Understanding the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty requires knowing what transpired during the inter-war years in Egypt. In the inter-war years, an unsettled Egypt negotiated with the British Empire. Egyptian leaders attempted to claw back their independence by signing a treaty.
To understand the treaty, we need to go through the following:
- The state of Egypt in 1936
- The provisions of the treaty
- What changes resulted
- Whether the treaty was successful
- What developments the treaty influenced.
But before we delve deep into the points above, let’s take a quick look at the treaty’s promises.
What Did the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty Promise? A Quick Summary
International treaties are complicated, and this treaty was no exception.
Here is a summary of the main provisions in the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936:
1. The British troops stationed in Egypt are limited to 10,000 Egypt during peacetime.
However, this limitation of troops still allowed for administrative staff on top of the 10,000-soldiers limit. The treaty also allowed 400 additional pilots stationed in the Suez Canal Zone with the troops.
2. All British troops were to be redeployed out of Egyptian cities and stationed in the Suez Canal Zone.
The Suez Canal Zone was the British Empire’s most significant strategic position because it allowed them direct access to India and served as a base for communications.
3. In 1944, if it were peacetime, British troops would leave Alexandria.
In the treaty, this clause is a significant strategic change to British military presence on the Mediterranean Sea because Alexandria was strategically important.
4. Egypt would send an ambassador to the United Kingdom and receive one back and replace the traditional high-commissioner.
A high-commissioner is present in British protectorates and territories before the treaty. Receiving an ambassador for a change was the more appropriate protocol for an independent state. This change is a tacit acknowledgement of Egypt’s independence.
5. Egypt gained the right to make treaties with other countries independently.
However, this sovereign right to treaties with other countries is only plausible if Egypt’s treaties entered into don’t clash with the Anglo-Egyptian 1936 Treaty.
6. The presence of British troops in the Suez Canal zone was subject to future review. If the Egyptian army could protect trade by 1956, British troops should withdraw.
7. The Egyptian army would return to Sudan. Once the Egyptian army is in Sudan, the treaty states that it will establish its proper and joint management.
The British Empire and Egypt had conquered Sudan together originally. Over the years, control had ebbed away from Egypt to the United Kingdom. Egypt wanted to gain back control.
The treaty also enshrined parts of the status quo in Egypt.
8. In times of war, British forces retained a right to use Egyptian ports, roads, and airports.
9. Egypt also promised to provide all available assistance to British forces in wartime.
10. British forces had their right to a presence in Sudan recognized formally.
What was Egypt like in 1936?
Egypt was formally independent in 1936, ruled by King Fuad I. Independent status had come in 1919, after a widespread uprising. The British government admitted that its protectorate status was no longer appropriate. This independence was a technicality for Egypt, and real autonomy had not arrived yet.
In 1936, the first-world war trauma was still very fresh in the minds of the people of Egypt. Many sons and husbands had been recruits, drafted to aid the British forces. Civilians could remember their schools, hospitals, and streets becoming reserved for military use.
The nationalist Wafd party was popular, even after nominal independence arrived. Egyptian subjects were aware that a significant British military presence remained. British expatriates owned large businesses and remained influential in Egyptian society. Many British subjects in Egypt were not governed by Egyptian law.
Support for greater national autonomy was pervasive. Egyptians disagreed about the form change should take yet. Liberal nationalists and religious conservatives clashed. Most people did agree, though, that change was desirable.
Who ruled Egypt at the time of the treaty?
King Fuad negotiated large parts of the treaty along with members of his government. Different factions of the Egyptian political class held roles on the negotiating team. Egypt had a parliament full of factions with varying visions for Egypt’s future. The King had a significant advantage in advancing his preferred policies. He could dissolve Parliament, and he did so when Parliament pushed against his agenda.
Fuad had a seasoned reputation. He maneuvered around his domestic and international opponents. The upheaval took place after King Fuad’s death as the 1936 treaty officially came into force.
The new King, Farouk I, was a young man called home to mourn his father in the middle of his education. King Farouk had been studying to enter the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, but he failed the test. According to some of his tutors, he lacked the skill of applying himself.
Called back to assume the throne upon his father’s death, the young Farouk had a serious task on his hands. British troops were still occupying barracks all over Egypt. The British army had men moving and establishing bases with impunity. They did not serve Egypt directly and were not subject to Egyptian law. In a troubled world, the desire for independence pushed against the risk of a fresh invasion.
What changes did the treaty promote?
The principles in the treaty supported a mitigated move towards independence. Egypt could act more freely, but not as freely as nationalists hoped. British forces could still sweep in during conflicts. In the late 1930s, conflicts were not in short supply, and in addition to that, the second world war was on the horizon.
Even though Egypt could nominally make independent foreign policy, their opportunities were few. Clauses in the treaty committing them to help British forces limited their options.
