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Farouk I

Farouk I

Farouk I (1920-1965) was the second king of modern Egypt. Though he was dynamic and a nationalist, the realization of being powerless under British sovereignty turned his interests from statecraft to the gratification of his desires.

Farouk, the only son of Fuad I, was born in Cairo on Feb. 11, 1920. Educated first in Cairo and later at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, he was recalled to ascend the Egyptian throne in 1936 and crowned in 1937. Though he was most promising in his early days and was thought to be dedicated to the interests of Egypt, Farouk soon resumed the old struggle between the populist forces of the Wafd and the palace, and drifted toward intrigue, absolutism, and debauchery that ultimately caused the collapse of the monarchy in Egypt.

Seeds of Discontent

In 1936 more favorable terms had been reached between Britain and Egypt, but nevertheless the relationship was characterized and perceived as one permitting Britain to dominate Egypt. Farouk's rule was further complicated by new domestic developments in Egypt, particularly in political and economic matters.

The rise of the Society of Moslem Brothers, first started in 1928 and eventually catapulted into position of dominance in Egyptian politics, was one of the more critical political forces to affect the political stability of Egypt during Farouk's reign. The Moslem Brothers championed a program of Islamic reform, advocated struggle against all foreign influence, and challenged the legitimacy of the parliamentary system. The increasing literacy of Egypt and thus the increasing social and economic awareness of large segments of the Egyptian masses gave rise to various other protest movements seeking an alteration in the social, economic, and political systems. Farouk's tendency toward authoritarianism and his insistence on active intervention in politics made it impossible for any legitimately elected government to meet the expectations of the newer elements in society and complicated infinitely the task of governing the country.

World War II

The approaching storm of World War II made British interference in internal Egyptian affairs inevitable, for Britain was primarily concerned with the security of the British Empire, and Egyptian national needs, as perceived by Egyptians, had to be subordinated to Britain's security needs. Egypt's desire to steer a neutral course during World War II and its alleged flirtation with Italy prompted Britain to make strong representation to Farouk. On Feb. 4, 1942, the British ambassador, escorted by British tanks, surrounded Abdin Palace and forced King Farouk to dismiss an allegedly pro-Italian Cabinet and to replace it with the popular Wafd Cabinet. The King surrendered to British demands, and the Wafd ruled till 1944.

This overt intervention by the British in the internal affairs of Egypt and their dictation of a specific prime minister led to the discredit of both King and party. Farouk, recognizing his impotence on the world scene, reacted unusually, indulging himself in the frivolities of life. The personal corruption of Farouk, though he might have shown a tendency in that direction earlier, can be traced directly to his recognition of the futility of his position within his own country. The Wafd was similarly discredited for serving as a result of a military intervention by Britain, the power that it had tried to dislodge from the scene.

Crisis and Exile

The old liberal constitutionalism that had characterized Egyptian politics was discredited, and it was only a question of time when the whole system would collapse. In 1952 the Egyptian army led by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser seized power and forced Farouk to abdicate on July 26 and go into exile in Italy.

Despite the negative nature of Farouk's reign, his personal corruption, and his lust for power and for women, his reign had some very positive qualities as well. He was very active in inter-Arab politics, helped in increasing the Arab orientation of Egypt, assisted in developing the League of Arab States whose headquarters became Cairo, and took an interest in the aspirations of the Palestinians. Under his rule Egypt developed economically, industrialization assumed more concrete form, and Egyptians took greater roles in the economy. Many of the measures later adopted by Nasser designed to increase the economic viability of Egypt were in fact initiated during Farouk's reign. Farouk founded many institutions of higher learning, such as Farouk I University (renamed Alexandria) and Ain Shams University.

Farouk had three daughters by his first marriage and one son, Fuad II, by his second marriage, to Narriman. Upon Farouk's abdication and exile, his son was declared king and a regency council was established, but eventually Egypt was declared a republic and the Alawid dynasty, which had ruled Egypt since Mohammed Ali assumed power in 1805, came to an end. Farouk died in exile in Rome on March 18, 1965, of a heart attack and was brought back to Egypt for burial.

Further Reading

Studies of recent Egyptian history include Austin L. Moore, Farewell Farouk (1954); Hisham B. Sharabi, Governments and Politics of the Middle East in the Twentieth Century (1962); Tom Little, Modern Egypt (1967); and Harry Hopkins, Egypt the Crucible (1969). □

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