"The people are over the moon
An American well-acquainted
with Egypt offers insights (and calms some American fears) about
the recent, amazing uprising there.
PVJ Coordinating Team member Sylvia Carlson
sent us this now-widely-circulated email by a former student of
a friend of hers. The author, Casondra Sobieralski, described
herself this way when I asked her to tell our readers a bit
I live in Oakland,
California. I am a digital media artist, and I have worked
several field seasons doing digital documentation work for
French archaeologists in Luxor, Egypt. I have an MFA in
Conceptual and Information Arts, and my 2005 MFA thesis piece
was a 3-projector video installation about the Hatshepsut. My
statement for that piece reads: "I went to Egypt seeking the
pharaoh Hatshepsut. I thought I was failing, until I realized
that I was looking for an ancient Hillary Clinton when I
probably should have been looking for a character more like
Hatshepsut’s patron goddess of love, play, sensuality, music,
and mothering, Hathor. Then I began to see Hatshepsut all around
me, in the people of Luxor."
One quick quote from her note, and then I hope
you’ll take a look at the whole thing.
The people are over
the moon happy that the revolution is happening. Everyone is
nervous about what comes next, but 31 years of (US backed, of
course) oppression, corruption, torture, mafia rule, secret
prisons within secret prisons, and back room deals with Israel –
If you have been especially concerned about the
possible gains by the Muslim Brotherhood, click here to
right to her reassuring words about that question.
NOTE added on
Feb. 17 by your WebWeaver:
has kindly provided us with a few corrections, which I have
now incorporated in the text below.
February 10, 2011
I almost was in Cairo or Alexandria for the
month of January to work on an online digital heritage project
with Egyptians I met in Hong Kong.
But nope, I am here in the Bay Area.
At least my BODY is. Egypt is, of course, my
soul state, and hence the ol' Ka (in Pharonic belief systems the
Ka is roughly equivalent to the astral body) has been mostly in
Luxor, a bit in Cairo. So I have been quite exhausted and a
space cadet this week, scrambling around feeling like a snail
shell with no snail inside.
Many people have been asking me questions, and
I have been trying to answer as best and as expediently as I
can. But it is very hard to offer insights or
opinions or reports because everything is changing so quickly,
and so many reports I am receiving are contradictory. I'm
talking here about reports from Northern California ARCE
(American Research Center in Egypt), reports from AlJazeera, and
reports from the ground – i.e. friends in Luxor and Cairo.
I have been frantic all week gathering,
sorting and disseminating information about the state of
antiquities. Again, there are many contradictory reports out
there, and Zawhi Hawass' (he has been the Secretary General of
the Supreme Council of Antiquities, but Mubarak just gave him a
new title) reports contradict a lot of the other reports
from archaeologists and ARCE. Dr. Zawass was faxing his reports
to Europe to be posted on line when Mubarak shut down the
[Oh, and a thank you to Google here. When the
cell phone communications were cut, they created a system to
allow for landline voicemail to convert to tweets! Here is
something I have never said before and may never say again to
Little Brother Growing Ever More Towards Big: GOOOO GOOGLE!]
I cannot list a week's worth of flurry, and
this may still be amended, but here are some highlights:
– NOTHING has been damaged in Luxor. The
people defended the sites on their own until the SCA could send
support. Looters at Karnak Temple were thwarted by the people.
– Damage within the National Museum in Cairo
was quite limited because the army secured the museum quickly.
Original reports said that Tutankhamen's grandparents had their
heads ripped off. Later reports said these were nonroyal
– Reports of looting in Saqqara are vastly
– Originally reports were that there was
damage at the pyramids at Giza, but the extent was unknown.
Later reports revised this, and said only equipment was
damaged, not the pyramids.
– UCLA's archaeology team is out. They were
in Armana, and didn't want to leave, everything was calm. State
Department made them fly home.
– Part of John's Hopkins (under Betsy Bryan)
team left right away, part of the team stayed. At this point,
they must be gone, too. (They work at Mut, near Karnak temple in
Luxor, East Bank.)
– The European teams all reported to each
other. Our colleague Hourig from the German Mission, who
oversees excavations at Amenhotem III's sites in Luxor (West
Bank), is still there last I heard, and wants to be. Really,
there is no danger for archaeologists in Luxor.
– Our lead archaeologist, Philippe, was
already back in Paris because his father died about a week
before the revolution started.
And, of course, I have been racing all about
trying to reach local friends, which took a while with the
communications systems impeded. Everyone in Luxor is
fine – Luxor has remained pretty mellow – but they ask for our
prayers for Egypt. Everyone is quite excited to get that
mother*$^%$*% out of there. But people are still disappearing,
and people are still getting threatening calls from the "police"
(it's all a mafia structure).
The tension was palpable even last
December/January when I was in Luxor. Every year it gets worse.
I'm not a tourist, and I have built trust with locals over the
years, so I get told more than I possibly WANT to know.
The first time I went to Egypt, if we tried to
talk politics to learn, people would say, "Oh you know we can't
talk about that!" But wink wink nudge nudge, they'd tell you
through a story or something. In successive years, people got
more reticent, and would try to change the subject. Last year,
people would "shhh!" you and take you outside and say, "You
cannot even ASK! Everything is bugged!" Then they would list
all their friends who had disappeared. Anyone who spoke against
Mubarak got taken to the desert in the night and was never heard
Couple with that the economic tension. Luxor
is normally this happy go lucky free love town full of music and
joy and dancing. (Not only does the goddess Hathor rein
supreme, there is also a huge sex tourism situation going on.
