Al-Ahram Weekly Online   13 - 19 April 2006
Issue No. 790
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Yunan Labib Rizk

Al-Ahram: A Diwan of contemporary life (636)

A palace wedding

The marriage of Farouk to Farida was a rare event for he was only the second leader of Egypt to marry after ascending the throne. Even then, as Professor Yunan Labib Rizk points out, the difference between their cases was great

Click to view caption
The wedding of King Farouk and Queen Farida

"With this time-honoured verse we make reference to Al-Qubba Palace in Cairo, whose expanse is today filled with happiness, and whose interior is filled with joy. The thoughts of thousands of the people of the River Nile, as well as Egypt's friends in the East and West, are turned to it, sending the purest of congratulations to the young man of the throne and his bride on the day of their felicitous wedding."

With these words, Al-Ahram began its editorial of Wednesday, 19 January 1938. The occasion was the marriage of King Farouk I to take place the following day (Thursday). He had turned 18 a week earlier (he was born on 12 February 1920), and was marrying a girl younger than himself by about 18 months, meaning that she was not yet 17. Her name was Safinaz Zulfiqar, although she changed her name to Farida by royal decree on the occasion of her marriage to the king, seeking auspiciousness in the tradition that his father, the late King Fouad I, had started for the names of all his children to begin with the letter F, which he very much regarded as a good omen. After him, his tradition was followed by his son.

On this occasion Al-Ahram wrote, "let your eyes linger on faces wherever you are in Egypt and you will find expressions of joy apparent on them, concealing many of the worries of the world that never end. Look at these hoisted flags, hanging decorations, cheering groups, rising music and popular parties in every surround. They fully indicate the love and veneration this noble nation holds for the young king, and the appreciation and respect it holds for the young queen."

It was a strange wedding by all standards. Al-Ahram, like all other newspapers, was highly complimentary when it described the bride and groom as "youth", for they were no more than young children. If Farouk had married thus without being on Egypt's throne, he would have been the butt of his relatives' jokes. This was made clear when some of the newspapers printed a photograph of Safinaz months before her wedding. In the photo she is accompanied by the king's sisters, the princesses, and all those pictured are little girls in braids.

This perhaps calls for an investigation into the underlying reasons that led to this (child) marriage taking place without any of those surrounding the young king advising him to wait, if only for a short time. The first of these reasons had its origin in the mother queen, Nazli, who saw that the marriage of her son at this young age to a girl younger than himself would allow her to retain her queenly prestige.

This is supported by the royal decree issued on the same day as the wedding and whose text read, "in view of the most sacred emotions of veneration, exaltation, esteem and deference I hold for Her Majesty the Queen, my mother, and my belief that the affiliation of her dignified name to her grandiose title glorifies her memory in addition to what she possesses of great position and weighty consideration, I, Farouk I, the king of Egypt, order the following: that the title of Her Majesty the Queen, my dear mother, from now on be associated with her dignified name, "Her Majesty Queen Nazli" and that the prime minister and the head of the royal cabinet execute this order."

Most sources that have addressed this issue have indicated that the "queen mother" was behind urging her son to select Safinaz Zulfiqar, for her mother was one of her ladies-in- waiting and her father held a respectable post in the judicial corps. She was behind urging the teenage boy to bring Safinaz into the royal family, which had decided that he should take her to Europe following the announcement of his being crowned king in order to get to know her better and become more attached to her. And this indeed took place.

The second underlying reason is related to the royal family. On the one hand, the king's men were concerned about some of its members, specifically Prince Mohamed Ali, who undertook presidency of the regency council before Farouk came of age. During this period, he succeeded in forging friendly ties with the British ambassador, Sir Miles Lampson, and he hoped that the behaviour of the young boy would result in his being removed from the throne so that he could occupy it after him, especially since he had surpassed 50 and was nearly 40 years older than Farouk. On the other hand there was what caused Queen Nazli concern. She was afraid that her son would marry one of the young princesses among the daughters of the royal family, for there were at least two who were appropriate. She saw that either of them, if they won the young king, would display arrogance towards her because before she had had no ties to the royal family before she married Fouad.

The third and final underlying reason was related to the internal political situation. Not more than three weeks had passed since Farouk had dismissed the government of Mustafa El-Nahhas Pasha when the festivities and nights of esprit were held for the marriage of the king, with all that such occasions bring in way of diverting the people's interest away from major political events. The political developments were welcomed by the Wafd Party's adversaries, and perhaps was part of their planning, especially for the prime minister Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha, Mahmoud Fahmi El-Nuqrashi and Ahmed Maher.

