Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: July 9, 1923
Date of arrest: Same day
Date of birth: December 1890
Victim profile: Ali Bey Kemel Fahmy, 22 (her husband)
Method of murder: Shooting (Browning .32-caliber pistol)
Location: London, England, United Kingdom
Status: Found not guilty by a jury on September 14, 1923. Died in Paris on January 2, 1971
Marguerite Fahmy Case File
By Mohd Yaakob Yusof
Frenchwoman Marie-Marguerite Laurient began her affair with Egyptian Prince Ali Kamel Fahmy Bey in May 1922 in Paris, following her divorce from her first husband. The 23-year-old Prince Ali, attached to the French legation in Cairo, was extravagant and allegedly had a sadistic bent.
It was rumoured in Egypt that Ali was homosexual, but this was not in evidence when he passionately pursued Laurient, who had years before her marriage called herself Maggie Mellor. He was captivated by the elegant brunette divorcee, who was ten years his senior, and took her back to Cairo where he suggested they live together.
When Laurient balked, the prince proposed marriage, and Laurient accepted, but with conditions. A contract was drawn up that permitted her to wear western-style clothing and to divorce the prince at any time.
In return, she would convert to the Muslim faith, thereby ensuring All's inheritance. But when the religious ceremony took place, Fahmy ordered the divorcee clause removed, allowing him to take three wives if help eased.
Marguerite found Fahmy to be an abusive husband. He frequently beat her and assigned a houseboy to follow her throughout her day, even when she undressed. The couple travelled to London on July 10, 1923, and registered at the elegant Savoy Hotel.
That night they quarrelled bitterly about an operation Marguerite was scheduled to undergo. Prince Ali wanted it performed in London, but Marguerite insisted on travelling to Paris to have it done.
While they ate supper in the hotel dining room, a band leader strolled by the table to take requests. "I don't want music," Marguerite told the band leader in French – she did not speak a word of English. "My husband has threatened to kill me tonight!"
The band leader thought the elegant-attired woman was making an amusing remark and suavely replied: "I hope you will still be here tomorrow, Madame."
The couple retired to their suite at 1:30 a.m. A luggage porter passing their door a short time later saw Fahmy burst from the room in agitation, his face scratched. "Look at my face!" he shouted to the porter. "Look at what she has done!" But the porter only reminded him to keep quiet. Seconds later three shots rang out. The porter rushed to the room to find the prince lying on the floor of his suite.
The hotel manager was summoned. Marguerite, tears running down her cheeks, had thoughts only for herself. As she stood next to her fallen husband, she said: "Oh, sir, I have been married six months, which has been torture for me. I have suffered terribly."
Wounded, Fahmy was taken to a hospital where he died a short time later. Marguerite was charged with his murder. The lurid trial of Marguerite Fahmy opened in London's Central Criminal Court on September 10, 1923, before 49-year-old Mr. Justice Rigby Swift.
The prosecution was headed by the redoubtable Percival Clarke. It was thought that the Fahmy case was open and shut, and that Marguerite would soon be behind bars for life or, worse, go to the hangman.
She was, however, represented by two of England's most able lawyers, Sir Edward Marshall Hall and Sir Henry Curtis-Bennett. Hall's defence was brilliant if unorthodox.
Hall portrayed the prince as a stalking brute whose entourage of perverts and degenerates had made Marguerite's life miserable, and who, on the night in question, tried to kill her.
Hall had obtained a telling piece of evidence from the prison medical officer at Holloway Prison, where Marguerite had been jailed, following her arrest. The physician stated that he examined the woman at that time and found three abrasions on the back of her neck, apparently caused by a man's hand.
Fahmy had tried to strangle his wife on the night of the shooting, Hall said, and she had simply defended her life when her lethal husband advanced toward her with gun in hand, wrestling the gun away from him and then pulling the trigger of the Browning .32-caliber pistol.
