Princess Zainab Nazli Fazil (1853 – 28 December 1913) was an Egyptian princess from the dynasty of Muhammad Ali Pasha and one of the first women to revive the tradition of the literary salon in the Arab world, at her palace in Cairo from the 1880s until her death.

Early life

Of Turkish origin, Princess Nazlı Fazıl was born in Istanbul, Ottoman Empire, in 1853, the eldest child of Mustafa Fazil Pasha, son of Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt and brother of the future Khedive Ismail Pasha, and his wife Dilazad Hanim. At the age of 13, she left Egypt for Constantinople upon her father’s falling out with his brother, the Khedive, in 1866. In Constantinople, she was highly educated, against prevailing tradition, and entertained foreign visitors. She was a well educated and cultured lady who spoke Turkish, Arabic, French and English.

Personal life

In December 1872, she married Turkish ambassador Halil Serif Pasa (Khalil Bey), and moved briefly to Paris with him on his last post there. It was not a happy marriage, and her one daughter, Hayya Khanum, died in infancy. Upon his death, she moved back to Cairo, Khedivate of Egypt, and settled in a palace located nearby to the royal Abdeen Palace, named “Villa Henry”.

Her second husband was Khelil Bouhageb, son of Salem Bouhageb and eventual Prime Minister of Tunisia. They married in 1900.

In fact,in memoirs of her acquaintances, it is famous that she had a quick wit and loved photographs.  Champagne, cigarettes and her Pianola.


In fact, she began hosting soirees, and was friendly with the intellectual elites of her day.  Including the Egyptians, Muhammad Abduh, Saad Zaghloul, and Qasim Amin, and the British, Lord Cromer and Herbert Kitchener. She was the individual who encouraged Saad Zaghlul to learn French. He had attended law school in Cairo and became legal advisor to her. She also arranged his marriage to Safiyya Zaghlul. Additionally, it was at her insistence that Lord Cromer coordinated ‘Abduh’s return from exile in 1888.