As Egyptians start another revolution, a sudden blast from the past: Princess Fawzia has died at the age of 91.
Fawzia was the daughter and brother of Egypt's last monarchs. Her marriage to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1939 made her an international celebrity. But their union was hardly a love story. Rather their fathers were keen on strengthening bonds between Egypt and Iran.
The marriage lasted only nine years. It was widely known that the Shah's family were not very welcoming towards the Egyptian princess and she felt terribly lonely. Their only child, Shahnaz, was married to Ardeshir Zahedi, Iran's last pre-revolution ambassador to Washington.
While I was in Cairo two months ago, I made attempts to contact Fawzia's associates in Alexandria hoping to get an interview. No luck. No one knew she was even alive.
One day I was hanging out with Dr. Mustafa El Labbad, the Persian-speaking director of Al Sharq Center for Regional and Strategic Studies. He invited me to El Horriya, one of the oldest cafes in central Cairo. After a couple of beers, he said he wanted to show me something. We walked out and he pointed at the row of shops on the opposite side of the street. One of them had a big blue sign with the words "Iranian Laundry" in Arabic. I was thrilled.
We went inside and spoke to a lady sitting behind a table. I asked if she was Iranian. Why do you ask, she said. I said well, I'm Iranian and your sign caught my attention. She laughed and said she's not Iranian. Her father had named the shop in honor of the Shah and Fawzia after their wedding.
Many years went by. Despite political ups and downs, the shop kept its name.
Relations bewteen Iran and Egypt soured after revolutionary officers led by Gamal Abdel Nasser put an end to the monarchy. During the Cold War the two countries were on opposit poles. Iran was in the American sphere of influence and Egypt was an ally of the Soviets. But relations warmed up again in the 1970's when President Anwar Sadat shifted towards the West.
A couple of Eyptians told me they remembered the buses that were sent from Iran to Cairo. They had a plaque with words to this effect: "Gift from the government of Iran to the people of Egypt."
When the Shah and his family left Iran a month before the 1979 revolution, Egypt was one of the few countries that welcomed them. After wandering from one country to another for about a year, the Shah died and was buried in Cairo's Al Rifai mosque.
Fawzia's funeral will be held in Alexandira on Wednesday. The people of Egypt will have more important things on their mind.