In a chilling recreation, Hall took the actual murder weapon and demonstrated the shooting for the benefit of the jury. For an instant he pointed the weapon at the jury, acting out the role of Prince Ali, who had reportedly advanced on his wife in a threatening manner.
Hall crouched and snarled and hissed in a convincing imitation of the murderous Fahmy. The hushed courtroom then watched Hall drop the gun to the floor. The lawyer later insisted that that part was an accident, but it had a powerful effect on the jury, which returned a verdict of not guilty after only an hour's deliberation. The jurors all but ignored the fact that Marguerite had shot her husband at point-blank range.
The acquittal of Princess Fahmy created a sensation in England and on throughout Europe. Hall's defence had been laced with prejudice in depicting Egyptian culture as uncivilized and catering to myriad perversions and that the murder victim was a millionaire "Oriental" who preyed upon Western women to degrade them and destroy their values of decency.
Criticized for such conduct, Hall defended himself, saying: "The only thing that I remember saying that might be misunderstood was that it was a mistake for Western woman to marry Eastern man, and his idea of his rights toward a wife were those of possession instead of mutual alliance."
Marguerite enjoyed the limelight for the next few years, even appearing in some minor French films. Oddly, the sloe-eyed, sultry woman enacted in one movie the role of an Egyptian wife, the very role model she had resisted in real life to the point of homicide.
The Murder of Ali Fahmy at the Savoy Hotel
"What have I done, my dear! What have I done!"
The two court cases were over seventy years apart and the LA suburb of Brentwood is a long way from the relative sophistication of London's Savoy Hotel in the 1920s but when OJ Simpson was infamously acquitted in 1995, despite seemingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the shocked reaction around the world would not have been dissimilar to when Marguerite Fahmy was sensationally found 'not guilty' of the internationally reported murder of her Egyptian playboy husband at the hotel in 1923.
The Savoy Hotel had opened in 1889, and had been no stranger to scandal – it was at Oscar Wilde's infamous trial where it came to light that he had entertained a succession of rent-boys at the hotel's room 361. After Wilde had been arrested for gross indecency the presiding magistrate said "I know nothing about the Savoy, but I must say that in my view chicken and salad for two at sixteen shillings is very high. I am afraid I shall never supper there myself."
However it was still the place to stay for celebrities and royalty visiting London. In 1923 the hotel was still seen as one of the finest in the world and in that year, amongst others, Walter Hagen, Fred and Adele Astaire and the opera singer Luisa Tetrazzini (as in chicken) had all stayed there.
A typical dismal drizzly April in London that year had only been brightened by the wedding of Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon to the Duke of York, Prince Albert – known as 'Bertie' to his family and close friends. The house band at the Savoy Hotel – The Savoy Havana Band – made its debut on the BBC on 13th April 1923, not least because the BBC at the time was next door and shared its generator with the hotel.
A few weeks later on the morning of Sunday 1 July 1923 a limousine drove into Savoy Court and the Hotel doorman helped out a couple who were known to the hotel as the Prince and Princess Fahmy. They were accompanied by the Prince's private secretary, Mr Said Enani. Accurately Prince Fahmy wasn't really a prince but he did little to discourage the use of the title when away from Egypt.
The 22 year Egyptian had met his bride to be, a woman ten years his senior, in Paris the year before -incidentally the year that Egypt was granted independence, if not overall control, by the British Government. To many people Marguerite was seen, at best, as a flirtatious gold-digger and more in love with his not inconsiderable fortune than the man himself. They had married in Egypt, first by a civil ceremony on 26th December and then followed by a Muslim wedding in January 1923 where Madame Fahmy, modestly veiled, proclaimed in Arabic 'There is one God and Mohammed is His Prophet'.
