Roots of Tyranny and Despotism in Egypt

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Throughout Egyptian history, since the Pharaonic era up to the present era, there is a common factor, namely, domination of tyranny and dictatorship, except for a few short breaks.

Tyranny and despotism started in Egypt from the Pharaonic era, through the Roman era, then the Arab conquest -which witnessed a state of moderate rule at its early beginnings, then was later dominated by tyranny and despotism- to the Mamluks era, which had a significant impact on the formation of the Egyptian personality, and finally the modern state era to the present day. In fact, tyranny was never a passing condition in Egypt, but it has always been a constant and stable situation in the Egyptian nation.

It is noteworthy that the advantages that the Egyptian environment has enjoyed which helped form the State and consolidate its existence were the same factors that led to the emergence of tyranny and despotism in Egypt. Egyptians, like other peoples, have fallen into humiliation, either because of coercion and oppression, or as a result of deception[1]. Dr. Gamal Himdan says “The pharaonic tyranny came as an inevitable result of the central state, where the central state was an inevitable necessity of the flood environment. Just as this equation or ecological chain had its clear advantages[2], it had its most obvious flaws. Yes, thanks to it, Egypt was the first political unit, or the first unified state in the world history, but also it probably was the first tyranny on earth; it was the oldest and most ancient central government in the world, but it was the oldest and broadest dictatorship as well.”

From the early beginnings, the Egyptian citizen paid the price of his early political unity out of his political freedom, where he bought his social security at the expense of his social freedom. As a result, the relationship between the citizen and the State became inverse, where the weight of the people decreased as the weight of the government increased, and the larger the government was, the smaller the people became. Hence, the first central government in Egypt, which we usually brag about, is not purely good, but it rather has major flaws and cost a heavy price[3].

Dr. Mohamed Abdel-Fattah al-Mahdi, an expert in psychiatry, commented on Himdan’s words, saying: “Some say that the Nile (or the riverine society) is one of the factors, but not all, behind tyranny in Egyptian society.” In this sense, Bartley St. Heller said: “Since the era of Pharaohs, political slavery has been imposed on the inhabitants of Egypt, but I am far from saying that the Nile is the only reason for this sad situation, as I am aware that there are many peoples that are more enslaved and more miserable without having a Nile.”

Saint Hilaire (1857) said, “The natural order of this great river in Egypt was one of the causes of tyranny, where tyranny found in it a kind of necessity, as well as a special pretext.”[4] From ancient times, controlling the Nile River meant controlling the affairs of the country and the whole State. The Nile River meant safety for the people and source of food; and the people has always been loyal to the master of the river who controls its bridges and branches, where the people was fully subjected to that master and never opposed him; as opposition of the Nile master meant cutting off the river’s water, that is posing a threat of lifelessness.

Dr. Milad Hanna says: “The psychological formation of the Egyptians –Muslims and Copts– is the heritage of agricultural civilizations that have settled in the flat valleys for thousands of years, where security and loyalty was to the central government that used to hold the keys to life through the great Nile River, the artery that delivers security to every hamlet in the valley through the centuries.”[5]

Despite this fact, the Egyptians have launched numerous revolts against colonizers and tyrants in the modern era, such as:

– The Urabi revolution in 1879,

– The 1919 revolution,

– The July 1952 coup,

– The 1977 bread uprising that Sadat called: ‘the thieves’ revolution’,

– The central security forces revolt in 1986,

– The judges’ protests in 2005, when the Muslim Brotherhood took to the street for the first time,

– And most recently the January Revolution in 2011.

Views may differ in evaluating the role and impact of these events, but they ultimately confirm that the action and movement exists in the Egyptian people or, to be more precise, in some of its segments that aspire to change or correct the existing situation.

It is true that most of those revolts or uprisings failed to achieve their goals and demands, where they were either suppressed or circumvented, except for the July 1952 coup that succeeded, but the important thing is that they confirm that the ability to act and move seeking to change the situation and resist tyranny may be weakened but it never fades, as its flame remains in the hearts of some Egyptians.

As the theory says: ‘River societies have a lot of political tyranny’, because of the association of those societies with agriculture and stability; there was a change in the activity of the population in Egypt during the Sadat era, where it was no longer an agricultural environment, but rather a country without identified features, where it was not known whether it was commercial, or industrial, but in any case it was no longer agricultural.

