… Britain had substantial interests in the country [Egypt in the 1880’s]. What the oil in Iraq is today, so the Suez canal was then. More than 80% of the traffic going through the canal was British – indeed 13% of Britain’s entire trade went through the canal – and in 1876 Britain had acquired a substantial shareholding in the canal company itself. Moreover, the Egyptian economy had emerged during the American Civil War as an alternative source for the raw cotton insatiably consumed by Britain’s textile industry. As if that were not enough, a substantial chunk of the Egyptian external debt was held by British bondholders, including the new Prime Minister himself [William Gladstone]. Today’s liberal commentators fret about the links between the Bush administration and oil companies like Halliburton. But Halliburton’s share price declined by a third in the three years after former chief executive Dick Chaney became Vice President, whereas Gladstone’s substantial investments in Egyptian loans soared in value – by over 40 percent – as a direct result of his decision to invade. Had this fact become known at the time, it is hard to say what the effect would have been on Gladstone’s reputation for sea-green incorruptibility.
From Colossus by Niall Fergusson (2004)