Princess Fawzia Fuad of Egypt is a largely unknown figure in royal history. Even in Egypt, few people would be able to say more than a few words about her, although a quick search on the Internet shows the fact that she was quite a visible and important presence at social events in Cairo in 1930s and 1940s.
Born on the 5th of November 1921, in Ras el-Tin Palace in Alexandria (Egypt), as Her Sultanic Highness Princess Fawzia bint Fuad, she was the eldest daughter of Sultan Fuad (later King Fuad) and his second wife, Nazli Sabri. The new addition to the royal family came a year after her brother, Farouk, was born, which probably allowed her parents to rejoice at her birth, even more considering that the continuity of the dynasty was ensured by a male birth the year before. The common disappointment of having a daughter before a son (quite frequent in the royal families of those times) was out of the way and allowed Fawzia to have a happy childhood surrounded by British nannies and Italian servants on the grounds of the beautiful royal palaces of Cairo and Alexandria.
Educated in Switzerland, fluent in Arabic, English and French, Fawzia was considered a beauty of her time. Photos taken in the 1930s and 1940s show us a slender, elegant woman with dark hair and wide green eyes, a Vivien Leigh version of the Middle East. All this apart from the public admiration she enjoyed meant good chances to marry into another royal family and become a Queen or even an Empress. And the chance came quite fast. In 1939, she married Iran’s Crown Prince Mohamed Reza Pahlavi. They saw each other only once before marriage, and it seems it was a political and religious union rather than a love match.
An Egyptian princess became Crown Princess, and later Empress of Iran and a Sunni royal (Fawzia) was united to a Shia royal (Mohamed Reza Pahlavi), showing the strength of the Muslim unity. But the marriage was short-lived, life in Tehran was very different than the one she led in the palace of her parents and following depressive episodes and anorexia crisis (although never confirmed as such). Fawzia moved back to Cairo in 1945, leaving her only daughter in Iran with her father. It is interesting to note (from the perspective of the mentality of the times) the divorce’s explanation that was given by the official announcement: “the Persian climate had endangered the health of Empress Fawzia, and thus it was agreed that the Egyptian King’s sister be divorced.”
She remarried in 1949 Colonel Ismail Chirine, and this time, the marriage would last until the end of their lives, producing two children: Nadia and Hussein Chirine. Sources mention that it was a true love story, and Fawzia found her balance and fulfilment in this union. In 1952, the monarchy was abolished in Egypt, and the newly born Arab Republic of Egypt meant the presence of the royal family was not necessarily welcomed in Egyptian society. However, Fawzia was one of the few members of the royal family who decided to stay in Egypt. She lived in Alexandria, in a modest villa, for the rest of her long and eventful life, dying at the age of 91, ironically in the same way when her country was ousting the Muslim Brotherhood regime of President Mohamed Morsi.
All the public attention was focused on the political events of the day, so her death passed largely unnoticed. It looked like history wanted to give Fawzia in death the privacy she craved and never found in life.