Egypt–United Kingdom relations

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Egypt–United Kingdom relations
Map indicating locations of Egypt and United Kingdom


United Kingdom

Egypt–United Kingdom relations refers to the bilateral relationship between the Arab Republic of Egypt and Great Britain. Relations are longstanding. They involve politics, defence, trade and education, as well as issues regarding the Suez Canal.


British rule[edit]

Churchill visits his old regiment during the Cairo Conference, Egypt, December 1943

The first period of British rule (1882–1914) was the "veiled protectorate". During this time the Khedivate of Egypt remained an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire. In reality the British made all the decisions and thus had a de facto protectorate over the country. This state of affairs lasted until the Ottoman Empire joined the First World War on the side of the Central Powers in November 1914 and Britain unilaterally declared a protectorate over Egypt. The Ottomans thereby lost all connections. The ruling khedive was deposed and his successor, Hussein Kamel, was compelled to declare himself Sultan of Egypt independent of the Ottomans in December 1914.

Seizure of Egypt, 1882[edit]

As owners of the Suez Canal, both British and French governments had strong interests in the stability of Egypt. Most of the traffic was by British merchant ships. However in 1881 the ʻUrabi revolt broke out-- it was a nationalist movement led by Ahmed ʻUrabi (1841–1911) against the administration of Khedive Tewfik, who collaborated closely with the British and French. Combined with the complete turmoil in Egyptian finances, the threat to the Suez Canal, and embarrassment to British prestige if it could not handle a revolt, London found the situation intolerable and decided to and it by force.[1] The French, however, did not join in. On 11 July 1882, Gladstone ordered the bombardment of Alexandria which launched the short decisive short, Anglo-Egyptian War of 1882. Egypt nominally remained under the sovereignty of the Ottoman Empire, and France and other nations had representation, but British officials made the decisions. The dominant personality was Evelyn Baring, 1st Earl of Cromer. He was thoroughly familiar with the British Raj in India, and applied similar policies to take full control of the Egyptian economy. London 66 times promised to depart in a few years; the actual result was British control of Egypt for four decades, largely ignoring the Ottoman Empire.[2][3]

Historian A.J.P. Taylor says that the seizure of Egypt "was a great event; indeed, the only real event in international relations between the Battle of Sedan and the defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese war."[4] Taylor emphasizes long-term impact:

The British occupation of Egypt altered the balance of power. It not only gave the British security for their route to India, it made them masters of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. It made it unnecessary for them to stand in the front line against Russia at the Straits....And thus prepared the way for the Franco-Russian Alliance ten years later.[5]

Gladstone and the Liberals had a reputation for strong opposition to imperialism, so historians have long debated the explanation for this reversal of policy. The most influential was a study by John Robinson and Ronald Gallagher, Africa and the Victorians (1961). They focused on The Imperialism of Free Trade and promoted the highly influential Cambridge School of historiography. They argue there was no long-term Liberal plan in support of imperialism. Instead they saw the urgent necessity to act to protect the Suez Canal in the face of what appeared to be a radical collapse of law and order, and a nationalist revolt focused on expelling the Europeans, regardless of the damage it would do to international trade and the British Empire. Gladstone's decision came against strained relations with France, and maneuvering by "men on the spot" in Egypt. Critics such as Cain and Hopkins have stressed the need to protect large sums invested by British financiers and Egyptian bonds, while downplaying the risk to the viability of the Suez Canal. Unlike the Marxists, they stress "gentlemanly" financial and commercial interests, not the industrial capitalism that Marxists believe was always central.[6]

A.G. Hopkins rejected Robinson and Gallagher's argument, citing original documents to claim that there was no perceived danger to the Suez Canal from the ‘Urabi movement, and that ‘Urabi and his forces were not chaotic "anarchists", but rather maintained law and order.[7] :373–374 He alternatively argues that Gladstone's cabinet was motivated by protecting the interests of British bondholders with investments in Egypt as well as by pursuit of domestic political popularity. Hopkins cites the British investments in Egypt that grew massively leading into the 1880s, partially as a result of the Khedive's debt from construction of the Suez Canal, as well as the close links that existed between the British government and the economic sector.[7]:379–380 He writes that Britain's economic interests occurred simultaneously with a desire within one element of the ruling Liberal Party for a militant foreign policy in order to gain the domestic political popularity that enabled it to compete with the Conservative Party.[7]:382 Hopkins cites a letter from Edward Malet, the British consul general in Egypt at the time, to a member of the Gladstone Cabinet offering his congratulations on the invasion: "You have fought the battle of all Christendom and history will acknowledge it. May I also venture to say that it has given the Liberal Party a new lease of popularity and power."[7]:385 However, Dan Halvorson argues that the protection of the Suez Canal and British financial and trade interests were secondary and derivative. Instead, the primary motivation was the vindication of British prestige in both Europe and especially in India by suppressing the threat to “civilised” order posed by the Urabist revolt.[8][9]

