Legacy (Part 1)
By Prof. Talaat I. Farag
figures have drawn as much media attention in the UK --both positive and
negative--over the past quarter century than Egyptian business mogul Mohammed
controversial, egocentric and noisy billionaire
was born in in 1929 in
Alexandria, Egypt, as the eldest son
of an Egyptian primary school teacher. In a span of
81 years, Al-Fayed has left an indelible mark on everything he has touched and
carved a space for himself among the most iconic and eccentric figures of the
last century. Today, his name alone elicits extreme reactions, between
admiration and loathing. Regardless, one thing is certain--that his fame comes
from a unique mix of fortune and insanity.
Mohammed Al-Fayed's first entrepreneurial venture began at school
where he sold homemade lemonade.
Despite his very humble beginnings,
climbed the wealth ladder rapidly and built the Al-Fayed empire, culminating
with his ownership of Harrods,
the world's most
famous luxury department store
(Knightsbridge, London) which employees 5,000 persons, The Ritz Hotel in Paris, and The English Premiership
football club Fulham.
In May 8, 2010, Al-Fayed made headlines again when he declared he
had sold Harrods
Department Store to Qatari Holdings for a reported £1.5 billion ($2.1 billion).
Soon afterwards, he also announced that he would be looking to sell The Ritz Hotel.
Building an Empire
Harrods owner Mohammed al-Fayed places a necklace
on Australian singer Holly Valance during the opening of a
Harrods Winter Sale in London (AP/PTI)
Mohammed Al-Fayed started his business career
shortly after marrying
Samira Kashoggi (1954-1956), which made him the brother-in-law of the
and billionaire Adnan Kashoggi, from
whom he learnt the ABCs of "dirty" business. The two worked in tandem
to identify conflict zones around
the world where they would sell arms to opposing camps. During that time, Samira, gave birth to
son Dodi - who later became embroiled in one of the most public and
controversial relationships among British royalty and died in a tragic Paris car crash in 1997 with
his partner Princess Diana.
In the 1960s, Al-Fayed met the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid al Makhtoum who
entrusted him with helping transform and
build the gulf emirate of Dubai starting with the construction of the
Dubai port--now a significant crossroad for trade and seafaring worldwide.
Al-Fayed took advantage of his familiarity with the UK and introduced British companies to the Emirate to carry out the required
construction work. By 1966, he had secured his position as a financial behemoth
in the region and took over financial adviser post to the Sultan
of Brunei Omar
Ali Saifuddien III.
it wasn't until 1974 that Al-Fayed became a resident in the United
Kingdom. Shortly afterwards he briefly joined the board
of the mining conglomerate Lonrho in
1975 but left after a disagreement.
In 1984, Al-Fayed and his brothers purchased a 30 percent stake in House
of Fraser, a group that included Harrods,
from Roland 'Tiny' Rowland, the head
of Lonrho. In 1985, he and his
brothers bought the remaining 70 percent for £615m, a move that angered Rowland
who had been seeking to buy Harrods. Rowland took the Fayed brothers to a Department
of Trade inquiry. The inquiry,
involving one of the most bitter feuds in British business history, issued a
1990 report stating that the Fayed brothers had lied about their background and
wealth. The bickering with Rowland continued when he accused them of stealing
millions in jewels from his Harrods safe
deposit box. The pair made peace in 1992. Rowland died in
1998, and, without
responsibility, Al-Fayed settled the dispute with a payment to his
widow (Al-Fayed had been arrested during the dispute and sued the Metropolitan
Police for false arrest in 2002,
a case he later lost).
In 1985, he married Heini Wathén, his second wife who was a former Finnish model
and Miss Viking pageant winner, and they have four
children together: daughters
Jasmine and Camilla, and sons Kareem and Omar.
For years, Al-Fayed unsuccessfully sought British
citizenship. Both Labour and Conservative Home
Secretaries rejected his
applications. It has been suggested that the feud with Rowland contributed to
Al-Fayed's being refused British citizenship the first time.
