Return of Farouk's son to Egypt spurs speculation Fouad watched for political moves


CAIRO, Egypt -- He is young, rich, relatively handsome and one of the most sought-after men in Cairo these days.

And for good reason.

He is Ahmed Fouad, Egypt's last monarch, and President Hosni Mubarak has recently allowed him to come home after 40 years of exile.

Mr. Fouad, who is in his early 40s, was monarch for just 11 months, and even then, from exile.

His father was King Farouk, who ruled Egypt until he was forced to abdicate and seek exile in Italy in 1965. King Farouk then named young Ahmed the new monarch, but when revolutionaries in Cairo declared Egypt a republic, the junior king's career was nipped in the bud.

King Farouk and wife Queen Nariman later divorced. She returned to Egypt, remarried and had a son.

According to the Al-Anram English Weekly, which broke the news of Mr. Fouad's return, the ex-monarch wrote to Mr. Mubarak a few months ago asking if he could return to Egypt to attend the wedding of his half-brother.

Mr. Mubarak granted the permission and allowed Mr. Fouad, who has lived in Paris most of his life and has become a successful businessman, to receive VIP treatment at the airport, welcomed by his mother and other members of his family.

The news of Mr. Fouad's return has sparked speculation that the ex-king might settle in Cairo and eventually dabble in politics.

"Fouad-mania," as one Western diplomat here put it, compelled several embassies, including those of the United States, France and Canada, to put aside more pressing work and file lengthy reports to their capitals on Mr. Fouad's return to Cairo.

"It is simply one of the most fascinating things that has happened in Egypt in a while," said a Western diplomat. "Imagine the guy taking his time for a couple of months, then starting to make inroads in business, building a constituency for himself," he said.

"After that he can go public and say, 'Listen, I am a successful businessman who has made it in the real world and know how to treat Egypt's economic miseries. I am from a good, political family and would love to be opposition leader.' "

Added another diplomat: "If he does that, Mubarak will be warned to tone down this 'loyal opposition.' What are you going to do? Jail an ex-monarch?"

The government, too, is observing Mr. Fouad closely. Ever since he arrived, he has been watched by government security forces, according to a source at the Interior Ministry.

On the night of his half-brother's wedding -- two days after he had arrived -- a government man had secured all entrances to his mother's house in the coastal city of Alexandria. Only family members and close friends were let in.

While many are whispering from the sidelines about Mr. Fouad's future political role, the ex-monarch is playing his cards close to his chest.

He has not granted any interviews since his arrival, probably conscious of the fact that his home has been under constant surveillance by security men.

Family friends say that Mr. Fouad's highest priority is determining how the government would react if he chose to resettle in Egypt.

"Everything depends on the government's reaction. If they want him to stay and if he sees the atmosphere is right, he will," said one American family friend. "Otherwise, he will be equally happy to fly back to Paris and enjoy his life. He does not need the headache."

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