Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
10 - 16 February 2000
Issue No. 468
Published in Cairo by Al-Ahram established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

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A Diwan of contemporary life (324)

Mohamed Ali
Mohamed Ali

The rulers of Egypt during the royal reign of the Mohamed Ali dynasty, which began in 1805, boasted four different titles. Mohamed Ali and his immediate successors held the title 'Pasha' until 1867. The title then became 'Khedive' until 1914, 'Sultan' until 1922 and, finally, 'King' until the 1952 revolution which overthrew the monarchy and established a republic the following year. Sultan Fouad I vested himself with the title 'King' after Britain, the occupying power, ended its protectorate regime in Egypt and declared it independent. Although the independence was nominal, Fouad decided he merited the pomp and splendour of the title even if his freedom to rule was severely limited. Dr Yunan Labib Rizk tells the story from the pages of Al-Ahram

The fallen dynasty

"To our noble people:

"God in his graciousness has bestowed upon us the independence of our country, for which we humbly offer to the Lord Almighty our profoundest gratitude and most heartfelt praise. We hereby announce to the world that, as of today, Egypt is a fully sovereign independent nation and that we have taken for ourselves the title His Majesty the King of Egypt so that our nation may have the international identity and national prestige as befits its independent status.

"In this great hour we testify before God and before our nation that we will spare no effort in striving with all possible force, dedication and determination towards the good of our beloved nation and the prosperity of our noble people.

"Abdeen Palace, 15 March, 1922"

Khedive Khedive IsmailPrince
Hussein Kamel
The preceding "royal decree" in accordance with which "Sultan Fouad" became "King Fouad" appeared in Al-Ahram the following day. The decree opened a relatively short chapter in the history of the Egyptian ruling family that would end 31 years later with the abolition of the monarchy in 1953, less than a year after the Egyptian revolution of 1952. But, behind it lies the much longer history of this dynasty.

The story, in fact, begins 117 years earlier when, in 1805, Mohamed Ali came to power in Egypt and succeeded in ending the bloody conflicts over the Egyptian throne and in securing dynastic succession through his line in accordance with the 1840-41 settlement with the Ottoman sultan. From Mohamed Ali until Fouad, Egyptian rulers had been variously called pasha, khedive and sultan. Each title has a story of its own.

In addition to Mohamed Ali, his successors Ibrahim, Abbas I, Said and, initially, Ismail were all pashas. Pasha was the title accorded to all governors of the Ottoman provinces. Because of the military campaigns in the 1830s that brought Mohamed Ali's forces into control of the Levant and almost to the doors of Istanbul, Egypt, by virtue of the 1840-1841 settlement acquired a status a cut above all the other Ottoman provinces. If dynastic succession was one concession to this status, Egypt's rulers still needed a title commensurate with it.

This is what Ismail (1863-79) succeeded in doing. Four years into his rule, he managed to secure from the Supreme Porte the right to the title Khedive, along with other privileges that effectively made Egypt a semi-autonomous entity within the Ottoman Empire. Ismail -- and Egypt -- would pay a heavy price for the new terms of rule. The rising volume of foreign debt under Ismail led to increased foreign intervention in Egyptian domestic affairs and, ultimately, to the deposition of Ismail himself. Yet, having been released from many of the obligations of deference to the Ottoman sultan, the Khedive was able to comport himself in many ways as an independent ruler. Indeed, he was the first Egyptian ruler to establish for himself a court on the model of the illustrious courts of the European ruling houses. Towards this end he built for himself and his family a number of palaces, the most important of which was Abdeen Palace. It was to this palace that Ismail moved the seat of Egyptian officialdom from its centuries-long stronghold in the citadel. He bestowed on the palace a splendour reminiscent of the palace at Versailles upon which it was modelled.

In 1914, at the start of World War I, the British declared a protectorate over Egypt, bringing to an official close four centuries of Ottoman hegemony, which had begun in 1917 when the forces of Sultan Salim I entered Cairo. The British also deposed the Khedive Abbas II, long a thorn in the side of the occupation authorities in Cairo and whose allegiance to the Ottoman house, which had entered into an alliance with Great Britain's wartime enemy, made his continued presence on the throne untenable. Their candidate for succession was Prince Hussein Kamel, son of Ismail and uncle to the deposed Khedive.

However, the title conferred on Abbas' successor was something of a conundrum and required lengthy deliberations between the British Foreign Office, Prince Hussein Kamel and the British government representative in Cairo. The title "khedive" was ruled out because of its implications of subordination to Istanbul. British authorities also feared that the continued use of this title could give rise to a contest of legitimacy between their candidate and the deposed khedive. Were such a contest to arise, Abbas would probably have won because he, after all, had been officially conferred that Turkish title by decree from the Ottoman sultan, the only authority empowered to make such an investiture.

The British thought that "king" would not do, given Egypt's protectorate status under the crown of England. On the other hand, the title "sultan" seemed perfectly suited to drive home the severed links between Cairo and Istanbul. Then came consultations on the epithets of aggrandizement affixed to the title. Hussein Kamel was opposed to the simple, "His Highness", on the grounds that this address would not distinguish him from all the other Egyptian princes. It was he who proposed "His Majesty" and this was the compromise that all parties accepted.

