Egypt mourns one of its greatest revolutionary satirical poets, Ahmed Fouad Negm. Negm has been called many nicknames among which are “the voice of the revolution,” “the poet of the people”, “our Uncle,” “the true voice of Egypt” and “the voice of the underclass.” His most famous title Al Fagoumi, is an Egyptian colloquial word for satirist.
Along with late blind Egyptian composer Sheikh Imam (July 2nd, 1918 – June 7th, 1995) the formed an inseparable duo that lasted 30 years, composing, singing and writing lyrics for legendary songs that lived forever in Egyptians’ hearts. Negm’s death has been announced early Tuesday morning (Cairo Time) at the age of 84 and the news has been received with shock and public mourning.
Negm was born to a poor family of peasants in the rural Egyptian countryside in the village of Kafr Abou Negm, in Al Sharqia governorate. He didn’t receive any formal education, only memorizing the Koran at the religious Kutaab schools managed by El-Azhar. Negm said that his illiterate mother helped shape his intellect as she was a reservoir of Egyptian folk literature and heritage.
In the beginning of his life he worked modest jobs such as a domestic worker, a shepherd, a laborer and a tailor. He published his first book -a poetry collection in vernacular (colloquial) Arabic- while imprisoned for counterfeiting. The book, titled Pictures from Life and Prison became famous after Suhair El-Alamawi -famous Egyptian writer and journalist- introduced his book while he was still in prison.
Negm’s poetry represented the underclass, the core of the Egyptian society with its mesh of farmers, laborers, druggies, hipsters and fishermen. With Shiekh Imam’s tweaking of the strings of his Oud – a stringed instrument commonly used in Middle Eastern and Hebrew music- pearls fell from Negm’s mouth and together they sang to melodies that filled the hearts and souls of Egyptians with courage, happiness as well as pain.
In his colloquial Arabic poems, Negm mixed between simplicity and provocation. He challenged every single Egyptian president. He was openly secular, smoked like a chimney and cursed his way through poetry and real life. Negm was also a form of a legendary womanizer. He married six times and has had three girls, one of them is the prominent activist Nawara Negm.
Negm had aways bragged about his freedom, unbreakable by the 18 years he spent in prison, or the strict religious practices that had spread through the Egyptian society. He never acted modestly and said that he knew “[he] is a poet who affected a nation.”
Negm’s poems conveyed the consciousness of the Egyptian society with all its ups and downs, wars and peace treaties. His words and metaphors fueled the university students protests in the 70s and the 80s. As Negm and Imam performed in popular coffeehouses and for university students, they inspired millions of Egyptian youths to dream of a better tomorrow.
Their song Good Morning to the Blooming Egyptian Flowers is still considered an anthem for political prisoners while Guevara is Dead lived forever in the hearts of Egyptian communists and leftists as one of the finest elegies ever to be written about the Cuban revolutionary. The duo’s songs reverberated across Egypt’s iconic Tahrir Square during the January 25th, 2011 revolution against authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak.
Negm had been scheduled to travel to the Netherlands on December 11th, 2013 to receive the Prince Claus Award for “outstanding achievements in the field of culture and development.” In 2007, he was chosen by the United Nations Poverty Action as ambassador of the poor.
Negm’s funeral procession began after Al Dohr prayers at Al-Hussein Mosque attended by hundreds of family, friends and fans. It ended with the burial of the body at Negm’s family cemetery in the neighborhood of Al Sayeda Aisha, in Cairo.
By: Jaylan Salah