After a few days in London, which was experiencing a heatwave, Marguerite Fahmy summoned the Savoy's doctor – she was suffering badly from external haemorrhoids. She alleged to Dr Gordon, while he was treating her, that her husband had 'torn her by unnatural intercourse' and was 'always pestering her' for this kind of sex. Already thinking about possible future divorce proceedings she repeatedly asked the doctor for 'a certificate as to her physical condition to negative the suggestion of her husband that she had made up a story'. The doctor, although respectful, ignored her request.
On the 9th July the couple went to Daly's Theatre on Cranbourne Street off Leicester Square (where the Vue West End cinema now stands) to see, with hindsight the darkly ironic 'The Merry Widow'. It had been an incredibly hot day and you can only imagine how uncomfortably warm the theatre must have been in those pre-air-conditioned days (although as far as a lot of the West End is concerned we're still in those days). Not the ideal conditions for someone suffering from piles I would imagine. The main performers in Lehar's popular operetta were the 22 year old Evelyn Laye and the Danish matinee idol Carl Brisson.
The couple returned to the Savoy after the theatre for a late supper, however the meal was disrupted by a huge argument which had recently become almost a daily occurrence. Ali had even appeared in public with scratches on his face and Marguerite had been seen with dark bruises on her face ill-disguised with powder and makeup. The row this time degenerated to such an extent that Marguerite picked up a wine bottle and shouted in French 'You shut up or I'll smash this over your head.' Ali replied 'If you do, I'll do the same to you.' They eventually calmed down, not without the help of the head-waiter, and went to the ballroom to listen to the Savoy Havana Band. The house band no doubt would have been playing at one point Yes, We Have No Bananas or perhaps Ain't We Got Fun both big hits that year. It wasn't long before Marguerite, after refusing the offer of a dance with her husband, retired to her room.
Mr Said Enani, as a witness in court a few weeks later, said that Mr Fahmy, in full evening dress, had decided to take a cab in the direction of Piccadilly even though the hot balmy weather had now turned into one of the worse thunderstorms in living memory. When asked the reason why he went, he said he did not know. Although we can perhaps presume that Ali was either visiting an unlicensed nightclub or on the search for either a male or female prostitute both of which frequented the area in high numbers around that part of the West End.
At around 2.00am the hotel's night porter passed the door to the Fahmy's suite but heard a low whistle and looking back saw Ali Fahmy bending down apparently whistling for Marguerite's little dog that had been following the night porter down the corridor. After continuing on his way for just three yards he suddenly heard three shots fired in quick succession.
He ran back and saw Marguerite throw down a black handgun and also saw Ali slumped against the wall bleeding profusely from a wound on his temple from which splinger of bone and brain tissue protruded. 'Qu'est-ce que j'ai fait, mon cher?' (what have I done, my dear?') Marguerite kept saying over and over again.
Marshall Hall was almost 65 at the time of Marguerite's trial and was a household name. He was six feet three, handsome for his age, and a commanding presence in the courtroom. He was commonly known, after being responsible for several famous acquittals, as 'The Great Defender'. Marshall Hall's final speech to the jury in defence of Marguerite, or Madame Fahmy as the press were now calling her, slowly became a character assassination of her dead husband. he portrayed him as a monster of Eastern amoral bisexual depravity. (Not too) subtly Hall accused both Prince Fahmy and his private secretary of being homosexuals.
The public gallery consisted of many young women some of whom were noted to be barely eighteen. Marshall Hall looked up to the gallery saying 'if women choose to come here to hear this case, they must take the consequences'. None of them left. Meanwhile he turned the attack on Ali to sodomy. Fahmy, said Hall, 'developed abnormal tendencies and he never treated Madame normally' Asking them to disregard the fact that the victim was younger than his wife. 'Yes, he was only 23 years old,' he told them. 'But he was given to a life of debauchery and was obsessed with his sexual prowess.' He went on to remind them that, as an Oriental man, his wife to him was no more than a belonging and that however much he may have acquired the outward signs of urbanity and sophistication, he was forever an Oriental under the skin.
