Tragic Facts About Nazli Sabri, The First Queen Of Egypt

August 27, 2023 | Mehroo S.

Tragic Facts About Nazli Sabri, The First Queen Of Egypt

Why would a young girl refuse an offer to become queen? Wouldn’t that mean turning her back to a life of luxury, and getting whatever she wants? Unfortunately though, nothing is black and white in the real world, and for many a life of luxury can turn into a life of confinement and drudgery. It certainly did for Nazli Sabri, Egypt’s first queen consort.

1. She Was Born Rich

Despite the rags-to-riches fairy tale some stories of Nazli Sabri like to tell, this girl did not have humble beginnings. Her father was no less than Cairo’s Governor, and if that wasn’t enough, her elders had great pedigree too. As in, her grandfather used to be the freaking Prime Minister. Clearly, the woman knew what power looked like from a young age. It's just too bad it turned on her.


2. She Went To The Best Schools

Aristocrats in Cairo wanted the best education for their kids, and Nazli’s family was no different. She went to a French school in Cairo, and then to a French high school in Alexandria. She even got to go to Paris for two years to study at a prestigious boarding school. However, her time in Paris was miserable for of one heartbreaking reason.

Nazli Sabri facts Wikipedia

3. She Lost Her Mother At A Young Age

Nazli was super young when her mother passed, and it was right after that her dad packed her and her sister off to a Parisian boarding school. While you may think he did this out of fatherly love and to help them get over the loss, it’s more likely he did it purely because of societal expectations. Sadly, it wouldn't be the last time he treated Nazli with ice-cold pragmatism.

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4. Her Father Forced Her To Obey

Right after she came back from Paris, Nazli had to face a terrifying reality. Marriage. Since she was now old enough, her father ordered her to marry her cousin, a Turkish boy named Khalil Sabri. Of course, her heart wasn’t in the match, but it wasn't like she had a choice in the matter. She agreed...and she almost instantly regretted it.

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5. She Had An Ill-Fated Marriage

We don’t know much about Khalil and Nazli's relationship together, we do know how it ended. Which was "not well at all". After just 11 months together, the pair couldn't stand it any longer and divorced. Guess someone should’ve told Papa Sabri that you can’t force love. Still, Nazli found a scandalous distraction almost immediately after leaving her husband...

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6. She Rebounded Hard

A divorcee is a dangerous thing, so Nazli didn't stay single for long. Soon after her first marriage crashed and burned, she jumped into a union with the well-connected Saeed Zaghloul, the nephew of the Egyptian nationalist leader Saad Zaghloul. For a time, everything was hot, heavy, and romantic in Nazli's world. It just didn't stay that way.

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7. Her Lover Was A Bad Boy

According to the rumor mill, Nazli and Saeed were so in love, they committed to marry each other. Then disaster struck. Saeed's family came under fire from the British government for their radical views on independence, and in the blink of an eye  Nazli's lover got exiled to Malta. Well, that's a bummer. But don't worry: A babe like Nazli never went too long without attracting attention.

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8. She Commanded Attention

A young, attractive woman, Nazli caught everyone’s eye when she went out. She was pretty with dark hair and big, brooding eyes, and her style and figure also made her hard to ignore. Since she belonged to an aristocratic family herself, everyone expected her to find a good match sooner or later. But her next conquest was bigger than she’d imagined.

Nazli Sabri factsFlickr, Zeinab Mohamed

9. A Sultan Fell In Love With Her

A fan of the finer things in life, Nazli enjoyed going to the opera. She was enjoying a performance in Cairo one night when destiny decided to intervene in the shape of Sultan Fuad, who would later upgrade his title from Sultan to King of Egypt. He was at the same performance, but more engrossed in watching Nazli than the show. The rest, as they say, is history—extremely dark history.

Nazli Sabri factsWikipedia

10. She Had A Mature Suitor

Unlike Nazli's first husband and her doomed lover Saeed, Fuad was an experienced man of the world. He’d already been married once before as well, and he was a whopping 25 years older than her. Sure, maybe that last one was a red flag, but would anyone really say no to the king’s proposal and give up on becoming queen? Maybe some women would; Nazli certainly did not.