When political operative and Egyptian socialite Dr. Ashraf Marwan, son-in-law of
the former Egyptian President Nasser (husband of Mona Abdel Nasser) settled in
London, he joined Al-Fayed's empire. Over time, Marwan created his own weapons-dealing business
and over the years became a staunch competitor of Al-Fayed's. Interestingly, Dr. Marwan
suffered a tragic death in June 2007, for which British investigators have not
yet been able to determine whether the cause was accidental, suicide or homicide!!
The Noisy Billionaire
After the tragic
1997 death of Princess Diana and Al-Fayed's son Dodi in Paris, the billionaire
became an ardent critic of the investigation and spoke explicitly about an international conspiracy to kill the Princess of Wales with
his son. He repeated this view on February 18, 2008 in Room 73 of the High Court
in London when he mentioned that, shortly after Tony Blair, and former British
Foreign Secretary Robin Cook had been added to the list of conspirators, lawyer
Richard Horwell, a note of incredulity rising in his voice said, "So that is
MI5, MI6, CIA, DGSE (the French Intelligence Service), Judge Herve Stephen...the
French ambulance service, Lord Paul Condon, Lord John Stevens, Michael Burgess,
the Surrey coroner, and Lady Sarah McCorquodale?" He added several more: two
bodyguards; the French pathologists, Henry Paul (chauffeur), a reception clerk
at the Ritz Hotel, Sir Michael Jay (British Ambassador in Paris at the time);
Sir Robert Fellowes (Queen's private secretary and Diana's brother-in-law);
Victor Mishcon (Diana's lawyer), a photographer named James Andanson (allegedly
driving the white Fiat Uno that brushed the Mercedes shortly before it crashed
in a tunnel August 31, 1997); and of course Prince Philip and Prince Charles.
Day 71 of the Diana Inquest, and after more than 170 experts and other witnesses
were interviewed, it was finally proved that Mr. Al-Fayed's conspiracy
allegations were wrong due to lack of evidence. Mr. Al-Fayed believed that
Prince Philip was masterminding the murder of Princess Diana from Balmoral:
"It is well known that Prince Philip is Nazi, a racist...It's time to send him
back to Germany from where he comes. You want to know his original name? It ends
in Frankenstein." (Prince Philip is descended from the House of
Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg, which was his father's surname).
Al-Fayed also claimed, "Prince Charles participated in it (death of Diana and
Dodi) definitely. And I am sure he knows what is going to happen, because he
would like to get on and marry his Camilla. And this is what happened. They
cleared the decks. They finished her. They murdered her and now he is happy."
Regarding Lord Condon and Lord Stevens, two former Metropolitan Police
commissioners, were also implicated by Al-Fayed, for concealing the note they
were given by Lord Mishcon three weeks after the crash in which Diana had
disclosed two years earlier fearing she was going to be killed." The service of
the French Ambassador in the UK was implicated too, for driving Diana to
hospital so slowly, in order to make sure she died. And also French intelligence
service and French magistrate investigating the crash who determined it was an
accident. According to Al-Fayed, the motives for her killing was that the
British establishment did not want Diana to marry a Muslim, in addition to
discovering that she was pregnant. Furthermore, when asked by coroner, "Do you
think in any possibility, however remote, that your beliefs about conspiracies
may be wrong, and the deaths were in truth no more than a tragic accident?"
Al-Fayed bluntly said, "No way. I am 100% certain."
It is outrageous statements like these that have earned Al-Fayed his reputation
as a firebrand and turned him into a darling of the British tabloids where he is
a mainstay among London chatter circles.
