- Title: SUEZ IN PERSPECTIVE [Main Title]
- Film Number: COI 340
- Other titles:
- Summary: A justification of the Anglo-French 'intervention' in Suez.
- Description: Introduction sketches background: Britain's "thankless and difficult" task in Palestine mandate; 1948 Arab-Israeli war and armistice. The advent of Nasser in Egyptian Revolution presented as an "ominous event", basically dishonest ("Promises of peace and prosperity... explain enthusiasm for a regime... incapable of fulfilling them") and menacing, with Soviet Arms, nationalising of canal and threats against Israel ("Cairo in 1956 reminded many of Berlin in 1939"). Israelis attack - "who knows how far they might have gone?" Britain and France move to "protect" Canal. Film of "Operation Musketeer", commentary stressing Allies' concern to minimise casualties; prompt acceptance of UN ceasefire. British restore order to occupied Port Said (aerial film proves "absolute nonsense" of Egyptian claims of damage) but the Canal is closed by blockships ("most sunk after Egypt had agreed to ceasefire"), "overwhelming evidence" of Nasser's irresponsibility. Advanced quality of captured weapons interpreted as evidence of dubious Russian motives. UN Peace-Keeping force arrives: the film (quoting Churchill as second opinion) makes the world a gift of this British-made "new opportunity." -------- Enhanced data reproduced from COLONIAL FILM CATALOGUE - www.colonialfilm.org.uk CONTEXT Britain had a complicated and worsening relationship with Egypt in the post-war period. The surrender of the British Mandate of Palestine in 1948 was one of the factors that led to the formation of Israel, which in turn led to ‘a serious loss of goodwill from the Arab world towards Britain’ (Robinson, 2001, 410). British military presence in Egypt and continued control (along with France) of the Suez Canal, were further sources of discord. The British conceded to the withdrawal of troops in 1954. The nationalisation of the canal by the Egyptian president Gamal Abdul Nasser in July 1956 provided the spark for conflict in the region. Nasser came to power in 1954. During his initial period of rule his position was insecure, and it has been argued that this encouraged him to campaign against British influence in the Middle East, aiming to bolster his power (Barnett, 1992, 82-83). In turn, the British launched a propaganda campaign against Nasser, portraying him as a fanatic dictator and a Soviet ‘stooge’ (Shaw, 1996, 12). The countries of the United Nations debated how to respond to the nationalisation of the canal. While Britain, France and Israel contemplated co-ordinated action, the United States, now the most important outside power in the region, would not support the use of force (Hulbert, 2002, 263). Secretly supported by Britain and France, Israel launched an attack on Egypt on 29 October 1956. Two days later, Britain and France ‘intervened’, planning to use the Egypt-Israel conflict as justification for renewed control of the Suez Canal. Among the most controversial aspects of the Anglo-French campaign was the attack upon the city of Port Said. This ‘peacekeeping’ mission resulted in an estimated 1,000 Egyptian fatalities, while in response 23 British and French military personnel were killed (Kyle, 2003, 502-03). In addition, around 900 Egyptians required hospital treatment, in comparison to the 121 injured members of the Anglo-French forces (Kyle, 2003, 503, 641). Although the city was not widely damaged, a block of houses was destroyed by air strikes, the shanty town was burnt down, and the Navy House was blown up (Kyle, 2003, 503). Tony Shaw claims that Nasser was ‘deeply conscious of the power of propaganda’ (Shaw, 1996, 4). He publicised the attack on Port Said with ‘articles, films, photographs and specially commissioned magazines’ that were distributed widely and aimed in particular at the United States (Shaw, 1996, 179). Most damaging for his opponents was an article by the Swedish journalist Olof Perelew Andressen, which claimed that British and French troops had killed between 7,000 and 12,000 civilians in the city (Kyle, 2003, 641). The Anglo-French operation drew criticism from all quarters. The United Nations convened for an ‘emergency special session’ between 1 and 10 November 1956, which established the first United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF) and called for an immediate ceasefire (United Nations, 1-10 November 1956). The British agreed to these terms, and announced a ceasefire on 6 November 1956, while troops were still on operational manoeuvres in Port Said. In December 1956 British and French troops were withdrawn from the city and replaced by Danish and Colombian units of the UNEF. It has been argued that the British government’s public relations policy during the crisis was a ‘disaster’ (Hulbert, 2002, 264). Tony Shaw counters that ‘the British government appreciated the importance of “presenting” its policy to a far greater extent than the public then realized and historians have given it credit’ (Shaw, 1996, 1-2). Suez in Perspective is one of three films that the Central Office of Information had in production as early as November 1956, the others being The Facts about Port