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20 November  
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1951: British families leave Egypt's Canal Zone
More than 1,000 families of British servicemen have begun moving out of the Suez Canal Zone town of Ismailia.

The move was ordered yesterday following the shooting two days ago which cost the lives of at least five British soldiers. Nine Egyptians were killed.

The women and children are being sent back to Britain because there is not enough room for them in guarded Army compounds.

There was tight security in the centre of Ismailia today as families were herded into lorries which were then given army escorts to the emergeny camps which will be their homes until they can be flown back to Britain.

Tensions between the British and Egyptians have been running high since the government in Cairo stepped up its demands for the complete withdrawal of British troops.

Opened fire indiscriminately

Egypt has pulled out of the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty - which included plans for a gradual withdrawal - and has since been trying to undermine Britain's presence with a campaign of civil resistance.

Protesters have disrupted the operation of the Canal ports, beaten up and intimidated people working for the British services and attempted to block fresh food supplies.

The trouble came to a head on Saturday, when, according to British reports, Egyptian police opened fire indiscriminately on a British jeep and the shooting quickly spread to other parts of Ismailia.

Shooting broke out again the following day and took several hours to bring under control.

Out of bounds

In a desperate attempt to calm the situation, Lieutenant General Sir George Erskine, commander of the British troops in Egypt and Ibrahim Abdul Hadi Ghazali Bey, Governor of the Canal Zone agreed yesterday that police would not be allowed to carry arms for the time being.

The operation to move families - and all their furniture - to the army compounds is expected to take up to six days.

Once all British families have left Ismailia, the town will become out of bounds to troops in the hope of preventing any further bloodshed.

Britain is still hopeful of negotiating a new four-power organisation for the defence of the Middle East. In the meantime, it does not want to lose its army base in Egypt.

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British troops in an armoured car
British troops patrolling the Canal Zone



In Context
Most British families were moved out of Ismailia in less than four days.

However, the anti-British campaign continued with complaints about British behaviour to the International Labour Office and even to the World Health Organisation.

After a military coup in 1952, the period of constitutional monarchy ended in 1953 and Arab nationalist Abdel Nasser came to power in 1954.

Two years later he astonished the British and French by nationalising the Suez Canal, provoking an invasion by Israeli and Anglo-French forces.

However, the invasion was unpopular with large sections of the British and French public and also drew international condemnation, led by the United States.

The Anglo-French forces quickly agreed to a ceasefire and withdrew.

The Suez crisis confirmed Britain and France's lack of superpower status and led to the resignation of Prime Minister Anthony Eden and accelerated the collapse of the Fourth Republic in France.

President Nasser increased his appeal in the Arab world as the leader who had successfully overcome Britain, France and Israel.

Stories From 20 Nov


 
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