Princesses of Arabia

If you saw these women in a different context, you might assume they were glamorous 1950s Hollywood starlets.  Bedecked in fine, western-style garments and jewels, with their hair carefully styled (and uncovered), they are stunning.  They are all princesses of the Middle East.  Some, the last of an era, stood witness as history shifted, and monarchies and empires crumbled around them.

This is Princess Fawzia of Egypt.  She was born on November 5, 1920 to King Fuad of Egypt and Sudan.  Her family’s monarchy was overthrown during the Egyptian Revolution in 1952.  By this time, she had already been married to and divorced from Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi of Iran.  It was an unhappy union, and she eventually returned to Egypt, where she remarried.  In a later interview, she remarked “Twice in my life, I lost the crown. Once I was the queen of Iran, and once I was the princess here.” She smiled. “It’s all gone now. It doesn’t matter.”  Fawzia, once named “one of the world’s most beautiful women,” lived out her later years in Alexandria, Egypt, where she ultimately died on July 2, 2013.

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http://www.nytimes.com/news/the-lives-they-lived/2013/12/21/queen-fawzia/

Princess Niloufer was one of the last princesses of the Ottoman Empire. Born on January 4, 1916 in Göztepe Palace in Istanbul, Princess Niloufer’s early life was marked by war and exile. At the end of WWI, the Ottomans were deposed, and eventually, in 1924, were forced into exile in France. At the age of 16, she was married to Moazzim Jah of Hyderabad, where she spent the next 21 years of her life. She was deeply involved in charity work, and spent much of her time building a medical facility in Hyderabad and incentivizing foreign doctors to relocate there. She was named one of the world’s ten most beautiful women and was considered a champion for women’s advancement. After remaining childless throughout her marriage, Princess Niloufer and Moazzim Jah divorced. She returned to France, where she eventually married a British diplomat, and died in Paris on June 12, 1989 at the age of 73.

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Farah Pahlavi of Iran

Princess Hanzadeh (born an Ottoman Princess) and her daughter, Princess Sabiha Fazila of Egypt

Of course, there are also the modern day princesses of Arabia. The most iconic being Jordan’s Queen Rania. The Palestinian beauty has become a progressive female voice in the Arab world. Queen Rania is a powerful advocate for reform in education and public health, for the development of a sustainable tourism industry in Jordan, for youth empowerment, and is a champion for cross-cultural dialogue between the West and the Arab world.

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Queen Rania was named the world’s most beautiful first lady by Harpers and Queen magazine in 2011

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Sheikha Mozah of Qatar is also a glamorous and philanthropic Middle Eastern monarch. Sheikha Mozah pioneers ambitious initiatives directed at women, children, education, and human rights. She is a mother of 7, and is the chairperson for the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science, and Community Development.  She also works to stop the spread of extremism among youth, and was named one of Forbes’ 100 most powerful women in 2007.

HRH Sheikha Mozah World Universe Ladies Model High Couture Dress First Lady PM Wife Prime Minister President Malta Doctor Gozo Clinic Private Medical Health Care Maltese Islands Sheikh Qatar Centre Fashion Style

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As you can see, there has been a long history of strong and influential women in the Arab and Islamic World. These examples are of women who we might be able to relate to more, since they are beautiful, and dress in a western style (for the most part). They are impressive to me for that very reason – for their ability to be human bridges. Not only are they strong and influential at home, but they are/were admired worldwide as well. They open the door to a culture that might otherwise be inaccessible, and invite us to ponder our similarities.

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Bedouins

The term “Bedouin” literally means “those in the desert,” which is an entirely apt appellation for a group of desert nomads.  Throughout history, the Bedouins have herded sheep and camel through the deserts of the Arabian Peninsula (Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen), Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel.  They earned income by transporting goods and people across the desert.  Surviving and thriving in such a hostile desert environment engendered a strong kinship network and a profuse sense of hospitality.  Any stranger encountered in the desert could be assured meals and a place to sleep for as long as they needed; survival was a team effort.

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Bedouins traditionally lived in desert tents, made from hand-woven carpets.  These tents were dismantled and transported at each rest stop along the route.  Nowadays, it is harder for Bedouins to maintain their traditional lifestyles.  Many find themselves working in the tourism industry, taking visitors on camel rides through the desert, and offering them a meal and a night’s rest in a traditional tent.  I did this in the Sahara in Morocco and in Wadi Rum in Jordan.  It’s wonderful and conflicting and sad.  I love feeling like Nicole of Arabia, traipsing through the desert sands, but I hate seeing these people with such a rich culture scraping a living by serving me.  I suppose that’s the duality you grapple with when you travel.  The Bedouins are a truly kind and welcoming people, though, and it’s worth a trip to the Middle East just to meet them.

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Bedouin Tea

Bedouin Tea, boiling on the sands

Read this book if you want to learn more about Bedouins:  Married to a Bedouin

Olive Oil Soap

Olive oil soap, made from olive oil and lye, is a Middle Eastern handicraft that dates back over a thousand years.  It is traditionally made in the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel, Jordan) from 100% natural materials.  Essential oils and traditional herbs are often added to remedy skin ailments such as dandruff, rosacea, eczema, and acme, as well as to heal wounds and sooth insect bites.  Olive oil has long been known to serve as a deep moisturizer, regenerating and softening skin cells.  Olive oil soap can be found today in suqqs and in apothecary shops, and is still commonly made at home.

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Check out Canaan Fair Trade to find out more info on olive oil soap, as well as other goods produced in Palestine.

Buy olive oil soap and support local artisans here.