948.[1] However, Britain accepted the treaty reluctantly and only with serious reservations:

The delegates of Great Britain, in offering this text as the definitive rule to secure the free use of the Suez Canal, believe it is their duty to announce a general reservation as to the applicability of its provisions in so far as they are incompatible with the transitory and exceptional state in which Egypt is actually found and so far as they might fetter the liberty of action of the government during the occupation of Egypt by the British forces.[2]

France accepted the reservation but, in accordance with international law at the time, noted that this made the treaty a "technically inoperative" "academic declaration."[2] The reservation was not removed until the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France, and the convention finally came into force in 1904.[2] The Entente stipulated that the functioning of the international supervisory commission described in article 8 would "remain in abeyance." However, for the next forty years, British actions would be largely in the spirit of the abandoned reservation.

On 5 August 1914, at the beginning of the First World War, Egypt declared that the canal would be open to ships of all nations, but Britain converted its occupation into a British protectorate and barred canal access to enemy ships. Citing the security of the canal, Britain attempted to maintain its prerogatives in unilateral declarations.[5]

The signatories comprised all the great European powers in 1888, and the treaty was interpreted as a guaranteed right of passage of all ships through the Suez Canal during war and peace.

Subsequent wars and skirmishes passed control of the Canal to various powers, including the United Kingdom, Egypt, Israel, and the United Nations. In 1956 the Egyptian Government nationalized the Suez Canal. On June 5, 1967, during the Six-Day War, Egypt closed and blockaded the canal against Israel. The waterway reopened on June 10, 1975. A multinational observer force (including the United States, Israel, and Egypt) currently oversees the canal, which is owned and maintained by the Suez Canal Authority of the Arab Republic of Egypt. According to the international rules which govern navigation through Suez, Egypt cannot forbid any vessel from passing through the Suez Canal if there is no war between Egypt and that country.


  1. ^ a b Love, p.171
  2. ^ a b c d Allain, p.53
  3. ^ The Encyclopædia Britannica, Vol.7, Edited by Hugh Chisholm, (1911), 3; Constantinople, the capital of the Turkish Empire...
  4. ^ Britannica, Istanbul:When the Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, the capital was moved to Ankara, and Constantinople was officially renamed Istanbul in 1930.
  5. ^ Allain, p.54


  • Allain, Jean (2004). International Law in the Middle East: Closer to Power Than Justice. London: Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7546-2436-3.
  • Thomas Barclay (1907). Problems of International Practice and Diplomacy: With Special Reference to the Hague Conferences and Conventions and other General International Agreements. Boston: Boston Book Co. (online)
  • Love, Kennett (1969). Suez: The Twice-Fought War. New York: McGraw Hill.

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