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11. She Had A Short Engagement

Nazli Sabri was standing on the precipice of her destiny, and things moved incredibly from there. Fuad wanted a new wife ASAP, so their royal wedding took place less than two weeks after he’d proposed. I guess it’s hard not to let the king have his way, and I’m sure Nazli and her family didn’t want another abrupt end to this engagement. But that doesn't mean it was a good idea.

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12. She Had A Royal Wedding

Just because she had a quickie engagement, don't go thinking Nazli's wedding was common. After all, even a rushed palace wedding has to be grander than anything a commoner would imagine, and the ceremony took place at the extravagant Bustan Palace in Cairo. Nazli probably had her head filled with a happy, comfortable life as queen, but she was in for a rude awakening. 

Nazli Sabri factsPicryl

13. Her Husband Had A Dark Secret

If Nazli had taken a step back and performed a background check on her new husband, she probably would have been shocked. See, Fuad’s first marriage to Princess Shivakiar had ended...very badly. By the last gasps of the union, the unhappy royals couldn't even stand each other, and the reasons for this went way beyond irreconcilable differences.

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14. Her Husband Was Controlling

One of the biggest factors in Fuad's miserable first marriage was the fact he was staunchly loyal to his Jewish mistress, not his wife. Indeed, this mistress had actually planned the whole first marriage to the wealthy Shivakiar so Fuad could overcome his debts. Besides that, Fuad also wanted to keep his queen literally under lock and key because of his old-fashioned beliefs. Fortunately for Shivakiar, she escaped him just in time. Our poor Nazli wasn’t so lucky.

Nazli Sabri factsWikipedia

15. Her Husband Confined Her

Although this Jewish mistress had passed before Nazli came into the picture, that simply didn't fix Fuad's many and varied flaws. Nazli soon discovered that her fairy-tale marriage was one of convenience, not love, and that Fuad intended to do to her exactly what he had done to his first wife. He pushed her to stay inside at all times...but that wasn't all.

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16. She Was Expected To Do One Thing

Not only did Fuad want to keep his wife away from the public eye, he also had other plans in mind for her. In short, all Fuad wanted was a baby-making machine to give him an heir to the throne. After all, Nazli was pretty, came from a good family, and was young and fertile, what else was she supposed to do with her time? So Fuad found a very bizarre way of encouraging her to do her duty.

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17. She Was In A Lavish Prison

In order to make sure his young wife stayed in line, Fuad enacted a horrific form of control. He moved Nazli to his harem in Abbassia Palace with the rest of his woman, and warned her that she wouldn’t get to leave until she’d proven her worth and given him a son to become the Crown Prince of Egypt. Nice, stand-up guy, that one.

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18. She Did Her Duty

Luckily, the stars aligned in Nazli’s favor, and she got pregnant soon after the wedding, giving birth to her first child less than a year later. Even more fortunately, that child was a boy she named Farouk. Yep, Nazli had succeeded in providing Fuad with a male heir to his throne, and the Sultan was over the moon. After that, she finally got to enjoy life as the Queen of Egypt, right? Well...

King Farouk Of Egypt factsGetty Images

19. She Was A Trophy Wife

The only difference in Nazli’s life after birthing her son was that Fuad allowed her to move into his own palace. Other than that, the hellscape continued. Fuad still confined Nazli indoors and only allowed her to attend certain operas or flower shows that he deemed appropriate. She was the definition of a trophy wife, with no freedom for herself. And if you think this is the worst of it, you have another thing coming.

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20. Her Husband Kept Her From Her Son

Staying true to his control freak image, Fuad didn’t just want to stamp his authority on his wife, he wanted to control his son’s future too. How did he do that, you ask? By allowing the boy to spend only an hour each day with his mother, lest she infect him with her feminine wiles and encourage him to become less manly. Poor Nazli. Fuad had more up his sleeve, too.

King Farouk Of Egypt factsGetty Images

21. Her Child Suffered The Same Fate As Her

In addition to strictly observing how and when Farouk was allowed to see his own mother, Fuad also extended similar control over where Farouk went, and now restricted both his son and his wife to the palace grounds. Really poor Nazli. She couldn’t bear this confinement herself, and now she had to live with the fact that her son faced the same fate as her. In other words, something had to give.

