A devastating New Year's Day terrorist bombing at a Coptic church in Alexandria in Egypt that killed 21 people and injured 79 was the latest in a spate of violent assaults against the Middle East's vulnerable Christian communities, reported Borzou Daragahi and Amro Hassan in The Los Angeles Times (1/1).
This highlighted the tragic situation of the Copts in Egypt who have been subjected to appalling discrimination and persecution since the declaration of a republic after the coup d'état in 1952 against King Farouk by General Naquib and Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Farouk abdicated in favour of his son, King Fuad II. To avoid British intervention, the ‘free officers’ recognized the succession. They also allowed Egypt’s democratic institutions to continue, but only for almost one year.
Then they abrogated the constitution and declared a republic.
The original inhabitants of Egypt, the Copts had lived with discrimination and persecution from the time of the Arab – Muslim invasion of the seventh century.
This was alleviated with the rise of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty, and firmed under the nineteenth century British occupation which was formalised in the First World War. ( Egypt was formally a dependency of the Ottoman Empire, which was allied to Germany and Austria-Hungary and at war with Britain.)
After the war the British offered Egypt independence provided they retained control over the Suez Canal. When this proved unacceptable to the Egyptian leaders, the British unilaterally ended the protectorate and declared Egyptian independence, while retaining the Canal Zone.
Egypt retained a constitution based on Britain’s, but in which The King took a more active role.
…Arab constitutional monarchies…
[ Continued below]
It is a fact that in an Arab constitutional monarchy, there is more freedom, more democracy and a stronger regard for human rights, including those of minorities.
The kingdom of Morocco is, for example, a model in the respect it has accorded its Jewish community. And under the Egyptian Kings, the rights of the Copts were protected.
This of course does not surprise constitutional monarchists.
In any event, the period from the later part of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth – the period relating to the emergence of the Egyptian constitutional monarchy – is today known as a golden age among the Copts.
“Almost six decades after the 1952 revolution, which ousted King Farouk from power and sent him into exile in Italy, Egypt finds itself in the absurd position of having no clear successor to its president, Hosni Mubarak.”
So began an opinion piece, “Egypt's royal resurgence”, by Amira Nowaira in The Guardian. It was published on 10 June 2010. As readers of this column would know, The Guardian is not known for its royalist tendencies. She continued:
As speculations proliferate concerning who will succeed the ailing president, the Royal Family, Ms. Nowaira says , is back on the scene, with the blessings and support of the state. It may not be far-fetched to suggest then that the recent popularity of the House of Mohammed Ali is being used to lend credibility to the idea that the hereditary system, despite its acknowledged defects, can't be too bad after all.
The author is referring to the continuing rumours that it has been decided that the President's son, Gamal, is to succeed him.
An hereditary republic is more than a curious tendency in the Arab world, as Brian Whitaker in “Hereditary republics in Arab states” The Guardian, 28 August 2001, has explained.
Of course keeping the presidency in the family is not limited to the Arab world. It has even been known in the United States, and of course,in England in its brief and unhappy experience of republicanism under Cromwell, father and son.
Ms. Nowaira points out that in the 1950s and 1960s, the Egyptian republic embarked on a systematic erasure or distortion of that period's history.
“School textbooks discredited the ancien regime and represented it as corrupt and morally degraded. The media competed in exposing and deploring the ex-king's gambling and womanising habits. It was politically incorrect to praise Farouk or any aspect of his regime.
”But the past decade has witnessed a sea change in the state's attitude towards the old monarchy, allowing a revision and reevaluation of Egypt's monarchic history and the cultural legacy of that era. Numerous projects with this objective in mind have been encouraged or sponsored by the state. One such project that aims to preserve and document royal palaces, including among many Abdeen and Al Tahra, is now being undertaken by CultNat, the Centre for the Documentation of the Cultural and Natural Heritage.
“A television drama series entitled King Farouk was produced and shown in 2007 to great acclaim. The series contributed significantly in transforming the image of Farouk and his regime. It presented the ineffectual, fun-loving monarch as a figure to sympathise with rather than condemn.
…monarchy's parliamentary system, democratic institutions…
She points out that King Farouk was totally unprepared at the age of 17 for the responsibilities of a reigning monarch.
But what is more significant, she says, was the portrayal of Egypt's parliamentary system and democratic institutions during Farouk's reign as vibrant and powerful, though admittedly far from perfect.
“Had this democratic experiment not been nipped in the bud by the revolutionary overturn, the series suggested, it might have served as the foundation of a nascent but credible democratic system.Members of the royal family have also become increasingly visible in the Egyptian media."
As indeed the same institutions could have in Iraq had not a succession of murderous dictators overthrown a gentle monarchy .
The author does not mention this, but Egypt under the Kings was not only a vibrant democracy. It was a cosmoplitan, pluralist, sophisticated land in which the arts and debate flourished.
People of all religions and races lived side by side.
Most of the foreign minorities were expelled by Colonel Nasser, and their property seized.
…securing the presidency?…
"The visit by Farouk's son, Prince Ahmed Fouad, to Egypt in April 2010 was a high-profile affair. Interviews with him were aired and widely publicised, as were earlier interviews with other royal figures. Books by and about the royal family have become hugely popular.
In May 2010 the Bibliotheca Alexandrina held a book launch of Princess Nevine Abbas Halim's memoir, Diaries of an Egyptian Princess, with the princess herself reading extracts from it. The growing popular interest in the royal family is understandable in view of the prevalent sense of discontent in the country at the moment.
The 1952 revolution promised a more equitable society based on a fair distribution of wealth, but has not delivered on its promises. The frightening chasm between the obscenely rich and the abjectly poor is not showing any signs of narrowing.
Moreover, unashamed displays of wealth have become the defining feature of the newly rich. In contrast, the royal family seems to exude a sense of decency and refinement that is now lost forever.
But the state's tacit encouragement of royal nostalgia raises questions and invites speculations. At this sensitive juncture in Egypt's political life when the vexed question of political succession hangs ominously in the air, the royal family – once demonised and denigrated – has now been given a new lease of public life.
“It's ironic that Egypt, which overthrew the king in favour of a republican system, should find itself again considering the pluses of hereditary systems while casting nostalgic glances at the bright faces of the royal family. For Egyptians, it seems, the end of all their exploring was in fact to arrive where they started and "know the place for the first time"
They could of course restore the monarchy.