Way down in Egypt’s land

Ma'at, both concept and goddess of truth, balance, and order

The silence that has gripped me since the beginning of the Egyptian uprising has a bewilderingly personal feel.

It may be that I was in St. Louis, where I grew up, the night it started and was there for much of what unfolded that first week. Across the Mississippi River and to the south is an area called Little Egypt for the fertility of the land due to frequent flooding. There’s even a town in Illinois called Cairo.

And it may have had something to do with a long conversation I had in a coffee shop with a 78 year old black man, and how Egypt has always lived in the black folklore of the South—the flight and deliverance from slavery.

Tell old Pharaoh
Tell old Pharaoh
Let my people go.

Or it may have had something to do with the fact that a friend was then leading a tour in Egypt or that I had some weeks earlier had breakfast here in Vancouver with a colleague who now lives in Egypt and who was part of training that a company I work for delivers in—of all things—conflict resolution.

Whatever the reason, I could not shake a sense of impending doom, even when reporters used words like “festive” or “carnival-like” to describe the atmosphere in Tahrir Square.

I thought of Tiananmen Square in 1989. I thought of Tehran in 1979. I could not seem to allow myself to join the hope of millions that somehow this was the end of Egypt’s sense of oppression. I feared an even harsher future.

Back in Vancouver the fear and sense of dread continued until the other night. I had a dream in which I was at a counter buying a ferry ticket back to the mainland. I noticed the tattoo on the woman’s arm as she handed me my ticket, and I told her how beautiful it was—an intricate design with small squares of lapis and peacock blue. She turned away and took off her shirt to reveal the whole image—an Egyptian deity, one wing extended forward across the woman’s lower back, the other wing spread up over her shoulder, the magnificent head in profile.

When I try to find out which deity this is, I discover Ma’at, who embodies truth, balance, law and order. In the underworld, a dead person’s heart would be placed on one side of a scale, the Feather of Ma’at on the other. If the scale balanced, the soul was allowed to continue on into the afterlife.

Now the people in the streets of Alexandria and Cairo are light-hearted indeed. They are celebrating a victory. President Mubarak has stepped down. While it’s not yet clear how the transition will go, or who or what will fill the political vacuum, I am free to remember the events of November 9, 1989, when hundreds of thousands of people began to dismantle the Berlin Wall. That’s the energy that seems to be in Cairo tonight: a jubilant hope, an over-riding faith in justice restored after 30 years of insufferable poverty and oppression. The Reign of Fear has ended for now. May it not be replaced by a Reign of Terror.

May Ma’at and her principles of harmony and truth prevail.

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