Having had the briefest of encounters with Egyptian Royalty towards the end of my novel ‘The Merry Millionaire,‘ by sheer coincidence, on Saturday 27th February, 1937, my principle characters, Ron and Mervyn, in the sequel, namely, ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ happen to share their return voyage from Egypt on the ‘Viceroy of India’ with young King Farouk. He is travelling to Europe to begin a Royal Tour and my pair of intrepid adventurers bump into Farouk in a most interesting and amusing way, which begins a friendship between the trio which is destined to continue way into the story. We learn much about the young king’s life inside and outside the restrictions of the Abdin Palace in Cairo, as well as a side of his personality as yet hidden from the public eye. I found this extract from Al-Ahram, the Egyptian newspaper accredited to Yunan Labib Rizk, which allows us an insight into the tight schedule young Freddy Farouk, his mother, Queen Nazli and his four sisters underwent during the winter of 1937. When King Fuad I died on 27 April 1936, his son and successor Prince Faruq had just turned 16 (he was born on 11 February 1920). Both Wafd Party leaders and British authorities in Cairo felt it in their interests to shorten the period until he turned 18, the constitutionally stipulated minimum age for a king. Their means towards this end was to reckon his age on the basis of the lunar, instead of the solar calendar, thereby reducing the interval from about 22 months to precisely 15 months and 14 days. Although this may have struck the Egyptians as odd at the time, in fact the precedent had been set much earlier. Until the era of the Khedive Ismail (1863-1879) the viceregal throne fell to the eldest living descendant of Muhammad Ali. Ismail, however, succeeded in securing an Ottoman firman restricting succession to the eldest son of the occupant of the throne. Therefore, when he was deposed, his son Tawfiq assumed the throne. Yet, when the Khedive Tawfiq died at an early age his son, Abbas Helmi was just short of 18. The British Consul-General Lord Cromer, the effective ruler of the country at the time, discovered a way around the problem. He consulted with Al-Azhar officials who readily agreed to calculate Abbas’ age on the basis of the lunar calendar, thereby enabling his immediate succession.
Until this point, the succession to the Egyptian throne had to be authorised by a firman issued by the Ottoman sultan. Upon the outbreak of World War I the British not only deposed Abbas Helmi II, but also ignored Ottoman rights of suzerainty and appointed his successor themselves. He was the eldest living prince of the Muhammad Ali dynasty, Abbas Helmi’s uncle Hussein Kamel, to whom the British, moreover, accorded the title “sultan.” Hussein Kamel did not live much longer, and when he died his son Prince Kemaleddin refused to assume the throne. The British therefore offered it to his brother Ahmed Fuad who was only too glad to accept. In 1917, Fuad became Egypt’s second sultan and then when Egypt was granted nominal independence in 1922 he was crowned king. During that year, too, the sultan turned king drew up a law of succession designating his eldest son, Faruq, as his successor. Faruq was only two years old at the time.
Although King Fuad was destined to live 15 years longer, he took an important precaution, thereby setting another precedent in the history of the Muhammad Ali dynasty. This was to name three persons who would act as regents in the event that he died before his son reached the age of majority. Fuad’s foresight proved fortuitous for that eventuality did in fact come to pass. Although there were a couple of hitches regarding the appointment of the regents, there was no question that Faruq was the next king. The question that did remain was what to do with the young man until he reached the age at which he could assume his constitutional powers. After considerable deliberation and consultations all concerned, settled upon the idea that the young king spend at least some of the approximately 16 months left until he reached 18 in Europe and in Britain in particular. After all, he had interrupted his education in order to return to Egypt upon the sudden death of his father and it was only fitting that he return in order to resume the studies that would provide him with at least the minimum know-how to rule his country.
Foremost among the “all concerned” was British ambassador to Egypt Sir Miles Lampson whose opinion it was that the longer the “boy,” as he referred to the king in his communications with London, stayed in England the more sympathetic he would be to British policy towards Egypt. Lampson also felt that Faruq would stand a better chance of imbibing British culture if he were steeped in a British environment. Certainly all efforts of Mr Edward Ford, the Eton schoolmaster that had been brought over to Egypt to instruct the young king, failed to accomplish this end. Faruq had been woefully negligent of his studies.
