Suez and the Western Powers:
Where Will Nasser Stop?
When an international crisis bursts upon the world, one of the things it does is to set earlier events in better perspective. Since July this has been true of the East-West struggle for control of Egypt and the Suez Canal. In the light of the long-term issues raised by this conflict, Colonel Nasser’s rash defiance of the maritime nations takes on the appearance of a dramatic coup designed to give Egypt the maximum leverage in a situation where East and West alike are bidding for the support of Arab nationalism. Events had been shaping in this way for some time, and we ought not to have been surprised, but it is a rule of experience that the immediate past only begins to be properly understood when a new plateau has been reached whence it can be viewed afresh.
It was thus with Hitler’s and Mussolini’s exploits during the 30’s, when what at first looked like isolated actions gradually began to form a pattern. In retrospect, it seems astonishing how long it took the world to draw the obvious conclusion, but at the time nothing seemed less likely than that two medium-sized European countries would plunge the whole globe into war. They could not of course have done so had they not been able to exploit underlying trends making for international anarchy. It does no harm to bear this comparison in mind, and not only for the sake of the obvious and, by now, somewhat hackneyed argument that the Western powers ought not to repeat the mistakes they made twenty years ago. There can in any case be no exact repetition of that earlier experience, if only because, even in relation to the rest of the Middle East, Egypt does not occupy the commanding position held by Germany in Central Europe during the 30’s. The reason why it is nonetheless useful to evoke the parallel is that we have no other yardstick for measuring the reactions of the powers to the Suez crisis. It has been remarked by puzzled observers that of these powers, Russia seems to be the only one that is not afraid of Egypt. But even the Russians must move warily if they are to keep the support of Arab nationalism.
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