إِنَّ فِرْعَوْنَ عَلَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَجَعَلَ أَهْلَهَا شِيَعًا يَسْتَضْعِفُ طَائِفَةً مِنْهُمْ يُذَبِّحُ أَبْنَاءَهُمْ وَيَسْتَحْيِي نِسَاءَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّهُ كَانَ مِنَ الْمُفْسِدِينَ
Inna fir‘awna ‘alā fil-ardhi waja‘ala ahlahā shiya‘an yastad‘ifu tā’ifatan minhum yudhabbihu abnā’ahum wayatahyī nisā’ahum; innahu kanā minal mufsidīn.
Surely Fir’awn exalted himself in the land and made its people into parties, weakening one party from among them, slaughtering their sons, and sparing their women. Indeed, He was one of the agents of corruption
(Sūrat al-Qasas, No 28, Āyat 4)
This verse describes the strategies used by the Pharaohs to oppress people and spread corruption on earth. These are the strategies used by tyrants in history as well as in modern times. Although times change, principles of human behaviour do not change. The methods used to oppress people by those in power have always followed the same patterns.
The following methods of oppression are outlined in the verse:
1) Exalting over others. Fir‘awn claimed to be the supreme god, in control of all things. And he said, ‘I am your exalted lord!’ (Q 79:24). Oppressors make false claims of superiority, trying to instil awe and fear in the hearts of others. The aura of grandeur they promote for themselves is actually quite weak. It is not based on the source of all strength and is vulnerable and flimsy. Those who take strength from other than Allah may plot complex plans, but their entire structure is like the spider’s web (Q 29:41), it can be snuffed out in an instant. Many incidents reveal the actual weakness of the oppressor, belying their arrogant facade. True believers disassociate themselves entirely from the strategy of self exaltation. The Quran describes such believers as those who have no desire to exalt themselves in the earth (Q 28:83).
2) Dividing people. Oppressors create divisions among people, turning them against each other. They want to create disunity among the masses, so they do not revolt against them. Today, many Muslim countries are divided, with differences of ethnicity, religion, language etc. turning them against each other. Differences among people are from the signs of Allah. The Quran says: Among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the difference of your languages and colours. There are indeed signs in that for those who know (Q 30:22). Instead of appreciating differences and working together for society, differences are accentuated and turned into weapons of hatred. During colonial rule in India and Africa, the occupying countries divided the people into many groups and encouraged animosity between them.
3) Weakening a particular group. Fir‘awn was afraid of the Banu Israel who had been predicted to overthrow his rule. He commanded that all the boys born to the tribe should be killed. He wished to not only eliminate the possibility of a man from among them who would threaten his rule, but also to weaken the Banu Israel as a whole. According to Tafsīr Namūne, this practice was to weaken the entire group, and it continued even after the rising of Prophet Mūsā ‘alayhis-salām, as mentioned in the Quran: So, when he brought them the truth from Us, they said, ‘Kill the sons of the faithful who are with him and spare their women.’ But the plots of the faithless only go awry (Q 40:25). Strategies to weaken others could also be more subtle. They include making the group dependent on certain commodities, influencing their thinking and culture, and silencing them with amusement and entertainment. The modern world sees such instances of weakening minority groups by the dominant authorities.
Let this verse remind us to be alert to the strategies of the oppressors. Their grand claims of superiority and benevolence must not fool us. It is a facade to establish power over others.
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh.