Part Three: Fakher El Din
By Sara Loken
third chapter of our series about the "American" Nazeer sons
deals with the chestnut stallion Fakher El Din. His story was written
in 1977 by his owner Sara Loken who discovered him in Egypt, fell in love
with him and finally was able to brought
Fakher EI Din ("Pride of the Faith") was foaled on September 16, 1960, at the EI Zahraa Stud of the Egyptian Agricultural Organization. Fakher EI Din was Moniet EI Nefous' second colt by Nazeer, and was to be her last by him. There is no record of a 1961 foal for Moniet, and Nazeer died at the age of 27 in that year. Although Moniet had spent all of her life at the stud farm, Nazeer had spent most of his at one of the agricultural depots and had been brought back to the stud farm only when General Tibor von Szandtner found him in the stallion's later years.
Since events shape individuals, it may be useful to recount the circumstances of the time.
note: Gamal Abdel Nasser led
the bloodless revolt which overthrew King Farouk in 1952. He then helped
to establish Egypt as a republic. Nasser served as either prime minister
or president of Egypt from 1954 until his death in 1970. Nasser's goal
was to unite all the Arabs under Egyptian leadership.
The effects of such economic stringency is hard to conceive for one who has not experienced it: medical supplies, laboratory equipment and chemicals become unavailable; spare parts, always the most expensive items on a country's shopping list, are the critical loss - trucks, cars and busses, machinery, factory equipment, hospital equipment all grind to a halt. Commerce becomes impossible; the food distribution system fails; and survival becomes the prime focus.
For the Arabian horses of the Government stud farm the year 1960 brought other changes. The stud farm, renamed El Zahraa Stud, moved from the lush pastures of Ein Shams to Heliopolis, on the edge of the desert. General von Szandtner was retired and Dr. Mohammed Marsafi, the elegant gentleman of dignity and integrity we have all come to know and admire, became Director of Breeding Operations. It cannot have been a particularly enjoyable post for Dr. Marsafi: His beloved Arabians certainly had no priority with the Revolution Government which had so many other pressures to contend with, and his budget probably was a steadily diminishing one.
Although the love of the purebred Arabian Horse is an ingredient of the Moslem religion the 1960's was not the time to demonstrate any such interest. The ownership of several Arabians was, to the Nasser regime, "conspicuous consumption" and could easily lead to sequestration. Racing, however, was permitted and became the only use of horses outside of the gruelling street and farm work at which almost every horse ended his life. Such was the context in which Dr. Marsafi was given the responsibility for the EI Zahraa Stud and its Arabian horses.
arrived in Egypt in 1964, after three years in West Africa. The sight
of the lovely Arabian Horses, emaciated, often injured, struggling to
pull their heavy loads in the streets of Cairo, was intolerable. Upon
learning that many of the horses had come out of the sequestration auctions
of the private breeders, the daily sights on the streets became a nightmare.
At my husband's urging, a plan was evolved to persuade the Egyptian Government
that the purebred Arabian horses were a valuable foreign currency resource
and, second, to prove it by buying a street horse and returning it to
breathtaking, incontrovertible magnificence.
first search culminated in the purchase of Talal (Nazeer x Zaafarana),
then known as "Johnny Boy". As our feed and care for him took
hold, our daily ride in the park evinced fewer public titters at the foolish
American lady and more admiration for Talal. In the Fall of 1965, a friend
who shared our admiration for Talal told us of a half-brother to him who
was for sale from the EI Zahraa Stud. Within a few days, I was sitting
on the EI Zahraa porch and listening to the brassy neighing of Fakher
EI Din as he was brought to the viewing ring. A brilliant red chestnut
with white flecking, he stood before us with unusual quietness. He carried
more flesh than most horses in Egypt at the time, but it was dull and
lifeless. His growth was not stunted, like so many young animals of that
period, but it was retarded and not harmonious. The genetic quality of
the young stallion was evident, yet his vitality was only barely flickering.
A visitor, on a commercial visit to buy horses, probably would have turned away from the young stallion. But our years in Africa and the Middle East had instructed us in the effects of inadequate nutrition and management. A week later, my husband stood with Dr. Khalil and me at the gate of an oval sandlot at EI Zahraa, while Fakher EI Din galloped ecstatically in the warm sun. His flying feet tossed the sand high above the center bushes which hid him from our sight. Banking recklessly on the sharp curve, he became flat out at us down the straight. The dark eyes flashed boldness, fun, and quick intelligence as he rushed upon us. I stepped back in alarm but Dr. Khalil and my husband stood firm in the flurry of sand as Fakher EI Din triumphantly threw down his forelegs in a strong stop and stood happily, his hooves touching - but not pressing - the toes of my husband's shoes. "By all means," said Robert, "buy him - if you can get him!"
We sent letters of bid, and more letters, to the EAO Committee and visited the young stallion often. By mid-February 1966, Fakher EI Din was resting his head affectionately on my shoulder while I told him our plans for his future. Although the EAO Committee's lack of acknowledgment of our bids was not unusual, their final response was: They decided to put Fakher EI Din in the local auction in March, the auction intended primarily for racing.
On the auction sheet, Fakher EI Din was the last one out. As the auction proceeded, the Minister of Agriculture and the officers of the stud made an offer: If we would pay their designated price, Fakher EI Din would be ours and would not be brought into the ring for bid. We adjourned to the office to conclude the arrangement and returned to the auction happily thanking each other. But there, in the ring, was Fakher EI Din and the auctioneer had just rung his gavel down on a final sale on a bid higher than my payment. As the lovely red stallion was led away, the new owner - a heavy mustached man - grinned. I was told he was a racing man and my heart broke: The race track was a short career in those days and sale to the street men inevitably followed. Personal tragedies were a daily affair in Egypt and one learned to accept them. Yet the loss of the exquisite stallion, who seemed to us potentially very important, symbolized the terrible waste that occurred too often. I hostessed a cocktail party and dinner, and conversed normally with out guests, but the tears poured down in a continuing memorial to the gentle red stallion.
