For years now, I've been trying to cover the interesting lives I find in the obituaries around the world, but I missed the passing of this woman, who was used as a backdrop in one of Mark Steyn's older columns. Princess Fawzia Fuad was the first wife of Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran, although their marriage only lasted a few years.
Princess Fawzia bint Fuad was born on November 5 1921 at Ras al-Tin Palace in Alexandria, the eldest daughter of King Fuad and his second wife, Nazli Sabri, and grew up in royal palaces and gardens, shielded from the outside world by an English governess.
A shy, pretty girl with blue eyes and black hair, she was described by the Egyptian writer and courtier Adel Sabit as a “supremely naive, over-protected, cellophane-wrapped, gift-packaged little girl” who lived “in bucolic surroundings, mobbed by adoring servants, aunts and ladies-in-waiting”.
She was 17 when the match with the young Iranian crown prince was first discussed. By this time she had been educated in Switzerland, and she enjoyed socialising, European fashion, and had never worn the veil. But once back in Egypt, her status as royal princess allowed her little freedom. “Fawzia was in those days virtually a prisoner in her mother’s houseboat on the Nile,” Adel Sabit wrote. “She rarely went out, and when she did she was surrounded by ladies-in-waiting and retainers. At a time when all other young girls were enjoying a relative freedom, Fawzia, by virtue of her position, was closely hemmed in.”
Marriage to a foreign prince seemed like a way out — or at least something different.
There was a language barrier, a religous barrier (he was Sunni, she was a Shi'ite), and there was the difference in countries. We may see the Middle East as a blurry whole, but there are wide diversities in the respective cultures. And then there was the standard in-law challenge that is often exacerbated by power and influence.
Despite having given birth to a little girl, by 1948 she had returned to Egypt alone, divorced after a few years, and remarried. The circumstances of her departure meant that she lost contact with her daughter, Princess Shahnaz, and I don't know if they ever reconciled. (Of course, the daughters life changed forever in 1979 with the fall of her father's dynasty.)
We've learned our lesson well concerning the gilded cages in which many royals live. This woman's life was no different, but goodness she was beautiful. She died this summer at the age of 91. May she rest in peace.