When Marguerite took the stand, she was encouraged by the Great Defender to describe her life as a Muslim bride and to a lot of observers this was when the case turned her way. She testified at one point how she had been sitting 'in a state of undress in which her modesty would have forbidden her facing even her maid', she had noticed a strange noise and she pulled aside the hangings that screened an alcove and 'saw crouching there, where he could see every move she made, one of her husband's numerous ugly, black, half-civilized manservants, who obeyed like slaves his every word'. She screamed for help, but when her husband, appeared from an adjoining room he only, laughed, saying that "He is nobody. He does not count. But he has the right to come here or anywhere you may go and tell me what you are doing."
It was like a scene from Rudolph Valentino's The Sheik, the extraordinarily popular film released the year before, and the women in the gallery were treating it as such.
Before he summed up, the judge, referring to the public gallery said, 'These things are horrible; they are disgusting. How anyone could listen to these things who is not bound to listen to them passes comprehension.' However he had been swayed by Marshall Hall's defence, that pandered to the prejudices of the tie, and during the summing up endorsed Marshall Hall by saying 'We in this country put our women on a pedestal: in Egypt they have not the same views...'
The jury, after less than an hour's consideration, announced 'not guilty' to both the charges of murder and of manslaughter, and Madame Fahmy was discharged and was now a free woman.
The prosecution was refused by the judge, seemingly in awe as much as anyone else to the Great Defender, to cross-examine Marguerite 'as to whether or not she had lived an immoral life', to show that she was 'a woman of the world, well able to look after herself'.
If she had been cross-examined properly the jury would have found out that not only had Marguerite been a teenage common prostitute in Bordeaux and in Paris and had an illegitimate daughter when she was just fifteen, but she had also become a trained high-class courtesan (it was said that she always spoke in a rather stilted French because of elocution lessons). Not only that but Marguerite's husband was not alone in having inclinations towards the same sex: it was found out by a private detective hired by the prosecution that it was well known in Paris that Madame Fahmy "is addicted, or was addicted, to committing certain offences with other women and it would seem that there is nothing that goes on in such surroundings as she has been moving in Paris that she would not be quite well acquainted with..."
The world's press reported the case with undisguised glee, mostly portraying Mardame Fahmy as less than innocent in more ways than one. The French newspapers concentrated on the fact that the jury considered the case as if a crime passionnel defence was allowed in English law.
After the verdict Marguerite soon left for Paris where she found out that she had no claim to her late husband's fortune as he had left no will. After a failed, and slightly ludicrous plot where she pretended that she had been pregnant and subsequently borne a son (who would have been entitled to his father's fortune). She was now almost a laughing stock in Parisian society and became relatively a recluse. She died on 2 January 1971 in Paris. She never remarried.
A Diwan of contemporary life
The trial of a Frenchwoman for the murder of her Egyptian husband in London in 1923 turned into a courtroom show of contempt and racist prejudice against Eastern men generally and Egyptians in particular. There was not the slightest shadow of doubt that the wife fatally shot her husband in the back. But her British lawyer tore the husband's character to pieces and, in the process, strongly condemned Eastern men for depravity, corruption and ill-treatment of wives. The jury, swayed by the dramatic defence performance, acquitted the wife. The ruling touched off adverse reactions among the Arabs.
Dr Yunan Labib Rizk tells the story from reports published by Al-Ahram
The scene: the Savoy Hotel in London on the evening of 1 September, 1923. Ali Kamel Fahmi Bek, an Egyptian notable, quarrels bitterly with Marguerite, his French wife. He then emerges from the hotel room and as his little dog scampers down the hallway. He whistles to call it back when suddenly his wife shoots him in the back. He dies instantly.
