Author: Dr. Leena Johns
Category: Popular Read
Publish Date: Mar 9, 2011
I noted the parallels drawn between Mubarak and the Pharaohs’ of Ancient Egypt in the popular press with undisguised fascination. When the protests spread to their second week and threatened to spill over to a third and yet President Hosni Mubarak showed no signs of relinquishing his post –headlines spoke about how the Pharaoh (Mubarak) was hardening his heart to the cries of the people. The headlines were so surreal; I could have been well reading a newspaper printed at the time of Moses! For me, watching the situation in Egypt unfold, notably from the status posts of my Arab friends on Facebook and their frequent tweets, it appeared that history was repeating itself again.
Sometime ago in the distant past, Egypt saw pretty much a similar revolt. A revolt led by a stammering adopted son of Egyptian royalty- Moses; a similar non-violent revolt to free a group of enslaved people; a revolt targeted against a similarly hardened Pharaoh. Whilst it was the freedom to have a democratically elected government that would treat the protesters as citizens and not subjects that was at stake in Egypt’s current scenario, it was freedom to worship the living God in their own land that was at stake in the Old Testament times. It was about freedom, nonetheless.
It was irresistible not to draw out more comparisons.
Undoubtedly Mubarak was as close as one could get to a modern day Pharaoh. He spent hours primping himself every morning. He dyed his hair and his eyebrows jet black and even used rouge or blush to add a touch of rosy color to his cheeks. He wore heels to look taller, had his pants lengthened to camouflage his heels and even used a corset to keep his belly reigned in. Comical as it is to imagine Mubarak’s naturally bulging eyes as caused by a corset that was too tight, Mubarak took his physical appearance quite seriously. Despite declining eyesight, he shunned using glasses for vision in public. To guess his age would have been an impossible task. At 82, he could have easily passed for a man half his age. He would have certainly done the makeup artists of the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt proud. The Pharaohs were so aesthetically obsessed, the Egyptian mummy makers who preserved the dead Pharaohs’ had to ensure that the mummies were adorned and made up just like in life. And in the end that is what Mubarak and his regime had become – a lifeless mummy stuck in antiquity.
Now there is nothing wrong with wanting to look good at his age or any age for that matter- all of his efforts to cling on to his youth are comical at the least and they were certainly harmless. But what was not comical and certainly harmful was the mummification of his regime and the country that was at his mercy. If one were to call a spade- a spade, then it is nothing but the wholesome truth and not a euphemism to state that Mubarak was the head of a geriatric club he called his government. The young were not represented in his government and were conspicuous by their absence. Cabinet ministers could remain in their posts for 20 years, the top government positions in a nation of 82 million rotated amongst the very same 100 or so people just like it would have been in ancient Egypt where sons and nephews, uncles and cousins could only penetrate the higher echelons of power. Immense fortunes were made by those in power while the people were encumbered with immense poverty and even with a high rate of economic growth; more than 40 percent of the population lived on less than $2 a day.
Owning a home in Egypt by the common man was an impossible dream. Those in power bought government owned land at derisory process and then sold it to people for real estate development at exorbitant prices. This drove home prices through the roof and beyond the reach of the common man- plunging the state into impoverishment - a detrimental factor that came to haunt Mubarak and proved pivotal in his nemesis by binding the protestors- millions of them who could not leave their parents home and build families of their own because of the high cost of housing.
A scenario with eerily similar elements played truant in ancient Egypt too. The Pharaoh when faced with the demand to let the people go- to his own detriment- ordered that the enslaved Israelite workers would have to obtain the straw that was used as a binder in the dried bricks themselves. Previously the Israelites were supplied with the straw by their taskmasters ensuring good quality bricks. With the Israelites having to fend for the straw themselves, the quality of the work done for the Pharaoh was sure to decrease but despite this the Pharaoh persisted with the order that proved detrimental to his own work just so that he could persecute the people and make them give up their demands. Mubarak and Pharaoh – 2 leaders with diseased sclerotic vision for their country, brought about by their quest to cling on to power for a short while.
