The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Ahmed Fouad Negm in the NYT

A reader sends in this NYT profile of the great colloquial Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm:

Mr. Negm is a bit of a folk hero in Egypt, and has remained popular even while the street, his street, has turned away from his largely secular vision of modernity. The changes on the street have only fueled his contempt for the ruling elite. Their illegitimate government, he said, has made Egyptian identity less distinct and more defined by faith.

"The government has always been run by pharaohs, but in the past they were honorable," Mr. Negm said, returning to one of his favorite topics. "Now, Egypt is ruled by a gang, led by Hosni Mubarak, and he is only there because America and Israel support him. He does not have the support of the street."

It is that contempt for power, his giving voice to a desire for justice, that seems to keep him popular, keeps his books selling and recently led to a revival of a popular play called "The King Is the King," which showcases his poetry.

HE had laughed and smoked his Merit Ultra Lights as he climbed the rickety wooden ladder through a narrow hatch onto the rooftop above his apartment in a public housing block. He loves to smoke. He loves to curse. He loves to boast with a wink and a smile that he was married six times, that his current wife is 30 and that his youngest daughter, Zeinab, who is 11, is not forced to adhere to the strict religious practices that have spread throughout his country in recent years.

"I am free," Mr. Negm said, as he scratched his head with long, carefully cut fingernails. "I am not afraid of anybody because I do not want anything from anyone."

And then, looking down from his rooftop perch upon a pile of rotting trash, where children, dogs and donkeys competed for scraps, he lamented what has become of Egypt.

"This is not Egypt," he said. "I weep for Egypt."
I received this Negm poem earlier this week: