The world was shocked and horrified, with the news of the coup d’état against King Faisal II of Iraq. The 23 year old King was brutally murdered in a military putsch on 14th July 1958. The officers behind this bloody seizure of power called themselves "Free Officers" and were inspired by the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser and his nationalistic rhetoric, but they were also encouraged by the Americans who disliked the British influence in the Middle East. Then as now oil was the driving factor behind the overthrow of the government of Iraq.
King Faisal II and Crown Prince Abdullah were executed in the gardens of the Royal Palace. Their bodies (and those of many others in the royal family) were displayed in public. Among the dead were: Princess Hiyam, Abdullah's wife; Princess Nafeesa, Abdullah’s mother, Princess Abadiya, the king’s aunt. However, some sources on the internet claim, that Princess Hiyam survived her injuries, caused during the massacre, and was able to escape the country.
The young King had been engaged to be married to H.H. Princess Sabiha Fazila Khanum Sultana, only daughter of Prince Damad Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim Bey Effendi of Egypt, by his wife, H.I.H. Princess Zahra Khanzadi Sultana, second daughter of Captain H.I.H. Prince Omar Faruk Effendi of Turkey. She was not in Bagdad, when the massacre took place and later married Dr Hayri Ürgüplü, eldest son of H.E. 'Ali Suat Hayri Ürgüplü, GCVO, sometime Senator and Prime Minister of Turkey, by his wife, Nigar. Princess Sabiha Fazila has two sons.
Between 1921 and 1958, Iraq had three kings descended from Sharif Hussein of Mecca, who initiated the Arab revolt against the region’s Ottoman rulers: Faisal I (1921-1933), Ghazi I (1933-1939) and Faisal II (1939-1958). King Faisal- born 2nd May 1935 - was not even four years old, when his father died in a car accident on 4th April 1939 and he succeeded him as King. Until he was 18 years old and officially crowned King of Iraq the following regents ruled as in his name:
· Crown Prince Abdul Ilahi bin Ali (1939-1941)
· Prime Minister Rashid Ali al-Kaylani (1941)
· Crown Prince Abdul Ilahi bin Ali (1941-1953)
Following King Faisal II’s assassination by blood thirsty officers in 1958, there were no elections for 27 years. Votes organised by Saddam Hussein were hardly democratic. And as Bernard Lewis wrote “Iraqis never chose to abandon their 1925 constitution--it was taken from them. The document is not ideal, and it is doubtless not the constitution under which a modern democratic Iraq will ultimately be governed.”
“The 1925 Iraqi constitution - which establishes that the nation's sovereignty 'resides in the people' — provides for an elected lower house of parliament, which has a major role in approving constitutional amendments. It also contains a section on 'The Rights of the People' that declares Islam as the official religion, but also provides for freedom of worship for all Islamic sects and indeed for all religions and for 'complete freedom of conscience'. It further guarantees 'freedom of expression of opinion, liberty of publication, of meeting together, and of forming and joining associations'. In different words, the essence of much of our own Bill of Rights is reflected therein.”
In his article Lewis goes even further by suggesting that Iraq should get back its Monarchy: “It is worth noting that monarchy and democracy coexist happily in a number of countries. Indeed, of the nations that have been democracies for a very long time and show every sign that they will remain so, a substantial majority are constitutional monarchies (the U.S. and Switzerland being the principal exceptions).”
Lewis went even further in recommending: “The king should be a Hashemite prince with political experience and no political obligations or commitments. In view of the nation's Shiite majority, the prime minister should be a modern Shiite with a record of opposition to tyranny and oppression. Such leaders would be well-suited to begin the process that would in time lead to genuinely free and fair elections, sound amendments to the 1925 Iraqi Constitution, and the election of a truly representative governing body. We would also strongly suggest that the choices of king and prime minister be made on the basis of character, ability and political experience - not on the basis of bias, self-interest, grudges or rivalries held or felt by some in the region and indeed by some in the U.S. government.
“The respect enjoyed by the Hashemites has been earned. They have had a generally deserved reputation for tolerance and coexistence with other faiths and other branches of Islam. Many Iraqis look back on the era of Hashemite rule from the 1920s to the 1950s as a golden age. And during the period of over 1,000 years when the Hashemites ruled the Hejaz, wherein the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina are located, they dealt tolerantly with all Muslims during the Haj, or annual pilgrimage. Disagreements and tension under Hashemite rule have never come close either to the bloody conflicts of many centuries' duration in Europe between Catholics and Protestants or to the massacres and hatred perpetrated by the Wahhabis and their allies in the House of Saud."
George Bush and his fellow warriors didn’t follow Bernard Lewis’ advice, although even some Republicans in Congress supported the idea of an Iraqi Monarchy. For example U.S. Rep. John Shimkus said in July 2007 that while he is “a democracy guy,” he’s not sure Iraq is ready for American-style government. Shimkus, R-Collinsville: “In some of these countries where they are having some Islamic presence, is it better to have a constitutional monarchy, with a very strong, powerful king”, Shimkus said during a discussion with the editorial board of The State Journal-Register. “When I taught government and history,” Shimkus added, “by definition, what is the best form of government, the most simple, is a compassionate monarchy - a monarchy that loves and respects its citizens and … is able to make easy decisions without the weight of a bureaucracy we’d have to fund.”
David Pryce-Jones a National Review senior editor wrote: "Restoration of a Hashemite to the throne of Iraq has its logic at a time when rulers and boundaries are in question."
Who should be Iraq's King?
The question, who should be Iraq’s King is not so easily decided as the fact that Iraq needs a King. There are at least two serious claimants:
Sharif Ali bin Hussein, whose mother was Faisal II's aunt. Just two years old at the time of the 1958 massacre of the Iraqi Royal Family, he has been a banker in London, and has the Constitutional Monarchy Movement backing him.