Egyptian independence[edit]

El Alamein Commonwealth Cemetery

In December 1921, the British authorities in Cairo imposed martial law and once again deported Zaghlul. Demonstrations again led to violence. In deference to the growing nationalism and at the suggestion of the High Commissioner, Lord Allenby, the UK unilaterally declared Egyptian independence on 28 February 1922, abolishing the protectorate and establishing an independent Kingdom of Egypt. Until the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936, the Kingdom was only nominally independent, since the British retained control of foreign relations, communications, the military and the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Between 1936-52, the British continued to maintain military presence and political advisors, at a reduced level.

During World War II, British troops used Egypt as a major base for Allied operations throughout the region. Egypt was nominally neutral in the war.

British troops were withdrawn to the Suez Canal area in 1947, but nationalist, anti-British feelings continued to grow after the war. The Egyptian Revolution of 1952 overthrew the Egyptian monarchy, eliminated the British military presence in Egypt, and established the modern Republic of Egypt.

Suez Crisis of 1956[edit]

In 1956, Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez canal, a vital waterway through which most of Europe's oil arrived from the Middle East. Britain and France, in league with Israel, invaded to seize the canal and overthrow Nasser. The United States, led by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, strenuously objected, using diplomatic and financial pressure to force the three invaders to withdraw. Prime Minister Anthony Eden was humiliated and soon resigned. Thorpe summarized the unexpected results: Eden's policy had four main aims: first, to secure the Suez Canal; second and consequently, to ensure continuity of oil supplies; third, to remove Nasser; and fourth, to keep the Russians out of the Middle East. The immediate consequence of the crisis was that the Suez Canal was blocked, oil supplies were interrupted, Nasser's position as the leader of Arab nationalism was strengthened, and the way was left open for Russian intrusion into the Middle East. It was a truly tragic end to his premiership, and one that came to assume a disproportionate importance in any assessment of his career."[10]

Modern relations[edit]

British Foreign Secretary William Hague meeting former Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy in London, May 2014.

The relations also concern military business. Such as training, visits and access to the Commonwealth War Graves in Heliopolis and El Alamein. Also co-ordination over flights and Suez Canal transits for warships.[11]

In 2010, after long negotiations with the University of London, Egypt retrieved 25 000 ancient artifacts, some dating back to the Stone Age. The artifacts include a rare spearhead as well as pottery from the seventh millennium BC, which bears the fingerprints of its producers.[12]

The British government supported the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.[citation needed]

According to the 2001 UK Census some 24,700 Egyptian-born people were present in the UK.[13] The Office for National Statistics estimates that the equivalent figure for 2009 was 27,000.[14]

In late 2014, the Egyptian-British Chamber of Commerce (EBCC) released a report detailing the trade volume between the two countries, which increased significantly that year. British exports to Egypt grew by 15%, while Egyptian exports to the UK grew by over 30%. The UK is the largest investor into the Egyptian economy, accounting for 41.3% of total foreign direct investment. The New Suez Canal project and Egypt's economic recovery following three years of turmoil since the 2011 uprising as contributing factors to this achievement.[15]

Diplomatic missions[edit]

Egypt's embassy in the United Kingdom is located at 26 South Audley Street, London W1K 1DW.

The United Kingdom's embassy in Egypt is located at 7 Ahmed Ragheb Street, Garden City, Cairo. Outside Cairo, there is a British Consulate-General in Alexandria and an Honorary Consulate in Sharm el Sheik.

The current Egyptian Ambassador to the UK is Nasser Kamel,[16] the British Ambassador to Egypt is Sir Geoffrey Adams. [17]

See also[edit]