As it transpired, "His Majesty the Sultan" was the shortest-lived royal epithet in the history of the Mohamed Ali dynasty. In total, it lasted eight years, three for Hussein Kamel and five for Fouad, who would then be renamed "king".

According to British confidential documents, changing the title of the Egyptian ruler in 1922 went much more smoothly than it did eight years previously. When in that year Sultan Fouad proposed that he acquire the title "king", he met with no opposition on the part of the British authorities either in Cairo or in London. Firstly, shortly after the end of the war numerous other "kings" emerged in the Arab world. The Sherif Hussein had become "King of the Hejaz" following his famous rebellion against the Ottoman Empire, known as the "great Arab revolution". Prince Faisal had become king of Syria in 1919 and, not long afterwards, the king of Iraq. Certainly it appeared reasonable that the descendant of the more than a 100-year-old Mohamed Ali dynasty should be accorded the same title as the newly installed rulers of the newly independent nations. Simultaneously, with the termination of the British protectorate over Egypt in accordance with the Declaration of 28 February 1922, the British no longer had grounds to object to the occupant of the Egyptian throne being addressed as "His Majesty the King". After all, on paper at least, Egypt was now an "independent, sovereign nation".

It was thus that, on 15 March 1922, Fouad issued his last decree as sultan, ushering in a new era in the Egyptian hierarchy. Al-Ahram was on hand to watch this development in Egypt's governing institution.

On the same day that Fouad issued his decree, Prime Minister Abdel-Khaleq Tharwat, in his dual capacity as minister of foreign affairs, dispatched a circular to the representatives of foreign countries in Cairo containing a translation of the decree. Now that Egypt had become an independent, fully sovereign nation, he wrote, the sultan shall now be addressed as "His Majesty the King of Egypt." "I ask you to kindly inform your governments of this decree and I take the opportunity to express to our Excellency my greatest respect."

The response of "George V, King of the United Kingdom and the Emperor of India" was the first to reach King Fouad. The British monarch wrote, "I pray from the depth of my heart that your country will enjoy the fruits of independent relations that I have long hoped would exist between Great Britain and Egypt". The felicitations of other European monarchs were soon to follow. King Albert of Belgium wrote, "I hope from the depth of my heart that your days will be blessed with happiness and that your kingdom enjoys the greatest prosperity". A flood of other telegrams came from other European capitals.

Meanwhile in Egypt, celebrations were held in all major cities and provincial capitals. Naturally, the most impressive were held in Cairo and Alexandria.

In Cairo, Mohamed Ali Mosque was the venue for the ceremony that was held on 17 March 1922. The choice of that location was of symbolic significance, since worship in that mosque, located in the strategically located citadel, had been suspended since 1914. Al-Ahram reports, "The Governor of Cairo sent 1,500 invitations to members of the royal house, government ministers, religious dignitaries and notables. From Al-Nasser Salaheddin Square to the door of the mosque, the streets through which the royal procession was to pass were covered with golden-hued sand and bedecked with flags and banners. The floor at the entrance of the mosque was covered with luxurious carpets. The Cairo police commissioner stationed police inside the citadel and on the roads surrounding it." The newspaper goes on to relate that, in the late morning, cars and carriages bearing the official and social luminaries began to make their way to the citadel. Then, "shortly before the stroke of noon, His Majesty the King of Egypt arrived, to be received by their excellencies the current and former ministers and other personages". Following the ceremony, "The procession bearing His Majesty and his retinue returned to Abdeen Palace".

In his dispatch from Alexandria, Al-Ahram's correspondent reports that celebrations in the Mediterranean port city opened with a salute of 100 cannon salvoes. He goes on to relate that "Mohamed Hadaya, the governor of Alexandria, had invited a large audience of senior government officials, Muslim and Christian leaders, judges, dignitaries, men of letters and merchants to attend the recitation of the decree issued by Fouad I". Thus, at 12.00 noon, set to coincide with the ceremony in Cairo, the governor of Alexandria read out the royal decree. Meanwhile, outside the governor's residence, "the city, in which flags and banners bedecked all government buildings and most commercial establishments on the main thoroughfares, was calm". Clearly, the absence of popular jubilation indicates that the Egyptian people were not enthusiastic about celebrating the declaration of Fouad's new title while nationalist leader Saad Zaghlul was still in exile.

Fouad I's first order of business as "king" was to establish the rules of dynastic succession. Thus, on 13 April 1922, he issued a 13-article edict laying out the "order of hereditary succession in the house of Mohamed Ali". The first article stipulated that the monarchical throne was to pass to the eldest son. But, "should the eldest son die before inheriting the throne, succession shall pass to that son's eldest son, even if the deceased heir apparent had brothers". The article further states that "in all events, the heir to the throne shall be the son of a legitimate marriage. The heir to the throne following my death shall be our beloved son, Prince Farouk".