Said and Report from Port Said (‘Films on Suez’). The film was made as a response to Egyptian propaganda, including the film The Anglo-French Aggression Against Egypt (1956). It was designed to ‘explain from the British point of view […] the events which led to action by the Israelis against Egypt and the consequential action by the British and French to safeguard the Suez Canal’ (‘Films on Suez’). The COI commissioned the newsreel company British Movietone to make the film, and it is largely made up of the company’s own library footage. It does, however, include material commissioned by the COI, such as the aerial documentation of Port Said and the shots of the blockships in the Canal (Pring, 14 December 1956; ‘Cutter’s Shot List’). Suez in Perspective was not intended for audiences in the UK; its distribution instead being designated as ‘World Comprehensive’, with its ‘major showings’ intended for ‘specially invited audiences by Overseas Missions’ (‘Show Copy Approved’; ‘Films on Suez’). The film was dubbed into numerous languages, including French, Italian, Finnish, Serbo-Croat, Latin-American Spanish, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, and Sinhalese, while a special German version was made in Germany (‘Showing of Films on Suez’). In the first week of December 1956 alone, nearly 200 prints were despatched by air to over seventy different territories (‘Showing of Films on Suez’). ANALYSIS There are two types of perspective in operation in this film. One is corrective, aiming to rectify the portrayal of events in Port Said. The other is to provide a long view, situating the Suez crisis within a series of events in the Middle East. Suez in Perspective admits that it is a response. It begins by showing a series of international newspapers, all condemning the Anglo-French presence in Egypt. It then outlines the main cause for intervention: Nasser is portrayed as a military dictator whose ambitions will not cease with the Suez Canal. He is referred to as ‘Colonel’ throughout; there is footage of frenzied crowds; and much is made of an arms deal with Russia. We are shown ‘war-like signs’ in the streets of Cairo, which ‘reminded many of Berlin in 1939’. This is a different image of the country from the one seen in The Anglo-French Aggression Against Egypt. The Egyptian film emphasises the independent and advanced nature of Nasser’s country: Port Said is portrayed as multi-cultural tourist destination, and Nasser himself is almost entirely absent from the film. The first thing that we learn about the Anglo-French operation in Suez in Perspective is that ‘it was planned with care and skill’. The film then spends much of its time rejecting claims made about the advance on Port Said. Here there are many echoes and contrasts with The Anglo-French Aggression Against Egypt. Where the Egyptian film talks of civilian targets (and depicts explosions), the British film talks of a desire to ensure minimum loss of life (and shows map rooms – a sequence that was also commissioned by the COI). Both films have extensive footage of the city: the Egyptian film to show the extent of the damage (conveyed largely by shots filmed from within the streets); the British film to show the lack of it (conveyed by primarily by aerial shots, but also via a shot of a woman sweeping up tiny fragments of rubble with a broom). Both films depict the wounded in hospital. The Egyptian film shows severely injured Egyptian casualties, tended by Egyptian staff; the British film shows both Egyptian and Anglo-French casualties and shows a Christian woman giving aid. Young children are featured in both films: in the Egyptian film they are searching for water supplies; in the British film they are playing with the invading troops. The Anglo-French Aggression Against Egypt depicts the flight of refugees and claims that the Egyptian government ‘supplied all facilities for the evacuation’; Suez in Perspective shows British soldiers giving aid to the people of Port Said and claims that ‘in the first week alone after the action, 2,500 tonnes of food were distributed to the population’. Both films argue for the self-evident power of their images, but paradoxically, in doing so, they encourage the more sceptical viewer to call them into question. When showing the injured in the hospital wards the Egyptian film claims, ‘scenes that speak for themselves’; when using extreme long shots to convey the (lack of) damage to Port Said, the British film argues, ‘anyone looking at this picture can easily see for himself’. Both films climax with speeches from national leaders. The Anglo-French Aggression Against Egypt quotes Nasser, stating that ‘the whole world is with us, and I wish to make it quite clear to the free peoples of the world that the ordeal through which the world is passing at present is the responsibility of the aggressors who invaded Egypt’. Suez in Perspective quotes Churchill, stating ‘In Britain we have the choice of taking decisive action or admitting once and for all our inability to put an end to strife’. There is one claim made in The Anglo-French Aggression Against Egypt that Suez in Perspective fails to answer: that of collusion between the British and French governments and