Gone, but not forgotten: King Farouk’s lasting legacy

Paul Crompton

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The last in Al Arabiya’s series on the reign of Egypt’s King Farouk examines his mark that the monarchy – and his entire royal dynasty – has left on the country today.

“Propaganda today is a powerful weapon, and in thirty days of ceaselessly flooding every newspaper, radio programme, and public speech with hatred against one man, almost anybody could be persuaded to believe him a villain,” former Egyptian monarch King Farouk wrote in his rarely-seen memoirs unearthed by Al Arabiya News.

The ex-king appeared to have been right. Unlike most monarchs, he holds the dubious award of having more literature written about his scandalous personal life than his reign.

To say that Egypt’s last king has a bad reputation would be an understatement. During the latter years of his reign, Western media painted him as an eccentric, corrupt, spineless, lecherous Nazi sympathizer who was possibly even mentally unstable.


Anecdotes of Farouk’s reign are endlessly compelling.

Recounting one famous incident, Time magazine, which referred to him as “Farouk the Foolish,” reported that he had had a series of nightmares about being eaten by lions. Troubled by these continual visions, Farouk drove to Cairo’s zoo and shot two lions in their enclosure.

British soldiers stationed in Egypt would sing unprintable songs about him and his glamorous first wife, Queen Farida. Even the CIA contemptuously referred to him though a not-so-subtle acronym “FF.”

Yet, as Winston Churchill was supposed to have said, history is written by the victors (the legendary British wartime leader himself may have relished his own home truth – Farouk, a self-confessed avid “collector” and horologist who also had the dubious reputation as a kleptomaniac, was said to have stolen Churchill’s beloved pocket watch.)

However, after half a century, with the Egyptian monarchy now a distant memory, separating fact from fiction is becoming ever harder.

Cemented ideas

Common perceptions of Farouk forged in the aftermath of the revolution are still in the popular mindset, with a lack of new emerging narratives to explain his reign, according to Robert Vitalis, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

“Ideas about him and the ancien régime got cemented in the aftermath of his overthrow,” said Vitalis.

The decadence of Farouk’s lifestyle is not uncharacteristic of other royal dynasties in the Middle East at the time, he added.

Farouk’s reputation – and that of the monarchy – has enjoyed a revival since 2007, when the Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), of which Al Arabiya is a subsidiary, released a 34-episode dramatization of Farouk’s life, entitled el-Malek Farouk.

The series portrays him in more of a positive light than in Western media, and led to a brief revival of monarchic nostalgia, perhaps largely out of dissatisfaction with the status quo of the era of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Royal return

With Farouk’s son Fuad, the current royal pretender to the throne, still alive, is there any chance of a return of the monarchy, with Fuad at the helm?

After the uprising of Jan. 2011, some monarchists who were “convinced neither by the army nor by the Muslim Brotherhood” leaned towards the return of a kingdom and the foundation of a new royalist party, King Fuad’s spokesperson Maged Farag told Al Arabiya News.

“They wanted the reinstatement of a monarchy in Egypt after the failure of the republican regime in solving Egypt’s problems for the past 60 years,” Farag said, clarifying that the royalists wanted the return of the 1952 constitution.

In 2012, supporters of the monarchy submitted a request to the Political Parties Affairs Committee for the establishment of a new party called El-Hezb el-Malaki el-Destouri (The Constitutional Royalist Party).

“They submitted their demand at a time when forming parties in Egypt was a trend,” Farag said.

However, the party did not get approval from the committee, and its representatives “dropped the idea,” especially since they did not get the support of the king himself.

“Their party would’ve had no weight in Egypt’s political life, as King Fuad refused to take part in their party,” said Farag.
Everybody’s king

“Fuad is the king of all Egyptians. He can’t belong to a specific party as he’s just a figure to the country. It‘s the prime minister who [would] deal with the country’s issues,” Farag said.

The constitution, passed in January, stipulates that Egypt is a republic, making a monarchist party unconstitutional, Farag added.

At the time, the would-be party garnered support from around 5,000 Egyptians, the Egyptian news website Masress reported.

The existing appeal of the monarchy, though limited, will likely remain for some time, said Khaled Fahmy, a history professor at the American University of Cairo.

“Monarchies are glamorous by definition,” said Fahmy.

Nostalgia towards the monarchy could be linked to dissatisfaction with successive regimes. “The successive state, from 1952 onwards, is a failed state, in the sense that it hasn’t delivered,” Fahmy added.

To view the entire seven-part series, visit the King Farouk: The Forgotten Memoirs homepage.