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Exiled Egyptian Princess Mourned in Cairo

  • Elizabeth Arrott

Princess Ferial, the daughter of Egypt's last ruling king, died Sunday in Switzerland after a long battle with cancer and laid to rest at Cairo's al Rifa'i mosque

The body of the late Princess Ferial, the daughter of Egypt's last ruling king, has been returned home and laid to rest at Cairo's al Rifa'i mosque. Ferial, aged 71, died Sunday in Switzerland, after a long battle with cancer.

The muezzin recited verses of the Koran as members of Egypt's exiled royal family gathered around the princess' coffin. Ferial's body was flown back from Switzerland late Tuesday, and carried in a dusty station wagon to the mosque.

But the late hour of the rites and the simplicity of the service belied the grandeur into which the late princess was born.

The first child of the dashing, young King Farouk, Ferial's arrival in 1938 was celebrated across the country. It was a happy time, before another world war and before the loss of Palestinian lands to Israel, before the disappointment of two more girls in the royal family, before her father left her mother to marry the woman who would bear him a son.

Safia el-Nokrashi, daughter of the then-prime minister and a childhood friend of Princess Ferial, was among the mourners in al-Rifai, remembering her long-ago visits to the royal palace.

"I was invited for tea and a friendship started," she said. "I started going regularly until 1952, when they left Egypt."

Their leaving marked the end of 150 years of the family dynasty, swept away by the socialist revolution of Gamal Abdul Nassar. Friends said Farouk never recovered from the blow. The once handsome monarch grew staggeringly fat, his life of excess ending in 1965 in a restaurant in Rome.

In 1973, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat allowed the king's children to come home. Safia el-Nokrashi remembers Ferial's first return from what her friends describe as her humbly genteel exile in Switzerland.

The first visit was hard for her because she went and looked for all the old servants or nannies who used to work in the palace. She went and looked for them, and it was hard for her.

In so many ways, the country and the world had changed.

After the reading of the prayer, Ferial's coffin was placed in the burial chamber of al-Rifai - echoing with some of the last gasps of 20th century monarchies. Among the tombs is that of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Iran's last shah.

Some things remained the same. The father of Ferial's childhood friend, Prime Minister Mahmoud Fahmi Nokrashi, tried during the monarchy to ban the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic fundamentalist force that continues to bedevil Egypt's leaders to this day.

And social hierarchy continues, only now it is the relatives of Gamal Abdel Nasser and more recent leaders one runs into in the elite clubs of Cairo.

There appears no overwhelming nostalgia for royal rule. The region still has monarchies - in Jordan and Saudi Arabia - but they provide little in terms of role models for most Egyptians.

But there does seem to be respect for the nation's one-time rulers. At al-Rifa'i, late into the night, Ferial's brother, the exiled King Fouad II, led the family in greeting the crowds of mourners, royalty and citizens alike, who came out to bid the princess farewell.