Egypt was deprived of actual control over the Suez canal area by the British encampments there.
The Canal massively cut the sailing distance between Asia and Europe, making it a significant strategic asset.
The Suez Canal was crucial to international trade, even in peacetime. British troops surrounding the Canal limited the influence of the Egyptian government abroad.
Most terms of the treaty were to be reviewed twenty years later, in 1956. Global events and their toll on Egypt meant that the treaty did not get the chance to reach its review date.
Did the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 work?
We can break this question down into three parts. First, we need to ask, “has the treaty achieved its promise changes?” Next, we should consider whether it was the change that the signatories intended. Last, we reflect on whether it worked in the longer term.
1. Did the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 achieve change?
Yes, the treaty achieved some of the changes it promised, but not all of it. The British forces were redeployed into the Suez Canal Zone, with its role significantly reduced. British influence in Egypt became less overt.
The police force recruited fewer British officers. The role of the British army also focused more on training Egyptians.
The legacy of British involvement was profound, though. Many institutions were not easy to change, and the changes were very modest.
2. Were the changes satisfactory to all the signatories?
Moves towards autonomy were welcome, but they fell short of the changes desired. The Wafd party, nationalists, and the Muslim Brotherhood of the time all wanted more. Egyptian governance was limited by the duty to aid British troops during wartime. This duty also indirectly affected international trade.
Nationalists in Egypt were ready to see Egypt function independently. The treaty never stood a real chance of fulfilling those hopes, although it was a small advance towards its goal.
Sudan also remained a sticking point. The treaty specified that the British Empire and Egypt would pursue joint management. This aim satisfied nobody. Many political figures in Egypt wanted the British to release control of Sudan to Egypt. The British Empire showed no intention of doing so, and it later evolved into a conflict.
3. Were the changes viable in the long term?
No, the twenty-year review date for many of the treaty changes turned out to be wildly optimistic. By 1956, the world was different and British influence in Egypt was dying. Large scale opposition did not mobilize immediately, though. The second world war took up most of the political agenda for the decade that followed 1936.
Some Egyptians resented being pulled into the war with Britain. Sections of the population, and King Farouk I, had moments of sympathy with the axis powers. Despite all this, Nationalist organizing took several more years to gain steam.
Why did the treaty fail?
World War II was a significant change for everyone in Europe and most of North Africa. The war only proved how the treaty was poorly suited to the new world order. Egyptians had fought and died in both wars, with little recognition. Regimes fell, old powers became heavily indebted shadows of themselves, and allegiance was in flux. That meant a new relationship would have to evolve for the United Kingdom and Egypt.
The reputation of the British Empire suffered in the post-war middle east. Britain’s creation of Israel provoked furious opposition. It unified opposition groups who typically would not work together. British troops and businesses in Egypt met hostility because Egyptians still see them as extensions of British imperialism.
The structure of government in Egypt also changed after the second world war. The monarchy was on borrowed time—King Fuad I had served as a middle point between British backers and the Egyptian Parliament. Farouk had neither the skill nor the inclination to perform a delicate balancing act.
When did the treaty fail?
Farouk was, in name, the King of Egypt in October 1951 when the treaty fell. The prime minister, Nahas, abrogated the 1936 treaty. Prime Minister Nahas had demanded a withdrawal of British forces in the canal zone, but conflict happened when British forces ignored Nahas’ demands.
The Suez Canal area became a war zone. Egyptian workers and staff withdrew while the government cut off supply lines. Egyptian forces and British troops took part in guerilla-style skirmishes, and for several years there was no resolution. British and French private shareholders retained financial control of the Canal until 1956. Farouk I finally abdicated the throne in 1952 and lived out his life in exile.
What consequences did the failure have?
The failure of the 1936 treaty contributed to the Suez Crisis in 1956. Britain and France joined with Israel and staged an invasion to occupy the canal zone. The British empire was almost gone at this stage, but the Canal was still commercially useful.
General Nasser, Egypt’s leader, had tried to nationalize the Canal, and this fallout was called the Suez Crisis. The United States and the Soviet Union both became involved. President Eisenhower ultimately pressured British, French, and Israeli forces into conceding. Eventually, the invading troops withdrew in 1957.
The Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 reflected the political certainties of the colonial world. It assumed that Britain would remain a major power. The signatories did not know how profound the changes to their world would be. The Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 was part of the evolution of a major international crisis.
Here are the key points to remember:
- The treaty was a compromise. It aimed to create slightly more independence for Egypt but maintain British military capacity.
- The agreement did not satisfy large numbers of Egyptian political groups.
- The provisions were not sufficient to make Egypt functionally independent.
- The treaty was unable to subdue increasing regional tension.
- It was abrogated in 1951 after a regime change, this sparked a conflict that led to the Suez Crisis of 1956.