Britain's imperialism of Egypt

Luke Gibson and Kazandra Clark

who, what, when, where, and why

Trade links had existed between the two countries for as long as anyone could remember. Egypt was a key part of the old spice and trade routes between Europe and Asia. British traders had been loading and unloading their cargoes in Ottoman waters for generations.

British military and political interest in Egypt first manifested itself as it became obvious that in the eighteenth century, India was falling under the influence of Britain (and away from France). Despite, the direct sail routes around the Cape of Good Hope, Egypt still provided the quickest way of maintaining communications between Britain and India. It required a brief overland journey, but it was still substantially quicker than circumnavigating Africa.

It was the strategic foresight of Napoleon that first pointed out the importance of Egypt to Britain. In 1798, he had the audacity of landing an army in Egypt that promptly defeated the Mamluk Army at the Battle of the Pyramids. All of a sudden, British alarm bells began ringing as they realised that their profitable Indian Empire was under direct threat. Fortunately, the Royal Navy was able to save the day, as Nelson destroyed the French Fleet at the battle of Aboukir Bay. Stranded, there was little that the French army could do and Napoleon promptly abandoned them to their fate. A British Army was landed and defeated the remnants of the French force at the Battle of the Sphinx. The French surrendered in 1801

At this point, it seemed as if the British forces would remain in place and that Egypt would just have remained under British control. Unfortunately for the British, in 1805 a vigorous Egyptian leader came to the fore, known as Muhammed Ali. He took control of the Mameluke army and defeated the British in 1807. This setback forced them to withdraw from Egypt. The British would not formally return for another 75 years.


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