When the married, Jewish mistress of Prince Fuad of Egypt, the deposed Khedive Ismail Pasha’s youngest, least important, perennially broke, gambling addicted, and constantly in debt son, talked him into marrying his 19 year old first cousin, the immensely wealthy Princess Shivakiar, in 1895, he’d no way of knowing this marriage of convenience would not only prove short lived, but would also culminate in his crazed brother in law shooting him three times at the social club named after their most illustrious ancestor, Mohammed Ali, in the chest, leg and neck. While the two bullets below Fuad’s neck were removed on the spot, the final bullet was judged too close to his larynx to extricate. He would consequently spend the rest of his life with a bullet lodged near his voice box, occasionally inducing a strange laryngeal spasm that would make him break into dog like barking fits. His eventual courtiers were instructed to ignore these sudden attacks as if nothing was happening.
For it was Prince Fuad’s glorious fate to one day become Egypt’s first king since the pharaohs. He would also eventually marry again, to an aristocrat twenty years his junior, and father several children, including the future, ignominious, King Farouk l. Meanwhile, the still fabulously rich Princess Shivakiar, whose wealth actually increased during her first marriage thanks to her husband’s Jewish mistress’s shrewd investments, would also remarry, four more times in her case; produce children with all but her last husband; and prove through her subsequent actions that she never tired of wreaking havoc and revenge on her first husband and his brood. According to author William Stadiem in his biography, Too Rich, The High Life and Tragic Death of King Farouk, Shivakiar’s thirst for vengeance carried over into the next generation of the Egyptian royal family, and would have dire consequences for both her ex-husband’s second marriage and his only son’s first. Shivakiar would go to her grave satisfied in the knowledge that she’d at least gotten somewhat even with her first, illustrious spouse. Of this, more later.
Before one disseminates the history of this real life royal soap opera on the Nile, the author thinks it prudent to first provide some background information. For if ever there’s a former ruling dynasty that’s been egregiously ignored and forgotten by modern history, it’s Egypt’s fabled House of Mohammed Ali. By their late 19th century heyday they were widely believed to be the world’s second richest royal dynasty, next only to the Romanovs, and once their Russian rivals in fabulousness were overthrown in 1917, the Mohammed Ali’s were thought the world’s richest ruling family until their own demise in 1952. Taking their name from the venerable ancestor who founded the royal line, a Greco Albanian commander within the Ottoman army who in 1805 became the viceroy, or bey, of Egypt, he and his descendants ruled their own empire within an empire as an autonomous, de facto monarchy, eventually upgrading their title to khedive, then sultan, until 1922 when Egypt was granted nominal independence by the British, and Sultan Fuad became King Fuad l. By then their kingdom encompassed both Egypt and the Sudan. They’d also by then switched imperial overlords from the structurally weak and almost powerless Ottomans to the all too powerful and intrusive British. It wouldn’t be until 1956 that the Egyptians, by then a military dictatorship, kicked the Brits’ Pax Britannic asses out of their country once and for all.
By the mid 19th century the ruling khedive was Prince Fuad’s father, Ismael Pasha, who went by the moniker , Ismael the Magnificent. Determined to be to Egypt what Louis XlV had been to France, he embarked upon an ambitious building and modernization scheme; completing the Suez Canal; paving his country’s first roads; erecting several sumptuous palaces in Alexandria and Cairo; building his capital’s opera house, the first of its kind in the Middle East; and eventually completely bankrupting his state treasury in the process. Turning to French and British banks to finance his schemes with loans whose exorbitant interest rates were clearly designed to economically enslave him and his country, he eventually found himself drowning in an insurmountable sea of debt. Once his support for a brief, ill fated nationalist rebellion against Egypt’s increasing domination by foreign interests was discovered in 1879, the British quickly closed in, had the Ottoman sultan at the time, Selim lll, formally dismiss Ismael, replaced the former khedive with his more compliant son, Tewfik, then packed him off on his magnificent yacht, said to be the largest, most luxurious of its kind in the world at the time, to a life of exile in Italy. Accompanying the former ruler was 11 year old Prince Fuad. He’d grow up and receive his military education in Italy.
