PAUNCHY, BALDING and bloated, Farouk was thirty-two when he lost his throne. The Egyptian monarchy had been set up by the British in the 1920s and Farouk had been king for sixteen years since succeeding his father, Fuad I, in 1936. Sir Miles Lampson, the British high commissioner, described him in a report to the Foreign Office in 1937 as `uneducated, lazy, untruthful, capricious, irresponsible and vain, though with a quick superficial intelligence and charm of manner'. Farouk's attempts to introduce reforms made little progress against the Egyptian establishment of politicians and major landowners. He also butted his head vainly against the British and by 1949 he was despised at home and abroad as an ineffectual playboy.
By that time a group of Egyptian army and airforce officers was secretly planning a revolution to get rid of both the British and the entrenched Egyptian regime. They had all been stung by ignominious defeat in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 and they blamed the King, the politicians and the corruption endemic in the system. The Free Officers, as they called themselves, gathered substantial support among the officer corps. Their leader was Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat was one of them. Many of them had been at the Military Academy in Cairo in the later 1930s and, according to Sadat, a secret officers' revolutionary society had been founded as early as 1939. Nasser was a teacher at the Military Academy in the 1940s and influenced many up-and-coming young officers.
The Egyptian army had long been controlled by the king, but Farouk's scandalous and grotesquely self-indulgent lifestyle and the belief that some of his closest associates had profited by supplying defective weapons and munitions to the forces had eroded the army's loyalty. At the end of 1951 the Free Officers ran their own slate of candidates for election to the board of directors of the Officers' Club in Cairo. Their candidate for club president was General Mohammed Neguib, one of the few high-ranking officers who had distinguished himself in the war. The King personally endorsed rival candidates of his own, but the Free Officers' candidates won.
Farouk regarded his election defeat as evidence of a seditious conspiracy in the officer corps, as indeed it was. His efforts to recover control drove the plotters to drastic action. They feared that their counsels had been penetrated by informers and that they were in imminent danger of arrest.
The decision to attempt a coup seems to have been taken early in the morning of July 22nd. At midnight, while the court was enjoying a late champagne and caviar picnic in Alexandria, some 200 officers and 3,000 troops took control of army headquarters and put senior officers under arrest. …