The Ottoman Empire is effectively ruled by the “Three Pashas”: Ismail Enver Pasha (Minister of War), Mehmed Talaat Pasha (Minister of Finance and Minister of the Interior) and Ahmed Djemal Pasha (Minister of the Navy and mayor of Constantinople). Enver led the disastrous attack on the Russian town of Sarikamish. Now Djemal is making his own bid for military glory. He is leading a force from Palestine to attack the Suez Canal and invade Egypt.
British troops have been occupying Egypt for decades, but until the war started it was notionally part of the Ottoman Empire. Britain deposed the pro-Turkish khedive and installed the more pliant Hussein Kamel as sultan, declaring Egypt a British protectorate. The Suez Canal is a vital link between Britain and its empire in India; it is to defend the canal that Britain has been occupying Egypt.
Djemal’s invasion force is small. He must leave substantial forces behind to defend the Levantine coast from any possible amphibious attack by the Allies. But geography also dictates that he marches at the head of a modest force. Between Palestine and the Suez Canal is the Sinai desert, a barren region in which no large army can live off the land. Turkey’s ability to keep a field army supplied are limited. Djemal does not want his soldiers to die before they can fight, so he brings no more than be can kept in food and water.
The British forces in Egypt are much larger than Djemal’s, but they are spread out throughout the country. Djemal hopes that when his force crosses the canal the Muslim population of Egypt will heed the call of Jihad and rise up against the occupiers.
Ahmed Djemal (Wikipedia)
Suez Canal and northern Sinai (Wikipedia)