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22. She Tried To Rebel

It wasn’t easy for Nazli to submit to a domestic existence after enjoying the freedom to do as she wished until now. Her education and upbringing had made her more cultured and refined than the average Egyptian woman, and she longed for a more stimulating environment. She clashed with Fuad over her confinement, with horrific results. 

Nazli Sabri factsWikipedia

23. She Had To Submit

In keeping with his cruel behavior, Fuad answered many of Queen Nazli’s objections with his fists and not his words. Yep, the Sultan of Egypt decided that the best way to make his wife listen to him was to subdue her by using physical force. Honestly, she would have been much better off if she’d stayed an old maid. But do you think she gave up? Heck no.

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24. She Was A Survivor

Although her husband was the total opposite of Prince Charming, Nazli still tried to make the relationship work. At any rate, she provided Fuad with four daughters after giving him his son and heir. However, she’d had it with the restrictions after her fourth daughter was born, and made up her mind to put an end to them once and for all. Only, this didn't have a happy ending.

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25. She Took An Extreme Step

In a heartbreaking turn of events, Nazli decided it wasn’t worth arguing with Fuad and she just wanted “out” of the situation. She purposely overdosed on aspirin, thinking this was the only way she could escape the restrictions that surrounded her. Fortunately, her maid discovered her in time, and the doctors managed to save her. Not that Nazli likely thanked them...

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26. She Finally Won Her Freedom

Just as Nazli had all but given up on the idea of living on her own terms, life handed her a twist of fate. Fuad passed suddenly and silently, finally freeing our smart, sassy queen from his iron grip. Now, Nazli was a Dowager Queen with some amount of influence over her son, the new King Farouk. But as we'll see, her boy had a lot of his father in him.

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27. She Ignited A Steamy Romance

Nazli was in her early 40s and still incredibly beautiful when Fuad passed. She also had spent years hiding her hotness under a bushel, so she had quite the rebound into the single life. She began heavily flirting with her son Farouk’s old tutor and current advisor, Ahmed Hassanein Pasha, which quickly turned into a full-blown affair. Uh-oh, I smell a scandal.

King Farouk Of Egypt factsWikipedia

28. Her Love Sparked Scandal

Farouk was none too pleased when he discovered his mom was getting it on with his old tutor, and his response to the affair was blood-curdling. When he stumbled upon the pair reading the Quran to each other in her bedroom, Farouk threatened his mother's lover with a gun. Thankfully, he didn’t pull the trigger, but this the kind of family we're dealing with.

King Farouk Of Egypt factsFlickr, Zeinab Mohamed

29. Her Lover Had Everything

It seemed like Nazli had finally found the total package in Ahmed Hassanein. He was handsome, smart, and famous across Egypt for his physical prowess and geographic expeditions. I mean, the man was even an Olympic athlete in fencing. He was also very  willing to engage in naughty acts with our girl Nazli. But the lovers were doomed to a heartbreaking end.

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30. She Was Unlucky In Love

Unfortunately, it seemed like the stars just never aligned in Nazli Sabri's favor, and her relationship with the strapping Ahmed Hassanein ended in a devastating way. In 1946, when Hassanein was just 57 years old and at the height of his powers, he perished in a random, freak car accident. Sigh. I was really rooting for these two.

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31. She Forced Her Son To Marry

One of Nazli's first acts as Queen Mother was to give her son some dubiously sage advice: Get hitched. And since Nazli was done being the submissive little wife, the newly-minted Dowager insisted on controlling her son's choice in the matter. Sharp as ever, she could see that her son’s popularity needed a boost with the commoners, so she suggested he marry someone local, with no aristocratic connections. She also had a more chilling stipulation.

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32. She Was Power Hungry

Nazli had learned a thing or two about statecraft in her time as Fuad's wife, not to mention a whole lot about controlling a situation. Accordingly, she demanded that King Farouk pick someone young. Her reasons behind this were disturbing. Not only did she want someone inexperienced enough to adapt to her mega spoiled and sheltered son, she also wanted the naive girl to easily submit to her will.

Seems like all those years of leading a confined life had stunted Nazli’s feminist leanings, assuming she had some to begin with.

