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Cablegate: King Farouk: Nostalgia for the Past or Loathing for The

VZCZCXRO1932
RR RUEHBC RUEHDE RUEHKUK RUEHROV
DE RUEHEG #3058/01 2901258
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 171258Z OCT 07
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7214
INFO RUEHEE/ARAB LEAGUE COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 003058

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR NEA/PPD, ECA, IIP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KPAO PHUM KDEM SCUL SOCI EG
SUBJECT: KING FAROUK: NOSTALGIA FOR THE PAST OR LOATHING FOR THE
PRESENT?

1. (U) Summary: Rare is the iftar or sohour in Cairo these days
where the topic does not quickly turn to the Ramadan soap opera
series about King Farouk, which presents a view of Egypt's last
monarch radically at odds with the image perpetrated by the official
media and textbooks over the past 55 years since his overthrow.
Long reviled and mocked in popular Egyptian lore as a fat puppet of
the British with sick personal habits, the Farouk of this immensely
popular serial makes an astonishing come-back. He comes across as a
sympathetic even attractive character who loves Egypt and struggles
manfully against tragic circumstances. What is most surprising is
the reaction by Egyptians of all political and social backgrounds to
the Saudi-financed production. Rather than dismissing it as
royalist revisionism, Egyptians are making their children watch the
series so that they "see the real picture of King Farouk," rather
than what the opposition Ad Dustour daily, which devoted an entire
issue to the series, calls "the greatest distortion in modern
Egyptian History." End summary.

----------------------------------
VINDICATING THE KING AND HIS TIMES
----------------------------------

2. (U) Based on 10 years of research by Egyptian author Lamees Gaber
with assistance from local historians, the Farouk of this series is
far from the womanizing drunkard in the Nasserite narrative.
Plunged upon his father's death in 1936 into court politics, the
young King struggled with the complex emotions of his overbearing
mother and her lover, the chamberlain, and a political maze in which
he was torn between Wafdist patriots, British quislings and Nazi
sympathizers. The handsome young prince tries to do the right
thing, showing compassion and some degree of political skill. If he
falters or succumbs to the wiles of the older politicians who
manipulate him, he never betrays his love for Egypt's people, or
resorts to ruthless measures.

---------------------
INVIDIOUS COMPARISONS
---------------------

3. (SBU) Infallibly, as they extol the series, Egyptians compare the
days of the King with the present - unfavorably. "The King did not
torture prisoners, imprison journalists or beat demonstrators,"
claims opposition daily Ad Dustor. "We had a real parliament then
with real political parties," commented a senior judicial official.
Indeed, according to press commentaries, the cabinet and the
Egyptian parliament exercised far greater powers than they do today,
and King Farouk was beholden to them. The serial shows him
struggling to persuade the Wafdist leader Mustafa an-Nahas to form a
government and walking a fine line between the various political
factions, just to avoid being deposed.

-------------------------------------------
EGYPTIAN TV: FAROUK NOT FIT FOR PRIME TIME
-------------------------------------------

4. (U) Not surprisingly, the leadership of state-run Egyptian TV was
less than excited by the Farouk story. When approached by the
writer, they rejected the Ramadan serial. Though they did not
prevent Saudi-owned Middle Eastern Broadcasting Corporation from
filming most of the footage in the state-owned and financially
troubled Media City outside of Cairo, they refused to allow MBC to
shoot in any of the government-owned palaces. They also declined to
air the series on any of the government-owned channels - not a
showstopper for many Egyptians, however, who receive MBC through
subscriptions or illegal hookups through dishes owned by local
entrepreneurs.


---------------------
A KINDER, GENTLER ERA
---------------------

5. (SBU) The idea that Egypt somehow took a wrong turn when it
ousted Farouk is a seductive one for many commentators. While few
would bring back the monarchy, many argue that the appeal among
Egyptians of this Saudi-made TV show whose main actor and director
are Syrians, lies in the nostalgia for what people see as a ruling
elite that appreciated glamour and refinement typified by elegant
palaces and monumental public buildings like Cairo University.
These qualities, according to many Egyptians, are glaringly absent
in the commercialized complexes of sprawling villas and megamalls
favored by the rich and powerful of today. Nor, as they see it, did
Egypt's head of state rule the political institutions with the
unchecked authority that President Mubarak commands. When King
Farouk wanted to refurbish the royal yacht or transfer a problematic
ambassador, he had to cajole the Parliament and horse-trade with his
Ministers - an exercise unthinkable in today's executive branch.
"We had real politics in those days," commented one of our
contacts.

CAIRO 00003058 002 OF 002


JONES

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