9 Feb

It began two hundred and thirty-six years ago: the wave’s alpha point sparked off on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean by people who would govern themselves in defiance of the greatest empire the world had ever known.

The principle was simple. Governments, states, are institutions which can only claim legitimacy by the consent of those they govern. To draw taxes, that is to confiscate a portion of the earnings of every citizen, and to write the laws by which they must abide, they must represent those peoples’ interests. The people must agree. If they don’t, said states are morally void and therefore politically illegitimate. In that event those governed have both the right and the duty to scrap them.

Do we all agree? If so do we believe that said situation is universal? That is does it apply to humanity everywhere? If so, please explain… The gift of the Nile, the planet’s oldest continuous civilization, the cradle of art: Egypt is still not free. What does that mean? Not free? And how can this be?

Egypt began as a series of villages along the Nile. Life was, for a good few thousand years, very good. This was one of the first places on Earth where people built houses, stayed in one place. It’s from where we get our ideas of home. Rustic tho’ it was, the anguished wandering in the sometime desperate search for food and shelter had become a faded memory for the collective unconscious of people who lived on this river maybe 6000 years ago. They had animals that did the heavy work, they had tools, they had combs.


Compared to the rest of the human race. They had plenty. This was the Silicon Valley of the proto-historic world. These people had the highest tech, the greatest science. By our standards of course things changed but slowly. For thousands of years they made pots that looked like this:


Nifty ‘ey?

Slowly, and I do mean slowly, some of these villages acquired walls. The skills that had been developed to make animals submit to forced labour now began to be used on humans defeated in the skirmishes over the stuff that was grown, dug up, fished out or manufactured up and down the Nile. Some villages needed walls and armed men to guard them. Outside there were places with plenty and places without and everywhere greed and envy.


This is the basis of struggle. The haves paid to build the walls to ensure they could trade in peace with others who had something. The have-nots habitually assailed the walls and sometimes won. When they did so, they became the new rulers.

This was a brutal process but it bore much fruit. Eventually these people started making pots that looked like this:


Wow! Pictures!

Other innovations included the mixing of copper and tin to make bronze. Who first developed bronze is a matter of debate. The technology was probably imported but this material of unprecedented hardness came in handy for making farm tools and objects designed to kill. Is it any coincidence that the Bronze Age began in Ancient Egypt at about the same time that the people were subjected to government?

It sounds a great evil does it not? This was not a democracy but a rigid and oppressive imperial set-up. Those with the will and the skill forced others to submit to taxation, to rules set up in the interests of the conquerors, to perpetual obedience to a king to be worshiped as god. They are gone, their symbol persists.


And so do their faces, some of ’em.


Understand that all this submission, this domination was, finally, a good thing. More time separates the first pot above with its primitive patterns to the undoubtedly beautiful death mask of Tutankhamen. That this rise of cities, the paving of street, the erection of shelters, the development of medicine that cures us, cancels our pain – that the development of religion that provides us with some kind of meaning all happened because of this venal conquest.

From ancient Egypt outwards and across the Mediterranean first to Crete and then the arts and crafts of the Egyptians (and those who came into their orbit) landed on the tribal peoples of Greece. They were close enough to absorb the technology but far enough away not be required to submit politically. They had slaves, their women were slaves but some men were free. That is they were governed only by consent. The Egyptian wave of technology, of higher culture, of complex society, its rituals and customs had reached Greece.

And from Greece to Rome which likewise enjoyed such a position of advantage. Far enough away to avoid slavery, close enough to get all the good stuff. From Rome to Britain and from Britain, America.

Egypt’s ancient culture was the first to experience rises and falls. Three times it fell and rose again. Then finally it fell to the Greeks, then the Romans, then the Arabs who brought with them Islam and finally the place changed its religion. A long cycle was complete.

Hundreds of years later and the United States of America – that nation that first kicked off a wave that has rolled thru the world ever since: the struggle to assert the ubiquitous and inherent right of all humans to be self-determining creatures, to be governed only by consent, to choose their lives freely – that nation has become the new Egypt, the new Greece, the new Rome and Great Britain. And like each before it, it is unique. It is, in fact, the culmination and full term of this train of colossal and catastrophic ups and downs. Whatever follows will be different. Maybe something good. Maybe something bad. Who knows. But that’s it, we’ve run out of planet.

The vast history of the region with its luminous personalities from Ramses to Nefertiti; Cleopatra, Julius Caeser and Jesus Christ; Salah ad-Din, Napoleon Bonaparte, Khalil Gibran and Anwar Sadat and the circumstances from which they sculpted their lives, would take a lifetime’s separate blog and I’m not the tweed-patch type. It’s complicated. But here in the 21st century the situation is this:

Some thirty-four years ago Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt flew to Israel and made peace with the nasty old fascist who was running the place at the time. For this Sadat was assassinated four years later. But it won him a place amongst the greats of history. Was it worth it? That’s one of those question you only find the answer to when you die.

But since then the United States has been shunting boatloads of money over to the Egyptian military to make it the second-meanest army in the region, after Israel of course. Why has it done this? Simple, it has business in the region. The deal is with the region’s governments and, if they go, so does the deal. Many of those governments are backward but, traditionally, the US has stayed out of Old World deals. They don’t want to get tainted by all that old bullshit. That’s what America’s about, being free of the Old World.

So it’s not its business if the dude that replaces Sadat rigs elections and has himself installed a president ‘democratically elected’ for life and goes on to treat the whole country has his personal income for the next thirty years. And it’s not their concern if, in order to maintain his power, he deploys the technology of modern surveillance and population control in combination with the archaic principles of a long-corrupted faux Islam which does not hold with the political principle of human rights. What the United States is concerned with is the United States. The government there governs with the consent of its people. The Egyptians don’t have a say.

For 200 years an American wave has washed thru the world. Most would say this has something to do with Coca-Cola and Big Macs, and yes it does. But before that, underneath that, there’s something about the consent of the governed. In the Arab world the established orders installed by thousands of years of kleptocracy have successfully resisted the loss of power that this wave would bring. Until now. Now Egyptians assert their claim to these universal human rights. Rights implied by Christianity and Islam, by the Jews before them. By the Greeks and Romans. They claim them and in doing so rebuff the shackles of the new Egypt, the USA.

For fifty years now the United States’ foreign policy has run contrary to their principles. This is justified under the rules of realpolitik. They’ve just done what states have always done. I wonder, if they’d acted according to their principles, if they had aided, rather than thwarted the forces of democracy in the Middle-East would we have two wars and a worldwide terrorist ethos? At the present time it appears we have a US government that is confronted with a situation most inconvenient to it. Cautiously they advocate change, because that is all they can do. In installing democracy they have a bad track record. Eastern Europe is now again a bunch of police states, Iraq is a joke, Afghanistan the cradle of World War III. What will they do if revolution comes to Egypt if Egyptians declare that they hold certain truths to be self-evident….

Will they appraise them of reality, or will they help make those words a reality?


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