May, 2011


Mythic Prelude:

Revolution Tourist

Hail, and welcome to the Universal Festival Calendar for May, 2011.
And . . . Al Shaab Yureed Isqat Alnezam! That is, "The People Want the Regime to Fall." These are the Arabic words that people everywhere in the Middle East have been chanting for months now, as what is now known as the Arab Spring began to spread months before the start of the spring season of the Earth Year. It keeps surging wider and higher. There's a compelling universality in the rhythm of the words, which have the same 2-2-3 rhythm as the slogans that inspired them: El Pueblo Unido Nunca Sera Vencido. The People, United, Will Never be Defeated.
The question, then, as revolution remains in the air and gets more hairy and heady than it already was amid the heat and quickening of spring, is: How to get the people united in the interest of their own freedom and happiness at a time when all the divide-and-conquer tricks and ruses in the traditional bag of lies are getting played all at once, so they jostle, bump and rub each other so hot that the temperature of the whole structure of control rises toward the red line of desperate fever. And what's more, and what's new and unique this time, and completely unpredictable, is that at the very time when the forces of domination and control are interconnected as they've never been before, and able to act swiftly in concert . . . they not only have less of an idea of what is really going on than they ever had before, but they are in many cases -- like vacant kings produced by centuries of inbreeding by royal families -- much less clear and capable than the grandfathers and mentors who taught them.
Imagine what it would be like if we were financial players like the ones in Inside Job, the Oscar-winning documentary about the Wall Street crisis of 2008, and how our lives must go now as we talk day and night with our allies and agents all over the globe. We pay, move and sacrifice our politicians and media, and worry whether the new knights and pawns we've just pulled out of the box will prove to be stooges even weirder and more intractable than the ones who are now off the board. Imagine plotting with our fellow suits about when and how the tide of change will rise so high that to save ourselves and keep control, we'll have no choice but to play the Doom Card, constrict the global money supply, and trigger a worldwide economic collapse.
All right. It's not as though we haven't done some version of this a thousand times before, in nations and regions, and in the skillfully-managed Rolling Depression of the 1930's, followed by the Debt Bonanza of World War II. We know from history and recent experience how to make maximum profit at both the top and bottom of the boom-and-bust game that the clueless sheep we shear, slaughter and roast still haven't grasped for what it is, and call the "business cycle." And yet . . . this time the idea is to stop an unprecedented tsunami of social and economic awakening by doing the unthinkable, and making the whole world economic pie implode. What if, at the moment we and the other banksters have to coalesce and make our move, we're all so addled by alcohol, cocaine, megalomania, stress, fear and fever that none of us can think straight? And what if, as Ridley Scott's Robin Hood put it, the lambs become lions, break through the guards and the grates and the stairs, and burst through our corner office doors? What then? Thank the Goddess neither of us has to David Rockefeller, sere and trembling at 95.
Instead, we're thoughtful people who are coping with the opposite posture. We love life and liberty enough to be excited at the changes we and others are seeing and bringing in a wave of Uranian white water unlike anything we've ever seen before. Yet we know that if the momentum of liberation continues, as it will, then desperate authoritarian measures will inevitably escalate. We know too that if power concedes nothing without a demand, then it will stop at nothing when it's terrified of losing everything. Are we advised or allowed to step the pressure down and back off from the heroic choice? No. Like the valiant people of Egypt, we keep going. We play the hand we dealt ourselves so long ago. This is why it is essential that we encourage and inspire one another. This is why we create and circulate the stories of the gains we have already made, and the initiatives we've launched that will grow the coming harvest of freedom. This is why I went to Egypt in March and April.
A Zillion Little New Shops
I was supposed to guide a journey through Egypt's sacred sites along the Nile and in Sinai for a group of sound healers who wanted to experiment with the astounding resonant properties of the famous, and not so famous, pyramids, temples and "tombs." The balance of the group's payment was due, in fact, on the day that Hosni Mubarak resigned his office. Not surprisingly, the group bailed, not wanting to drive through a police riot or a battallion of baltageya marauders on the way from the airport to their Giza hotel. I went anyway, as the bookstore and health and community centers who'd arranged my book signings, talks, ceremonies and astrocartography readings were all ready to sail straight ahead. Undeterred by relentless fear propaganda from Western media, other foreign visitors were there too. All of the ones I met shared the same love of the Egyptians and admiration of what they've done, and all felt the same desire to spend some praise and money where it is due. One boy I met on my second day in Cairo asked me if I was a professor from America who had come to teach the Egyptians about democracy. I said, "No, I've come to learn about it from you. You are the teachers now."
The amazing waves of optimism, creativity, confidence, courage and joy that continue to ebb and flow in Egypt are unlike anything I've ever felt, as is the longing that people even in the famously friendly city of Cairo have to share their pride in what their country has always been, and what it will now be as people of all classes, faiths and talents continue the work they know has just begun, and act together to create Masr Gadida, the New Egypt. Almost all of them know it will not be fast or easy, and that the effort has just begun. And most of them know, whether they're happy about it or not, that there can be no turning back now.