  • "Egypt's Relations with the UK". Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Archived from the original on 1 February 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2010.
  • "Bilateral Relations". Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Archived from the original on 5 October 2009. Retrieved 24 February 2010.
  1. ^ Donald Malcolm Reid, "The 'Urabi revolution and the British conquest, 1879–1882", in M.W. Daly, ed., The Cambridge History of Egypt, vol. 2: Modern Egypt, from 1517 to the end of the twentieth century (1998) pp. 217=238.
  2. ^ Richard Shannon, Gladstone (1999) 2: 298–307
  3. ^ H.C.G. Matthew, Gladstone 1809-1898 (1997) pp 382-94; 66 times, see p 481.
  4. ^ He adds, "All the rest were maneuvers which left the combatants at the close of the day exactly where they had started. A.J.P. Taylor, "International Relations" in F.H. Hinsley, ed., The New Cambridge Modern History: XI: Material Progress and World-Wide Problems, 1870–98 (1962): 554.
  5. ^ Taylor, "International Relations" p. 554
  6. ^ Peter J. Cain and Anthony G. Hopkins, "Gentlemanly capitalism and British expansion overseas II: new imperialism, 1850–1945." Economic History Review 40.1 (1987): 1–26. online
  7. ^ a b c d Hopkins, A. G. (July 1986). "The Victorians and Africa: A Reconsideration of the Occupation of Egypt, 1882". The Journal of African History. 27 (2): 363–391. doi:10.1017/S0021853700036719. JSTOR 181140.
  8. ^ Dan Halvorson, "Prestige, prudence and public opinion in the 1882 British occupation of Egypt." Australian Journal of Politics & History 56.3 (2010): 423-440.
  9. ^ John S. Galbraith and Afaf Lutfi al-Sayyid-Marsot, "The British occupation of Egypt: another view." International Journal of Middle East Studies 9.4 (1978): 471–488.
  10. ^ D. R. Thorpe, "Eden, (Robert) Anthony, first earl of Avon (1897–1977)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
  11. ^ The defence section - UK Embassy in Egypt website
  12. ^ "Britain sends 25,000 ancient artefacts back to Egypt". Daily Mail. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  13. ^ "Country-of-birth database". Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Archived from the original on 17 June 2009. Retrieved 22 December 2008.
  14. ^ "Estimated population resident in the United Kingdom, by foreign country of birth (Table 1.3)". Office for National Statistics. September 2009. Archived from the original on 22 January 2011. Retrieved 2 August 2010. Figure given is the central estimate. See the source for 95 per cent confidence intervals.
  15. ^ Farid, Doaa (16 December 2014). "Egypt exports to UK grow by 30% in 2014: Egyptian-British Chamber of Commerce". Daily News Egypt. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  16. ^ "Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt in LONDON – UK". Embassy Website. Retrieved 12 April 2015.
  17. ^ Change of Her Majesty's Ambassador to Egypt, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 23 June 2014

Further reading[edit]

  • Daly, M. W. ed. The Cambridge History of Egypt (Volume 2, 1999) comprehensive scholarly history, from 1525 to present.
  • Darwin, John. Britain, Egypt and the Middle East: Imperial policy in the aftermath of war, 1918-1922 (1981)
  • Hahn, Peter L. The United States, Great Britain, and Egypt, 1945-1956: Strategy and Diplomacy in the Early Cold War (1991) online
  • Louis, William Roger. The British Empire in the Middle East, 1945-1951: Arab Nationalism, the United States, and Postwar Imperialism (1984)
  • Marlowe, John. A History of Modern Egypt and Anglo-Egyptian Relations, 1800-1953 (1954) online
  • Oren, Michael B. The Origins of the Second Arab-Israel War: Egypt, Israel and the Great Powers, 1952-56 (Routledge, 2013)
  • Royal Institute of International Affairs. Great Britain and Egypt, 1914-1951 (2nd ed. 1952) online free
  • Thomas, Martin, and Richard Toye. "Arguing about intervention: a comparison of British and French rhetoric surrounding the 1882 and 1956 invasions of Egypt." Historical Journal 58.4 (2015): 1081-1113 online.
  • Thornhill, Michael T. "Informal Empire, Independent Egypt and the Accession of King Farouk." Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 38#2 (2010): 279-302.
  • Tignore, Robert L. Egypt: A Short History (2011) online


  • Cromer, Earl of. Modern Egypt (2 vol 1908) online a primary source
  • Daly, M. W. "The British occupation, 1882-1922 in Daly, ed The Cambridge History of Egypt (Volume 2, 1999) pp 239-251.
  • Gibbons, Herbert Adams. Great Britain in Egypt (1920) Online.
  • Harrison, Robert T. Gladstone's Imperialism in Egypt: Techniques of Domination (1995)
  • Hopkins, Anthony G. "The Victorians and Africa: a reconsideration of the occupation of Egypt, 1882." Journal of African History 27.2 (1986): 363-391. online
  • Huffaker, Shauna. "Representations of Ahmed Urabi: Hegemony, Imperialism, and the British Press, 1881–1882." Victorian Periodicals Review 45.4 (2012): 375-405.
  • Newman, E. W. P. Great Britain in Egypt (1928) Online.
  • Owen, Roger. Lord Cromer: Victorian Imperialist, Edwardian Proconsul (Oxford UP, 2005) Online review, On Egypt 1882-1907.
  • Robinson, Ronald Edward, and John Gallagher. Africa and the Victorians: The official mind of imperialism (Macmillan, 1966) pp 76-159 on Gladstone and Suez..
  • Savage, Jesse Dillon. "The stability and breakdown of empire: European informal empire in China, the Ottoman Empire and Egypt." European Journal of International Relations 17.2 (2011): 161-185. online
  • Symons, M. Travers. Britain and Egypt: The rise of Egyptian nationalism (1925)Online

External links[edit]

British links
Egyptian links