Fuad I (1868-1936) was the first king of modern Egypt. He assumed power in 1917 as sultan of Egypt, signifying the legally subordinate position of Egypt within the Ottoman Empire.
On March 26, 1868, Ahmed Fuad was born in Giza, the youngest son of Ismail Pasha, the notorious khedive of Egypt. Ismail Pasha's policies of modernization and Europeanization ultimately led to the bankruptcy of Egypt, the increasing intervention of European powers in Egyptian affairs, the outbreak of the first Egyptian revolution in 1879, and the consequent prolonged British occupation of the country. Upon his deposition in 1879 Ismail was accompanied by members of his immediate family into exile in Italy, where Fuad was brought up and educated. As a result, he acquired considerable knowledge of European affairs and proficiency in several languages.
Fuad returned to reside permanently in Egypt in the 1890s and began his education in Egyptian politics as aide-de-camp to Khedive Abbas II. This was a period in which the British administrator Lord Cromer exercised autocratic power and official Egyptian rulers were in effect subordinate to him. The rising Egyptian national movement seeking the liberation of the country from external control was gathering momentum, but Fuad learned the necessity of reconciling Britain's interests with Egypt's national aspirations. Two things affecting Fuad deeply during this period were the recognition of Britain's ascendancy in Egyptian affairs, and a tendency to utilize methods of ruling and administration that were autocratic. These were to play an important role in his discharge of his constitutional functions once Egypt was declared an independent sovereign state.
In 1917 Fuad assumed power as sultan, and barely 2 years later Egypt's second revolution broke out, this time led by Egypt's national hero and statesman Saad Zaghlul. Fuad apparently took no part in the uprising or in the political discussions that ensued between the nationalists and the British occupation. The outcome of that revolution compelled the British to grant Egypt nominal independence in 1922 and to conclude a treaty of alliance and friendship between them. Thus the way was paved for the drafting and ratification of an Egyptian constitution promulgated by royal decree on April 19, 1923, and for Fuad's accession as king of Egypt.
Though Egypt theoretically became a constitutional monarchy, the Egyptian constitution vested considerable powers in the king. Fuad could and did initiate legislation, convene and dissolve the Parliament, and actively interfere in the civil and military affairs of the state. His tendency toward autocratic control and the need for a manipulatable supreme power as perceived by Britain led to his perennial clash with nationalist forces in the country led by the newly organized populist party, the Wafd. From 1923 until his death the political struggle in Egypt was essentially between the palace, frequently supported by the British embassy and military presence, and the Wafd party, representing the interests of the Egyptian people.
This struggle led to the dissolution of the Egyptian Parliament, dominated by the Wafd, in 1930, and the abolition of the first constitution and its replacement by another—again by royal decree—in the same year. The Parliament "elected" in 1931 in accordance with the new constitution was boycotted by the nationalist forces, and its unrepresentativeness was so blatant that considerable social and political discord emerged. Tension and autocratic rule ultimately resulted in counterpressures, and in 1934 the royal constitution was dropped in favor of the one of 1923.
New elections brought the Wafd back to power. During his last year Fuad, along with other national forces, concentrated his energy on revising the treaty relationship between Egypt and Britain, and the negotiations initiated by him and his Egyptian supporters finally paved the way for the conclusion of a more favorable treaty between Britain and Egypt which was signed by Farouk, Fuad's successor, in 1936.
Farouk was Fuad's only son and the fruit of his second marriage, to Nazli, in 1919; Fuad's daughter Fawziyyah was the first wife of the shah of Iran and was divorced in 1948. Fuad died on April 25, 1936.
Useful background studies on Egypt include Hisham B. Sharabi, Governments and Politics of the Middle East in the Twentieth Century (1962); Mahmud Y. Zayid, Egypt's Struggle for Independence (1965); and Tom Little, Modern Egypt (1967; first published as Egypt in 1958). □