Sunday,17 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1334, (2 - 8 March 2017)
Sunday,17 February, 2019
Issue 1334, (2 - 8 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Egyptian snippets: Between the ruler and the people

The vagaries of rule are not the sum of all history

How great is Egypt’s story since the dawn of creation. And how cruel is Egypt’s modern experience and the many stories in the belly of history, the fountain of knowledge and wisdom. The stories of Egypt’s rulers who do not allow anyone to criticise them while they are still alive, demanding that poets exaggerate their praise and genius, and if they are stripped of power curses rain upon them.

Egypt was not Kalawoun or Qutuz or Ezzeddin Aybak the Turkman or Ali Bey Al-Kabir, but it was — as stated by the satirical philosopher Mahmoud Al-Saadani — the people, and the harafeesh (the common folk). Gamal Abdel-Nasser’s Egypt was not just the president and his Pharaonic rule, the chief of intelligence and the Socialist Union, but the workers and farmers and patriotic capitalists and soldiers and intellectuals. Under Anwar Al-Sadat, it was not the president and the leaders of political platforms or owners of boutiques on Shawarbi Street or nightclub owners or bar patrons, but also the millions of paupers and beggars who suffered from disease, disappointment and hunger.

History is not just old news and can often be applied to current events — the British know their history and its secrets. Philosopher Al-Saadani says that we as Arabs are inferior and declares that all sultans are fair, all princes have impeccable manners and all rulers are right and the people are utterly insolent and criminal.

If we look at history, we will find it is the history of those in power, because traditional history does not care about the people, and therefore history is mostly fabricated or fake, and always takes the side of the dominant.

When Abdallah Bin Zubair was defeated they described him with the most despicable words; when Al-Hakim biamr Illah was killed, they said he was insane and spread rumours that he decreed they should work at night and sleep during the day, even though he was a knight in the army.

When Napoleon escaped from exile on the island of Elba, the headlines of the newspapers in Paris read: The escape of the criminal traitor; The traitor reaches the shore; The traitor slithers towards Paris. Hitler is known as a vampire villain, flesh eater, the number one enemy of humanity. But how would he have been portrayed had he triumphed?

Rarely history is fair to the vanquished. Although Field Marshal Rommel was defeated, he remains in the minds of Egyptians and the world as the most famous commander of World War II. In the conscience of the Egyptian people, it is engraved that Nasser was not defeated in 1967 and did not lose control of power while he was alive, and that he died a few years later at home and his funeral was epic. The funeral was unprecedented in the world at the time, and is still engraved in the hearts of the Egyptian people although over 40 years have passed since. Some circles still adulate his achievements and great eminence.

Another example is when the ruling Mameluke Mohamed Abul-Dahab killed his master Ali Bey Al-Kabir, all the laws his predecessor passed were repealed, the confiscated funds and assets were returned to their owners, the exiled were pardoned, and his master was maligned and accused of all vice, even though true history reveals that Ali Bey Al-Kabir was the first to attempt in contemporary times to build a modern state in Egypt.

This was because Al-Kabir took decisive social action by nationalising agricultural land, confiscated wealth accumulated by monopolising commodities and black market trade, established a national army and the first weapons factory. Egypt was stable and prosperous during his reign, and he even thought of invading Turkey itself. He tore down the notion of an Islamic caliphate and moved it to Cairo.

But Abul-Dahab killed him and halted this progress, and Egypt remained stagnant, delaying its revival for a long time until the appearance of Mohamed Ali Pasha. Egypt’s renaissance after Al-Kabir remained in the conscience of the people, even when fighting raged between the Egyptian army and the army of Ibn Othman at the Battle of Marj Dabiq. The Sultan of Egypt Qunsuwah Al-Ghouri was defeated and Egypt became a sultanate and Khayer Bey became the deputy of the Ottoman Sultan, the same position of Al-Ghouri. The “old entourage” surrounded Khayer Bey, singing his praises and maligning the accomplishments of their previous master, belittling his opinions, even though they prospered under Al-Ghouri who was their benefactor.

Mohamed Ali arrived to complete what Al-Kabir started and fulfil the aspirations of the vigilant Egyptian state and build a modern Egyptian state, confirming that the history of the Egyptian citizen is full of hope and aspiration. The Egyptian people are sometimes the cross-legged scribe and sometimes the giant Ramses II when opportunity knocks. That is this people’s greatest secret.

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