When Princess Fawzia of Egypt married the crown prince of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, in 1939, the two united two great Muslim lands. Before their marriage, Iran had been the first country to formally recognize Egypt after its independence from Britain. It opened an embassy in Cairo to boost relations between the two countries. Then in 1928, Iran and Egypt signed a trade agreement and the Iranian Chamber of Commerce was set up in Cairo.
It was during this period that the Iranian ambassador in Cairo arranged a meeting between Fawzia, who was the sister of King Farouk of Egypt, and Pahlavi, who was Crown Prince of Iran. The marriage between the two followed. It was held in March 1939 at the Abdeen Palace in Cairo, Egypt. Another wedding celebration took place in Tehran, Iran.
Indeed, many believed that the marriage between Fawzia and Pahlavi will strengthen relations between Egypt and Iran while also helping to consolidate the leadership of Egypt in the Islamic world. “The purpose of this marriage is to revive the Islamic caliphate and choose King Farouk as the Muslim caliph,” the English media wrote at the time. But the marriage between the two royals didn’t last thanks to religious and cultural reasons.
Fawzia, born on November 5, 1921, was the eldest daughter of Sultan Fuad I of Egypt and Sudan and his wife, Nazli Sabri. Fawzia, of mixed Egyptian and Albanian descent, was educated in Switzerland, thus she became fluent in three languages — Arabic, English and French. Growing up in the surroundings of the Ras el-Tin Palace in Alexandria, she was very much loved. Cecil Beaton, who took her portrait for TIME magazine in 1942, described her as “An Asian Venus”, with “a perfect heart-shaped face and strangely pale but piercing blue eyes”.
Newspapers globally compared her to film stars Hedy Lamarr and Vivien Leigh, referring to her as “one of the world’s most beautiful women.” However, it was not all roses for Fawzia who would later become Queen of Iran. She remarked in her last days that she had not only lost one crown but two as her family struggled right after her marriage to Pahlavi ended.
Before their wedding, the couple met just once. They gave birth to a baby girl named Shahnaz in October 1940 and a year after, Fawzia became the Empress of Iran after her husband ascended to the throne when his father was exiled following the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran. It was at this moment that things got worse for Fawzia. She did not speak Persian very well and found it hard to adapt to her surroundings in Iran. She was used to the lavish lifestyle back in her brother’s court in Egypt.
But now away from it all, she felt so uncomfortable. Despite being Queen of Iran, she refused to take part in social ceremonies and other gatherings even when asked by her husband to do so. Fawzia also had a frosty relationship with her in-laws. At the same time, her husband was engaged in extra-marital affairs. Fawzia, becoming increasingly unhappy in her marriage, contacted an American psychiatrist, who diagnosed her with depression.
When Egypt got to know of her marital unhappiness, a member of the Egyptian court was sent to Iran, who reported that Fawzia looked seriously ill. Her shoulder blades, he reported, “jutted out like the fins of some undernourished fish.”
Immediately, Fawzia’s brother King Farouk asked her to come home. She returned to Egypt in 1945 and filed for a divorce. Her daughter however remained in Iran. In 1948 when the divorce was granted, Fawzia reclaimed her title as Princess of Egypt.
The following year, she married again, to Egyptian aristocrat Colonel Ismail Chirine. The two went on to have a son and a daughter. By this time, scores of Egyptians had expressed anger at the royal family, accusing King Farouk of being corrupt. After a military coup in 1952, King Farouk sailed to Italy. Fawzia however remained in Egypt with her family. She settled in a villa in Alexandria, where, according to The New York Times, she lived a quiet, almost anonymous life. She died on July 2, 2013, at the age of 91 amid the coup that removed Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi.