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Isis and Current Politics: Rediscovering the Revolution

Harita near Tahrir Square, Cairo, November 2011

In my mind, the energy of Isis seems to resonate with the Revolution. The ideals of bread, freedom and social justice may seem as far removed from present-day Egypt as they were in pharaonic times. Yet for people who once lived in hunter-gatherer, egalitarian societies and honored the Earth Mother and her spirits, these concepts were part of their everyday life. If there is hope to get out of this political dead-end, it lies in keeping these ideals alive.

 

Blood on the streets, bullets, cries of agony, treasures stolen from a looted museum—a country at war with itself. It hurts to see Egypt bleeding. Her ancient inhabitants used to call her Kemet, the “Black Land.” Her dark, fertile soil was a gift of the Nile’s life-giving waters overflowing every year. Recently there has been deadly violence, cities overflowing with hate, vandalism and brutal suppression.

This mysterious country has been ever-present in my thoughts from the time of the Revolution. By a strange coincidence, a gift arrived at my hands those very days: Horus, the falcon-headed son of Isis (or Auset, as they called her in times past), a replica of an ancient figurine brought to me by an Egyptian friend.

Who would have thought that my life would change that day? Maybe it was the magic of Isis or the awe-inspiring beauty of Egypt, a country I had visited many years ago but never forgotten. Perhaps it was the earth-shaking energy of the Revolution or all of these combined in one powerful mix. The exhilaration was soon followed by hard yet important lessons. For the first time I learned how to handle heart-wrenching pain with openness and compassion.

It sounds impossible, I know, yet remember that Isis is a most compassionate goddess. After all, she set free her worst enemy: Seth, who had killed and dismembered her husband, Osiris, but was also trying to take the life of her only son. That divine drama somehow seemed intimately connected to the strange events taking place in my own life.

So, I set out on a quest. Much as people were trying to dissuade me from visiting a country in post-revolutionary turmoil, I decided to travel Egypt again, hoping to find an answer to the riddle. It was November of 2011 and, as luck would have it, a large demonstration was being organized. It was the time when SCAF ruled, the military council that had taken over the country after Mubarak, the dictator, had been ousted by the Revolution.

Yet for Egyptians life under SCAF was not much better than the era of the dictatorship. How could it be? Imagine the army seizing power in your country and ruling in rather undemocratic ways… So there I was, in Tahrir, “Liberation,” the iconic square of the Revolution overflowing with protesters–many of them women wearing the hijab, the traditional Muslim scarf, on their heads. The march was a huge success; it was reported that three million people demonstrated that day around Egypt.

The atmosphere was peaceful, almost festive, but clashes started the next day and went on and on, leaving dozens of people dead. Yes, the army dealt with protesters the way dictators usually do: sending the police to shoot them. Bodies were piling up around Tahrir. Sounds familiar?

Bodies were piling up recently too in Cairo and other parts of Egypt. The army has once again been shooting protesters, only now they’re Muslim Brotherhood members, men as well as women. Sure, many would argue that they brought this upon themselves, that they’re terrorists or even fanatic lunatics. I’m neither a Muslim nor an Islamist sympathizer, but over time I’ve learned to be very suspicious of the word “terrorist.”

Not so long ago, after 9/11 and the start of President Bush’s “War on Terror,” every Arab, Muslim or even dark-skinned person at times came under suspicion of being a terrorist. It was a time when whole nations were branded as “terrorist states” and the notorious Guantanamo prison was established. Remember those scary days?

Branding a large group of people as “terrorists,” identifying them with some kind of absolute evil, can unleash the forces of state terrorism. Unlike any group of civilians, a state already possesses two very powerful killing machines: the police and the army. Oh yes, one could argue that these two exist to protect people. Yet, how come they didn’t protect the Christian churches being set ablaze in Egypt? The country’s leaders often use patriotic rhetoric these days, but one wonders just how patriotic is it to leave national treasures to looters. That’s what happened to the Malawi National Museum in the South, its priceless treasures stolen or destroyed in a fire. So much for protection!

One might ask, of course, where Isis fits in this picture. How could she possibly be relevant to these horrors? Her images no longer lie in the looted museum, that’s for sure. But remember that Isis was identified with the fertile land of Egypt, its very heart, where people could live and create the marvels of their civilization. In a sense, Isis is Egypt, the main Kemetic goddess, the soul of this ancient country. She’s also the earth that receives the blood and bodies of those massacred.

Yet again you could say that the people of Egypt have long abandoned the worship of Isis, the archetypal Mother—or perhaps they were forced to abandon it. One way or another, I doubt that a mother would forsake her children because of their religious beliefs or their misguided politics. The cries of Egyptian mothers seeing the bodies of their sons and daughters in the overflowing morgues echo the wailing of the goddess as she found, one by one, the torn pieces of her beloved Osiris.

Political analysts and revolutionary activists alike are throwing their hands up in despair, saying that there’s no solution to be seen in this literally bloody mess. But it’s exactly in these darkest moments that the myth of Isis appears most relevant. Now, as in antiquity, there are important lessons to be learned from it: grieving yet persisting, meeting the pain with courage, and offering compassion instead of revenge.

It seems that Egypt is being torn apart from the inside, much as Osiris was torn to pieces by his own brother. The magic touch of Isis put the pieces back together, breathing new life to him. In other words, it was the spirit of love, the love of a wife, sister and Divine Mother. In fact, one her many titles in antiquity was “Mother of the Universe.” It may not be a coincidence that modern Egyptians call their country and its capital, Cairo, Umm al-Dunya, “Mother of the World.”

In my mind, the energy of Isis seems to resonate with the Revolution. The ideals of bread, freedom and social justice may seem as far removed from present-day Egypt as they were in pharaonic times. Yet for people who once lived in hunter-gatherer, egalitarian societies and honored the Earth Mother and her spirits, these concepts were part of their everyday life. If there is hope to get out of this political dead-end, it lies in keeping these ideals alive.

The counter-revolutionary forces are at work now in Egypt, trying to reestablish the old regime by turning the people one against the other. At the moment it looks they’re well under way to achieving their goals. Yet in the long run, it will become obvious to all that they have neither bread nor freedom to offer. At that point people may seek again to continue their lost Revolution. There are already voices in the country pointing to that direction, speaking out against the atrocities of both the military and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership. We can help by joining our voices with theirs. They need our solidarity and support!

– What can I do to help?

– See menasolidaritynetwork.com/2013/08/18/egypt-emergency-statement-on-the-military-crackdown/ for an emergency statement and petition on the military crackdown in Egypt. See my suggestions for further reading below. You can help by staying informed, informing others and expressing solidarity.

Further Reading

Ibrahim, Gigi, “A Militarized Media: a dirty war making many of us blind,” heangryegyptian.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/a-militarized-media/

Omar, Reham M., “Sectarian Conflict and a Dysfunctional Nation,” www.yourmiddleeast.com/features/sectarian-conflict-and-a-dysfunctional-nation_17280

Ramadan, Fatma, Egypt: “Do not let the army fool you” – independent union leader speaks out, menasolidaritynetwork.com/2013/07/26/egypt-do-not-let-the-army-fool-you-independent-union-leader-speaks-out/

Shenker, Jack, “Beyond the voice of battle,” www.madamasr.com/content/beyond-voice-battle

 

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