Monitoring Al-Ahram and the other newspapers during the celebrations that took place throughout January 1938 confirms that not a single paper failed to participate in the festivities. Even Al-Ahram, known for its staidness, joined the "procession" in a manner incongruent with its tradition. This was a rare event, for it had not occurred that a leader of Egypt had married after ascending the throne except for Farouk and Abbas II, due to their young age. Abbas ascended the throne after he had barely turned 18 by the lunar calendar, while Farouk assumed rule when he was not yet 18. The difference between their cases, however, was great.

The marriage of Farouk took place after Egypt had gained its independence in 1922, and after a law had been issued during Fouad's reign regulating the royal family's affairs. This is the law that granted him the title of king, and thus Farouk was the only king to have married while seated on the throne of his grandfathers.

The matter was different with Khedive Abbas II, who ascended the throne with an Ottoman firman and British approval, not in accordance with the Egyptian constitution as the case was with Farouk. Moreover, Abbas was famous for being a marrying man, for he married three times. The first was to Lady Iqbal in 1895 when he was 22, after he had been on the khedival throne for four years. The second was to Lady Djavidan, whom he married in 1910. Their marriage lasted only three years. The third and final time was to a European woman of Hungarian origin, Countess Mai Torok. Abbas married her in 1913 after she converted to Islam and borrowed the name of his previous wife, with a slight addition, to become Lady Djavidan bint Abdullah. It is obvious here that the wives of rulers in those days only enjoyed the title of "Lady".

Circumstances changed following the declaration of the protectorate and after Britain granted the rulers among the family the title of sultan, a naming that was also applied to their wives. The wife of Hussein Kamel was thus called Sultana Malek. Nazli, the wife of his successor Fouad, was the first to be titled queen following 1922. Following her, no one else enjoyed the title except for the two wives of Farouk -- Farida, whose story we are following here, and then Nariman, who only enjoyed the title for a few months, during which she gave birth to the crown prince who lived his life in exile after his father was deposed in 1952.

LET US RETURN to that exceptional month in Egypt's history, January 1938, to follow the story of the marriage of Farouk I through the pages of Al-Ahram.

Beginning on the 7th of that month, a media campaign began with the issue of a "royal will" to feed all the poor of the capital with private royal funds on the day of the royal wedding. Ten pavilions were set up in working class areas, :and in each pavilion food will be offered of not less than 10 tonnes of mutton, i.e., enough to feed 10,000 impoverished people".

Another news item reported the issue of special postage stamps to immortalise the event. They were of different classes ornamented with a picture of the king and queen and bearing the date of the royal wedding in Islamic years written in Arabic and in Gregorian years written in French. Al-Ahram added on this occasion information of interest to stamp collectors. At first it was intended to raise the price of these stamps, but the king saw that each should cost only five millemes so as to enable the people to obtain them. The paper did not delay in printing a photograph of the "commemorative postage stamp of the felicitous royal wedding". An early picture of it was published on the front page of the 14 January issue. It was printed in "brown and in its centre is a picture of the king and the royal fiancee, and the two pictures are framed with olive branches".

A third news item was published about a discount on travel to Cairo by train of 70 per cent. The discount began two days before the celebration and continued two days after it. A fourth news item announced the intention of "the royal car club to organise a parade of cars covered in flowers between Abdine Palace and Al-Qubba Palace".

Neither did the Ministry of War fail to participate in the occasion. A detailed programme was drafted for the participation of the army in the auspicious occasion that included the firing of 101 cannons in five locations. The royal procession from Al-Qubba Palace was to commence under protection of the air force, and the armed forces were to line up in a formation determined by the commander of the Cairo unit before Abdine Palace. Then "the army will greet the royal entity upon its appearance in the square with 21 canons from the barracks of the royal guard. Music will begin upon the completion of the royal greeting, and then a salutation will be given accompanied by three cheers for the longevity of the king. Immediately following that, the music will begin. In addition, it has been decided to grant all soldiers a three-day vacation in rejoice over this happy day."

The programme included three soirees in Abdine Palace, the first of which was staged by Miss Um Kalthoum. On the second evening, several foreign troupes performed artistic pieces comprising foreign dance and songs. This party was exclusively attended by the diplomatic corps and foreign dignitaries. On the third and final evening, the well-known singer Saleh Abdel-Hay sang.

