AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE: "RED ROSE" WIDOW OF AGA KHAN III BURIED IN EGYPT-2000-07-01
A former French beauty queen who found fortune as well as fame when she married the fabulously rich Aga Khan was buried on the banks of the Nile Tuesday, beside the husband on whose tomb she had had a red rose laid daily for 43 years.
The body of Begum Om Habibeh, who started life as Yvette Blanche Labrousse, was carried in a white-shrouded coffin up a slope to a sandstone mausoleum after private prayers at the villa where the couple used to spend winters, as reporters were kept well away.
The baking sun of southern Egypt beat down on the procession of dozens led by Prince Karim, the current Aga Khan and spiritual leader of the Ismaili sect of Shiite Muslims.
The body had arrived earlier on a flight from France, where she died Saturday in the Riviera town of Le Cannet at the age of 94, and was transported by ambulance boat across the Nile to the villa and mausoleum.
The begum, an Urdu word for a woman married to Muslim royalty, was remembered here as the "Red Rose," which she earned from the ritual she had followed since her husband's death in 1957.
He was Sultan Mohamed Shah Aga Khan, the 48th Imam of the Ismailis and grandfather of the current Aga Khan.
An adviser to the monarchs of Britain, he was considered the richest man in the world and was offered his weight in diamonds on his diamond jubilee in 1945.
She used to place the rose on the grave herself when she spent winters here, but the gardener filled in for her when she was away or too ill to come in the last three years.
The begum visited Aswan last in 1997, Ismailis recalled.
Sheikh Sayed Ahmed Ibrahim, who has since 1963 visited the mausoleum daily to read prayers from the Koran, remembered the sultan's widow as a good and devoted woman.
"I knew her for 38 years. She was a generous woman and she respects Islam," the sheikh recalled, adding she was a benefactor for a hospital and schools in Aswan.
According to her wish, Om Habibeh was laid beside her husband in the solid marble Fatimid Islamic style tomb on whose walls she had his name and her own inscribed, leaving a space for the date of her death.
The begum, a former Miss France, was born in February 1906 in Sete, on the Mediterranean coast, and married Aga Khan III in Switzerland in October 1944, becoming his fourth and last wife.
They had first met in Egypt and spent winters in the white Nile-side villa 930 kilometres (580 miles) south of Cairo because of her husband's rheumatism. They had no children.
Aga Khan is the honorific title of the spiritual leaders of the Nizari Ismailis, a Muslim Shiite sect with around 15 million followers in Pakistan, India, east Africa and Syria.