And while it took just all of 18 days to topple the present day Pharaoh- Mubarak, an analysis of the length of the plagues tells us that it might have taken about 50 days or so for the 10 plagues to come to pass and eventually weaken the mighty Pharaoh. Twenty-six days are named in Exodus, besides an unspecified number of days for certain plagues to become effective and achieve what they were designed to do: On the basis of ten days for the first plague (Exodus 7:25) and the ninth plague (10:22), and supposing that the other plagues lasted this long, at least fifty days were needed for the plagues.
And just like the crowd at Tahrir Square, Moses and Aaron did not back away from their objectives despite the “protests” being dragged into several days. If the Pharaohs- both present day and the past thought that they could simply rely on the time-tested strategy of simply "wearing the protestors out" that did not happen then and it did not happen now.
Besides engaging in a little bit of comparative study between these two historic events, what is the spiritual lesson that we can take away from these events?
Ancient Egypt was a land of thousands of gods, and the Israelite people were not unaffected by the idolatry of these polytheists. Although they were explicitly aware of their living God, they did allow the influence of the Egyptians and the fanfare in which they sacrificed and approached the worships of these Gods to fascinate them atleast subconsciously. This is evident from the way they sought to worship a golden calf soon after their departure from Egypt when Moses left them alone for a few days. But despite this subconscious influence, the 600,000 men and their women and children, some numbers put this estimate at around 2 million people in all did not intermingle with the Egyptians. Because of this, the Israelites were able to maintain their cultural identity over the 400 years while they were in Egypt. This maintenance of their cultural identity intimidated "a new king" who came to power: "‘Look,’ he said to his people, ‘the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country’" (Exodus vss. 9-10). To "deal shrewdly" was just a euphemism for persecute. The Pharaoh did not really have a valid reason to persecute the Israelites. In fact they undoubtedly contributed to the economy. As often happens, the blessings of God on His people arouses the jealousy of the wicked people around us. When men deal wickedly with others, it is common for them to justify their inhumane reproachable actions as just or wise, but the folly of their behavior, at last will be manifested before all men
Israelites, who through the fine service of Joseph, once were favored by the Pharaoh, were now reviled by the entire nation of Egypt. This is true sometimes even in our lives. The place of our satisfaction- our jobs, our friends circle, and even in some unfortunate circumstances due to the myopic vision of some elders, even our own church, may soon become the place of our affliction… Those very same persons that loved us may possibly turn to hate us.
A lesson that we can learn from the book of Exodus is that God deals with His own people through affliction. When the people sinned, He scourged them, but not to their destruction, only to their amendment. It tells us of a God who is not partial, but will punish sin, even in His own children. But the important thing to remember is that that the afflictions, which God lays upon His children is intended not to their aversion, but is sent rather to work towards their conversion.
But why would God allow the lives of his children to go from prosperity to bitterness? Many eminent Biblical scholars have given their comments on this topic , some of which I would like to represent here - 1. So that the Israelites should hate the impure manners and superstitions of Egypt. 2. So that by this means they might be stirred up to pray to God for their deliverance, and to long for the land of Canaan. 3. So that God might take just occasion to show his judgments upon Egypt 4. So that God’s goodness and power might be seen, in supporting His people and increasing them even in the midst of their affliction. God allowed the persecution of the Israelites "to prepare Israel for their inheritance. The rough schooling they had in Egypt served to develop their muscles and toughen their sinews. Also their bitter lot in Egypt and their trials in the wilderness were calculated to make the land that flowed with milk and honey the more appreciated when it became theirs.
The effect of the persecution on the Israelites was not what the Egyptians intended: "But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites" (vss. 12-13). The persecution did not weaken them, but made the Israelites stronger, and brought them together as a nation.
That was the same effect, the economic social and political persecution of the Mubarak regime had on the young Egyptians. And that strength that increases with oppression is what we need to take away from both these turning points in history.