Yet all the manifestations of joy and happiness did not prevent the occurrence of some small battles that were expressive of the stifling political situation at that time between the palace and the Wafd Party. Students served as the arena for this battle when the government held a university charity party "out of joy over the royal wedding", during which His Majesty announced that he would donate LE100 to a student association. At this, the crowd responded by cheering for the king's long life, "and then Miss Um Kalthoum sang the university anthem assisted by a large group of students. It was repeated more than once".

The same issue of Al-Ahram printed the text of a speech given by El-Nahhas Pasha to delegations of youth who had come to him from the directorates, particularly from Al-Gharbiya. In it he accused his adversaries, led by the king of course, of conspiring against the Wafd Party. He said, "these conspiracies are not new, but rather go back a long time. I knew of them and of the stages of their hatching and planning, but I turned a blind eye to them until concealment pained me, as I hoped that God would correct their ways. This hope was futile, however." Those assembled understood who the nation's leader meant. The leader of his foes was the young man on the verge of marriage.

Al-Ahram celebrated the occasion in its own way. One of its editors took an air tour through the skies of Cairo aboard one of the Egypt Airlines company's planes called Al-Mahrusa. It took off, parting the skies, in the direction of Al-Qubba Palace, the residence of the royal bride and groom. "It circled around the palace, sending the greetings of the skies to the illustrious lord of the throne. The airplane circled over Cairo on the day of the wedding... Here was the villa of the royal bride, ornamented with lights like a snow-white gown. Here was the minaret of the Heliopolis mosque, standing like a svelte guard as though it were a bloc of light... Al-Mahrusa skipped over to the rail station square, which we saw with the railway station standing prominent, rising above it the royal crown shining with its various lights. The airplane circled around to greet Abdine Palace, whose shining lights were apparent, making prominent the pearl of the valley, the home of the royal family's throne."

The Al-Ahram issue published the day following the wedding was not typical. News of the occasion occupied more than half of the newspaper. Exclusive photos of the wedding filled most of the first and last pages, and an entire page was devoted to what was called "the echo of the royal wedding in the capitals of Europe and the newspapers of the world". It made it seem as though the entire world was celebrating the wedding of the boy who had ascended the throne of Egypt a few short months earlier.

The most curious aspect of this issue was that some grasped the opportunity to publish advertisements to promote their products. Among them was "El-Agati the kebab-maker", who printed an advertisement stating that he had lowered his prices on the occasion of the royal wedding "beginning from Monday, 17 January 1938, we have made it seven piastres for a pound with full preparation... My God grant our exalted lord a long life". Yet it appears that the gates to the heavens were closed and the supplication of the kebab-maker was not received, for Farouk died in 1965 at the age of 45.

Another was an advertisement by Messieurs Jacque Schwartz, the authorised dealer of HP razors. On the occasion of the "felicitous royal wedding," he sent prayers and congratulations to their majesties the king and queen, and asked readers of the newspaper to use his company's products "because they are cheap and good".

There was also an advertisement published by the owner of the Abbas Hotel under the title "On the occasion of the celebration of the felicitous royal wedding". In it he wrote that his residence was located on Clot Bey Street near the capital's train station. "The great people of the countryside always come to it when they honour Cairo, for they find in it all the means of comfort and sanitary arrangements, including baths with cold and hot water of the finest construction, the best service for which it has been known for years, and extremely modest prices."

The proprietor of the Abbas Hotel had justification for his advertisement, for unusual statistics indicated that nearly one and a quarter million visitors came to the capital during this occasion. They consumed 52,000 ardeb of wheat, 30,000 heads of sheep, 15,000 calves and cows, 27 million tangerines and oranges, 3.5 million litres of tea and coffee, and nearly a million cigarettes.

Naturally, the procedures of this royal wedding were untypical. The management of the Misr Court of Islamic Law prepared an official protocol composed of three contracts, each with its own number. "This protocol was placed in a beautiful frame ornamented with purple foliage. Its perimeters were embellished with gold thread intertwined in the form of Arab etchings representing some of the images of civilisation in Islamic countries."

One of the three contracts was allocated for the king, another for the queen, and the third was kept by the Court of Islamic Law. It was decided that sheikh Al-Azhar would intone the legal formulation of the marriage, while the witnesses would be, in addition to sheikh Al-Azhar, the head of the Supreme Court of Islamic Law and the head of the Misr First Instance Court of Islamic Law. It would be conducted in the presence of Their Excellencies the emirs of the royal household, the prime minister, the head of the royal cabinet, and the government, who were delighted to attend this unique event. None of them predicted how this royal wedding described at the time as "felicitous" would end, or at best what some accounts told of following Farida's divorce from Farouk, that her father feared the outcome of this marriage.