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33. She Was A Monster-In-Law

The thing is, Nazli's plan backfired big time. She soon hand-picked a young girl named Safinaz, whom she renamed Farida, but she apparently didn't do her due diligence when it came to the girl's "docile" temperament. Farida didn't take well at all to Nazli's attempts at control, and the two women hardly got along for a single day. This wasn't going to end well.

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34. She Made A Great Escape

With all these tensions and tragedies flying around, Nazli desperately needed a change. She’d had it with the stifling atmosphere of her Egyptian palace, and set forth to the United States. Official records say that she moved to California because of health issues, but we all know the real reason: She had to get away from her domineering son and a palace that held only bad memories for her. Yet drama followed Nazli wherever she went.

Nazli Sabri factsWikipedia

35. Her Family Fell Apart

While Nazli was in California, all was not well in her native land. Back in Egypt, a rift formed between her children. Farouk flat out refused to let his youngest sister, Fathia, marry the man she loved, Riyad Ghali, because of his religion. The King was so immoveable on his decision, Fathia reached out in desperation to her mother, and Nazli took matters into her own hands.

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36. She Betrayed Her Son

Nazli busted on the scene like the heroic meddling mother she was, siding with Fathia and refusing to allow Farouk to influence the girl's decision. As a result, Fathia married Ghali she’d chosen and the happy couple moved to the United States as well. Sounds like a happy ending, right? Well, there's still Farouk to worry about—and he didn't take his mother's betrayal well at all.

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37. She Paid A Heavy Price

In a fit of rage, the spoiled man-baby King Farouk stripped his mother and sister of all their rights and titles, just to prove he was still the one in charge. At this point, though, Nazli and Fathia probably couldn't have cared less about Farouk's infamous tantrums, and carried on living their lives. And that's just about when karma came back to bite him.

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38. Her Son Lost His Throne

Nazli Sabri may have dealt with immense tragedy and misfortune throughout her time on Earth, but every once in a while destiny dealt her a solid hand. Just two years after her son Farouk stripped her of her rightful titles, the government forced him to abdicate his throne. Guess he should have spent more time worrying about his country and not the women in his life.

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39. She Lived The Good Life

While she no longer had the titles and rights that she’d received when she married Fuad, she still had money. Lots and lots of money. She used it to buy a 28-room mansion in Beverly Hills in 1955, where she moved with Fathia and her family. She enjoyed partying and socializing for a good few years, until she came to the next bend in the road.

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40. She Buried Her Son

One day in 1965, Nazli received some devastating news. After his abdication, Farouk had been on a steady downward spiral. He lived extravagantly and excessively, so naturally his hedonistic lifestyle led to a tragic end. He passed suddenly in Italy at just 45 years old. Nazli traveled to Rome to attend his funeral and say a final goodbye.

Despite their differences, he had always been her beloved son, and no mother should be forced to bury their own child.

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41. Her Luck Ran Out

Nazli’s life more or less seems to follow a pattern. Just when it seems that things are looking up for her, something happens and it all goes south. It was the same in California. Fathia split up with Ghali and moved to Hawaii after the divorce. Left alone, Nazli decided to downsize and moved to a small apartment in LA, where Fathia would join her eventually. But another chapter of troubles was just beginning.

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42. She Fell Into Ruin

Sadly Fathia’s ex-husband Riyad Ghali actually did turn out to be a complete waste of space. Not only did he treat Fathia badly, he also lost her all her money through terrible investments. Nazli and Fathia had to sell all their jewelry to meet their debts, but unfortunately, even that wasn’t enough to get them out of the woods. The mother-daughter eventually had to file for bankruptcy. GOD, why are the men in Nazli's life so disappointing?

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43. She Tried To Go Back To Egypt

With very little options left open to her, Nazli had to think fast to try to save what livelihood she had left. In 1976, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat agreed to give Nazli and her daughter access to their Egyptian passports so they could return to their homeland. Sadly, something completely unforeseen happened and devastated Nazli’s plans to go back home.

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44. Her Family Was Cursed

Honestly, the whole dang Egyptian royal family was completely cursed when it came to love. In 1939, Nazli's eldest daughter Princess Fawzia married the future Shah Mohammad Reza of Iran so the two kingdoms could build up their power. In reality though, it was a complete disaster. The educated, refined Fawzia had nothing in common with the philandering, unemotional, dominating prince, and she was extremely unhappy with him. Sounds like Nazli might have been familiar with this story, eh?

