Egypt’s destiny has always been influenced by its place on the map. Sitting astride two continents and a vital shipping route, the country has always been a desirable piece of real estate. That’s why almost every century in recorded history has witnessed some sort of foreign military campaign attempting to invade Egypt through one of its deserts.
The Hyksos, Persians, Mongols and Arabs came through the Sinai and the Eastern desert; the ancient Libyans, the Sennusis, Berbers and Fatimids came from the Western desert; and Abyssinians and African raiders attacked the upper lands and the oases regularly from the south.
This century’s history has followed the same pattern. When World War I ended, Egypt was still under British control. In neighboring Libya, the Italians tightened the grip on their only African possession. Britain remained comfortable in Egypt until Italy’s acquisitions in the Sahara expanded to an alarming degree during the 1920s.
With growing audacity, the Italians captured the oasis of Jaghbub from Egypt. Through a treaty in 1926, the oasis was exchanged for minor modifications along the coastal and western frontiers. But that was just the beginning. In the following years, the British observed their neighbors’ territorial greed and prepared for an Italian invasion from the Western desert. And so, the treaty’s negotiations coincided with the intensive surveying/reconnaissance of ‘future’ battlefields. At the same time Britain realized the strategic importance of Alamein, Italy allied itself with the Germans.
World War II broke out and spilled over into North Africa. The tiny village of Alamein, situated on the Mediterranean, some 90 kilometers west of Alexandria, arose like a beacon amid the mirage. Suddenly, that obscure train station became the target, and Britain’s only key to survival. For the Allies, the fortified Alamein Line was the last barrier against Hitler’s ambitions to conquer Egypt. For the Axis Powers, it was the last step towards the Suez Canal and the oil of the Middle East–the jump-off point towards a terrifying victory.
On the night of 23 October 1942, the battle of Alamein erupted. The air filled with dust, concealing the full-moon. Roaring engines awakened a desert that had remained silent for ages, troops marched into all directions and mines exploded everywhere. Both parties fought desperately, for he who won would become the master of the world. Guns reverberated and black clouds rose above the blazing fire, carrying faint names into the sky: Wavell, Rommel, and Montgomery.
The deadly game that lasted for 12 days consumed the souls of some 75,000 men on both sides. And Alamein gained its fame; as the turning point of World War II that shall forever remain as one of the most tragic scenes in the history of mankind.