The 44th Day of 2011:
The Lifecycle of Freedom and the Power of Words
On the 11th day of February. . . last Friday. . . after 18 days of a determined, often angry, but consistently peaceful massive resistance and protest. . . Egypt was liberated from dictatorship. The modern day Pharaoh, President Mubarak resigned. The message delivered by his vice president announcing Mubarak would finally step down after a 30-year rule over the people. . . took about 30 seconds to announce.
30 seconds of words articulating the reality of the people’s triumph. . . 30 years in the making. . . in a civilization that dates back 6,000 years. . . an ancient place that has not known true democratic representation.
And in Alexandria where the greatest library of the ancient world once stood the chant was heard “Egypt is Free. . . Egypt is Free”.
The library was built in Alexandria in the 3rd Century B.C. This is sacred ground for many writers, readers, thinkers, poets, and scholars. It is that for me.
Now Egypt begins its birthing process.
The world watches and hopes for orderly transition and democratic participation of its citizens. The rest of the Middle Eastern world has taken particular notice. They move toward the articulation of their humanity in one universally understood word.
The power of words brought Egypt into the lifecycle of freedom. Words simply and rapidly communicated to thousands and thousands with the efficient use of very modern technology. — Internet, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook — but it was the power of words that brought people together and brought Mubarak down.
Sometimes it takes many words written over a long period of time to achieve results and the desired actions. Our Founders agonized in letters and papers we still can read. The Egyptians will have those days and weeks and months ahead of them as well, for consideration, for debate, for reform, and there will be frustration along the way. Now we celebrate the moment of this beginning of hope. And filled with wonder that the 21st century delivers to us the ability to bring people of goodwill to one place at one time within moments.
The ghosts of those who once moved among the treasures of the library of Alexandria must have been smiling and also chanting…Egypt is Free.
As I watched the events unfold over the days, my thoughts continually turned to the Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova. Surviving the worst of the Soviet oppression, enduring the losses of husbands, lovers, friends and the repeated imprisonment of her son, she never stopped writing. Her poems could not be printed, and when printed, censored almost beyond recognition. Yet, even when silenced by official resolution of the regime, she continued and was never silent. Friends gathered in her apartment, her poems recited, memorized, and then burned. I felt Akhmatova hovering over the protests in Egypt. Hers was the protective power poetry offers to sustain humanity in times of hope and horror. It is this one poem that kept coming back to me, from memory, as I watched Egypt. I began to recite the last line as my prayer for all Egyptians.
A SMALL PAGE FROM ANTIQUITY
Alexander at Thebes
To be sure, he was frightening and ferocious, the young king
When he announced: ‘You will annihilate Thebes.’
And the old captain beheld that proud city,
Which he had known since the olden days.
Everything, everything committed to the flames!
And the king enumerated:
Towers and temples and gates – the wonder of the world.
But suddenly he became thoughtful, and brightening, said:
‘Just be sure that the House of the Poet is spared.’
Anna Akhmatova, October 1961, Leningrad, The hospital in the harbor
(Judith Hemschemeyer translation)
On the day a new Egypt came to us, another woman’s voice was heard, using the Internet’s global circulating library. The Women’s Media Center published a poem by Egyptian feminist writer, Mona Helmy, transliterated by the poet Robin Morgan. An excerpt follows:
…Still, Egypt, alive now though fragile,
alive now though now banned,
alive now though forbidden,
drew that first ragged breath burning
into its lungs, and Egypt
let loose that first raw cry so wild and free
the strongest rock began to fracture at the sound,
crumble, and then melt,
as if ancient stone statues of the kings were
filmy sheets of wax, melting, pooling,
vanishing in the desert air.
For the full text of the poem visit the Women’s Media Center
For Egypt, and for the world, “Just be sure that the House of the Poet is spared.”
The lifecycle of freedom and of poetry — intertwined throughout eternity.
©2011 Alida Brill From This Terrace