The latest in Al Arabiya’s series on the colorful reign of Egypt’s King Farouk examines his famous wealth and property - including his alleged massive collection of pornography - as revealed through the monarch’s long-forgotten memoirs.
“I suppose that the greatest moment in the life of any revolutionary is when he walks through the royal palaces of the freshly deposed monarch and begins to finger his former master’s possessions,” wrote King Farouk after his July 1952 overthrow.
Farouk, who in his long-forgotten memoirs claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood – rather than solely the Free Officer’s movement – were behind his overthrow, wrote that he would have liked to have been present when his possessions were on display to the world.
“I admit that I would have enjoyed watching those prudish, clerkly sect-leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood as they drifted through my rooms like elderly ladies on a cook’s tour, pulling open drawers, prying into cupboards and wardrobes, and gaping like country bumpkins at the number of the king’s clean shirts,” he wrote.
By his own admission, Farouk was not lacking in possessions. Items of particular interest included watches, stamps and coins. His collection of coins – containing 8,500 pieces - was possibly the finest in the world.
The Free Officer-led government auctioned off most of his possessions in 1954.
Burdens of royalty
Farouk seemed to draw strength from these rare items.
At times, when the burdens of royal duty seemed overwhelming, poring over his collection “kept me from nervous exhaustion,” he wrote.
Luxury cars were another of Farouk’s interests, possibly cultivated when his father Fuad gave him an Austin 7 when he was just 11 years old. To while away the long hours of his childhood, the heir would spend hours driving his cars through the palace gardens.
In addition to a rare Mercedes Benz 540K that Adolf Hitler gave to Farouk in 1938 as a wedding gift, his collection also included Rolls Royces and Bentleys.
Cars belonging to the king and palace officials were always colored red so they would not get stopped by police, said Philip Mansel, a historian and author of “Levant: Splendour and catastrophe on the Mediterranean.”
Farouk “certainly liked driving himself around very fast, a sign of his slight childishness,” Mansel told Al Arabiya News.
Farouk’s taste in grand, baroque-style palace furniture – often known mockingly as “Louis-Farouk,” in reference to its Versailles-level of ornamentation – has had an unlikely legacy today.
Possibly due to his influence, “enter any middle class Egyptian home and you are likely to be received in a ‘salon’ crammed full of gilded, heavily ornate copies of classic French furniture,” the Financial Times reported in 2009.
The image of a lone king vainly amassing a vast hoard of treasure is not completely fair, historians say.
“Both he and his father and other members of the dynasty were tremendous collectors. They filled palaces,” said Mansel.
A lot of royal wealth had been consistently collected since the dynasty had sovereign power in Egypt since 1811, said Mahmoud Sabit, the son of Farouk’s cousin Adel Sabit.
“A lot of what we’re talking about is the accumulation of wealth since that date… To suggest that he was the one who collected and was therefore avaricious is pushing it a bit,” Sabit told Al Arabiya News.
It has long been alleged that Farouk’s collections also included a vast supply of pornography, rumored to be the world’s largest.
As Farouk was supposed to have told Hollywood insider Scotty Bowers, “I’ve got warehouses full of the stuff, so much that I’ll never be able to look at all of it.”
However, historians say there is little concrete evidence of such a collection, beyond classical nude artwork.
Farouk’s artwork was “nothing terribly offensive,” said Roger Owen, a history professor at Harvard University.
One of the items included an intricate watch. “There was a watch on display, in which some scene of copulation took place, on the hour,” said Owen.
The rumor of the supposed porn collection being the world’s largest is also difficult to quantify, said historian Arthur Goldschmidt Jr.
“How could you prove that something like that was or wasn’t the world’s largest collection?” asked Goldschmidt, author of “A concise history of the Middle East.”
He added: “We really don’t have access to the kind of documentation [on a possible porn collection] that would pass muster in a court of law.”
Farouk himself claimed that some of the alleged pornographic materials were planted in his palace, such as the pistol and “album of semi-nude photographs” found under his pillow.
“Upon this strange assortment I was supposed to sleep each night!” he wrote.
Additionally, the film projector in his bedroom – with which the king was “showing objectionable photos to himself,” as Farouk quoted the allegations – was actually for the viewing of family videos.
“Like many other Royal Families, we have taken great pleasure in our movie-camera records of great occasions,” he wrote.
As well as spurious evidence of his pornography collection, his financial situation in exile remains unclear.
While on the Italian island of Capri, his first place of residence after leaving Egypt, Farouk told reporters: “I would have you remember that any man who has considerably less than he has been accustomed to having feels he is a poor man.”
While king, Farouk was supposed to have stored money in Swiss banks for himself and his children.
“Certainly, the princesses [Farouk’s three daughters] had accounts put away on their behalf in Switzerland. As I understand it, the Swiss government refused to pay them out,” said Sabit. “What they got was practically nothing.”
In the final years of his life, newspapers reported that the ex-king lived in a modest two-bedroom apartment in Rome.
On his death in 1965 at the age of 45 – after a dinner of oysters and lamb at a French restaurant in Rome, characteristically in the company of a young lady – it was reported that Farouk had just $155 in his pockets.
To read the seventh and final part of the series, entitled: “Gone, but not forgotten: King Farouk’s lasting legacy” click here.
To view the entire seven-part series, visit the King Farouk: The Forgotten Memoirs homepage.SHOW MORE