British Sinai : its geopolitical significance in the Middle East and its strategic role in British colonial policy
The focus of this thesis is to assess the strategic role and geopolitical significance of the Sinai peninsula in the Middle East in general and its importance for British colonial policy in particular. As Egypt became progressively more autonomous from the Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth century the question of territorial sovereignty arose, which moved the Sinai Peninsula from being a barren stretch of desert’ with little economic value within the Ottoman Empire to becoming a disputed boundary region. The construction of the Suez Canal and its subsequent control by European powers, headed by Britain, further highlighted its strategic position. This led to a series of successful diplomatic efforts on the side of Britain, which had occupied Egypt by 1882, to include the peninsula within the boundaries of Egypt. After the military confrontation with Turkey during the First World War, and the subsequent breaking up of the Ottoman Empire, an international boundary separating Sinai from Palestine was established. Egypt became officially independent in 1922. However British control of the Sinai Peninsula continued until well after the Second World War. This thesis demonstrates the importance of Sinai for British colonial policy, which was reflected in the great efforts exerted to retain control of the peninsula as long as possible. The recognition of this importance was not shared by the nationalist Egyptian government. Thus Britain is to be credited for having pursued vital diplomacy to establish a recognized international boundary, as well as creating an effective administration system to control this remote border desert area in the form of the Frontiers Districts Administration (FDA), founded in 1917. The "reserved clauses" in the unilateral declaration of independence of 1922 gave Britain the right to provide for the defense of Egypt, which would mean that the Egyptian Army would remain under the control of British officers. The primary vehicle for government in the Sinai was the Frontiers Districts Administration, a department of the Ministry of War. This made it convenient for Britain to remain in charge of the peninsula by means of a British officer serving as governor of Sinai. This thesis shows that as the number of British personnel employed in the Egyptian government was drastically reduced after independence, Britain pursued a covert policy to retain as many Englishmen as possible in the FDA, for the purpose of continued control over Sinai. Even after the Second World War no efforts were spared to try to retain Sinai under British control, which became a central issue in the dispute between Britain and Egypt over the latter's independence and national sovereignty.