This Day In History: March 8, 1957

March 8, 1957 Egypt opens the Suez Canal

Following Israel’s withdrawal from occupied Egyptian territory, the Suez Canal is reopened to international traffic. However, the canal was so littered with wreckage from the Suez Crisis that it took weeks of cleanup by Egyptian and United Nations workers before larger ships could navigate the waterway.

The Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean and Red Seas across Egypt, was completed by French engineers in 1869. For the next 88 years, it remained largely under British and French control, and Europe depended on it as an inexpensive shipping route for oil from the Middle East.

In July 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the canal, hoping to charge tolls that would pay for construction of a massive dam on the Nile River. In response, Israel invaded in late October, and British and French troops landed in early November, occupying the canal and other Suez territory. Under pressure from the United Nations, Britain and France withdrew in December, and Israeli forces departed in March 1957. That month, Egypt took over control of the canal and reopened it to commercial shipping. Ten years later, Egypt shut down the canal again following the Six Day War and Israel’s occupation of the Sinai peninsula. It remained closed for eight years, ending when Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat reopened it in 1975 after peace talks with Israel.

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D. K. Smith

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