Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1181, (23 - 29 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Once upon a time - He ended injustice

Ageing leaders losing touch, intruders from the east, rampant disorder and the hope for a saviour are a familiar story, not of modern Egypt, but of the same land 4,000 years ago.

When Merenra I, the Sixth Dynasty king, died a teenager, around 2287 BC, his six-year-old brother Pepi II took over, ruling with his mother as a co-regent. His rule was arguably the longest in human history, for he remained in power nearly 94 years, dying at the age of 100.

Upon the death of Pepi II, Egypt disintegrated, not to rise again from the ashes until the 12th Dynasty, around 1991 BC, with Amenemhat I at the helm.

The intervening two centuries of instability tell a sad story of infighting, invasion, poverty and mismanagement.

Pepi II’s rule, which lasted for three generations, was mostly a prosperous one. But near the end of his life, things took a turn to the worst. Foreigners, vaguely described as Bedu, started making incursions into the country from the east. Dissident nobility went independent into their own mini-states, and began fighting among themselves.

In the northern part of the country, where the king lived, loyalty to the ageing monarch helped maintain a semblance of unity during his lifetime. But the chasms in central authority were getting deeper and more menacing.

Before long, the authority of king disappeared, along with much of the palace’s property. The state institutions, including the mighty clergy, began to crumble, and the chaos spread across the land.

Surviving records from the time spoke of the plebeians revolting against the government officials, while foreign mercenaries also went into mutiny.

Meanwhile, the old king was ensconced comfortably in his palace, fed on “lies”, according to one account. At this point, a wise man approached him and spoke bluntly.

Misery has spread across the land, the wise man said. Theft and murder became common, policing has ended, and foreigners have invaded the land, the wise man stated.

“The land is ravaged by gangs, and a man cannot go to till his field unless he takes his shield with him,” the wise man told the king.

This bewailing speech, real or imagined, went into the details of strife and bloodshed, describing bodies “thrown in the river like dead cattle” because the dead are too many to be buried, rich people begging for food, and gangsters enriching themselves through acts of pillage and brutality.

The wise man chides the ageing king, blaming him for allowing the country to fall into disrepair. “Leadership, astuteness and honesty are not qualities that you lack. But why are you not using them? As chaos spreads in the length and width of the country, you fail to act. Instead, you feed on the lies that are told to you.”

It took 324 years for the chaos to come to an end. Amenemhat I, a competent minister, grabbed the throne and united the country, finally declaring himself a pharaoh of the south and the north.

Lacking in credentials, for he had no royal pedigree to qualify him for the throne, Amenemhat I had his aides dig into the ancient annals for something to bolster his claim to lead the country as an uncontested pharaoh.

What the aides found, or invented, was an old prophesy that spoke of a future saviour. The prophecy was attributed to a priest who lived under King Snefru of the Fourth Kingdom, around 2580 BC.

“A king in the south, whose name is Ameni, and who is the son of a Nubian woman, will wear the white crown and the red crown. He will unify the country and bring peace to the land,” the prophecy said.

“Those who conspired, those who concocted evil, and those who engaged in sedition will be silenced in fear. The Asians will perish with his sword and the Libyans will burn in his fire. The insurgents will give in and the lawless will submit to his force. Justice will return to the land,” the prophecy went on.

The Ameni of the prophecy, was billed as the real life Amenemhat I, the country’s fearless redeemer.

Decades after the death of Amenemhat I, the royal records still lavished praise on the departed monarch.

“He ended injustice because he loved justice very much,” the records stated.

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