What follows here is a picture gallery with a little of what I saw and heard. Thanks to Sherifa Mostafa for her stories, Arabic translations, and her leads to other sources, and epecially for turning me on to Tarek Shalaby, whose "What Really Happened Friday 28th?" is essential reading and viewing, and the brilliant, passionate blogger Sandmonkey (Mahmoud Salem). Rowan El Shimi and Barefoot Countess (Lilian Wagdy) are doubly notable as Muslim women who have braved every obstacle of religion, sexism and traditional family inertia to deliver their stories, and thereby inspire countless other Middle Eastern women to find their voices and speak their truth. See also Juan Cole and Shahin Cole's "An Arab Spring for Women."
Many streets near important intersections, like this part of 26 July St. near the Nasser metro station in downtown Cairo, now look like this. Outdoor merchants like the ones shown here always used to operate freely as long as they stayed on the sidewalk inside the green fence at left, and they paid off the police. Unlike the USA, where one pays the local crime syndicate for protection, here in Egypt, until recently, the hated police were the syndicate for exploiting routine street business. Criminal gangs operate as drug dealers, especially in the poorer districts of Cairo, but they don't compete with cops for control of ports, terminals and streets. Now, even though the old bribe-and-drive still rules at the airport, where the cabbies have to keep moving, the Revolution has left the
police feeling a lot less safe on the streets they used to dominate. In many places there are no police at all. They know now that anyone they hassle can send up a shout, and raise an instant mob of people who'd love to settle a score or two. With the cops nowhere to be seen, there's been an explosion of street business in anything and everything that anybody has always wanted to sell. Cairo, where it's been famously said that you can find anything, now has, it seems, a zillion small entrepreneurs who've appeared overnight. The traffic is even more jammed than it always was before, with all these vendors spilling into the streets like lines of triple-parked cars. How this will all play four months from now, during Ramadan in August, is anybody's guess. No one's thinking that far ahead yet.
Here's my favorite new merchant. As nearly as I could understand Kassim the shoe seller with a little help from a kind woman whose English is better than my Arabic, he used to work at his brother's small neighborhood grocery store, and has just recently started his own shop, like all the other people who are now in business here. I could not help noticing his very distinctive headgear, and I asked if he's always liked to wear boxes on his head. He
said no, he could never do that when he was working at his brother's store, but now, it's all right, I can wear a shoebox on my head if I want to, we can do what we want now.
Honoring the Fallen, and the New Army
Revolutionary street art is burgeoning spontaneously everywhere in Egypt, as people honor the martyrs of the Revolution in everything from small posters and bumper stickers to huge banners. Many bear the names and faces of those who died in the fighting in Tahrir Square, and in other violence by security police provocateurs and the baltageya, the vicious prison inmates whom the regime used to unleash as needed to create terror, giving them money, demerol and orders to trash and bash whatever and whomever the Interior Ministry chose to attack. The Romans and other ancient peoples used prisoners as miners and galley slaves; Americans use them as cheap labor in a new corporatist prison industry; the Mubarak regime reportedly had nearly half a million of these rabid characters, and the mere threat that they'd be let out was often enough to keep people quiet and indoors.
This painting -- on the side of a water pumping house -- shows one of the baltageya's victims. Seif Mostafa, 17, was shot and killed on Jan. 28, the "Day of Rage," in front of his apartment building in the upscale suburb of Heliopolis, a district where residences and shopping centers were specifically targeted for destruction, to keep the better-off people scared and unwilling to join the youth in Tahrir Square. But they
went anyway, and as the world now knows, there were a million people in and around Tahrir Square within the week, mingling and sharing food with the soldiers who broke ranks to join their people, not fight them.
Tanks, armored cars and troops are all over Cairo. Some protect the records of the Interior Ministry's crimes. Others are moved from place to place every few days, perhaps to underscore the message that, as Kurt Vonnegut once put it, "There is a lesson in tanks and machine guns. Work within the system." If the four boy soldiers shown on and in front of this tank are anything to go by, though, the mathematics of the Egyptian labor hive, at least among Egyptian men, may be shifting radically. It used to be that in many places, the drones outnumbered workers by about three to one.
For every two men who were actually doing something, there would be six others smoking, arguing, drinking tea, reading the Qur'an and sleeping. But here two men are washing the tank, and two others are relaxing in front of it -- not in dingy white plastic chairs, but in snazzy yellow ones. An engaged, productive work force, at least here, has shot up from one fourth to half! If this is not a sign of progress, then one wonders what is.