Prince Ali remained an opponent of the rule of Saddam Hussein. In 1991, he quit his job managing investment funds and became a member of the Iraqi National Congress which had the purpose of fomenting the overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. He has succeeded in establishing himself as claimant in the international press, however his party did not obtained a substantial percentage of the popular vote in the 2005 election.
Some critics assert that Sharif Ali is not even in line to the throne according to the constitution of the old Iraqi monarchy. According to this constitution, the heir to the monarchy would be Prince Ra'ad (born 1936), who lives in Jordan.
Prince Ra'ad is the only son of Prince Zeid Ben Al Hussein (the fourth son of Sherif Hussein Ben Ali of Mecca) and Princess Fakhrelnissa Zeid, a renowned artist.
The Prince, who spent most of his early childhood in Baghdad growing up alongside King Faisal II of Iraq, was invited by his cousin the late King Hussein to make Jordan his home after the 1958 Iraqi revolution.
He obtained his bachelor's degree from Victoria College, Alexandria, in 1960, and his master's from Cambridge University in 1963. A staunch advocate of the disabled, the Prince heads the Jordan Sports Federation for the Disabled, the Jordanian Special Olympics Organisation and the Friendship Society for the Blind. He pushed for the 1993 Law for the Welfare of Disabled Persons which delineates clear obligations by the public and private sectors towards the disabled.
Prince Ra'ad is also president of the Petra National Trust (PNT), a non-governmental, non-profit organisation with a mandate to preserve the antiquities, environment and cultural heritage of Petra.
What do Iraqis think about the Hashemite Monarchy that was toppled in 1958?
Aida Kouyoumjian, now a retired educator, lives in Seattle, Washington State:Iraq may need what it once had -- a constitutional monarchy
Once upon a not-too-distant past, civility prevailed in the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers where I grew up. We had a King whose throne necessitated civil behavior among the tribal blood feuds, the religious diversities and the ethnic mores. The aura of a monarchy bestowed the privilege to control behavior and bring dignity to the self.
Iraq was a Kingdom before Saddam Hussein's precursor regime that, playing with Moscow in the 1950s, executed regicide, much like the Bolsheviks did to the Tsar's family in Russia in 1917. The coup d'etat, led by an Iraqi general (Brig. Gen. Abdel Kerim Qassim), on July 14, 1958, raided the Qasr al-Zuhur (Palace of Roses). On the pretext that a helicopter would pick up the Royal Family to safety, they were directed to the courtyard. Instead, the King, the Regent, the Princess, the grandmother and other members of the Royalty were made to face the palace walls and machine-gunned.
The brutality was furthered in the display of the dead bodies of the 23-year-old King Faisal II and the 45-year-old regent, Abdel Ilah. They were dragged down Rashid Street in Baghdad, with "feet up and naked, except for white briefs," as described by my father who witnessed the demonstration on his way to work that day. Obviously, he did not go to his office, for fear of his life.
There is nothing fundamentally undemocratic about a limited monarchy serving as a transition. Royalty provides the framework for law and order and national unity. It preserves the symbolic past and can be in itself an important representative without threatening democracy. Kings and Queens in England, Denmark, Spain and Jordan have espoused an evolving constitution while the governing body revolves around the monarch -- a figurehead responsive to its citizenry.
Iraq would benefit from a constitutional monarchy, without having to re-invent the wheel. Since its inception in 1921, Iraq has had three kings, descendants of the Hashemite clan, a direct line from the Prophet Muhammad. Each king ruled effectively under a constitution ratified by the Iraqi parliament in 1925, much of its essence reflecting the U.S. Bill of Rights. All Iraqis were equal before the law and in their enjoyment of civil and political rights, irrespective of religion or ethnicity.
The fact that I am in [the USA] is a good example: ethnically, I am Armenian, not an Arab; by faith, I am a Christian, not a Muslim; and I am female, not male. Despite all those odds and a Fulbright scholarship in my hand, the Iraqi government, in 1952, under the rule of monarchy, supported my ambition for higher education in America.
The Hashemite Royalty has earned a reputation for tolerance and coexistence with other faiths and other branches of Islam throughout the Middle East. Certainly, the Kings of Jordan fit this description, as did the kings of Iraq. I've experienced that in the first two decades of my life in Baghdad:
1. I can show you school pictures with friends who are Jewish, Muslim (both Shia and Sunni), Ba'hai, Assyrian and Armenian. I went to church on Sundays, my Jewish friends attended temple on Saturdays and schools were closed on Fridays, in deference to the Muslim state of Iraq.
2. My father, a Christian Armenian, worked for the government as one of the lead engineers in the irrigation department.
3. My mother volunteered at the Red Crescent Organization (the local Red Cross) with Christian teachers, Armenian doctors and with the King's fiancé and her mother, both Sunni Turks.
4. We shopped anywhere, swam in the Tigris or Euphrates anytime, and danced with whomever we pleased -- Americans, Arabs or Swedes.
In other words, we controlled our own destiny. What we couldn't control was the awful dust.
The principle of hereditary monarchy does not attract many defenders in a world of equal opportunity and anti-elitism. But there is a lot to say about grooming the next in line for high office that promises a stable future. What Iraq needs immediately is stability.
Restoring the monarchy, ruling with a non-flailing whip, may be a political necessity to control the hostilities that have festered in the psyche of the Shi'ia and Sunni for 1,200 years.
There are several descendants of the Hashemite heritage in the diaspora. Would they consent to ascend the throne? Perhaps temporarily. With guidance from the members of Iraq Royalist Party, who were duly elected into the current government, there would be a semblance to civil behavior among the feuding factions in the country.