In fact, after working for several years as first an artillery captain in the Italian army, then an aide de camp at various Ottoman embassies across Europe, especially in Rome, Fuad didn’t step foot in his native land again until he was 28. As William Stadium points out in his bio of King Farouk, by then this princeling spoke less Arabic than Viscount Cromer, Britain’s acting viceroy in Egypt and the de facto ruler of the country. Prince Fuad had also by then developed a love for la dolce vita, a manic obsession with cleanliness, and an increasingly expensive gambling addiction. Determined to live the life of a prince, while barely surviving on a functionary’s salary, Fuad soon ran up tabs all over the finest night spots, social clubs, brothels and gambling dens of Cairo.
He’d also developed a deep love for a wealthy, married, Jewish socialite known only to history as “Mrs. Suarez.” Unable to marry her because of her religion, and her unwillingness to get a divorce, both of them nonetheless decided marriage to an extremely rich woman was the only way Fuad could escape the poor man’s version of his father’s fate. It was this crafty jewess who zeroed in on her lover’s 19 year old first cousin, once removed, Princess Shivakiar, as the best candidate for the prince’s had in matrimony. She also just so happened to be among the wealthiest heiresses in the Middle East at that time.
Born the granddaughter of Khedive Ismael’s older brother, who would’ve inherited the throne had he not perished in a railroad crash before his father expired, Shivakiar was the only daughter, and one of only three children, born to Prince Ahmed, who resided in a resplendent pink palace along the Nile. Despite the widely whispered rumor among the Cairo elite that she was carrying on an incestuous affair with her brother, Prince Seif ed Dein, her sizable dowry more than compensated for her suspected peccadillos in Fuad’s eyes. It was perhaps because of this notorious rumor that more eligible suitors chose not to approach Shivakiar’s dad with a marriage proposal for his daughter, and he settled for the penniless Fuad when he put in his matrimonial bid. The wedding date was duly set. All parties involved hoped for the best. With the bridegroom being a blatant gold digger whose married mistress helped make his nuptials possible, and the bride being generally believed to have already had her maiden head plucked by one of her brothers, what could’ve possibly gone wrong? Answer: Everything!
Their problems began when Fuad immediately locked his new bride in the harem section of their new palace and forbade her to ever leave it. One of modern Egypt’s future first king’s more curious personality quirks was that despite his cosmopolitan upbringing and education, he possessed a classical Arab potentate’s attitude toward his wives, and kept them as virtual prisoners during his respective marriages. Then again, in Shivakiar’s case, he might’ve just kept her in purdah to preclude too many visits from her favorite sibling, thus preventing their first child being born with two heads. Regardless, the new couple enjoyed each other’s conjugal company long enough to produce two children during their short lived union: a healthy girl who’d one day become the mater-in-law of the 20th century style icon and international socialite, Gloria Guinness; and a sickly boy who tragically died when he was 9 months old.
It appears their son’s death ended the pretense of romance between the pair, and soon after that the princess decided she wanted a divorce. Fun loving, exuberant and high spirited, Shivakiar was the polar opposite of the stolid, overly ambitious and neurotically fastidious Fuad. The fact that her husband spent most of their marriage virtually cohabiting with his Jewish mistress didn’t help. While no more in love with his wife than she was with him, the prince was nonetheless loath to depart with the dowry that hadn’t only solved his financial woes, but had actually increased thanks to the prudent investments of his side chick. Unable to free herself from her matrimonial captor’s clutches, Princess Shivakiar’s favorite brother, Prince Seif Ed Dein, took matters into his own hands. Deciding that if Fuad was unwilling to make his sister a divorcee, it therefore fell on Seif’s shoulders to make her a widow, he packed a pistol one starry night in Cairo in 1898 and headed out to one of its most exclusive watering holes, the Mohammed Ali Club, where he knew he’d find his brother-in-law pissing away his sister’s money on the gambling tables. Once Seif had Fuad cornered in an upstairs salon, ironically entitled The Silence Room, he pulled out his revolver and shot Fuad 3 times: in the neck, leg and chest.
