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The year of our discontent
Published in Ahram Online on 18 - 08 - 2020

It has not been a very good year, to say the least. In fact, it has been so far another annus horribilis.
Most people surveyed have labelled it “the worst year of their lives” and for good reason.
Except for war years there has never been a year as bad as this one in recent memory.
It is a leap year, which should really mean nothing. It is the 20th year of the 21st century, another insignificant fact, yet it is a momentous year of global violence and turmoil.
There have been phenomenal mass uprisings across the globe. Citizens discontent with their governments have taken to the streets to protest, oppose or propose one principle or another.
From Afghanistan to Barcelona, from Hong Kong to Chile, from Lebanon to Haiti, there is unrest, destruction and death.
Almost 40 per cent of the world's 195 countries witness disruption and protest to some degree. Why, even the Vatican is not immune.
It is a veritable smorgasbord of misery, suffering, and confusion.
So far, we have not even mentioned the unspeakable coronavirus pandemic which has swept the earth like a tsunami, killing close to 750,000 people and infecting over five million worldwide.
The economic meltdown caused by Covid-19 may have triggered this unforeseen violence, with unemployment soaring, leaving millions homeless and hungry.
Famous mathematician Peter Turchin, of the University of Connecticut, predicted this chaotic trend in his 2012 article in the Journal of Peace Research. He goes on to say that 2030 would be worse. We would rather not look to the future with such pessimism.
Many predictions were made about 2020, from Nostradamus in the 16th century, to Baba Vanga in the 21st century, among hundreds of others in between. Who do we believe? Where do we look for answers? Could the fault be in us or in our stars?
Both astronomers and astrologists agree that the Age of Aquarius starts when the vernal equinox point moves out of constellation Pisces into Aquarius. Although astrology is considered a pseudo-science, the world's population follows it religiously.
One view is that of change, brought by 2020 will be the cycles of Jupiter, Saturn and Pluto. The year begins with the union of Saturn and Pluto in Capricorn and ends in conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter in Aquarius. If this sounds like gibberish to you it does to the majority of people too, but not to astrologists. While few could have foreseen the coronavirus, they did warn us that 2020 would be a year of massive global upheaval, thanks to the rare alignment of Saturn and Pluto on 12 January.
“Most astrologers saw this as a very important year that would make history by challenging us in very extreme ways”, wrote renowned astrologer Chaim Nicholas, author of Astrology for Radical Self-Acceptance.
Somehow, this sounds ominous, especially to those who know nothing about cosmic constellations. Astrologists assure us that from the get go January's planetary conjunction was an ominous one. Why should the coming of the Age of Aquarius be ominous?
The famous 1967 Broadway musical Hair praised the dawning of the Age of Aquarius as a time of peace and freedom, of Woodstock and self-assertion. Yet one has to admit that the 1960s was a time of societal and cultural rebelliousness. It was the heyday of hippies and yippees and a New Age which had begun. Although astrologer Neil Spencer denounced the science of the lyrics, the concept drew the attention of audiences worldwide.
Much as we try to deny it, a majority follow their astrological signs and act on them.
Astrology has been around since the 17th century BC and was practised by ancient cultures in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India and China, among others. Moreover, it was common in academic and political circles.
Astrological age affects humanity possibly by influencing the rise and fall of civilisations or cultural tendencies. Traditionally, Aquarius is associated with electricity, flight, computers, democracy, modernisation, rebellion, non-conformity, persecution, humanity, all of which seem to fit the present state of the world.
The Aquarian world is ruled by a secretive power — hungry elites seeking absolute power over knowledge. A few names come to mind at present.
Popular psychic Sylvia Browne predicted in 2008 in her book End of Days a wide pneumonia pandemic in or around 2020: “A severe pneumonia-like pandemic will spread throughout the globe, attacking the lungs and bronchial tubes and resisting all human treatments.” Now that is eerie. One can feel the goosebumps. She made some startling predictions before her death, but nothing prevented the events from happening.
She predicted 2020 would be the worst year in America since 1968, which included the assassination of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy and a devastating recession. So, predictions, at most, raise eyebrows, but do not affect the march of time.
The world is significantly more violent today; what can be done about it? Millions of human souls are fighting from the yoke of political, religious, and social tyranny. This has defined 2020.
Technology may have transformed pen and pencil, but so far has done little to erase pandemics.
In this digital world we are still looking to the stars for answers.
Will the Age of Aquarius or Jupiter or Mars protect us from cyber theft, save the world economy, or bring peace health and happiness to 2020 and beyond?
We shall see.
“In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.”
Elisabeth II (b 1926)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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