Suez Canal, Arab. Qanat as Suways, waterway of Egypt extending from Port Said to Port Tawfiq (near Suez) and connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Gulf of Suez and thence with the Red Sea. The canal is somewhat more than 100 mi (160 km) long. Proceeding S from Port Said, it runs in an almost undeviating straight line to Lake Timsah. From there a cutting leads to the Bitter Lakes (now one body of water), and a final cutting then reaches the Gulf of Suez. The canal has no locks and can accommodate all but the largest ships.
The desirability of a water connection between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea was long appreciated in antiquity. A canal was built in the 20th or 19th cent. BC to Lake Timsah (then the northern end of the Red Sea). Xerxes I had the canal extended. It was restored several times (notably by Ptolemy II and Trajan) until the 8th cent. AD, when it was closed and fell into disrepair.
The modern canal was planned by the French engineer Ferdinand de Lesseps, who also supervised construction (1859–69). Great Britain, which had opposed the construction of the canal, became the largest shareholder in 1875 by purchasing the interest of the Egyptian khedive. The Convention of Constantinople signed in 1888 by all major European powers of the time declared the canal neutral and guaranteed free passage to all in time of peace and war. Great Britain was the guarantor of the neutrality of the canal management was placed in the hands of the Suez Canal Company.
Under the Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936, which made Egypt virtually independent, Britain reserved rights for the protection of the canal, but after World War II, Egypt pressed for evacuation of British troops from the area. Egypt in 1951 repudiated the 1936 treaty, and anti-British rioting and clashes on the border of the zone erupted. In 1954, Britain agreed to withdraw, and in June, 1956, the British completed their evacuation of armed forces from Egypt and the canal zone.
After Great Britain and the United States withdrew their pledges