NEWS OF THE GIFTS Farouk received on the occasion of his marriage occupied large sections of Al-Ahram 's pages. Among them were "the gift of the emirs to His Majesty the King and his bride", which Al-Ahram published on the front page of its issue two days before the wedding. It was a double gift, with one part presented to the groom and the other to the bride.

The gift presented to Farouk was a "tray of pure gold whose four corners are decorated with intertwined flowers made of diamonds. Its centre is etched with the royal crown and the name of His Majesty, also in diamond. On the tray are two drinking cups of pure gold with their lids and saucers, all of engraved gold." As for the gift presented to Farida, it was also a tray of pure gold "whose sides are inlayed with diamonds. Upon it are two etched cups inlayed with precious stones." Who knows if the Queen held onto this valuable gift following her divorce, or if the "avarice" Farouk was infamous for at that time drove him to deprive her of it.

Among the unusual gifts of the emirs was a scarf presented to the queen that Al-Ahram described as having historical value. It was "of the most famous Belgian dentelle lace produced and of global renown. The Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, gave three of these scarves in 1868 to the princess daughters of Khedive Ismail, and only one of these scarves remains. It was presented to the Queen so that the queens of Egypt can wear it at their weddings."

Even stranger was the gift presented by Princess Shweikar to the king. It was a "valuable white fly whisk 75 centimetres long and constructed of bird feathers. Its handle is fashioned of white jasper ornamented with enamel and studded with diamonds and turquoise. This fly whisk has significant historical importance, for one of the Mameluke leaders presented it to Mohamed Ali, the founder of the royal family. "Shweikar, the first wife of King Fouad, did not forget to present a valuable gift to Queen Farida -- a watch of gold, azure jasper and sapphire fashioned by the famous Leroy gems store in Paris by request of the princess.

Gifts also followed from Egyptian institutions. The judiciary and the office of the attorney general presented emerald prayer beads. The military officers presented a valuable sword of pure gold etched with the name of his majesty in emerald and diamond. The Shaab Party, which was formed by Sidqi Pasha in 1930 and which included large landowner pashas and beys, presented a silk carpet of astonishing colour and worked with pure gold.

Other gifts were presented in what resembled political demonstrations, including that of the Muslim Youth Association. Five-thousand members gathered in the association's headquarters and headed out, led by a group of youth on motorcycles and bicycles followed by music played by the scouts. Behind them the association president, Abdel-Hamid Said, rode a pure-bred Arabian horse. Their gift was then placed on a silk brocade cart and covered with a replication of the Kaaba and verses of the Quran. Before it was placed a large picture of the Kaaba in a beautiful wooden frame embellished with gold. Horsemen flanked the gift, dancing to the tune of music while fine voices ululated.

Another such demonstration was held by the sheikhs of Arab tribes who went to Abdine to present their gift, an antique gold sword and two pistols etched in gold dating back to 1233 H, as well as a similar carbine dating to 170 H.

In addition were gifts of a personal nature, including the gift presented by Mahmoud Salem Bey, the son of Salem Pasha, the colleague of Emir Fouad during their studies in Geneva. Fouad had presented Salem a valuable copy of the Quran when he was a boy of 12, and his family had held onto it until his son returned it 60 years later in perfect condition.

Before concluding its following of the splendid occasion, as it put it, Al-Ahram presented a register of the gifts that states had presented to "His Majesty the King of Egypt". Ibn Saud, the king of the Hijaz, presented four horses "that are pure-bred from 400 native horses. They are "Kahilan, a colt, Al-Saqlawiya, Abiyan, a race horse, and Al-Jilabiya. The name of each is traced back to the names of the Arab houses that have preserved them since the ages of the first Arabs." Emir Abdullah, the prince of Eastern Jordan, presented two Arabian horses.

Then came the turn of gifts presented by foreign states. Herr Hitler presented a stately Mercedes car, a "first-rate sports Cabriolet, the best, most attractive and most precise car manufactured in the entire world." George VI, king of the United Kingdom, presented a letter in a medium-sized envelope printed with the royal emblem and seal, and handwritten by the English king. With it was a hunting gun of the most exceptional kind produced by British factories, and a collection of sports equipment including golf clubs and tennis and squash rackets. The king of Belgium presented two guns, one that carried five bullets and was etched in gold, and the other of high firing speed for hunting wild animals. The pope of the Vatican sent the apostolic delegate in Egypt to the royal palace to congratulate the king on his felicitous marriage. Yet Al-Ahram did not reveal whether the pope's delegate carried a gift, or whether he sufficed with the blessings of His Holiness the Pope!

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