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45. She Had Expensive Tastes

Nazli enjoyed the finer things of life, but her addiction to extravagance reached decadent proportions. For Princess Fawzia's wedding, Nazli had Van Cleef and Arpels design her a special 220-carat diamond necklace with matching tiara and earrings. The necklace stood out because it was so unique and became famous as “A Perfect Piece of Jewelry".

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46. Her Jewelry Collection Was Legendary

Rumor had it that Nazli owned the largest jewelry collection in the world at one point—and it's led to a great mystery. At her lowest point financially, Nazli had Sotheby’s auction her most famous pieces, the Van Cleef and Arpels tiara and necklace in 1975. From that moment, they completely disappeared from public eye. The necklace recently resurfaced in 2015 at another Sotheby’s auction, but the tiara hasn't been seen since 1975.

Nazli Sabri factsGetty Images

47. She Neglected Her Daughter

Supposedly, Nazli was a loving mother to all her kids, and cared about her daughters’ happiness. She dropped the ball on Fawzia though, because while she may not have known how horribly the Iranian royal family would treat her daughter, she could have put her foot down and asked Farouk to at least let the couple meet a few times before they tied the knot.

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48. She Had A Thing For Fs

Well, it is more likely that Fuad was the one who named all his kids. And of course, he chose his own initial for their names too. He named his son Farouk, and his daughters Fawzia, Faeza, Faika, and Fathia. Poor Nazli got left out of the fun...

Nazli Sabri factsWikimedia Commons

49. Not All Her Ancestors Were Egyptian

Nazli wasn’t a pure Egyptian, thanks to some of her ancestors. She had Turkish and French blood in her as well, because of her Turkish-origin maternal grandfather, and French-born great-grandfather. In fact, the latter was one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s army commanders. No wonder her family chose to send her to Paris for education; of course, the fact that they could easily afford it must have helped.

Napoleon Bonaparte FactsWikipedia

50. She Was A Religious Convert

No records state whether Fathia’s husband converted to Islam, but we do know that Nazli converted to Christianity while living in the United States. She changed her name to Mary-Elizabeth, and wore a cross around her neck to leave no doubts about her chosen religion. After decades under one man's thumb or another, she really was doing it her way.

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51. She Got Revenge

Of course, Nazli had no reason to grieve her husband King Fuad's passing, and she actually got the perfect revenge on him. In a move that probably made Fuad roll over in his grave, she pettily sold all his lavish clothing to a local thrift store for absolute pennies. Hey, I fully support this move. There's no fury like a woman controlled, even when you've kicked the bucket.

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52. She Faced A Huge Tragedy

On December 10, 1976, the very day before Nazli and her daughter Fathia were due to return back to Egypt, Fathia went to her ex-husband Riyad Ghali's house for an unknown reason. It ended in utter tragedy. She found him inebriated, and, unable to accept her departure, he fatally shot her six times. Yes, in an instant, Fathia's life was over.

Nazli had all kinds of plans for the rest of her life, but losing Fathia so violently changed everything. Nazli was simply...numb.

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53. She Never Went Back Home

There isn’t much on record about Nazli’s life after Fathia, but we do know that she refused to go back to Egypt. Two of her daughters were still there, but Fathia’s untimely passing understandably left her with no desire to do anything much at all. With the money running out, Nazli's last days were full of sorrow and isolation.

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54. She Had A Heartbreaking End

Nazli finally passed in 1978, at the age of 83 in Los Angeles, California. She lived less than two years after Fathia’s passing, and spent her last years battling depression and loneliness. It was a heartbreaking end to a heartbreaking life, but it is not Nazli Sabri's only legacy.

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55. Her Legacy Lives On

Nazli may no longer be around, but her legacy lives on in her great-grandchildren, one of whom is an artist, Amina El-Demirdash, who is Princess Faika’s granddaughter. El-Demirdash takes inspiration from her history and the stories about her great-grandmother’s and grandmother’s lives that she heard growing up. Although Nazli lost all her belongings because of her financial difficulties, Amina owns some items passed to her from Faika, relics of an ancient past.

Nazli Sabri factsWikipedia

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11

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