Al-Ahram Weekly Online   9 - 15 January 2003
Issue No. 620
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Death of a princess

King Farouk's youngest daughter was buried in Cairo this week. Gihan Shahine looks back at the late princess's turbulent life


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Princess Fadia; as a new- born on the cover of Al- Mussawer magazine; celebrating her second birthday with her two sisters and Queen Farida; as a young girl with her mother and sisters; getting married to Orlof; with brother Ahmed Fouad; with sister Ferial and brother Ahmed Fouad; with husband and children Shamel and Ali; prayers for her soul last week in Cairo
Princess Fadia, the youngest daughter of late King Farouk, Egypt's last monarch, was in the midst of preparations for a New Year's Eve family gathering she was set to host at her home in Switzerland, when she died suddenly on 28 December. She was 59.

The family was shocked. "The princess' death was so sudden and traumatic," Crown Prince Ahmed-Fouad, Princess Fadia's half-brother and heir to the defunct throne, told the press, as he accompanied Princess Fadia's body back to Egypt on 3 January. President Hosni Mubarak had ordered the Egyptian Consulate in Geneva to cover the expenses of transporting the body back to Egypt. Princess Fadia's Russian husband Prince Orlof, her two sons and one of her sisters, also accompanied the body.

The funeral was neither a grand nor a royal affair, mainly featuring a few of the descendants of the Mohamed Ali family. Although the media swarmed Al-Rifa'i Mosque, near the Citadel, where the princess was ultimately buried beside her father, none of the royal family members present agreed to speak to the press. Prince Ahmed-Fouad said he was too bereaved by his sister's "unexpected death".

The late Princess Fadia never liked the media. She was once quoted as saying that she chose to live in seclusion, away from the media's watch, still haunted by the excess media coverage she received during her childhood and early adulthood, especially after her father's reign was toppled by the 1952 Revolution.

Princess Fadia was eight when her father was ousted from power. Immediately after he was overthrown, King Farouk left Egypt for Italy with his three daughters. Two years later, however, in pursuit of a better education, he sent the three princesses to a Swiss boarding school. Their mother, Queen Farida, King Farouk's first wife, remained in Egypt for at least 10 years after the revolution, before moving first to Lebanon then to Switzerland, where she joined her girls. The late queen, however, eventually went back to Egypt, where she spent her last years and was ultimately buried, as she had always wished.

Princess Fadia also wanted to be buried in Egypt. She had spoken to the press in the past about how homesick she was for her motherland, and was once quoted by Akhbar Al-Yom newspaper as saying that "although I left Egypt at eight, I never forgot my mother tongue -- Arabic... I still have all the love and respect for my motherland -- with such passion that cannot be put into words."

That nostalgia was fed, only once, in 1988, when the princess returned to Egypt to attend her mother's funeral. Quoting the princess at the time, Akhbar Al-Yom wrote that she "was [especially] affected by the smells of jasmine and Egyptian soil -- a typical mix of Egyptian fragrances."

In Switzerland, Princess Fadia studied painting and became an accomplished equestrian, according to Maged Farag, a chronicler of the Egyptian royal family. During college, she fell in love with Prince Orlof, a descendent of the Russian royal family. They married after he converted to Islam, changing his first name to Said. The couple and their two boys, Shamel and Ali, lived amidst the lush greenery of the Swiss countryside and the picturesque backdrop of the Alps mountain range.

In that haven, the princess and her husband indulged an early passion for horses, buying and training them to race. Soon afterwards, however, Prince Orlof had an accident and the couple were no longer able to care for their horses, which were eventually sold off.

Nonetheless, horses remained the main theme of all of princess Fadia's paintings. Her artistic talents were inherited from her mother and refined in college. Her job as a translator for the Swiss Ministry of Tourism (Fadia was fluent in French, English, Italian and Spanish) was also an important part of her life.

Fadia was the youngest, and perhaps the luckiest, of her sisters. The eldest princess, Ferial, who taught French literature, married, divorced, then remarried, only to have her second betrothal end with her husband's suicide. Fawziya, the middle sister, never married. Just as multilingual as Fadia, she also worked as a translator. Paralysed since 1980, she was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and is living in a Swiss hospital. Their half-brother, crown prince Ahmed Fouad, the son of King Farouk's second wife Nariman, joined his sisters in Switzerland two years ago, after divorcing his French wife and leaving her their Paris house.

Two years ago, the three sisters filed a lawsuit against the Egyptian government in an attempt to repossess a royal palace and land in the Nile Delta. They claimed that the properties belonged to their mother, Queen Farida, but the court ruled against them on the grounds that their mother was divorced from King Farouk in 1948, long before the revolution confiscated all royal properties.

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