A similar process was under way in the Nile valley. Ever since the voyages of the Portuguese explorers at the close of the fifteenth century, European trade with the East had been carried on almost exclusively by the route around the Cape of Good Hope. But from the outset, there was some interest in shortening the route by digging a canal east of Cairo, where only a low, swampy isthmus separated the Mediterranean from the Red Sea. The Ottoman Turks, who controlled the area, had considered constructing a canal in the sixteenth century, but nothing was accomplished until 1854, when the French entrepreneur Ferdinand de Lesseps signed a contract to begin construction of the canal. The project brought little immediate benefit to Egypt, however, which under the vigorous rule of the Ottoman official Muhammad Ali was attempting to adopt reforms on the European model. The costs of construction imposed a major debt on the Egyptian government and forced a growing level of dependence on foreign financial support. When an army revolt against growing foreign influence broke out in 1881, the British stepped in to protect their investment (they had bought Egypt’s canal company shares in 1875) and set up an informal protectorate that would last untilWorldWar I. The weakening of Turkish rule in the Nile valley had a parallel farther to the west, where autonomous regions had begun to emerge under local viceroys in Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers. In 1830, the French, on the pretext of reducing the threat of piracy to European shipping in the Mediterranean, seized the area surrounding Algiers and annexed it into the kingdom of France. By the mid- 1850s, more than 150,000 Europeans had settled in the fertile region adjacent to the coast, while Berber resistance continued in the desert to the south. In 1881, the French imposed a protectorate on neighboring Tunisia. Only Tripoli and Cyrenaica (Ottoman provinces that make up modern-day Libya) remained under Turkish rule until the Italians took them in 1911–1912.