How is it that British officials and French engineers were responsible for the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869? This was before Egypt became a protectorate of the British Empire in 1914.


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Actually, England had no part in the building of the Suez canal. That was all France. Here's what happened:

Napoleon took his troops on a little excursion through Egypt at the turn of the 19th century. This got a lot of Frenchmen associating the country with romance and adventure.

At the time, France had probably the best Civil Engineering schooling system in the world, so a lot of really talented French engineers started dreaming of building a canal through Egypt to connect the Mediterranean with the Indian Ocean (via the Red Sea). This of course would be a great contribution to mankind (particularly the portion of it living in Europe). It might also help bring Egypt into the modern community of nations (IOW: draw it closer to France).

Since the canal was run through its territory, Egypt got a nearly half-stake in the canal. However, Egypt was a developing nation with very shaky finances (and perhaps rulers who didn't understand the perils of deficit spending). Eventually things got bad enough that, just to make interest payments for a little while, they had to sell any asset they had of value. Their half stake in the canal was certainly of value, particularly to England since their communications with their overseas Empire had come to depend on it. So when it came up for sale, England promptly snapped up Egypt's half stake in the canal.

Sadly, the country's downhill slide continued unabated, with the result that what had started as a Franco-Egyptian partnership rather suddenly became just another cog in the British Empire. The French were not pleased.

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