The Wealth of Nations: King Farouk

Posted: January 13, 2015 in Uncategorized

King Farouk’s fabulous wealth

Farouk getting into his Mercedes Benz 540K, a wedding gift from Adolf Hitler, circa 1938

The latest in Al Arabiya’s series on the colorful reign of Egypt’s King Farouk examines his famous wealth and property – including his alleged massive collection of pornography – as revealed through the monarch’s long-forgotten memoirs.

“I suppose that the greatest moment in the life of any revolutionary is when he walks through the royal palaces of the freshly deposed monarch and begins to finger his former master’s possessions,” wrote King Farouk after his July 1952 overthrow.

Farouk, who in his long-forgotten memoirs claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood – rather than solely the Free Officer’s movement – were behind his overthrow, wrote that he would have liked to have been present when his possessions were on display to the world.

“I admit that I would have enjoyed watching those prudish, clerkly sect-leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood as they drifted through my rooms like elderly ladies on a cook’s tour, pulling open drawers, prying into cupboards and wardrobes, and gaping like country bumpkins at the number of the king’s clean shirts,” he wrote.

By his own admission, Farouk was not lacking in possessions. Items of particular interest included watches, stamps and coins. His collection of coins – containing 8,500 pieces – was possibly the finest in the world.

The Free Officer-led government auctioned off most of his possessions in 1954.

Burdens of royalty

Farouk seemed to draw strength from these rare items.

At times, when the burdens of royal duty seemed overwhelming, poring over his collection “kept me from nervous exhaustion,” he wrote.

Luxury cars were another of Farouk’s interests, possibly cultivated when his father Fuad gave him an Austin 7 when he was just 11 years old. To while away the long hours of his childhood, the heir would spend hours driving his cars through the palace gardens.

In addition to a rare Mercedes Benz 540K that Adolf Hitler gave to Farouk in 1938 as a wedding gift, his collection also included Rolls Royces and Bentleys.

Cars belonging to the king and palace officials were always colored red so they would not get stopped by police, said Philip Mansel, a historian and author of “Levant: Splendour and catastrophe on the Mediterranean.”

Farouk “certainly liked driving himself around very fast, a sign of his slight childishness,” Mansel told Al Arabiya News.

Louis-Farouk

Farouk’s taste in grand, baroque-style palace furniture – often known mockingly as “Louis-Farouk,” in reference to its Versailles-level of ornamentation – has had an unlikely legacy today.

Possibly due to his influence, “enter any middle class Egyptian home and you are likely to be received in a ‘salon’ crammed full of gilded, heavily ornate copies of classic French furniture,” the Financial Times reported in 2009.

The image of a lone king vainly amassing a vast hoard of treasure is not completely fair, historians say.

 “Both he and his father and other members of the dynasty were tremendous collectors. They filled palaces,” said Mansel.

A lot of royal wealth had been consistently collected since the dynasty had sovereign power in Egypt since 1811, said Mahmoud Sabit, the son of Farouk’s cousin Adel Sabit.

“A lot of what we’re talking about is the accumulation of wealth since that date… To suggest that he was the one who collected and was therefore avaricious is pushing it a bit,” Sabit told Al Arabiya News.

It has long been alleged that Farouk’s collections also included a vast supply of pornography, rumored to be the world’s largest.

As Farouk was supposed to have told Hollywood insider Scotty Bowers, “I’ve got warehouses full of the stuff, so much that I’ll never be able to look at all of it.”

However, historians say there is little concrete evidence of such a collection, beyond classical nude artwork.

Naughty watch

Farouk’s artwork was “nothing terribly offensive,” said Roger Owen, a history professor at Harvard University.

One of the items included an intricate watch. “There was a watch on display, in which some scene of copulation took place, on the hour,” said Owen.

The rumor of the supposed porn collection being the world’s largest is also difficult to quantify, said historian Arthur Goldschmidt Jr.

“How could you prove that something like that was or wasn’t the world’s largest collection?” asked Goldschmidt, author of “A concise history of the Middle East.”

He added: “We really don’t have access to the kind of documentation [on a possible porn collection] that would pass muster in a court of law.”

Farouk himself claimed that some of the alleged pornographic materials were planted in his palace, such as the pistol and “album of semi-nude photographs” found under his pillow.

“Upon this strange assortment I was supposed to sleep each night!” he wrote.