Women in their 50s and 60s – especially American and English
women – go there for the supposedly legendary lovemaking skills
of the Egyptian men.) Everyone was quite stressed about trying
to feed their families. With the US and European economies
down, tourism was down. And without lots of tourists – not even
the male prostitutes can thrive! Usually Luxor is one big love
fest, and last year – people were ANGRY and tense. There was a
foul wind from the Sahara...
The people are over the moon happy that the
revolution is happening. Everyone is nervous about what comes
next, but 31 years of (US backed, of course) oppression,
corruption, torture, mafia rule, secret prisons within secret
prisons, and back room deals with Israel – was ENOUGH!
The thing is, THE PEOPLE CANNOT FAIL, or there will be a
bloodbath. I am not sure people in the US can comprehend the
level of bravery of the Egyptian people in taking to the streets
in the way they are, because we take such liberties for granted.
One question people keep asking me is, "What
about the Muslim Brotherhood?"
That was my first knee-jerk reaction when the
revolution started. They have been, for many years, the most
powerful opposition party. That's why Mubarak outlawed them.
What would happen to WOMEN if the MB got in power? What would
happen in terms of regional alliances shifting?
My Egyptian friends say this will not happen.
They say that there is not enough popular support for the
Brotherhood. And if the Brotherhood DOES get in, and they suck
too, then they will just have another revolution and kick them
out, too! My friend from Cairo says the women of
Egypt are NOT going backwards. They have a huge role in the
revolution, and they are tons of professional, educated,
liberated women out there in the streets fighting for freedom.
This week I attended a
panel -- which my former boss at the Center for Middle Eastern
Studies helped to organize -- on Tunisia's Jasmine revolution.
It included some of the activists involved in the uprising, and
I learned from them that the aim of these revolutions is to give
EVERYONE a seat at the table and a voice, from conservative
Islamicists to the most liberal progressives and everyone in
between. Because that
is what democracy means. And now that the genie is out of the
bottle – I don't think The People are going to settle for
But say, worst case scenario, like many
idealistic revolutions where things end up worse than before,
the Brotherhood or someone of that nature DOES take charge?
DEAR USA, IT'S NOT REALLY THE END OF THE WORLD. You know what
it means? It means I might not be able to run in shorts
anymore in Luxor, but more people in Egypt will be able to eat
and get medicine for their babies. The Brotherhood is NOT a
particularly violent group.
Socially conservative and regressive, yes. I
wouldn't want to live under them any more than I want to live
under the "G"OP in America, those pasty bald guys who ALSO love
to deny women the right to dignity, equity and
self-determination. Just this week the USA "G"OP in the
legislative branch is trying to push women back 150 years [what
else is new] by redefining rape to further curtail our agency
over our bodies. Yeah, that one is getting covered up by all the
headlines being dominated by Egypt. So the people who have the
MOST fear of the Brotherhood – are the people who share the most
similar social agenda.
But violent, no. They totally renounce
violence except in the case of defense against colonialist
domination – or in the case of Israel. (The Brotherhood IS tight
with Hamas.) But from an Arab perspective, that's about
The Brotherhood is NOT AlQueda, and in fact
they hate each other. The confusion comes in with the US media
because some members of AQ branched off from the Brotherhood.
They share some religious dogma, but they disagree totally on
the issue of violence. And no jihadist group is going to be
able to carry enough popular support to gain – and stay – in
Most people seem to think ElBaradei – the
Nobel laureate – will emerge as leader. But again, the pulse is
changing minute by minute.
Another question I keep getting: Should
Mubarak step down now, or stay put until election time, or until
some more orderly process can be put in place for free and fair
I share people's concerns about what chaos
might ensue if he steps down immediately. But if he
doesn't step down, I fear more for what pain and suffering he
will vengefully inflict while he still can. See above: People
are still disappearing. People are still getting threats. I
think we need to trust the Egyptian people to get some sort of
governing body established, even if it is an interim thing.
They have historical precedents. They have had sweeping
changes and revolutions before. They aren't a mere 200+ years
old, like us.
What should Obama/Clinton do?
I have no doubt there is plenty of behind the
scenes stuff that the US is doing. I think one reason the
Egyptian military has remained so chill is they are heavily
financed by the US. I've read casually (I think in Al Jazeera)
that we foot the bill 25%, but I encourage you to do your own
research on that. For this reason, I personally expect that the
army is taking orders from Obama more than Mubarak, since
Mubarak will likely not keep his post, but US funding will
remain. One Middle East scholar at a recent lecture, however,
suggested that the military is siding with the people because
they take an oath to THE CONSTITUTION, not to Mubarak, and they
feel Mubarak has violated the constitution. Again, I encourage
you to do your own further research if you have questions about
In any case, Obama has to APPEAR, at least, that he is
staying the heck out of it. Otherwise, anyone who comes into
power will look like a puppet of the US, like Mubarak was, and
this will breed anti-US sentiment. And this just fuels the Islamicist groups. This struggle is about the right to
self-determination. The Egyptians don't want us to "save" them
any more than they want us using them as a pawn with Israel or
any more than they want to be sprayed with tear gas canisters
that say "Made in USA" on them. They don't want that
One voice I have not heard in this: Amr
Moussa (Secretary General of the League of Arab Nations).
Where is he?
I may have more comments after Thursday's
panel discussions. But for now – AlJazeera English is where
it's all happening: http://english.aljazeera.net/
"helplessness transformed into agency and power"
Power to the