Ruling families not fondly remembered in Egypt

The history of divine kingship and dictatorial hubris has a consistent theme: elevating a ruler’s name above all others and stamping that name on just about everything in sight. In Saddam Hussein’s Iraq his image was everywhere, at times in the heroic proportions of a Babylonian king; visit Syria and you will find Assad and son lionized in every nook and cranny; Timur is resurrected in Uzbekistan. Then there is Hosni Mubarak, whose fall from power is now accompanied by an erasure of his public visage. As reported in Al Jazeera:

An Egyptian court has ordered the names of Hosni Mubarak, the country’s former president, and his wife Suzanne, to be removed from all public places, including streets and parks. Judge Mohammad Hassan Omar ordered on Thursday that Mubarak’s name and picture be removed from sport fields, streets, schools, libraries and other public establishments, according to the state-run al-Ahram newspaper. Currently, various public spaces, including squares, streets and about 500 public schools bear the names of either Hosni, Suzanne or Gamal Mubarak.

Timur is resurrected as a Central Asian hero in Uzbekistan

Saddam, before (below) and after (top toppling)

Those rulers who seek immortality in the public sphere have a daunting challenge. Some, like Charles de Gaulle or Abraham Lincoln will provide sacred resting places for pigeons into the far distant future. Others bite the dust right away; as witness the toppling of the statue of Saddam in a Baghdad square back in 2003. But in the case of Mubarak there is an ironic twist. He is not the first Egyptian ruler to be etched out of history by those who took over. Hosni Mubarak, meet Akhenaten. Akhenaten was the Egyptian pharaoh whose monotheistic fervor and somewhat sunny disposition, not to mention his apparent feminism in elevating Queen Nefertiti‘s stature and statuture, angered the establishment priests. The irony is not that history in a land where some would argue “history” began repeats itself, but that those who gain power seldom tolerate their immediate predecessors, no matter what ideology is being toppled. Mubarak was no Akhenaten, except perhaps to the modern-day priests of Memphis. Yet Egypt today is thoroughly monotheized, even if not with the solar power imagined by the long forgotten pharaoh. I doubt that Mubarak will one day, perhaps in several centuries or even a millennium, be resurrected as an Egyptian hero of Tamarlanian stature, but no doubt more rulers will rise and be erased before the promised Yawm al-Qiyama all the present monotheisms (and even a Mayan shaman) have yearned for.

Daniel Martin Varisco