Abbas - Tanwîr al-Miqbâs min Tafsîr Ibn ‘Abbâs
(And Pharaoh said: O chiefs) O men of Egypt! (I know not that ye have a god other than me) therefore do not obey Moses, (so kindle for me (a fire), O Haman, to bake the mud; and set up for me a lofty tower in order that I may survey) I may climb up to (the God of Moses) whom he claims is in heaven and send him to me; (and lo! I deem him of the liars) there is no god in heaven.
And Pharaoh said, ‘O [members of the] council, I do not know of any god for you other than me. So kindle for me, O Hāmān, [a fire] over the clay, and bake for me bricks [of clay], and make me a tower, a lofty palace, that I may take a look at the god of Moses, to observe him and inspect him; for truly I consider him to be a liar’, in his claim of [the existence of] some other god and that he is his messenger.
(Then he gathered (his people) and cried aloud, saying: "I am your lord, most high.'' So Allah, seized him with punishment for his last and first transgression. Verily, in this is an instructive admonition for whosoever fears Allah.) (79:23-26) meaning: he brought his people together and called to them in a loud voice, shouting that, and they responded to him obediently. So Allah took revenge on him, and made him a lesson to others in this world and the Hereafter. He even confronted Musa with that, and said:
(So kindle for me (a fire), O Haman, to bake (bricks out of) clay, and set up for me a Sarh in order that I may look at the God of Musa;) He commanded his minister and adviser Haman to bake bricks for him, i.e., to make bricks in order to build a Sarh, a exalted towering palace. This is like the Ayah,
(And Fir`awn said: "O Haman! Build me a Sarh that I may arrive at the ways -- the ways of the heavens, and I may look upon the God of Musa, but verily, I think him to be a liar.'' Thus it was made fair seeming, in Fir`awn's eyes, the evil of his deeds, and he was hindered from the path; and the plot of Fir`awn led to nothing but loss and destruction) (40:36-37). Fir`awn built this tower, which was the highest structure ever seen on earth, because he wanted to show his people that Musa was lying when he claimed that there was a God other than Fir`awn. Fir`awn said:
وَإِنِّى لأَظُنُّهُ مِنَ الْكَـذِبِينَ
(and verily, I think that he (Musa) is one of the liars.) meaning, `when he says that there is a lord other than me.' The issue was not whether Allah had sent Musa, because he did not acknowledge the existence of the Creator in the first place. On the contrary, he said:
(And he and his armies were arrogant in the land, without right, and they thought that they would never return to Us.) means, they were arrogant oppressors who spread much mischief in the land, and they believed that there would be no Resurrection.
(So, behold what was the end of the wrongdoers. And We made them leaders inviting to the Fire) for those who followed them and took the same path as they did, rejecting the Messengers and denying the Creator.
وَيَوْمَ الْقِيـمَةِ لاَ يُنصَرُونَ
(and on the Day of Resurrection, they will not be helped.) their humiliation in this world is combined with and connected to their humiliation in the Hereafter, as Allah says:
أَهْلَكْنَـهُمْ فَلاَ نَـصِرَ لَهُمْ
(We have destroyed them. And there was none to help them) (47:13).
وَأَتْبَعْنَـهُم فِى هَذِهِ الدُّنْيَا لَعْنَةً
(And We made a curse to follow them in this world,) Allah decreed that they and their king Fir`awn should be cursed by the believers among His servants who follow His Messengers, just as in this world they were cursed by the Prophets and their followers.
وَيَوْمَ القِيَـمَةِ هُمْ مِّنَ الْمَقْبُوحِينَ
(and on the Day of Resurrection, they will be among disgraced.) Qatadah said, "This Ayah is like the Ayah,
(They were pursued by a curse in this (life) and on the Day of Resurrection. Evil indeed is the gift given.) (11:99).''