Tending the Garden
Friday is the day of rest in Muslim countries, so it's been the day for protests ever since the crucial Friday, Jan. 28, started weekly events that have been called the Days of Surprises ever since massive demonstrations on Friday, Feb. 11 convinced Mubarak that it was all over. He flew the next day to his seaside palace in Sharm El Sheikh. I was in Tahrir Square on two Fridays: early on the scary March 11, which got rough in the hours before midnight; and in the late afternoon on the relatively uneventful April 1, a week before some very courageous young army officers, as reported by Al-Masry Al-Youm (Egypt Daily) told Egypt and the world, in the words of First Lt. Mohamed Mahmoud Ahmed Hanafi, "No more fear and silence. Everything we want revolves around one thing: social justice."
I had my camera with me on these two Fridays, and while I had chances to take some good shots, I couldn't bring myself to switch from the active role of a vocal participant to the observer role of a photographer, and not a very good one at that, when so many Egyptians were getting much better pictures on their phones. I took both of the pictures of Tahrir Square that follow here on April 3, the day I flew off to Rome. The first one speaks volumes to those who know Tahrir Square and the events that happened in and around it.
At right is a man who's come to get souvenir pictures of Tahrir Square and the protestors who are here at all hours, as they were on this Sunday morning. Low-rent Egyptian tour firms and solo opportunists now offer Revolution Tours, shepherding people through Tahrir Square and telling them what went on here, and when. The peach-red building in center background is the Egyptian Museum. It was attacked by secret police who
broke in, destroyed mummies and committed other acts of vandalism that the Mubarak regime blamed on the protestors. To the left of the Museum is the well-torched headquarters of Mubarak's National Democratic Party. In the middle background are the cranes, now busy building a new Cairo.
Out of frame to the right, incidentally, is a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet, which was the focus of one of the weirder, funnier stories of the week before Mubarak fell. All of the foreign fast food restaurants on Tahrir Square closed during the crucial weeks of the transition, and the only Egyptian eateries that stayed open were koshari shops who showed solidarity with the protests by giving away their rice and pasta mixes with a fiery chili sauce. Mubarak's media team, or whatever used to impersonate a propaganda ministry until February, stole a page from Hosni's own playbook by spreading a report that, as Sherifa Mostafa put it, "the people in Tahrir Square are agents and thugs given 50 Euros and a KFC meal to do what they're doing and destroy [Egypt] for the benefit of a hundred different foreign countries." The people, even those who've never heard of KFC, saw through this nonsense at once, so lies like this one raise a question: Can we tell a dying regime is finished when its lies get so off-the-wall-implausible that no one shivers with fear anymore, and the people just laugh? Until we've tested this premise further and can get back to you on it, you may enjoy the latest line to get popular in Egypt. When you want to tell another person that he's just tried to get away with a real whopper, you can say, "You idiot! KFC is closed." And here's another line that's sure to crack 'em up when you're bargaining with the street merchants: "This was cheaper with Mubarak!"
Here is a reverse view of the previous shot. Here in the center of the square, people meet, demonstrate -- and tend the Freedom Garden. Under the tree at center are men sleeping, as they do every night to make sure that nobody tries to undo their work by stealing their flower pots. Signs like this one are posted here, usually to remind the army: We're Not Leaving. We expect you to keep your promises, and we will not relent until you do.
The sign shown here is less heroic. It's an apology to Tunisia for a soccer game that got out of hand the night before, as Egyptian fans ran onto the field and disrupted the game. Were they seized by the temporary insanity that seems to hit football fans everwhere? Or did they embrace the Tunisian team to show their solidarity and admiration for the Tunisians as the people who started the Arab Spring? Or both? Who knows? In 2011, anything is possible.
There will be more to say later about events in Egypt, and about encouraging signs of new liberty in countries that have never been free, or like the land of my birth, used to be. About Pay Up Now and its moves to boycott corporations that pay no taxes. About the fast-growing efforts of the American cities and towns Allen D. Kanner wrote about in his "Corporate Control? Not in These Communities," who "refuse to recognize corporate personhood, explicitly place the rights of community and local government above the economic interests of multinational corporations, and recognize the rights of nature to exist, flourish, and evolve." About Bolivia, which may soon enact a truly seminal piece of legislation: the Law of Mother Earth. It "would give nature legal rights, specifically the rights to life and regeneration, biodiversity, water, clean air, balance, and restoration."
All kinds of encouraging stories like these are there to be seen, appreciated and supported by those who are willing to ignore the lies and distractions of corporate media, to accept positive evidence and see the glass as not only half full, but getting fuller as we hold and stoke the intention that it be so, and we form the resonant teams and communities that vision and sing the New World into being at gatherings like the Sacred Pathways Fire Vigil I've attended this past weekend, and the Dark Moon ceremony I'll guide here in Pisac on May 2. Tune up your pipes. You'll need them. Keep Holding That Frequency.

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The Chiron - Neptune Conjunction of 2009 - 2012:
Prelude (Nov. 2008) and Acts 1 - 5 (April 2009 - Nov. 2010): see UFC Index
2012: The End of . . . What?
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