Thanks to this change as well as the imminent drying up of the Nile due to the dams that Ethiopia is building on the reiver, will that theory prove not fully applicable to the Egyptians? Or is tyranny and despotism endemic in Egypt?

I think that changing society will necessarily change its relationship with various regimes that rule it.

During the Sadat era and the early Mubarak era, the State replaced the idea of ​​stability that society felt in agriculture with the job stability and work in the government-owned institutions, where civil servants used to feel stable and secure, which made the people of all categories aspire to obtain government jobs.

However, the privatization policy pursued by Mubarak in the second half of his reign has terminated this stability, and the resulting societal changes highlight a clear indication that the form of tyranny and despotism will accordingly change dramatically, compared to past eras. The State uses the heavy stick to suppress the people, to create a ‘State’ of fear and impose whatever methods of tyranny it wants; thinking that it imposes stability through such oppression, but the patience with which the Egyptian was famous in the past is no longer the same now.

As for the characteristic of moderation among Egyptians, the average Egyptian was mostly inclined to being meek, calm, gentle, cheerful, friendly, social, easy, straight-forward, extrovert, more likely to cooperate than to compete, and at the same time extremely far from any violence, cruelty, gory ,and the bloody red mood.

The average Egyptian, in most views, usually avoids conflict, especially in hostile situations, and therefore he prefers safety to confrontation, peace to conflict, and, ultimately, peace to war.

Hence, in addition to the Egyptian’s silent negative reaction to the ruling oppression or governmental tyranny, the accusation leveled against him since ancient times until today, from the Greeks to the Israeli enemy, was that it is a non-combatant people, regardless of the accusation being true or not.

Just as moderation in the character of the Egyptians has been a reason for the stability and survival of the people and the State, it also was a strongly influential reason for the emergence and domination of tyranny and despotism, as the tendency to moderation acquired the Egyptian character a number of negatives, such as: over contentment, leniency and condoning many disadvantages under the pretext of avoiding going awry or being dragged into conflicts.

As for the characteristic of tolerance in Egyptians, it is responsible for many of the negative aspects, as it sometimes slips into indulgence, where it is the distorted face of tolerance.

In a scientific study by the University of Alexandria on the pros and cons of the Egyptian character, the characteristic of tolerance, despite its advantages, deteriorated into many serious defects, such as: negativity, dependence, ambiguity, contradiction of values, and shortcomings in management, then complacency, indifference and indiscipline.

Revolt of the oppressed people

When negative moderation reaches its extreme extent, tyranny and despotism also reach a brutal extent, and then the only solution to confront it becomes a certain amount of revolutionary violence – similar to state violence – to stop the incursion of power. Without that amount of appropriate violence, any attempt against the authority would fail.

Perhaps what happened in the 25 January Revolution is the best proof of this. The revolution’s first wave, which was characterized by some revolutionary violence, manifested itself in confronting the police and forcing them to withdraw, which allowed the revolution to complete its path and reach a certain point, before the “extremist moderates” took over its leadership and steered the helm of revolution towards a completely different path other than the one it was supposed to take.

Dr. Hegazi reviews the societal violence confronting the violence of the authority, saying: “A backward society necessarily reaches violence in a certain stage of its development, after a period of widespread oppression. Here, violence is directed against the forces responsible for oppression (the colonialist and the internal tyrant).

Dr. Al-Mahdi has identified three reasons that push the Egyptians to revolt. He said: “The Egyptian moves and revolts in a few specific cases, namely:

1- When the sanctity of his religious faith is violated;

2- When his national dignity is insulted; and

3- When his livelihood is seriously threatened.

Tyrants and autocrats have always known the limits of these specific cases, so they kept the minimum rate of them to ensure continued loyalty. Sometimes, they sought to deceive people so that they would not reach a state of feeling humiliated or extremely needy that incites revolution.

Nevertheless, the popular revolutions erupt while rulers and peoples are heedless; and while some peoples may be colonized, they may also be revolutionized, where what is happening in the Arab world may confirms this fact.

[1] Voluntary slavery, p. 159 in brief

[2] Ecology is concerned with the study of “the compatibility of living organisms with their surrounding environments, and how these organisms are affected by the interrelationships between all living things and their surrounding environments.

[3] The Personality of Egypt, (2/555).

[4] Egyptian Personality Psychology, Dr. Mohamed Elmahdy, Consultant Psychiatrist, link

[5] The Seven Pillars of the Egyptian Personality, p. 35

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