This incident may well have remained confined to the crime pages in the British, Egyptian and French press had it not been for the great commotion stirred by the trial of Marguerite, which lasted from 11 to 15 September that year. Indeed, such was the sensation surrounding this trial that the correspondent of The Near East in Cairo observed, "The Arabic newspapers in Egypt have spent fortunes on obtaining wire releases from London on the Madame Fahmi case." Al-Ahram stood out as the only newspaper to feature the court transcripts, and the correspondent went on to relate that when he attempted to buy a copy of Al-Ahram one afternoon, the newsboy told him, "Even if you could pay all the money there is in Egypt you wouldn't be able to buy a copy of Al-Ahram dealing with the Fahmi case."
While much of the excitement stemmed from the identity of the protagonists, the victim and the murderess, the case also highlighted an issue that some might have pinpointed by citing Rudyard Kipling's famous verse, "East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet."
To begin with the protagonists, Marguerite was 33 years old, French, a divorcee and remarkably beautiful, according to the accounts of the reporters who attended the trial. She also had a 15-year-old illegitimate daughter. Ali Kamel Fahmi was a 23-year-old Egyptian youth -- 10 years younger than his wife -- and is not to be confused with Ali Fahmi Kamel, the brother of the Egyptian nationalist leader Mustafa Kamel. Belonging to the upper class of notables most of whom were of Turkish origin, he had three brothers and during the short period of his marriage he claimed to be related to King Fouad, and, moreover, assumed the title of "prince." He certainly spent as lavishly as a prince, for, according to Al-Ahram, over the four years prior to his murder he spent "half a million pounds on women, alcohol and cars. The palace he had built for himself cost him LE120,000. He was also in the habit of presenting valuable gifts to the police in every city where he took up residence."
In her memoirs on her marriage to Ali Fahmi -- memoirs which the newspapers scrambled to publish following her trial -- Marguerite relates that she was in Cairo when her husband-to-be started to court her. She was flattered and delighted by his infatuation, "and as Fahmi Bek's love for me grew stronger and stronger, I began to see before me a life I had only read about in A Thousand and One Nights and I heard passionate words of love and promises of what happiness his vast wealth could bring us." Marguerite and Fahmi signed their marriage contract on 27 December, 1922, and as this contract stipulated that she had to convert to Islam, she did so two weeks later.
Marguerite's memoirs also give a picture of her husband's extravagance. He had to have three telephones in his hotel room, undoubtedly strategically placed to avoid excess legwork. He had a speedboat fitted out with a 450-horsepower engine in which he would "fly across the surface of the Nile at terrifying breakneck speeds, creating strong waves that caused houseboats to rock precipitously and careen into the banks, shattering the pottery in them as their occupants climb out and shower curses after the boat and its passengers."
Fahmi's and Marguerite's marriage lasted only eight months, ending in that tragic scene in the Savoy Hotel. The incident afforded Egyptian readers an unsettling view of the racism and bigotry latent in the European soul and encapsulated in the famous Kipling verse. This is undoubtedly one reason why Al-Ahram covered the ensuing trial so assiduously through the reports filed by its correspondent in the British capital.
The trial opened on Tuesday, 11 September 1923, in a small London courtroom. In fact, the courtroom was so small that Al-Ahram's correspondent in his first dispatch described it as containing no more than 20 seats to accommodate lawyers, journalists and the few members of the public who were able to obtain passes. Clearly justice officials had imagined that they had an open-and-shut murder case that held nothing to attract widespread attention. They could not have been more mistaken. Only two days into the trial, the tiny courtroom swelled with spectators while a queue of at least 50 people stood outside the courtroom door waiting for someone to leave so they could take his place. In fact, the correspondent recounts, there were some inside the courtroom who recognised the opportunity to turn a little profit and sold their places to any of the many dying to get in.
Inside the courtroom, there was, of course, the judge, the attorneys for the prosecution and a 12-member jury. However, the star performer was Sir Marshall Hall, who headed the three-member defence team. It was Hall who turned an ordinary criminal case into a trial of Oriental customs, transforming it into a "public opinion" issue which had the French and British siding with Marguerite as the victim of Oriental "backwardness" and "barbarity," and the Egyptians, supported by some Arabs, rallying to the defence of their customs and traditions. And, indeed, it did seem as though "the twain" would never meet.
