Egypt seems a long way from where I’m sitting and I don’t pretend to understand all of the issues. I do hope a peaceful resolution of her current difficulties won’t take too long. Here in the West there is a presumption that democracy is the best (or possibly the least worst) form of government that a country may have and I am inclined to agree. I think I detect a certain amount of puzzlement from some of my fellow citizens when supporters of President Mubarak decided that they also would take to the streets of Egypt. They wanted to show support for him and I doubt if they were all paid to do so. I think we may have under-estimated human nature: it is easier to be loyal to a person than to an idea or a set of values. I’m not saying it is impossible or even rare to do otherwise, but that many people expect a single person to be in overall charge.
In other words, it is human nature to want to have a king. That is where having a constitutional monarchy can be useful: combining the virtues of democracy with the understanding of human nature that likes to identify someone who is (or at least appears to be) in overall charge. Not a perfect system but one that acknowledges both logic and emotion. Even a President can come to be regarded as a king (or queen) – they may well be (but not necessarily) elected democratically but part of their appeal is emotional not just democratic.
In the Old Testament it is recorded that the tribes of Israel petitioned Samuel the prophet for a King. They wanted a strong leader and what is more, other countries already had one! So they moved from being a federation of tribes to becoming a nation state. The Bible records that it was not God’s suggestion and that Samuel had his misgivings: Kings mean conscription to the army and taxes to pay. They thought it a price worth paying and God allowed it. So one of the themes of the Old Testament is how good or bad the various kings and queens were: a mixed blessing to say the least.
Meanwhile Jesus’ trial turned in part on the claim that he was a king. Yes, he was a king but not of the military type that people expected. As a king Jesus did issue commands – but of the sort that encouraged love, justice and harmony. It would appear that some were disappointed that Jesus was not the other sort of king.
Which brings me back to Egypt. Whatever sort of government and state we happen to wish for Egypt, we should not be surprised that some wish to keep the President a while longer. Many (not all) people like to have a king and will put up with quite some inconvenience in order to have one. I would not be surprised if some support for the Egyptian President is cynically motivated but we would be wise to acknowledge the real emotional attachment that some may feel and not dismiss it out of hand. One opposition poster accused President Mubarak of being like the Pharaohs of old. The point is, that for some, that is an attractive notion. We may not need kings and queens but many of us still like having them.
Meanwhile, spare a thought for HM the Queen. This Sunday (6th February) is the anniversary of her Accession to the Throne (the anniversary of when she became Queen). Whatever your views on monarchy it is worth noting that that means it is also the anniversary of when her father died. A bitter-sweet anniversary to say the least.