In fact, the purchaser was Mohammed Hamza, nephew of Ahmed Hamza Pasha, and Fakher EI Din went to the magnificent farm of Dahanoub to join Hamdan, Ibn Fakhri, Mahasin, and the other illustrious Arabians of that farm, now called "Hamdan Stables". Within two months, Fakher EI Din was sleek and firm, gleaming with health, and his potential elegance could be seen. Ahmed Hamza Pasha planned to use him for stud and had every faith he would be successful. Robert and I left for holiday, happy for the stallion and confident for his future.
A month later, the Government launched a new wave of sequestrations which appeared punitive and political in the extreme. Ahmed Hamza's luck had run out and now he too took the full brunt. The Pasha was confined to his apartment in Cairo and all of his properties and funds were sequestrated. The Government took control of Dahanoub and allocated the minimum LE6/month ($15.00) per horse. I had seen too many sequestrated horse farms and could not bear to visit but finally did so in September 1966.
Hamdan had eaten halfway through his stall door, Fakher EI Din was an emaciated wisp, mares were aborting, foals were dying. A friend urged Ahmed Hamza to sell Fakher EI Din to us, and urged us to buy, least the valuable stallion die of starvation. Although our personal plans were now somewhat complicated, we could not tolerate the loss of Fakher EI Din and we bought him. He came to us in October 1966, pathetically weak and distraught from vermin. An outside racing stall was his quarantine while he was treated for the crawling external parasites and was slowly brought up in feed. (At the same time, the Sequestration Officer had visited Dahanoub and selected horses to be sent to the Zoo for destruction. One of these was Hamdan, and our effort in his behalf began then also. But this is another story...)
Berseem clover was our substitute for the medications and vermifutes that were not available and each day we waited impatiently for the first crop. My memory is vivid of the morning sun in the barn courtyard, of the old man leading his burro loaded with fresh berseem, and of the excited calls from the horses. Gathering up an armful, the groom took it directly and ceremoniously to the blank-faced Fakher EI Din, who had not yet responded to anything or anyone. We clustered at the stall door to watch, and, surprisingly, he took not a single bite. He stared at the berseem, as though he had never expected to see it again. Then he buried his head in the sweet clover until only his ears showed, as if to convince himself it was real. He emerged a believer - and tore into the berseem. His recovery began at that moment.
Dr. Nashed, our vet, came regularly with calcium shots, and vitamin shots, and loved the willing stallion who not only stood quietly for the shots but helpfully leaned his neck into the needle. Talal was jealous at first but later helped Fahker EI Din gain confidence and optimism in his new situation. Hamido was hired as groom and applied his strong hands to thrice-daily massages of Talal, Fakher EI Din and Hamdan. We moved to Asswan in February and planned to leave Egypt for home in July. From December to February, we planned and prepared for the horses' shipment to America. Export papers, exchange control, certificates of identification, arrangements for shipping boxes, arrangements for transport to the Canal - these matters required full time. By March, almost everything was done. The shipping line confirmed reservations on the "SS Steam Fabricator", leaving Port Said, on the Canal, May 16. The gradual cut in feed and exercise for the horses began now, two months in advance.
Day, 1967. Nasser's May 1st speech was angry. Israel had celebrated with
a military parade of all-American hardware - not in Tel Aviv, her capital
city - but in Jerusalem, the Holy City. The Arab world reacted violently
to the provocation and Nasser's speech was anti-American and anti-foreign.
We thanked our foresight in pre-arranging the horses' departure. On May
11th, a cable arrived from our agent in Cairo: "Come at once."
The Governor of Asswan wangled space on a flight and I arrived Sunday,
May 13, to learn that Nasser's speech included a derogatory reference
to PL 480 Funds, the Egyptian pounds which American residents in Egypt
were asked to buy with our American dollars. All of our local currency
had always come from these funds. The Government now considered these
funds illegal and therefore our purchase of the horses was invalid. The
paper work that had required two months of effort now had to be accomplished
again - in three days. The only solution was a new purchase of Egyptian
pounds in the amount of the purchases and related prices of the horses.
We then had an Exchange Certificate which was acceptable. We also had
thousands of pounds which we did not need and could not be exchanged for
another currency! But the papers were promised for May 16, the day of
shipment. Blessedly, the SS Steam Fabricator was delayed, held up by the
closing of the Suez Canal while the Egyptian Army crossed into the Sinai.
America had illtimed the movement of an aircraft carrier, crammed with
fighter planes, through the Suez Canal and all Egypt believed the planes
were destined for Israel to be used against Egypt. Anti-American tension
was heating up seriously and we feared for the safety of the horses.
16th was the stipulated date on all the licenses, permits and papers for
export. All such licenses, permits and papers expired on May 17th and
had to be renewed. The delay provided time for some who wished to prevent
the horses from leaving Egypt. It also provided opportunity for increased
suspicion. Telephones were tapped and surveillance became obvious. Blackouts
were nightly, the city was silenced, and war was in the air. We avoided
our Egyptian friends lest we contaminate them politically. Still, the
Government officials, respecting our love for their Egyptian-bred horses,
worked steadily in our behalf. On May 21st, the new papers were declared
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