Article three stipulated the order of succession in the event that the king had no male heirs. In this case, the throne was to pass to the king's brothers in order of age seniority. Not surprisingly, given the history of antipathy between the Khedive Abbas I and the British, that former monarch was specifically excluded from succession. However, the article added, "this exception shall not apply to his sons and their progeny".

The fifth and seventh articles included other prohibitions. The fifth article excluded women from inheriting the throne, "regardless of what their status may be under the reign of the king". The seventh article stated, "Should a prince marry without the permission of the king or of whomsoever he was entitled to succeed, he and his progeny shall be denied all rights to inherit the throne, succession to which will then pass on to the next candidate for succession. In addition, any descendant expelled from the royal family by decree shall be prohibited from succession to the throne".

At the time of the decree, Fouad's eldest son, Farouk, born in 1920, was still a toddler. Born in 1869, Fouad himself was over 50 and not in the best of health. It was only natural, therefore, that the law of succession contain several provisions geared to ensuring the crown prince's future should Fouad die before his son reached the age of majority, which was set by this law as 18, as reckoned in accordance with the Islamic calendar. One of these provisions called for a "guardianship body for the king while still a minor -- the said body to assume the powers of the king until the king reaches the age of majority". The guardianship body was to consist of three individuals, "selected by the current king in accordance with a document for that purpose issued in two identical original copies, one of which shall be deposited in the royal archives and the second to be deposited with the prime minister. The document shall remain in a sealed envelope and shall only be opened after the king's death and before the parliament". On the other hand, should the reigning king fail to produce such a document, "the parliament shall be empowered to appoint the guardianship body".

Two months later, King Fouad proclaimed the "System of the Royal Family". By way of explanation, its prologue declared, "The royal family is one of the pillars of the state, due to the relations of kinship binding it to the occupant of the throne and the consequent rights and claims these bonds entail. The ruling family is also the nation's leading family and noblest family and as such sets itself as a model of propriety and self-discipline."

This royal edict contained 22 articles, the first of which opened, "The occupant of the throne is the head of the royal family and, as such, has the rights of guardianship over all its members." The order then detailed which members of the royal family would be addressed as prince or princesses. These included the children of the king, the brothers and sisters of the king and the children of the former khedives and sultans. Terms of address were introduced to distinguish ranks of princes. Those related to Fouad and the former Sultan Hussein Kamel were to be referred to as "their royal highnesses", while all others would be referred to as "their highnesses".

Princedom was hereditary, and among the provisions of this royal decree was that "in the event a prince has no offspring, his title shall pass to the eldest of his brothers and then to the eldest of his sons and so forth". Again, princes and princesses had to be born "of legitimate wedlock". They also had to be Muslim and Egyptian citizens.

The "system of the royal family" dwelt at length on matters pertaining to preserving the nobility of the lineage. Article 6, for example, stipulated, "In the event that a prince or princess seeks to marry or that a guardian over a prince or princess seeks to arrange a marriage for their ward they must first obtain the approval of the king. Should the king grant such approval this shall be registered by the royal keeper of the records in a special ledger for that purpose. The royal keeper of the records shall notify the applicant of this registry in writing."

In the event a prince or princess should marry without permission of the king, "the king shall issue a royal decree stripping him or her of the title and banning the progeny of that marriage from that title, although the king may restrict the ban to the progeny alone".

The eighth article marked a precedent in the history of Egypt's royal family. It was this article that established the protocol and the competence of the "Royal Council". This council was to consist of a prince appointed by the king, the speaker of the House of Notables (the senate), the minister of justice, the chief of the royal cabinet, the sheikh of Al-Azhar, the chief magistrate of the National Court of Appeals and the mufti of Egypt. The council was to be chaired by the prince and the king was to appoint a secretary to keep the minutes of the meetings, which were to be filed in the royal archives.

One of the functions of the Royal Council was to review cases in which a prince, princess or husband of a princess "sought to separate from their spouse". The council would hear the testimony of the petitioner for a divorce and then it could summon both husband and wife for a hearing. "Should the Council prove unable to effect a reconciliation between them and a divorce ensues afterwards the council shall corroborate this and present to the petitioners a written document to this effect."

The Royal Council was also empowered to determine "the instruction to be given to princes not yet of age and eligible to inherit the throne in accordance with the order of hereditary succession in the house of Mohamed Ali". At the same time, the king had the right, "following consultation with the Council," to expel any prince from the royal family, "in the event that he commits actions detrimental to the honour of the princedom or proves unworthy of that title".

Fouad's final edict pertained to the other members of the aristocracy who were not direct descendants of the Mohamed Ali lineage. These were to be accorded the status of "nobles". On 4 July 1922, Al-Ahram published the list of the members of the royal house. It consisted of 21 princes, 29 princesses, 15 noblemen and 14 noblewomen, all of whom would be entitled to the privileges of royal rank and the splendour of the court for another 30 years, which is to say until the 1952 revolution toppled the monarchy.

Dr Yunan

* The author is a professor of history
and head of Al-Ahram History Studies Centre.

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