Maududi - Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi - Tafhim al-Qur'an
By this Pharaoh did not, and could not, mean that he was the creator of his people and the earth and the heavens, for such a thing be uttered only by a madman. Likewise; he also did not mean that they had no other deity besides him for the Egyptians worshiped many gods, and the Pharaoh himself had been made the incarnation of the sun god. The Qur'an testifies that the Pharaoh himself worshiped many gods: "The chiefs of Pharaoh's people said, `Will you leave Moses and his followers free to spread disorder in the land, and to discard you and your deities'?" (Al-A`raf: 127) Therefore, inevitably, the Pharaoh had not used the word "god" here for himself as a creator and deity, but as an absolute and supreme sovereign. What he meant was this: "I am the owner of this land of Egypt: I alone will rule here: My law will be the law of the land; I alone shall be accepted as the fountainhead of all commands and prohibitions here. None else is entitled to give commands in this country. Who is this Moses, who has appeared as the delegate of the Lord of the universe and is conveying orders to me as though he is the ruler and I am his subordinate?" That is why he addressed his courtiers, thus: "O people: Is not the kingdom of Egypt mine? And are not these canals flowing beneath me?" (Az-Zukhruf: 51) And that is why he said to Moses again and again, "Have you come to turn us away from the faith of our forefathers so that you too may dominate over the land?" (Yunus: 78) "O Moses, have you come to drive us out of our land by the power of your sorcery?" (Ta Ha: 57) "I fear he will change your religion, or cause mischief to appear in the land." (Al-Mu'min: 26)
If the matter is considered from this angle it will become evident that the position of Pharaoh was no different from the position of those states which claim political and legal sovereignty independent of Divine Law brought by the Prophets. Whether they accept a king as the fountainhead of law and commands and prohibitions, or the will of the nation, in any case as long as they stick to the position that the country will be ruled by their law and not by the Law of Allah and His Messengers, there will be no fundamental difference between their position and that of Pharaoh. It is, however, a different thing that the ignorant people curse Pharaoh but approve these as lawful. A person who understands reality will look for the spirit and sense and not merely for words and terminology. Pharaoh had used the word "god" for himself but these stales use the term "sovereignty" in the same sense. (For further explanation, see E.N. 21 of Ta Ha.
This was the same kind of mentality as the Russian communists of today are displaying. They launch Sputniks and Lunics and tell the world that these balls have not found God anywhere above. That stupid man of yore wanted to see God from the top of a tower. This shows that the extent of the imagination of the straying people during the past 3,500 years has remained where it was. They have not advanced even an inch. It is not known who told them that the Being Whom the God-worshipers acknowledge as the Lord of the universe resided some where above according to their belief. And if they do not see Him a few thousand feet or a few lakh miles above the earth's surface in this limitless universe, it will be a proof that He exists nowhere.
The Qur'an does not specify whether Pharaoh actually got such a tower built and tried to see God from the top of it, but it only relates what he said. Apparently, he did not commit the folly. He only meant to befool the people.
This also is not clear whether Pharaoh was, in actual fact, a disbeliever in the Being of the Lord of the universe, or talked atheism only due to stubbornness. In this regard his sayings point to the same mental confusion which one finds in the statements of the Russian Communists. Sometimes he wanted to climb into the sky and come back to tell the world that he had nowhere seen the God of Moses, and sometimes he would say, "Why were not bracelets of gold sent down on him, or a company of angels as attendants?" (Az-Zukhruf: 53) These things are not much different from what a former Prime Minister of Russia, Khrushchev, said. He sometimes rejected God and sometimes invoked Him and swore by Him. We are of the opinion that after the passage of the period of the Prophet Joseph and his successors when Egypt was dominated by the Coptic nationalism and a political revolution took place in the country owing to the racial and nationalistic prejudice, the new leaders, in their nationalistic enthusiasm, revolted against the God also towards Whom the Prophet Joseph and his followers, the Israelites and the Egyptian Muslims, had been calling the people. They thought that if they believed in God, they would never be able to shed the influence and impact of the civilization brought about by the Prophet Joseph. For if that civilization remained, they would never be able to consolidate, their political influence. For them belief in God and Muslim sovereignty were inseparable and inter-dependent. Therefore, to get rid of the one it was necessary to reject the other, although they could not root out belief in One God from the depths of their hearts.