For the first three-quarters of the nineteenth century, Great Britain had defended Egypt by shoring up its suzerain, the Sultan of Turkey. From the mid-1870s the rivalry of France and the erosion of Ottoman authority by a rising tide of nationalism rendered this approach increasingly untenable. When the Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, purchased the largest single shareholding in the Suez canal company in 1875, he provoked little domestic opposition. In terms of strategy, investment and trade, British policy-makers were convinced that they could not afford to allow any other power to control the canal or Egypt. So far as the diplomatic situation permitted, Disraeli and Lord Salisbury, the Foreign Secretary after March 1878, struggled to establish British paramountcy there. They had largely succeeded when, in 1880, the Liberals, under W. E. Gladstone, again took office. The new Prime Minister failed to form the concert of Europe which he had proposed in his Midlothian speeches. At home, controversy over Ireland divided his party and threatened to force Whigs to join with Tories in opposition to his legislation.


Prime Minister Foreign Policy British Government Suez Canal Liberal Party 
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  1. 1.
    See C. W. Hallberg, The Suez Canal: Its History and Diplomatic Importance (New York, 1931) pp. 224–7, and H. L. Hoskins, British Routes to India (London, 1928; 1966 edn) pp. 454–6.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
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  5. 12.
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Copyright information

© Marvin Swartz 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marvin Swartz
    • 1
  1. 1.AmherstUSA

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