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    Middle East
     Oct 6, 2007
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Memories of monarchies revived
By Sami Moubayed

DAMASCUS - Arabs have been watching a brilliant television series this Islamic holy month of Ramadan, al-Malek Farouk, about the life of Farouk I, the last king of Egypt. Farouk was toppled by a military revolution on July 23, 1952. One of the revolution's masterminds, Gamal Abdul-Nasser, eventually emerged as the strongman of Egyptian politics and "godfather" of modern Arab nationalism. Nasser influenced similar revolts against established monarchs in Iraq (1958) and Libya (1969).

For years, the Egyptian revolution tarnished King Farouk's image - often beyond imagination. The officers depicted him as a

drunkard, a womanizer and a careless boy-king who cared more for his personal indulgences than the fate of Egypt and the Arab world. Hundreds of books, articles and movies were made about Farouk, accusing him of treason, saying that he was a puppet for the great powers. School textbooks throughout the Arab world repeated these accusations, saying that Nasser had saved Egypt and the Arabs from complete collapse under the rule of Farouk. As a result, six generations were taught to believe that King Farouk was "bad" and Nasser was "good".

That was simply incorrect. Each leader had his faults, and each had his positive attributes. Both were equally patriotic and both committed an equal number of mistakes.

While Farouk was a rich royal who spent lavishly and lived in extravagance, Nasser was a poor man from the villages. He looked like the average Egyptian. He resembled the Egyptian commoner and spoke a language that the Arab street wanted to hear. He was an anti-Western socialist who dedicated himself to combating Israel and redistributing wealth in the Arab world, in favor of the peasants against the established landowning notability. Egyptian media said that Farouk had "lost Palestine" in 1948 and that Nasser would be the one to restore it - completely - to the Arabs. Yet Nasser's war with Israel in 1967 led to the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights.

For the first time in over 40 years, justice is being done to King Farouk, thanks to the television series that started airing in mid-September. The production is shot in brilliant color, in the majestic settings of the palaces of Egypt, accompanied by the highly impressive performances of Syrian actor Taym Hasan, who plays Farouk, and Uzzat Abu al-Ouf, who plays his private chamberlain, Hasanein Pasha. The series is directed by celebrated Syrian director Hatem Ali, and has been praised by historians for the accuracy of its events, wit of its dialogue and skill of its screenplay.

Pro-Nasser columnists in the Arab world, however, are enraged by the series. They have prolifically written against it, saying that it tells one-sided history from the perspective of the Egyptian aristocracy. For the past 20 days, Arab newspapers have been filled with commentaries debating whether monarchial rule is good or bad for Arabs. Nasserists and socialists try to remind the world of all that has been said about Farouk since 1952 - basically, that he was a worthless king who presided over a decaying system and who should have been removed, claiming that their revolution mirrored hopes of the Arab public at large. They cite Farouk's defeat in the Negev Desert during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.

Admirers of the series, and those fed up with the militarization of Arab politics (brought about by Nasser), have stood up in vigorous defense. Some (like Egyptian actor Hussein Fihmi) have gone as far as to lament the days of Farouk, calling for the re-establishment of former monarchial regimes in the Third World.

Throughout history, one barely finds an ex-king living peacefully within his country. Monarchs usually remain on their thrones until they die - or they are toppled and killed. The 20th century witnessed a variety of former monarchs living in highly publicized exile. The strongest example is Farouk himself, who after leaving Egypt in 1952, on board the royal yacht al-Mahrusa, went into exile in Rome on July 26, 1952. He died there at a restaurant, after a meal of oysters, aged only 45, on March 17, 1965.

Farouk's story reminds Arabs of several all-but forgotten monarchs who are roaming Europe and the US - waiting for a seemingly impossible moment to regain their thrones in the Muslim World.

King Ahmad Fouad II of Egypt
One high profile exiled king is Farouk's son, King Ahmad Fouad II, who became king at infancy, but never ruled after his father's abdication in 1952. He spends his time between Switzerland and France, but stands zero chance of regaining his family's throne because the Egyptian republic is one of the US's strongest allies in the international community.

Egyptian republicans since Anwar al-Sadat have done a splendid job, as far as Washington is concerned, in combating Islamic fundamentalism, moderating the behavior of Arab neighbors and in enforcing peace with Israel. There is no reason to even think of restoring the Egyptian crown to Cairo. Apart from wining and dining with European aristocracy and making front-page news in the tabloids, King Fouad II is politically inactive, having neither advocated for return of the Egyptian crown, nor spoken much to the press, or involved himself in opposition activity.

Sharif Ali of Iraq
Another roaming monarch is Sharif Ali, the last living member of the Hashemite royal family of Iraq who claims that he is the direct and only living descendant of his cousin, King Faysal II. Most of Sharif Ali's family members were butchered in 1958 by officers led by Abdul-Karim Qasim, including women, children, royal pets, King Faysal II and his uncle and regent, Abdul-Illah.

Sharif Ali was born in Baghdad in 1956 during the era of his cousin as king. Ali, still a baby, managed to escape with some royals and lived in Beirut, then London, where he worked in investment banking until the US invasion of 2003. He created the Constitutional Monarchial Movement after the Gulf War of 1991, aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein and restoring the Hashemite crown to Iraq.

He supported then joined the US-backed and funded Iraqi National Congress (INC) and was rumored to be a king-in-waiting within Washington circles in 2001-2002. The chances of restoring a monarchy, however, seemed slim, especially because most Iraqis had never heard of Sharif Ali and would not welcome a US-imposed sovereign in Baghdad.

Shi'ite ambitions were too great to be muzzled by a Sunni king - especially one who had no power base within Iraqi society. With the exception of the privileged few who had flourished under the Iraqi kingdom, most ordinary Iraqis were supporters of the socialist-republican regimes that were created after 1958.

Iran also would never hear of it because that might empower Iraqi Sunnis and raise the ambitions of its own exiled royalty, the family of Shah Reza Pahlavi, to seek a political comeback to Tehran.

Prince Hasan of Jordan
If talk resurfaces on restoring the Hashemite crown to Baghdad, some royals in Amman see themselves more worthy of the post than Sharif Ali. The biggest example is the former crown prince of Jordan, Hasan Bin Talal. Born in 1947, he obtained a prestigious education at Harrow and Oxford in Britain. He served as crown prince for his brother, the Machiavellian King Hussein, from 1965-1999. When Hussein was diagnosed with cancer and went to the US for treatment, Hasan was left in command of Jordan and began building a power base.

Suddenly, the dying monarch returned to Jordan, sacked his brother and named his son Abdullah (the current monarch) as

Continued 1 2 


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(24 hours to 11:59 pm ET, Oct 4, 2007)


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