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.
"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)