One of Egypt’s most-loved and greatest poets has passed away today at the age of 84. Ahmed Fouad Negm (pronounced Negum) was a satirical poet who spent his life trolling government after Egyptian government for what he called ‘submerging Egypt under lies’. He was also known as the ‘poet of the people‘, because his views and poetry were popular with the masses and very unpopular with the elite. He served jail time under Egypt’s former pharaohs Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.
Negm was a writer in ‘Arabic vernacular’ and his works were infused with cadence that may be lost in translation to English or any other language. His works were powerful and did not mask his fury in their satire. A typical street urchin who got jailed for forging documents, he knew first-hand the suffering that marked his writing. One tweet said his loss for Egypt is of Pablo Neruda proportions.
Prior to his death, he was due to travel to be awarded the 2013 Prince Claus Award. The prize website says Negm was to be:
“honoured for creating true poetry in vernacular Arabic that communicates deeply with people; for his independence, unwavering integrity, courage and rigorous commitment to the struggle for freedom and justice; for speaking truth to power, refusing to be silenced and inspiring more than three generations in the Arab-speaking world; for the aesthetic and political force of his work highlighting the basic need for culture and humour in harsh and difficult circumstances; and for his significant impact on Arabic poetry bringing recognition to the rich literary potential of the colloquial language.”
I am working on permission to review one of his translated poems next on the blog and when I do, you will see the brilliance of his poem titled ‘What’s Wrong With the President?’ Arab African poetry is powerful, if only we had enough translations.
Fare thee well, Ahmed Fouad Negm.