The first Egyptian revolution

Mahmoud Salem

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It is said to have started sometime around 2181 B.C., although the exact date cannot be pinpointed for sure. The first Egyptian popular uprising took place around then, thus ending the reign of the 6th dynasty and the era of the old Kingdom. It overthrew the rule of King Pepi II, who ruled the country for a very long time, some even say into his 90’s, with documents usually describing him as an ageing King secluded in his palace and disconnected from the outside world. Stop me when this starts to sound familiar.

The causes behind the first Egyptian revolution were as follows: the long reign of the King created problems with succession in the royal household, where there was no clear heir apparent who could hold the keys of the Kingdom and stop the infighting that had plagued the royal court for years. The infighting was mainly due to the weakening of the King and the centralised authority, which lead to emergence of many forces and individuals who were part of the royal court but started to act with impunity, prompting many to question the authority of the King.

Extravagance and corruption reigned supreme all over the land, along with extensive injustice and class discrimination. The agricultural based economy was getting controlled by Feudal Lords who cared very little for their workers, and who were more interested in conflicts over political influence and economic prosperity between each other than the well-being of the country. These conflicts dominated the life of the general Egyptian population until one day they had enough, and started the first Egyptian revolution.

Like any revolution, the first Egyptian revolution had its negative and positive consequences. On the negative side we have the complete destruction of state authority and institutions (local and central), the collapse of the security and judicial apparatus, and unprecedented wave of crime and looting. This lead to the eventual economic breakdown, with production collapsing and internal and external trade halted due to production and security issues, and the people refused to pay their taxes, which lead to the complete failure of the little state services they had.

This, in turn, lead to the collapse of the religious and moral values that defined the Egyptian society for decades, and to a wave of atheism unprecedented amongst the Egyptian population, with many of them feeling that if the gods existed, then they had forsaken them.

The positive consequences were mainly in the area of rising political awareness of the population, with the ideas of equality and rights taking hold amongst them against the previous stringent class system that existed before, and with the establishment of schools of political thought, which aimed to come up with policies that would ensure good governance of the land and the rules rulers must follow. This era was also marked with the emergence of new artists, who brought new styles and interpretations to classical Egyptian artworks and architecture.

The first Egyptian revolution spanned four different dynasties, rising, trying to rule the country, and failing, to the point that Manheto, a historian of the Ptolemaic era, describes a period in it where 70 kings ruled for 70 days. This era was marked with a divided Kingdom filled with civil strife and conflict, not to mention attacks from invading tribes from our Asian and Libyan borders. The general weakness of the country, and the insufficiency of regional and minority rulers, made Egyptians very wary and tired of localised governance.

Eventually Egyptians decided that what they needed was a strong centralised monarchy that doesn’t infringe upon their rights, which paved the way for the 11th dynasty to take over the country in absolute monarchial rule once again, under Menuhotep II , who unified the country and ushered in the era of the Middle Kingdom, which was marked as an era of great wealth and prosperity, ending the revolution.

The first Egyptian revolution lasted 141 years, with the people, in the end, demanding the return of the monarchial rule that they revolted against in the first place. If you are a believer that history repeats itself, and this information is disturbing you, please remember one thing: they didn’t have internet back then.

(The writer is a columnist at the Egypt-based Daily News, where this article was published on Oct. 29, 2012)

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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