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The Last King of Egypt

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

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The last dynasty of monarchs in Egypt started with the rule of Muhammad Ali, the Turkish governor of the Ottoman Empire with Albanian roots. He ruled Egypt, nominally independent from the Ottoman Empire since 1805. He helped modernize the Egyptian army and economy. He stretched his kingdom to include Egypt, Sudan, and areas of present day Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the Holy Land. Twice his army was poised to take over the Ottoman Empire, but then he backed down. The last king of his dynasty is King Farouk I, who ruled from 1936 to July 1952 when Egypt ceased to be a kingdom.

King Farouk`s legacy, however, was quite different from his great, great grandfather, Muhammad Ali. Instead of being a conqueror, war hero, and a builder he had a reputation of being a blue-eyed charming and well-mannered gentleman, but also a womanizer, gambler, glutton, a kleptomaniac, and enamored with an opulent royal lifestyle detached from his subjects. He was born in 1920, raised in the royal courts and educated in gymnastics, languages, mathematics, and history. His two primary caretakers were his mother Nasli and his English governess Ina Naylor. In 1935, he attended the Royal Military Academy in Woolwich, Great Britain. A year later, his father died and he was forced to return to Egypt, where he would assume the thrown. He married the following year in 1938 to Farida, who bore him three girls.

Given unlimited power with no accountability, set King Farouk down the path to self-destruction. He began to frequent nightclubs, sleep during the morning. The quantities of caviar and oysters he would have for breakfast were legendary. He owned several yachts, cars, airplanes, and villas including the Haramlik Palace, or Montazah Palace, in Alexandria. He often quarreled with politicians, despite their loyalty to the throne.

He openly took several “official” mistresses. The first one lasted for 2 years and was with the 21-year old Irene Guinle, in 1941, while he was married to Farida. He would often talk about his female conquests with his mistresses in the presence of his wife Farida. Finally, he had divorced his popular wife in November 1948. Later he dated Liliane Cohen, Samia Gamal (a belly dancer), Annie Berrier, and Patricia Wilder. In 1950, he took on another mistress, Katharine Hepburn. He finally settled down and married Narriman in 1951. He went off to a gambling spree as part of their honeymoon in southern Europe, just as the holy month of Ramadan was starting in Egypt.

King Farouk was also described as a kleptomaniac. The most famous incident of this was when he pick pocketed Winston Churchill`s pocket watch during a meeting they had. In another instance, in 1944, was when the Shah of Persia was buried in Cairo, King Farouk stole the ceremonial sword, belt and medals from the coffin. People who knew him, soon learned to hide their possessions whenever he visited, for fear of him ordering their belongings to be delivered to his palaces. He would even want women who were already married to other men.

If his gambling and womanizing were not enough for the conservative Muslim nation that he governed, there were two events that finally lost him any credibility with his people. In 1947, Egypt was stricken with a cholera epidemic. A total of 35,000 people died in 6 months. King Farouk did little to nothing to alleviate this epidemic. In the summer of the following year, the state of Israel was declared and Egypt entered the war. The Egyptian army`s poor performance was blamed squarely on King Farouk`s lack of proper leadership.

Moreover, his support from his British allies was waning. They were fed up with the gross incompetence he displayed in governing the country and his lack of ability to uphold the country`s institutions. He often quarried with the British ambassador. In 1942, his British allies threatened to depose him unless he accepted a prime minister of their choosing. He gave in to their demands, but always held a grudge against the British. As a result, he refused to declare war on Germany during World War II up until 1945, when it was clear that the Germans were losing the war. The CIA also started a covert operation to shore up support to overthrow King Farouk. The operation was codenamed Operation Fat Fuc*er, in reference to his obesity and sexual habits. Relations between the British and the monarchy grew even worse after 1949, when the British refused to evacuate the Suez Canal, as they were required to do so by the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty signed in 1936. It was believed that several guerilla attacks on British workers and soldiers along the Suez Canal was financed and supported by the government.

Fed up by corruption, the Egyptian people took to the streets in Tahrir Square in January 1952 in mass protests against the government. Seven months later, a military coup organized by a group of people known as the Free Officers, toppled the monarchy. King Farouk`s famous sentence, as described by Anwar Sadat several years later, was “You had me for lunch before I can have you for dinner.” Departing to Italy for his exile, King Farouk took with him several bottles of expensive alcohol and left behind in his palaces large stacks of pornographic magazines. In 1965, after having a characteristically large meal, he collapsed and died. The cause of death was noted as brain hemorrhage. His funeral was held in Rome, Italy. Later he was buried in Al-Rifai Mosque, along with most of Muhammad Ali`s royal family.

As with much of the Middle East, history is repeating itself in the cruelest way. The names and characters change, but the same cycle of history repeats itself. Fifty-nine years after the first uprising against corruption, the Egyptian people once again rose against a corrupt dictator (instead of a monarch) in January 2011. The West, in this case the United States instead of the United Kingdom, was fed up with Mubarak`s inability to govern Egypt effectively. The United States hailed the overthrow as an important step for Egypt towards democracy. Nearly sixty years earlier, the United States hailed the Free Officers as a bulwark against Soviet aggression and expansion. As a matter of fact, millions of dollars that was to be used in covert operations to stamp out Socialist elements in Egypt were intercepted by Nasser`s government and it was used to built the famous Cairo Tower. Only time can tell how history will unfold this time around.


References

  • [1] Dobrowolska, Agnieszka et al, Muhammad Ali Pasha and His Sabil, Cairo: American University in Cairo Press 2004.
  • [2] Wawro, G. Quicksand: America`s Pursuit of Power in the Middle East, Penguin Press: New York, 2010.
  • [3] http://monarchs.home.xs4all.nl/madmonarchs/farouk/farouk_bio.htm
  • [4] The 50 Years War: Israel and the Arabs, PBS DVD Video, 1998.

  • Keywords: Egypt, Al-Rifai, Muhammad Ali, Montazah Palace, King Farouk

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