The Controversial Billionaire
and "Phoney Pharaoh"
Al-Fayed was involved in the cash-for-questions
affair, having offered money for questions in the commons to the Conservative MPs Neil
Hamilton and Tim
Smith. Both left the government in disgrace. Al-Fayed
also revealed that the cabinet minister Jonathan
Aitken had stayed for free at the Ritz
Hotel in Paris at the same time
as a group of Saudi arms dealers leading to Aitken's subsequent unsuccessful
libel case and imprisonment for perjury. During
this period Al-Fayed was represented publicly by public
relations expert and former BBC
In 2003, Al-Fayed moved from Surrey,
UK to Switzerland,
alleging a breach in an agreement with Inland
Revenue. In 2005, he moved back to Britain,
saying that he "regards Britain as home".
However, he spend a considerable amount of time in
the year in Monaco and
has done for over forty years. He moors a yacht there called the Sokar.
In the summer of 1997,
Al-Fayed bought Second Division (equivalent to modern Football
League One) Fulham
F.C. from chairman Jimmy
Hill. His initial, ambitious long-term aim was that Fulham would become a FA
Premier League side within five
years. Al-Fayed achieved his objective of Fulham being a Premiership club a year
ahead of his schedule in 2001.
Al-Fayed is not only known for being controversial, but also for being
foul-mouthed in presenting his views. One of many examples of this occurred when
he was interviewed
London Evening Standard in May 2010
following his sale of Harrods after 26-years of ownership. He soon began a
diatribe about the UK government, saying "You think we have government?
You think those politicians have any intelligence, ruling the country? They go
like donkeys, you elect them, put them in power. It’s really a shame. Can you
tell me what life experience they have — to put them prime minister? From one
dickhead to another. Major ... Margaret Thatcher. Tony Blair ... I would not use
him as a doormat downstairs. Prescott. All these characters. Do those people
have any intelligence to rule such a great country, such great people? You have
so many intelligent, so many gifted people ... but you only go and elect
dickheads to rule you.”
His consistently rowdy and confrontational style has raised both eyebrows and
his profile publicly.
Since his rise to prominence, Al-Fayed has been known for his self-absorbed
narcissism. As one who embellishes his past and exaggerates his life story,
he meets all the criteria of an egocentric megalomaniac.
Upon his arrival in the United Kingdom, he became a resident
in 1974. To ensure that his lineage appears to be prestigious and majestic,
he added the prefix "Al- " to
his name earning the nickname "the Phoney Pharaoh."
Al-Fayed has repeatedly stated that he dreams of being mummified in a room in the attic of his
store when he dies. In fact, upon the sale of the store to Qatari Holdings
group, he mandated in the contract that his wax statue remain in the
first floor of the store. He specifically outlined a penalty of three
billion dollars on the buyers if they remove his wax statue!
Mohamed Al-Fayed's Legacy
The billionaire, who started his career selling lemonade in Bakoos, a urban
district in Alexandria, Egypt, later joined his brother-in-law, the Saudi arms dealer, Adnan
Kashoggi in London. Al-Fayed has been interviewed by many journalists about
his journey, which often serve to beautify his image. Nevertheless, this all
became very obvious and public following a recent interview with the Egyptian demagogic anchor Amr Adeeb on his
soon after the sale of Harrods which we will feature in the next part of
this article. The journey of the man who
climbed the ladder of wealth from a humble upbringing to a multi-billionaire
lifestyle, raises thousands of questions that must be answered. Among these
are the following:
How could he have acquired all his current wealth, even if he is a super
While the British government allowed Al-Fayed to live an aristocrat lifestyle, why is
hostile towards it?
What are the actual reasons why the UK insists on refusing to grant him
Does Mohamed Al-Fayed have any ancestral connections in Libya as
mentioned by leader Muammar Gaddafi?
As an Egyptian citizen, why has he not invested money in Egypt?!
At the age of
81, what does Al-Fayed plan to do with his billions?
When the clock stops in the life of this intelligent businessman, what
will be written about him in the history books?
Will he have a legacy and what will it be?
Readers are invited to send their views to be
included in Part II of this article in the coming issue....