Undoubtedly, Marguerite hired Hall for her defence both because of his social status -- he was after all a "Sir" -- and because of his considerable repute as a lawyer. But Hall's services were not cheap. According to Al-Ahram, he charged £3,000, and another £2,000 and £500 for his first and second assistants respectively -- huge sums by the standards of the times. The defendant also set aside £4,500 for the London and Parisian press, for the purposes of "winning over public sympathy, vilifying her Oriental husband and portraying the 'sufferings' of a wife in Egypt, particularly if she is a civilised European woman." Needless to say, it was her dead husband's money that enabled her to afford the exorbitant expenses it would take to escape paying the penalty for her crime, particularly as her father was a driver by profession.
As the foregoing suggests, Hall's defence consisted primarily of an extended broadside against the character of her Egyptian husband. He exploited some of the testimony given in court to portray a man who lured an unsuspecting woman to Egypt, where "he showed her his luxurious palace with its full suite of maids and servants, his luxury car, his yacht and his motorboat and all other accoutrements of opulence." He argued that Fahmi was "driven to this by that infatuation Eastern men have for Western women," but beneath his urbane exterior he was still a "brutal savage." And, in an "impassioned speech," as Al-Ahram's correspondent described it, Hall went on to enumerate the many horrors perpetrated against the refined French wife. He alleged that Fahmi possessed a gun that he would fire over her head "to frighten her into submission, exacting from her as one would from a slave abject obedience, for women to him were no more than mere property."
On several occasions, Fahmi forbade his wife to take the car and made her, instead, take the tram in the company of a Nubian servant "to keep an eye on her." One suspects here that the British lawyer was deliberately distorting the fact that it was the custom among prominent Egyptian families for women not to leave the home unescorted, if not for protection, at least for the sake of propriety; but certainly not for the purposes of surveillance.
Third on the husband's list of crimes against his wife was that he had promised to pay her a dowry of LE1,000, but only gave her LE450 in cash and a cheque for the remainder. Sir Marshall adds, "This was all the money Madame Fahmi obtained from that man who we can assure you was one of the wealthiest men in Egypt." Hall ignored the fact that the large number of servants in palaces was a social status symbol. As for his contention that Marguerite was a virtual prisoner in her husband's palace, Fahmi's aim may have been to restrain his wife's Parisian way of life which would not have gone down well in Cairo.
It was thus, Hall stated, that Marguerite lived in Cairo in that palatial abode prepared for her by her husband, "but at the mercy of the Negro servants and as little more than a prisoner at his command." Then, with a dramatic flourish, the distinguished lawyer extracts a letter, unsigned, but purportedly sent to Marguerite by a well-meaning friend in Paris, and reads it to the court. The anonymous letter read:
"Pray permit a friend who has travelled extensively in many countries of the Orient and has studied the morals of Oriental people and knows their sinister ways to offer you some advice. Do not return to Egypt. It is better to risk your money than your life, for I fear an accident may befall you if you go!"
Hall concludes his appeal with a deft summation of the picture of an innocent European woman who had fallen into the clutches of a man epitomising all the Oriental vices. "This curiously alluring, yet cheerful and unsuspecting woman committed a dreadful mistake in her assessment of the moral fiber of Fahmi Bek. Many women fall for younger men and Fahmi Bek, using all his Oriental cunning, succeeded in posing as a gentleman and an acceptable spouse. Yet, in fact, he was a womaniser, a philanderer whose traitorous deception surfaced only after he secured her signature on the marriage contract. Then, his true character began to show itself, as suddenly he changed from a meek and ardent suitor to a savage beast of the lowest possible nature. The more one looks at the conditions that this ill-fated woman endured the more one shivers in horror and disgust."