The Wafd Party government was another concerned party. At the time the idea of a royal educational excursion came up, the government was busy taking the first steps to implement the provisions of the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty, which entailed among other things, laying the groundwork for negotiations to end the capitulations system. The last thing it wanted was for palace officials to take advantage of the sympathy and popularity the young king enjoyed in the wake of his father’s death with the intent of undermining the Wafdist government’s work. It, therefore, heartily welcomed Faruq’s temporary removal to Europe. A third concerned party was, of course, the regency council, headed by Prince Muhammad Ali, the younger brother of Abbas Helmi II. Although the regency council initially voiced concern over the wisdom of sending their young charge abroad, its resistance did not last long. After all, the council could wield its powers on behalf of the king more extensively if he wasn’t physically present to observe it. It was thus one of those rare moments of concord between the Wafd, Abdin Palace and the British that dispatched the still juvenile monarch on a European tour that would encompass Switzerland, France and Britain. The British ship bearing the royal personage set sail from Port Said on 27th February 1937. On board were 30 members of the royal court to keep him company and supervise him. They included the queen mother, several princesses and the king’s mentor Ahmed Hassanein. The ship returned to Alexandria on 24 July 1937.
As the voyage commenced, so too did that business that Egyptians have excelled in throughout their long history: the making of despotic monarchs. Although the academic works on the life and character of Faruq agree that he derived very little educational benefit from the trip, what was written about him in the press at the time was bound to turn the head of that 16-year-old youth. Indeed, the propaganda had built around him such an aura of magnificence that we can safely say that by the time he returned to Egypt he had been moulded into yet another of that long procession of god-like rulers that Egyptians have known throughout their history.
On 21 February 1937 Al-Ahram ‘s correspondent in Port Said sped off the following report:
“In response to the plea of the inhabitants of the popular quarter in this city, His Majesty the King, may God grant him a long life, has graciously condescended to honour this quarter and pass with his fortunate retinue through Saad Zaghlul and Princess Eugenie Streets. The entire city is in a frenzy of activity as it decks itself out. Especially splendid are the decorations with which the Islamic Philanthropic Society has ornamented the facades of its two schools, the displays that have been erected in front of the Labour Federation Centre and the decorations which adorn the path along which the royal procession will proceed.”
Meanwhile, the royal train set off from Qubba Palace at 2.45pm on Saturday 27 February. As an added security measure, a military train had departed in advance to ascertain the safety of the route. Before departing, the king delivered a brief statement in which he said that he planned to visit various European countries for the benefit of his education which had been interrupted by the death of his father. All along the way from Cairo to Port Said, villages vied with one another to pay tribute and demonstrate their loyalty to their new king. In Minia Al-Qamh, the Abaza family had solicited palace authorities to permit the royal train to stop briefly in their village so that the king could partake in refreshments offered in a large, magnificently ornamented tent they had erected in the train station. The municipality, railway authority and other government agencies in Zaqaziq festooned their city with a variety of decorative displays.
“Of particular note are those that were created by the eminent Abdel-Rahman Radwan Bek on his cotton ginnery, his school and his other properties facing the train station.
The newspaper correspondent gave particular mention to the decorations that adorned the home of Member of Parliament Ali Lahita. Lahita had also decked out a large launch, which was to escort the ship bearing His Majesty as it set out to sea.
“The launch will have on board the famous Fanagili troupe whose ensemble of folk drums and wind instruments will provide delightful musical entertainment. The Lahita family has also decorated their other boats which are docked in the port as a declaration of their dedication and loyalty to our king.”
It is not difficult to imagine the splendid send-off accorded to the SS Viceroy of India as it wended its way out to the open sea, on 27th February 1937 with its precious royal cargo, not to mention representatives of the Egyptian press, including, of course, the correspondent of Al-Ahram who covered the progress of the royal European tour.
AL-AHRAM, like the rest of the Egyptian press, stressed the importance of this event.
“Faruq has only five months until he attains legal age,” it wrote. “He felt it important that he take advantage of this period to acquire cultural edification from an environment in which order prevails absolutely and in which the conditions of material progress and social advancement have attained the clearest and most elevated manifestations.”
The newspaper adds that the king had taken this decision less than a year after having ascended the to the throne, during which period he had “studied the life of his people, visited their urban and rural dwellings and familiarised himself with their sources of strength and weakness and their demands and aspirations.”
On board the Viceroy of India, the Al-Ahram correspondent kept Egyptians up to date on the minutest details of the king’s movements. Typical of the reports he transmitted home via the wireless is the following:
“His Majesty the King emerged from his cabin suite at 7.00am and proceeded up to the deck where he partook of some brief exercise. His Majesty appears in the finest health after having a comfortable night’s sleep.”
After 72 hours, the British liner arrived in Marseille. In celebration of the arrival, the ship’s orchestra struck up the Egyptian and British national anthems, after which there was a hearty round of applause for the king,
“whose sporting simplicity and smiling countenance delighted the passengers.”
On the wharf, the Egyptian consul-general to France was waiting to receive the king. Along with him were other members of the consulate and about 100 Egyptian students who were then attached to various French universities. After one of the students delivered a welcome speech on behalf of his peers, they all broke out in the salute, “Long live the King of Egypt and Sudan.” Faruq thanked them for their kind sentiments. The students greeted the brief speech with an enthusiastic round of applause and cheers. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SD-asE6MQCc