There are about 30 instances of the word الْمَلَأُ (‘establishment) in the Quran. General meaning of the word الْمَلَأُ is chiefs, elites, leaders and nobles. There are two instances where it is referred to the angels in the sense of a ‘ noble assembly’.
لَّا يَسَّمَّعُونَ إِلَى الْمَلَإِ الْأَعْلَىٰ وَيُقْذَفُونَ مِن كُلِّ جَانِبٍ
So] they may not listen to the exalted assembly [of angels] and are pelted from every side, TMQ [37:8]
مَا كَانَ لِيَ مِنْ عِلْمٍ بِالْمَلَإِ الْأَعْلَىٰ إِذْ يَخْتَصِمُونَ
I had no knowledge of the exalted assembly [of angels] when they were disputing [the creation of Adam]. TMQ [38:69]
In the rest of the 28 mentions of the word الْمَلَأُ has been used in a negative sense. It is is interesting to note that often when Firwan was mentioned then his elites and noble ones was also mentioned also.
The الْمَلَأُ served many functions:
1. Providing support to the ruler
2. Propaganda machine for the ruler I.e. Tonge of the ruler
3. The material strength of the ruler
4. Advising the ruler and providing policy options against the opposition
5. Carrying out the oppressive policies and edicts of the ruler against the ‘opposition’
Here are some examples.
قَالَ الْمَلَأُ مِنْ قَوْمِهِ إِنَّا لَنَرَاكَ فِي ضَلَالٍ مُبِينٍ
Said the eminent among his people, “Indeed, we see you in clear error….” (7:60)
قَالَ الْمَلَأُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا مِنْ قَوْمِهِ إِنَّا لَنَرَاكَ فِي سَفَاهَةٍ
Said the eminent ones who disbelieved among his people, “Indeed, we see you in foolishness… (7:66)
قَالَ الْمَلَأُ مِنْ قَوْمِ فِرْعَوْنَ إِنَّ هَٰذَا لَسَاحِرٌ عَلِيمٌ
Said the eminent among the people of Pharaoh, “Indeed, this is a learned magician (7:109)
قَالَ الْمَلَأُ الَّذِينَ اسْتَكْبَرُوا مِنْ قَوْمِهِ لَنُخْرِجَنَّكَ يَا شُعَيْبُ
Said the eminent ones who were arrogant among his people, “We will surely evict you, O Shu’ayb… (7:88)
وَانْطَلَقَ الْمَلَأُ مِنْهُمْ أَنِ امْشُوا وَاصْبِرُوا عَلَىٰ آلِهَتِكُمْ
And the eminent among them went forth, [saying], “Continue, and be patient over [the defense of] your gods… (38:6)
So what is the point?
The point is that behind every tyrant oppressor there is an establishment (الْمَلَأُ) which keeps the tyrant in power, supports him materially, financially and intellectually in order to maintain the power of the tyrant in return of the establishment (الْمَلَأُ) securing their interests. The tyrants may come and go but the الْمَلَأُ (establishment) remains.
Today the الْمَلَأُ includes all those who support and sustains the tyrants in power: The political & economic elites, media, security forces, academics, scholars, thinks tanks, political parties and others.
Something to think about when thinking of changing tyrannical societies.