On Friday, 14 September, Hall addresses the jury directly, asking them to disregard the fact that the victim was younger than his wife. "Yes, he was only 23 years old," he told them. "But he was given to a life of debauchery and was obsessed with his sexual prowess." He went on to remind them that, as an Oriental man, his wife to him was no more than a belonging and that however much he may have acquired the outward signs of urbanity and sophistication, he was forever an Oriental under the skin.
The Al-Ahram correspondent said Hall was "as outstanding an actor as he is a lawyer." This had an effect on the jury and on British public opinion.
The prosecution, moreover, proved no match for the defence. In fact, the public prosecutor almost admitted as such, opening his appeal with the wry comment that Hall's performance was "the most powerful and expert dramatic production ever presented by the legal profession in Britain." He went on to add, "However, now I would like to transport you away from the theatrical climate that has prevailed in this courtroom for four days." And he did indeed try to do so, but without succeeding in significantly diminishing the effect Hall had on the jury.
The prosecutor argued, firstly, that the difference in age between the spouses was a significant factor. As a 33-year-old woman, Marguerite was experienced in the affairs of the world and men, having given birth to a child when she was no more than 16. He then went on to furnish evidence of Fahmi's love for Marguerite, a love that had driven him to write her numerous passionate letters and to woo her into marriage. In Cairo, he enabled Marguerite to live in the lap of luxury. "There is no proof whatsoever that he took delight in tormenting women. Quite to the contrary, the evidence points to the fact that Madame Fahmi yearned to be a princess and that she was prepared to renounce her religion and relinquish her right to divorce in order to fulfill this dream. Greed played a large part in her marriage to that young man."
Unfortunately, the prosecutor had to confess that that marriage was marred by frequent quarrels, and it may have further weakened his argument that he expressed his regrets that Islamic law confers on the Muslim husband certain marital rights, such as the right to discipline the wife, but, he was quick to add, "not in the brutal manner described by Sir Marshall."
The presiding judge was apparently well aware of the general tide of opinion. He could see it on the faces of the jury members, in the behaviour of the spectators and in the comments of the British press. Consequently, at the end of the hearings, he took pains to deliver a stern caution to the members of the jury:
"The prosecution has demonstrated that the defendant killed Ali Fahmi Bek, in an act which the law considers deliberate murder, as long as the defence has not been able to prove otherwise. If the members of the jury doubt whether the defendant believed or did not believe that her act was a crime or anything less than murder, they must nevertheless resolve that she did indeed commit a deliberate act of murder. We must not allow hair-raising testimonies to distract us or affect our judgement. Do not let fear or loathing prevent you from using your mental faculties."
In spite of this caution, the jury's deliberation lasted no more than an hour. When they returned to the courtroom and took their seats, the clerk stood up to ask their verdict. Al-Ahram's correspondent at the trial recorded the ensuing exchange:
"Clerk of the court: Is Madame Fahmi guilty of deliberate murder?
Foreman of the jury: Not guilty.
Clerk of the court: Is the defendant guilty of manslaughter (murder committed without deliberation)?
Foreman of the jury: Not guilty."
The correspondent goes on to describe the reaction in the courtroom: "When spectators in the court heard this verdict they started to applaud. The news quickly reached the members of the public waiting outside and they, too, began to applaud. Offended by this display, the judge angrily called the court to order and ordered all present in the courtroom to leave with the exception of the lawyers and journalists. He then turned to address Madame Fahmi and said, 'Madame Fahmi, the jury has found you not guilty. You are acquitted of the charges that had been brought against you.'"
This ended the proceedings but the trial of "Oriental customs," in which Egyptians were the target, continued to rage for several days in the British press. This development, too, Al-Ahram brought to its disconcerted readers.
The Daily Mirror cautioned against marriages between Western women and Eastern men. Such marriages, it suggested, give rise to ludicrous and inappropriate emotions. The case of Madame Fahmi, in particular, "should serve as a lesson to our young emotionally impressionable daughters who have yet to acquire a certain sophistication."
The Lloyd News wrote that "the white woman who seeks love from men not of her race, whether they are yellow, brown or black, enters a world against which her nature must rebel when she learns the truth." The Sunday Pictorial could not have agreed more. It commented that the Madame Fahmi case held little surprise for those who were familiar with the manifestations of the Oriental mentality.
In a similar vein, The Western Morning News cautioned against "the spirit of liberalism that has spread among many British families, bringing them to accept some Easterners as friends into their homes and, in turn, has eventually led to marriages." The newspaper went on to observe, "However, no sooner does the newly-wed British wife go east than her disillusionment begins. British parents must warn their daughters to be on guard against Oriental men."
Not all sections of the British press fell in with this wave of anti-Eastern hostility, particularly following the harsh condemnations of the trial and the verdict coming from Egyptians who resided in England at the time or happened to be present there during the trial and from the Egyptian people in Egypt who vented their anger through their national press.
One Egyptian citizen, Abdel-Rahman El-Biyali Bek, was so incensed by the substance of the trial that he dispatched a statement to the British press defending Egyptian marital life. Vehemently protesting Hall's assertions, El-Biyali wrote, "Egyptian men treat their wives with the utmost respect and those who deviate from this rule are no more numerous in Egypt than those who deviate from this rule in other countries. Islamic Law has placed such conditions on the permissibility to marry more than one wife as to render this option virtually impossible. Moreover, from time to time, the British press circulates reports on the women's movement in Egypt, reports which reflect the impact Egyptian women have on national affairs. When Saad Zaghlul Pasha returned to Cairo a cortege of women in 80 automobiles was there to greet him. The Egyptian women's delegation that travelled to Rome to participate in a conference there made an important contribution to the deliberations that took place there. The delegation was led by Hoda Sha'rawi, the well-known feminist leader. Finally, Egyptian law does not confer upon the husband the right to treat his wife any differently from another person. Among the wives of Egyptian men, there are many women of various European nationalities who vigorously denounce Sir Marshall Hall's allegations."
Also in Cairo, the Women's Wafd Party Central Committee met to draft a letter protesting the conduct of the trial and its verdict. This letter, which they dispatched in telegram form to the British press and to the residence of the British High Commissioner, read, "We take strong exception to the fallacious and appalling accusations directed by Madame Marguerite Fahmi's lawyers and most of the British press against Oriental peoples in general and Egyptians in particular. Egyptian women can only perceive these spurious allegations as a deliberate campaign of hostility, a new form of defamation of Oriental peoples in order to justify British colonial policy."
The outrage spread beyond the borders of Egypt, as can be seen from The Daily Express report from its correspondent in Jerusalem where the Madame Fahmi trial provoked harsh censure from British expatriates and Palestinian Arabs.
Several British newspapers sympathised with the Egyptians and were themselves critical of the way prejudice had perverted justice. The Daily Herald, the mouthpiece for the Labour Party, was the first to suggest that the jury's verdict had less to do with the demands of justice than it did with the outstanding performance of Sir Marshall. The newspaper added, "If the Labour Party comes to power, its government will do away with that system that conditions the defendants' chances of acquittal largely upon how much they can afford to spend on their defence."
The Daily Chronicle featured an editorial that prompted Al-Ahram to remark that that British newspaper had "come to its senses." The newspaper, which had formerly welcomed the court's verdict, admitted that the objections voiced by Egyptians were valid and that Islamic marital codes in Egypt "are founded upon powerful moral tenets and place men and women on equal footing in the performance of matrimonial duties. There are as many upstanding individuals among the Muslim people as there are among the Christian people and it is hypocrisy to claim that our culture produces better people than the 'backward' cultures in most parts of the Orient."
However, in spite of the apologetic tone of many British articles, it is doubtful that they went a long way towards dispelling the general cultural and psychological mindset that gave rise to Kipling's "East is East and West is West" and made possible the racially-inspired manipulation of justice in the Madame Fahmi case.