With the turmoil in Egypt in recent weeks, it seems the people have spoken and decided to take charge of their destiny. I look forward to good news as they move into their brave new world. While their new story is being created, I can’t help but recall another Egyptian uprising in 1956 when I was living in neighboring Tripoli, Libya.

Americans were not immune from the world’s volatile situations, then or now: Libya was, after all, in the Middle East. At the end of October 1956, we were plunged right into the middle of the Suez Crisis. One morning in Tripoli, the school busses didn’t arrive. After an hour of waiting, we learned the Libyan drivers had gone on strike, and many small riots had started. For us students, it was an ideal way to get out of school!

Nasser, then President of Egypt, had taken control of the Suez Canal. Why should Britain and France run the canal that ran through Egypt, he reasoned? He wanted the tolls to help Egypt build the Aswan High Dam. It marked the spread of Arab nationalism, though Libya was late to that game, and Gaddafi didn’t seize power until 1969. According to some reports, the young Gadddafi took part in the riots. Good practice for his takeover later? I wonder how Egypt’s recent actions will affect him now.

In 1956, riots took place in front of the French and British embassies, and a couple of small bombs a day were set off in various areas of Tripoli. It wasn’t a full-scale insurrection, but with the heat on, the British evacuated their women and children, flying them home to England.

Americans within the city of Tripoli were put on a 6 p.m. nightly curfew and were told to have a bag with the barest necessities packed in case of evacuation. Gates and doors were to be locked and shades pulled down. We were all instructed not to venture into the old city. My mother got caught on the edges of a small demonstration near a friend’s house several blocks away. It scared her, but she was in our car and managed to leave without incident.

When you’re young, political situations don’t seem to matter. It was all just extra excitement and a chance to miss a couple of days of school. The curfew was moved to 9 p.m. within a week, and several weeks later, as things cooled off, life was back to normal. British families, however, did not return for several months.

The U.S. and USSR had put pressure on the UN,  and there was a cease fire by November 6. Egypt had scored a political victory. I had seen a preview of Nasser’s growing power when I’d spied on the party held at the Egyptian Ambassador’s residence across the street from my home. Almost like being at a drive-in movie, I watched Nasser enthusiastically holding forth on a large screen while the sheiks in attendance were a captive audience.

As an American who believes in Democracy, I say: Power to the Egyptian People!


  1. Victoria says:

    Susan, if you remember military guards, it may have been during the Oct. 1956 Suez Crisis, which I’ve written about in my blog. Check my archives. Thanks for your comments.


  2. Susan Johnson says:

    I was in kindergarten/1st grade and we lived somewhere west of town with the oil company employees. I remember that when the school bus did come, there were military guards. We did go to school at Wheelus, but it was a scary drive across town. Is this famliar to anyone?

  3. Elaine Frank says:

    yes, I too remember the crisis in 56. My dad’s car was stoned when he would come home from the base. we lived out on homs road and we lived in a duplex with a british family next door. They were shipped back and left in the middle of the night. We didn’t know what happened to them but they eventually did return several months later. Like you said this was just the way of life living in the military. We had to leave Morrocco because of the french and arab conflct in 1954/55 and we were in Japan doing the Korean war and had fox holes at school that we would practice air raid drills instead of fire drills. Us kids just took it all with a grain of salt. People back in the states were scared for us but we were fine it was just that the British and Americans looked alike and that is why they would throw rocks at his car. Like you said it got better after a week but by then dad had decided to move up to the base. We being a family of 6 got to live in two italian trailers with a cement block walls that connected the two trailers together and we were walking distance from the gulf of Sidra.

  4. Heather Vesterfelt says:

    Indeed, power to the Egyptian People. It will be interesting to watch the ripple effect on thier nieghbors. Thank you for the look back Victoria.

  5. Rebecca Goddard Rizek says:

    Hi Viki.. we lived through that uprising in l956 while we were stationed together as dependents of military officers serving at Wheelus AFB, Tripoli , N.A. I remember our house boy, coming to work a few days later, with bandages on his head and forehead.. He said he was beaten because he was loyal to his American employers.. Calipha wanted to come to the States with us, which was impossible because he had a least one wife and three children. But , for us,, it was as you said a day off from school. The kids on the base got to go to the Officers Club and wait on the tables since the arab waiters could not come in to work. I remember the MATS transports lined up on the Runway at the Base OPs {airport} ready to evacuate the American dependents should we have to go. I was all of thirteen, and never forgot it. Some memories we have!

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