Additionally, the film projector in his bedroom – with which the king was “showing objectionable photos to himself,” as Farouk quoted the allegations – was actually for the viewing of family videos.

“Like many other Royal Families, we have taken great pleasure in our movie-camera records of great occasions,” he wrote.

Murky money

As well as spurious evidence of his pornography collection, his financial situation in exile remains unclear.

 While on the Italian island of Capri, his first place of residence after leaving Egypt, Farouk told reporters: “I would have you remember that any man who has considerably less than he has been accustomed to having feels he is a poor man.”

While king, Farouk was supposed to have stored money in Swiss banks for himself and his children.

“Certainly, the princesses [Farouk’s three daughters] had accounts put away on their behalf in Switzerland. As I understand it, the Swiss government refused to pay them out,” said Sabit. “What they got was practically nothing.”

In the final years of his life, newspapers reported that the ex-king lived in a modest two-bedroom apartment in Rome.

On his death in 1965 at the age of 45 – after a dinner of oysters and lamb at a French restaurant in Rome, characteristically in the company of a young lady – it was reported that Farouk had just $155 in his pockets.

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Comments
  1. Leylandin Kurdi says:

    I think that King Farouk was actually the Louis 16 of the Middle East at that time. He was living an extravagant, fancy life while the Egyptian society suffered from extreme society clashes. There were either aristocrats or very poor people, so I think that was one of the reason for the revolution to happen (lead by Jamal Abd Al Nasser). I think that he would have been a smarter king if he lived a simpler, down-to-earth life that wouldn’t have caused his people to rage and eventually dethrone him.

  2. Daniel Leal says:

    I find it funny that the article is dedicated, a portion of it anyway, to discussing Farouk’s pornography collection yet no solid evidence is given on where the collection itself, no number or accounts of any sort apart from what was under his pillow, which was not even porn. It sounds like the whole thing could be a myth.

    I read up on Farouk’s life after his exile and found that he died in Rome in a restaurant after having a large meal. There was a theory that the Egyptian secret service but an autopsy has not yet taken place.

    • Haha I thought the same thing. A lot of this article seems a guesswork, and it even says so itself. It may have been true that King Farouq did lead an overly extravagant life and an ‘inappropriate’ collection, but there is also a BIG possibility that it could have all been exaggerated after he was overthrown as an effort to legitimize the revolution, or more accurately, a ‘coup’ that did not entirely represent the mass.

  3. farah sinokrot says:

    King Farouk’s way of living was the driving force of the revolution which overthrew him. In my opinion if the King would have helped the financial status of the Egyptian people he wouldn’t have been overthrown. However, to compare King Farouq to Louis the 16th is over exaggerated because the french revolution was because of the enlightenment and new way of thinking among the economics of the time. But if King Farouq had the time to change his advisers he would have helped the country rather tan destroy it. because the revolution was not just change in a monarchy to democracy it went to a military dictatorship, hence not changing the way of rule.

  4. salehqadi says:

    I think the main reason why King Farooq was kicked out is because he was living in paradise while his people were suffering. If King Farooq had distributed a bit of the wealth he had to the people or the constitutions to help build the country or help it financially, the situation would be different.

    • But how much is enough wealth to distribute? If King Farooq only helped some citizens when the vast majority could not afford things such as animals then wouldn’t the ones he didn’t help still be resentful?

      I do agree with you though the situation could have been different but the thing is King Farooq didn’t do that he kept his money and even move some of his assets to Switzerland, which means he saw a potential revolution coming. If he could see a day in the future coming why didn’t he put his people in a better position so they would like him?

      • salehqadi says:

        But what if he helped institutions which would do this job? What if he had opened more advanced schools, or made schools for free and afforded paying to teachers himself instead of making kids pay for schools to pay teachers. He would do too many things to help get the society and the economy standing again.

    • I agree with you that he was too stingy with his money but at the same time it is hard to put an economy back on its feet. Look at the last depression in America the government spent billions of dollars to battle unemployment and is trying to implement free healthcare and yet so many people still oppose Obama and say he did not do enough. Who is to say that this would not be the same with King Farooq?

      • salehqadi says:

        But don’t you think that money would be more valuable in Egypt’s situation than the American situation these days? The affect it would have would have been bigger on people.

      • I do agree that the aid would have more of an effect in Egypt but even if King Farooq tried to start public schooling it does not mean that there is a guaranteed economy boost. The teachers could just coast because of guaranteed steady pay. What exactly could Farooq do that is directly helpful to the economy and the people?

