Geopolitics

Meet Fouad II, The Forgotten King Of Egypt

PORTRAIT – Egypt’s last monarch, Ahmed Fouad II was forced out of his native country before his first birthday. Today, he lives a quiet life in Switzerland, bankrolled by the Saudis, and rejoicing over the democratization of his country.

The family tree of Egypt's Muhammed Ali dynasty (Dlisbona)
The family tree of Egypt's Muhammed Ali dynasty (Dlisbona)
Marie Maurisse

"You should address him as Your Majesty." It is more than half a century since Ahmed Fouad lost the throne of Egypt, but for his entourage, he is still the king. Discreet and smiling, he now lives surrounded by vineyards, a few miles away from Geneva in an elegantly decorated villa with wooden furniture, an Egyptian living room and many portraits of his ancestors. "My favorite is that of Mohammed Ali, founder of modern Egypt", comments our host. "I also have a portrait of his son Ibrahim Pasha, and of course, one of my father. He was so handsome."

His father, King Farouk, the tenth sovereign to hail from the Muhammad Ali dynasty, reigned over Egypt and Sudan from 1936 to 1952, when the army mounted a coup under the authority of General Mohammed Naguib. Farouk was forced to abdicate and put his six-month-old son on the throne, with powers assumed by a short-lived, three-person Regency. This move did not save the monarchy which was abolished within the year. The Republic was declared on June 18, 1953, and the following year Lieutenant Abdel Nasser rose to power.

"I have no recollection whatsoever of my reign," Fouad says slowly in French, his mother tongue. "But as a Muslim, I have to accept my fate. In Egypt, I was living in a gilded cage; here, I am a free man." After leaving Cairo, the king went to Italy and then Switzerland, where he spent all his school years. "My mother, Nariman, left when I was two years old. For a long time, I blamed her for that even though I know that life with my father was not easy. He was so popular with women!"

"I lived in Cully, near Lake Geneva with my sisters, their governess and my nanny", continues Fouad. "I was enrolled in a public school in my village, along with the local winemakers' sons. My father asked one of his bodyguards to keep an eye on me, so I always had this man following me everywhere which was really annoying, as the school was close to our house and there was no danger!"

The following years went by peacefully. After attending a middle-school in Lausanne and the prestigious Le Rosey international boarding school, the teenager obtained his secondary school Baccalaureate diploma and continued his studies at the University of Geneva and then moved to Paris.

With the arrival of Nasser in power, Egyptian history books started depicting Farouk as a slave to luxury and voluptuousness. But Fouad disputes this image: "When he settled in Italy, my father had nothing. It was the kings of Saudi Arabia who supported him."

Fouad had to work in order to earn a living, as did his sisters: Ferial works in the hotel business, Fawzia is a translator and Fadia an interpreter. In France, Fouad started a real estate business and made some "good deals'. He then married a pretty French woman who the media nicknamed "Queen Fadila of Egypt". They had three children - two princes and a princess, who grew up out of the limelight and speak little Arabic. But professional problems and a divorce plunged Fouad into a deep depression. He sought relief in Switzerland, where he moved 15 years ago: first to Geneva, and then the house he lives in today, which is now crowded with family memories.

"A very short memory"

Despite this relatively simple life, Fouad has never forgetten Egypt. What does he think of Hosni Mubarak's departure? "It was a bit brutal, but I'm glad that Egypt's young people have broken the wall of fear. There was too much corruption. Mubarak wasn't capable of solving the terrible problems affecting Egypt today: poverty, illiteracy, lack of a proper health system. And the billions he has stuffed in foreign accounts, it was indecent!"

At the age of 58, the former sovereign still has a photograph in his wallet showing him as a child in the arms of his father. He was only 13 when Farouk died "poisoned under suspicious circumstances' in 1965. "My father died just when I needed him most," Fouad says.

Sensitive and delicate, he remembers "King Farouk's reign" as a golden age. At the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Prof. Riccardo Bocco has a more nuanced view: "At the beginning, the monarchy was a period of prosperity; but after the Suez Canal was built, the situation in Egypt started deteriorating. King Farouk had put all farm land in the hands of a small aristocracy and popular contestation was rife. One of the first things Nasser did was to launch a major land reform. With all due respect, it would seem that Fouad II has a very short memory."

Fouad's memory is fine, but he has been weakened by his depression. He is currently working as an adviser for a Swiss watchmaker, but he says he mainly depends on the generosity of Saudi Arabia. Nelly, a French woman who has been living in Switzerland for a long time, tenderly watches over him. "His Majesty" now lives surrounded by his ghosts - the kings, queens and princes of the Orient. He sometimes goes back to Egypt, "when the desire to see the Nile becomes too strong. The State provided me with a passport in 1974. Until now, whenever I went back I would inform President Mubarak of my arrival and he would ensure my personal security and I would stay in a hotel. I don't know what will happen now."

Does he want to go back to Egypt for good? "I do not have any political ambitions and I'm afraid such a move would be misinterpreted," he says. Ashraf Moussa, Vice President of the Egyptians living in Switzerland, believes that "the monarchy is a thing of the past, we will never return to that system." Youssef Makar, a Swiss Egyptian who has known Fouad for a long time, admits that there is a certain nostalgia for the monarchy amongst older Egyptians. "But young people don't even know who Ahmed Fouad is. We are a long way from a restoration. And Fouad is a timid man – being a king is a burden he does not want to carry."

Read the original article in French

Photo credit - (Dlisbona)

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Economy

Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.


Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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