The Egyptians felt that they were being systematically exploited by the British. They felt that their country's wealth should have been used to benefit themselves and not their imperial overlords. The Suez Canal came to symbolize the colonial exploitation of Egypt. Though operated by the French, the British government eventually owned all of the shares in the Suez Canal Company previously owned by Ismail, the Egyptian puppet ruler installed—and subsequently removed—by the British. This particular act symbolized the direct transfer of wealth from Egypt to Britain that colonial exploitation involved.
In the wake of World War One, and inspired by President Wilson's vision of a world of independent nation states, Egyptian nationalists became increasingly strident in their demands for change. One of the fundamental tenets of nationalism is that ultimate political sovereignty resides with the people. Clearly this was not the case in Egypt, where power had been exercised first by the Ottoman Empire, and then by the British. If Egypt were to be a real nation, to exercise the kind of national self-determination set out in Wilson's Fourteen Points, then it had to throw off the yoke of British imperial rule. So long as the British were in charge, Egypt would never be a free nation. Something had to give.