What happened in Egypt the last few weeks was strangely familiar. It was in many ways like a replay of the People Power Revolution in the Philippines in 1986. The relatively peaceful demonstrations, the involvement of the clerics and religious and the massive participation of the people were three of the characteristics they shared.
The peaceful and unprecedented uprising against Ferdinand Marcos was an inspiration to the world. It showed the possibility that the masses, if united, can actually topple an entrenched dictator and truly transform politics, government and society in a peaceful way.
I was drawn to the TV and newspapers. I followed the developments in Egypt. I hoped that the situation would not explode into mayhem and bloodshed. I wrote to friends in Cairo asking how they were. With great anxiety, I waited to hear from them. It was a relief when both Amira and Rana answered.
It was just after the millennium that I started going to Egypt. A group of Egyptians whom I met in the Tao Garden in Chiang-mai, Thailand had invited me to teach in Cairo. During several visits, I taught Tai Chi Chuan, Qigong, meditation and DragonWell Chi Nei Tsang internal organs massage in both Cairo and Heliopolis. One time, for a week, I did healing on a boat on the Nile just outside of Cairo. I visited the temples in Luxor and Upper Egypt like Abydos, Dendera, Karnak … and the pyramids in Giza and Saqqara … and took the midnight train from Luxor to Cairo. For more of my experiences in Egypt, go to: “Letter from Cyprus,” Our Own Voice (www.oovrag.com) 7/9/04 issue.
When I think of Egypt, it is not the scenes of protest that strike me, nor the bravery of the demonstrators. I know they are important and I hope the demonstrators will eventually achieve their goals. The memories that come rushing back are … faces of the people I taught and befriended, the landscapes along the Nile, the people in the street and markets. In my mind, the recent mass movement to unseat President Mubarak was important, but it was similar to a gate being opened: an opportunity to democratize the country, provide a decent livelihood and education to the people, and allow free expression and egalitarian changes. The unequal distribution of wealth and power, the poverty of the mass of people, the low status of women, have been there, probably since the time of the pharaohs. Will there be genuine changes in society?
In the Philippines, in 1986, Ferdinand Marcos was unseated through mass action. There was widespread celebration. A new Constitution was written, a new Congress was elected, a new government was put in place. But did it change much of anything? Did it improve the lot of the masses? Did it diminish graft and corruption? Did it reduce the power of the military?
The images from the Freedom Square in Cairo are iconic. They show, most of them, moments of heroism and courage. What endure in my mind in Egypt are the views of the pyramids, the healing sessions and seminars, the faces of friends and strangers in the streets, the ordinary workers at their job, the market vendors. Somehow, to me, they are as a poet said, evanescent and eternal. They show the monuments of history, the enduring vignettes of life, in the here and now, that we capture with brush, chisel, words, and camera.
Here are some photos. (Click on the small photo to see the full size version and caption.)