Sauntering nonchalantly down the grand staircase while various pashas and diplomats ducked and hid for cover, Seif left the club shortly before doctors arrived to try to attend to Fuad. Determining he needed to be operated on right then and there, he initially refused until he saw a nightingale land on a window sill and sing three times. Deeply superstitious, even by Arab standards, the bleeding prince understood this to be a sign he’d survive if he let the surgeons proceed. He did, they removed two of the bullets but were unable to extract the one in his neck, it stayed there for the rest of his life causing occasional dog like barking spasms, etc.
Seif was soon arrested and put on trial. With testimony including that of the arresting British officer, who felt no compunction in describing the prince in open court as a “nigger,” Seif was found guilty, but only sentenced to five years hard labor at the Pyramids rock quarries. While there, and feeling himself the victim of a grave injustice, he wrote a series of death threats to the current khedive, Abbas ll by then, and was soon packed off to an English mental hospital. Fuad, finally realizing his best course of action was to dissolve his marriage, did so. Shivakiar moved into her own palace in Cairo; became its most celebrated party hostess; married 4 more times and produced several more children; and continued nursing a deep seated grudge against her ex-husband that would manifest itself within the next generation of their family.
Meanwhile Fuad, newly enriched by Mrs. Suarez’s crafty investments using Princess Shivakiar’s dowry as capital, set his sights on becoming a king. Becoming the patron of several charities, educational foundations and a cofounder of Cairo’s Egyptian University, now known as Cairo University, he initially hoped to become king of Albania once it had been freed from the Ottoman Empire. The powers of Europe had other ideas. He even briefly and improbably hoped he might be appointed Ottoman sultan. Finally, he settled for conniving to inherit his country’s throne. Once again, fortune smiled upon him.
By 1914, with World War l having erupted and Khedive Abbas ll making no secret of his sympathy with Britain’s enemies, the British officially declared Egypt their protectorate, removed Abbas and replaced him with his blatantly sycophantic uncle, Hussain Kemal, and upgraded his title to sultan. Prince Fuad and his mistress wasted no time in ingratiating themselves to their new, official colonial masters. According to Irine Guinle, an heiress from Alexandria who years later became King Farouk’s Jewish mistress at the start of the Second World War, and many years after that related the story of her royally amorous adventure to author William Stadium, Mrs. Suarez, according to Farouk’s own recollection, played the most decisive role in convincing the British to select his father for the throne. With Sultan Hussein’s death in 1917, and his eldest son being deemed too much of a nationalist to make a suitable puppet king, the British indeed gave Fuad the throne.
Unfortunately for the new sultan, his ass kissing enthusiasm for Egypt’s colonial masters, and owners of its most economically vital waterway, wasn’t shared by his countrymen at large, and in 1919 revolution broke out. Once again, Fuad turned this crisis into an opportunity and convinced the British Foreign Office that turning Egypt into a nominally sovereign kingdom, instead of allowing it to become the pseudo socialist republic favored by most of the revolutionaries, was their best course of action to protect their ownership of the Suez Canal. They agreed, and in 1922 Fuad become the first king of an independent Egypt to have existed since Cleopatra’s little brother. Alas, poor Mrs. Suarez didn’t live long to enjoy her lover’s success. She dropped dead in his arms from a sudden heart attack one night while dancing with the new king at the Abdine Palace in Cairo shortly after independence, according to Ms. Guinle. King Fuad would spend the rest of his life praising the beauty and wisdom of Jewish women to his only son and heir.
Now that he was finally a king, Fuad’s first order of business was to marry and produce an heir. He found a suitable consort in Nazli Sabri, an aristocrat 20 years his junior. He married her, and forced her to live a life of seclusion in his various palaces, where she dutifully gave birth to several daughters and one all too important son, the future King Farouk l. King Fuad, however, hadn’t heard the last from his ex-wife, and the sexual manner in which she humiliated first him, then later his son, was as ingenious as it was delicious. The stories of these tales of royal revenge shall be divulged in forthcoming posts.