When she died on 2nd July 2013, few could have appreciated the vast and extraordinary changes Princess Fawzia had witnessed during her 91 years. ‘Twice in my life, I lost the crown,’ she acknowledged, recalling her time as an important figure across the Islamic world. Her wealth of experience had taught the Egyptian Princess that the power behind great crowns could be both ephemeral and illusory, and so for her, their loss did not ‘matter.’
The eldest daughter of King Fuad of Egypt, and his second wife Nazli Sabri, Fawzia was born at the Ras el-Tin Palace in Alexandria, on 5th November 1921. Rarely leaving the confines of the palace, and brought up by her English nanny, Fawzia’s childhood was both sheltered and rarefied, leading the Egyptian writer Adel Sabit to comment, that she grew up a ‘supremely naive, over-protected, cellophane-wrapped, gift-packaged little girl.’
In April 1936, following King Fuad’s death, Fawzia’s older brother Farouk ascended to the throne, and the new King’s advisors were eager to strengthen Cairo’s relations with Tehran. With Egypt keen to assert its status in the region, particularly following the signing of the Treaty of Saadabad with Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan in July 1937, a match was suggested between Fawzia, and the son of the Shah of Iran. The prospect of Crown Prince Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s marriage was welcomed by his father, a soldier who had assumed power by overthrowing the Qajar dynasty in 1925. The Shah was minded to cement his own royal legitimacy and a union with the regal and established Muhammad Ali Dynasty of Egypt seemed ideal. Despite the Egyptian Prime Minister’s warning that a marriage between the Sunni Princess and Shia Prince was a ‘recipe for disaster,’ secular diplomacy won out over tradition, and their engagement was officially announced in May 1938. The couple married in March 1939 enjoying the splendour of two royal weddings, a Shi’ite ceremony in Fawzia’s new home of Tehran, following a Sunni union in Cairo with her Prince, the heir to the Peacock Throne.
Above: The Royal Wedding in Cairo (1939)