      • salehqadi says:

        King Farooq could do what the saudis do and set prices for water and other things to help the people. He could have done so many things to improve the economy. Jordan is a very poor country but we still help our people and the King is not spending in the same way as King Farooq.

      • The thing is King Farooq could have done so much but in the end he didn’t. The Al-Saud family is smart in the implementation of all of the subsidies on a variety of things including water. But King Farooq wasn’t as smart as the Saudi or Jordan when thinking about their people. He choose to let the wealth gap grow and those let the people get angrier. Instead of trying to pass down a kingdom to his children he tried to put away all the money he could for them, money that could have been used to do what you said and try and bolster the country in a time of need.

  5. I actually agree with what leylandin said “There were either aristocrats or very poor people” as I asked some Egyptian friends and they all answered in the same way. As I read about king Farouk in some Egyptian websites some people claimed that only in his Royal Garden he had 281 deer 192 horses 18 ostriches 54 turtles 47 buffalos 3502 pair of rabbits and birds 20 parrots 42 dogs 16 donkeys . I illustrated this information just to reflect on the fact that many Egyptian farmers (falaheen) at his time in his country couldn’t afford to buy 1 buffalo to use in their farms. King Farouk Living in a fantasy life while the majority of his people are poor was the main reason to revolt against him .

  6. Rashed Abdulhak says:

    Kings are meant to look kingly. Whether or not he had erotic things is of little consequence. To expect a king to live modestly is like expecting a lion not to eat the wounded gazelle. Its so easy that its almost impossible to resist. However, he should have listened to his people and shared some of his wealth. Maybe then the free officers would not have been so free to overthrow him.

  7. Ahmed Al-Nabhani says:

    King Farooq has been living a wealthy life while most of the people in Egypt while they were living in povert starving. This was basically the French revolution of Egypt. King Farooq basically bought the revolution to himself because he always shows of his wealth while the people were clearly poor.

  8. When people are placed on high pedestals, others will try to find anything to bring them down a notch or two, from politicians to celebrities. Which makes me think, how much of this is purposefully construed to make him look bad and justify the revolution? Like Daniel said, a great deal of this article seems to be about the porn collection, which sounds to me like they’re trying to find any reason whatsoever to not like King Farouk, despite the lack of evidence.

    • Ahmed, I see what you are saying and you are most definitely correct but at the same time they are not telling inconceivable lies. The fact that the population was able to believe that their king and the largest porn collection in the world should suggest that he may not have been the most pious of person. No doubt King Farouk lived in extreme wealth and his ability to spend money is seen in his many collections of Cars and Coins, which were definitely not his only collections. Given his capacity for collecting I almost want to applaud the revolutionaries for creating a ghost porn collection, if he truly didn’t have one, because it was a great tool to crush his morality in the eyes of the people. Mjdul brings up a valid point about the wealth discrepancy in Egypt at the time. The insight that this brings coupled with the legitimacy of the porn collection is that the people were undoubtably angry with their king for his ostentatious ways were ready to except any unfavorable facts about their king because there rage overpowers logic and reason.

      • I’m not saying that these facts are completely untrue, I was just commenting on the manner in which the approached the defamation. If anything, I find their approach brilliant. The whole point was to create an image of King Farouk that would degrade him in the eyes of his people. King Farouk, of course, did most of the work for them through his luxurious lifestyle. Those who went against only added to the image by finding any possible shred of evidence that would show King Farouk as undesirable. Thus we have the alleged porn collection, which true or not is an excellent way to worsen the image. I feel like Gammal Abdel Nasser learned from King Farouk’s downfall and created, using that same populist mentality, a demigod-like image for his people. The Manshiya Incident, like the porn collection, staged or not, greatly affected his popularity and legitimacy, only in a positive manner.

  9. Bridghid Sheffield says:

    King Farouk was obviously into his luxuries which clearly wasn’t beneficial to his country and his people. If his wealth was at least shared a bit between the people then there wouldn’t be such a difference in societal classes and maybe the situation would turn out different.

  10. miralobaidi says:

    I don’t think it would have been wrong for King Farouk to enjoy his wealth if he had helped his people, but he didn’t. I believe that is the main reason that angered his people and the reason why they wanted him out.

  11. Hamza Ali says:

    Hahahahaha the naughty watch part killed me: “pistol and “album of semi-nude photographs” found under his pillow.”

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