Israel. It would be 1967 before a member of the British government admitted that there had been agreement between the three countries (Beck, 2009, 608). Suez in Perspective ignores this accusation and instead maintains that the British and French acted in order to provide stability in the region. Its longer view is that Britain had previously performed ‘thankless and difficult’ tasks in the Middle East (citing the example of Palestine) and had had to do so because of the ineffectiveness of the United Nations (citing the UN’s inability to provide a police force in Israel). Thus, rousing the UN to intervene in this conflict is presented as the outcome that the British and French had desired all along. At the beginning of the film we learn that ‘the Anglo-French action can open the way to new opportunity for the United Nations and the world’, and at the conclusion the commentator contemplates ‘what a different story it might have been had a similar emergency force come to this part of the world when Britain gave up her mandate in Palestine in 1948’. It is perhaps apt, however, that in its concluding images, which show the people of the Middle East living harmoniously side-by-side, Suez in Perspective finds no place for the British or French. Richard Osborne (May 2010) WORKS CITED Barnett, Michael N., Confronting the Costs of War: Military Power, State, and Society in Egypt and Israel (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992). ‘Cutter’s Shot List’ [National Archives file: INF 6/807 ‘Suez in Perspective 1956’]. ‘Films on Suez’ [Internal memo from Miss Hembry of the Central Office of Information, 30 November 1956. National Archives file: INF 6/807 ‘Suez in Perspective 1956’]. Hulbert, Jeff, ‘Right-Wing Propaganda or Reporting History?: The Newsreels and the Suez Crisis of 1956’, Film History, 14, 3/4 (2002), 261-281. Kyle, Keith, Suez: Britain’s End of Empire in the Middle East (London: I. B. Tauris, 2003). Pring, A.E., 14 December 1956 [letter from A.E. Pring of the Central Office of Information Films Division to the Secretary, British Movietone News Ltd. National Archives file: INF 6/807 ‘Suez in Perspective 1956’]. Robinson, Francis, ‘The British Empire and the Muslim World’, in The Oxford History of the British Empire: Volume IV: The Twentieth Century, ed. by Judith M. Brown and Wm. Roger Louis (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 398-420. Shaw, Tony, Eden, Suez and the Mass Media: Propaganda and Persuasion during the Suez Crisis (London: I. B. Tauris, 1996). ‘Show Copy Approved’ [Central Office of Information memo, December 1956. National Archives file: INF 6/807 ‘Suez in Perspective 1956’]. ‘Showing of Films on Suez’ [Central Office of Information memo: National Archives file: INF 6/807 ‘Suez in Perspective 1956’]. United Nations, ‘Resolutions Adopted by the General Assembly During its First Emergency Special Session from 1 to 10 November 1956, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/3354&Lang=E.
- Access Conditions: IWM Attribution: © IWM
- Featured Period: 1945-1975
- Production Date: 1956
- Production Country: GB
- Production Details: Central Office of Information (Production sponsor)
- Personalities, Units and Organisations: Nasser, Gamal Abdel (person) British Army (regiment/service) UN Peacekeeping Force (regiment/service)
- Keywords: law and order, United Nations - use of troops (object name) propaganda, British - inflammatory (object name) Operation Musketeer & 1956 (event) Egypt & Port Said (geography) Egypt & Suez Canal (geography)
- Physical Characteristics: Colour format: B&W Sound format: Sound Soundtrack language: English Title language: English Subtitle language: None
- Technical Details: Format: 35mm Number of items/reels/tapes: 2 Footage: 1715 ft; Running time: 19 mins
- Notes: Offcuts from SUEZ IN PERSPECTIVE andTHE FACTS ABOUT PORT SAID (COI 406) - including some of the more sensitive footage of damage to civilian areas - are held as SUEZ MATERIAL (COI 449). THE FACTS ABOUT PORT SAID, SUEZ IN PERSPECTIVE and a third film, REPORT FROM PORT SAID were all in production at the same time (see file INF 6/807 ‘Suez in Perspective’ held at the National Archives), but had different aims and intended audiences. The Facts about Port Said, a three-minute film, was ‘designed to counter the Egyptian claim that most of Port Said has been destroyed’. It was made available in English and Arabic versions, and also without commentary. It was despatched to fifty posts overseas and also shown in the UK in cinema and television newsreels. Report from Port Said, a 13 minute, 16mm film produced primarily for television showing overseas, deals with the same subject matter as The Facts about Port Said, but is also concerned ‘with the care taken during operations to restrict damage to the minimum and subsequent action to restore the Port and town to normal’. It was only made available in its English version or without commentary, and was despatched to over 30 countries]. Remarks: the "perspective" offered by the title is conspicuously lacking in this extremely (at times grotesquely) propagandist interpretation of events, with its comparison of Nasser with Hitler.
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