Sunday, 3 August 2014

A Trip Through Royal History with 92-Year-Old Sa’id Zulfikar

Montreal, Canada - 2013

When I was still living in Toronto, Canada in 2013 we went to Montreal for a few days. A friend was supposed to interview a 92-year-old man named Sa’id Zulfikar, who is the nephew of the Egyptian painter, Mahmoud Sa’id, and who is also the brother of Queen Farida, the wife of King Farouk I. Having a knack for old people as well as for history and the royal family, I decided to hop along. 

I didn’t really know what to expect on that chilly October morning. Though I was surprised that after calling him as we arrived, Mr. Zulfikar went down to the building entrance to let us in. We went up to his well-lit flat and spent about a couple of hours with him. His wife was visiting Egypt at the time and he was alone.

The man has a cute face, a pleasant smile, and is physically healthy. He is also a natural conversationalist and quite alert for such age. We first started talking about his uncle — mother’s brother — Mahmoud Sa’id and how they all lived in their palace in Alexandria. Said (April 8, 1897 – April 8, 1964) was an Alexandrian judge and modern painter, and was the son of Muhammad Sa’id Pasha, a former Prime Minister of Egypt.

Mr. Zulfikar’s father, Youssef Zulficar Pasha (June 1866 – after 1952) was also an Egyptian judge who became the father-in-law of King Farouk I after marrying his daughter Queen Farida on 20 February 1938. He was also the first Egyptian ambassador to Iran when appointed on March 13th 1939.

Youssef Zulficar was married to Zeinab Sa’id, the daughter of Muhammad Sa’id Pasha and sister of the renowned artist Mahmoud Sa’id. Zeinab served as lady-in-waiting to Queen Nazli — seen sitting down in the middle of the photo below. She had one daughter, Safinaz (born in 1921), as well as two sons; our host Muhammad Sa'id and Sherif.

Since I got this latter information from Wikipedia, I'm assuming that his first name is double-barreled and it's Muhammed-Said, a common practice in Egypt at the time. My own grandfather was actually Mohamed-Yehia, though everyone called him Yehia.

So, after her son Farouk ascended the throne as King of Egypt, Queen Nazli urged him to take Zulficar’s daughter Safinaz as his wife. According to Mr. Sa’id as well as other sources, Zulficar was wary at the prospect of his daughter becoming part of the royal family and feared the outcome of the marriage. Nevertheless, the wedding eventually took place; Safinaz became Queen of Egypt and her name was changed to Farida to match the rest of the ‘F’ daze since it was the Fouad’s lucky letter.

Farouk’s sibling were Fawzia, Faiza, Faika, Fathia. Then Farouk kept on with the tradition and had Farial, Fawzia, Fadya and Fouad II.

When telling us about how his sister’s name change, I couldn’t help but notice that there was a certain kind of subtle sadness underlined in the man’s words... and eyes.

They changed her name,” he told us. 

Queen Nazli (9), her brother Sherif Sabry (8), and Mahmoud Said (6)

The conversation went on seamlessly and it led us to Ancient Egyptians and how some of the Hieroglyphic language survived to this very day. He also spoke of how Jews lived peacefully in Egypt when he was a child. He really seemed like a man of knowledge who has seen many things in his life. 

I recall sensing another moment of melancholy. And it was when he was telling us how after the 1952 coup d’état, their lands, properties, cars, and jewellery were all taken from the family.

“They came in the house and took what they please. I was young and I tried to hide one of the cars but they found it and took it. One of the times I had a golden ring on, which belonged to the family, and when a soldier saw it he took it off my finger.”

Mr. Zulfikar left Egypt to Montreal sometimes after and never looked back. He Later donated the family villa including the art work of Mahmoud Said to the government, and it was made into a museum.

Yet another example of old families that were literally dismantled by that so-called “revolution”. Although I never lived these days myself but both of my families were deeply affected. I have heard many different versions of the same ordeal, so I could somewhat relate to his chagrin.

At the end of that lovely encounter, we took a few photos of Mr. Zulfikar and the one of the royal family with his uncle Mahmoud Said. We then said thank you and left. As we came out of that flat, it felt like coming out of a time capsule frozen inside a moment of history. 

Long Live The Military Rule!

Mahmoud Said Museum in Alexandria on 6 Mohamed Pasha Said St. in the Gianaclis neighbourhood
is where Sa'id lived with his uncle

EDIT (May 2, 2016):

I was notified today that Mr. Mohamed-Sa’id Zulfikar passed away. This is the Egyptian newspaper clipping (Al Ahram) of his obituary. May He Rest in Peace. 

May 2, 2016

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