The Last Ottoman
Written by Lorenzo Montesini   
Thursday, 12 April 2012

Her Imperial Highness The Princess Fatma Neslişah, Imperial Princess of the Ottoman Empire and Princess of Egypt, Osmanoğlu Sultan was born in Istanbul at the Nişantaşı Palace, overlooking the Bosphorus on 4 February 1921. She grew up in Nice, in France, after the Ottoman Family was exiled when she was 3 years old.

The Princess married Egyptian Prince Muhammad Abdel Moneim in 1940. The eldest member of the Ottoman royal family, she died in  the former Ottoman capital, Istanbul, on 2 April 2012. She was 91. 

In this essay,Lorenzo Montesini* recalls his encounters with the Princess.

   Eldest member of Ottoman dynasty dies in Istanbul

In the magical Haroun El Rachid city of Istanboul, or to the sticklers Constantinople, around the Bosphoros, past Dolmabache palace, that kilometer long white palace, past Berlebey palace and the Ciragan which is now a very posh hotel, where account executives from the West can pretend, for a very high fee to be guests of the Sultans, along the water past all that at a rise on the hill in a tree filled compound in a konak or grand 40s residence of white, lies the last remains of Neslishah Sultan.

I had a message this morning from a friend telling me of her demise, in her 90s, with that halo of white hair, tall, regal every inch the grandaughter of the last Sultan and Caliph of the Muslim universe, at her birth in 1921 she was the last to be honored with a 51 gun salute and the last to be inscribed in the Sultanate Golden Book. (Continued below)


Expelled from Turkey after the coup by Kemal Attaturk, the Imperial family took refuge in France, she and her two sisters, where eventually they sought husbands in Royal Egypt: Neslishah the eldest, marrying King Farouk's cousin and heir Prince Abdelmonein, who should have been king as the British dethroned his father Khedive Abbas Hilmi the second, Nedjla Sultan married Prince Amr Ibrahim and the youngest Hanzade Sultan married Prince Mohamed Ali Ibrahim. The three sisters were the ornaments of Cairo society and the glamorous court of Egypt in the late 30's, 40's and early 50's making contributions to the charitable institutions set up by the Mohamed Ali women of the dynasty.

,...uncrowned Queen of Egypt....


With the 52 Revolution in Egypt of the Free Officers, Gamal Abdel Nasser, toppled the King and all the Turkish, Circassian dynasty which had ruled modern Egypt since the departure of Napoleon at the turn of the 19th century. Neslisha's husband became the Regent for over a year after the departure of Farouk with his baby son, making Neslishah the uncrowned Queen of Egypt for that interregnum, until the Officers, abolished the monarchy. The titular coup leader Mohamed Naguib said to Abdel Moneim, as they were watching the Royal yatch Mahroussa sailing Farouk to exile, ""Sir if you had been King we would not be where we are now" .

Neslishah was tireless in her work to bring cosmopolitan sense and order in the maelstrom of post revolutionary Egypt. Eventually she and her familly went into exile in Turkey, her son the Prince Abbas Hilmi is a banker and commutes between the US, London and Cairo, now even his residence on temporary long loan from the Mubarak government has been sequestered, her daughter Iqbal, named after her Grandmother, was with Neslishah when she expired.

...King Farouk wished to avoid bloodshed...

 Two years ago I spent a magical afternoon with Neslishah at her residence as she related to me the events of that fateful week in July 1952, when Farouk buckled and let those precious few hours slip away sealing the fate of Egypt. We must remember that the Navy and the Air Force were all for fighting for the King, but Farouk refused to shed blood. Neslishah and her family were in France at their house and when the call came the Prince flew to Cairo leaving the family to make their own way, her story of their drive from Touraine to Cannes was hair raising and very funny as she had to drive the 7 of them in her husband's large Cadillac, the car of choice in those days, instead of the now ubiquitous Mercedes or BMW.
 I remember as a child watching her from the stairs, coming in to diner at my grandparents place wearing that Russian diadem she was so fond of, and later me as a grown up as she electrified the guests at the Turkish embassy in Cairo, the guest of honour where she was, in a blue pant suit and a small fan, probably French. Now gone another chapter in not only Turkey's history closed but also Egypt's, I wonder if anyone in Cairo in the tumult of post revolutionary navel gazing will pause and offer a thought for the passing of a very great lady in their pantheon of Egypt's golden history.

*[Lorenzo Giustiniani Montesini was born in Alexandria, Egypt, where he spent his early childhood. After this he travelled extensively, attending schools in Paris, the United Kingdom and Melbourne, Australia, where he came to settle. He spent two years in the Australian army, with twelve months on active service in Vietnam as an interpreter. Now living in Sydney, he maintains a busy travelling lifestyle. He is chairman of the Australian Friends of the Alexandria Library, a foundation dedicated to restoring the famous Egyptian library to its former glory.He is also an accomplished writer - his books include Cardboard Cantata, published in 1986, and My Life and Other Misdemeanours, published in 1999.]