Egypt’s Poached Revolutionary Poems

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Negm, on the other hand, has his own opinion on these matters. (Photo: Wael Ladki)

By: Mohammed Kheir

Published Thursday, December 13, 2012

During Egypt’s January 25 revolution, subversive poems circulated in Tahrir and online, their verses attributed to renowned Egyptian poets. Yet these famous figures didn’t write these poems and it’s likely we’ll never know who did.

In Taha Hussein’s famous book, On Pre-Islamic Poetry, he surmises that most jahili poems, meaning those written in the pre-Islamic period on the Arab peninsula, were not spoken by their known authors.

“They were the plagiarism of chroniclers, the fabrication of desert Arabs, the workmanship of grammarians, the dramatization of storytellers, or the invention of commentators, hadith tellers, and orators,” he wrote.

The stir caused by “the Dean of Arab literature” is well-known and remains unresolved to this day. But on a lighter note, Internet forums and social media networks are abuzz with a new type of plagiarized poems, namely Egyptian.

This time, its protagonists – let’s say its victims – are some of the most prominent colloquial Egyptian poets, such as Salah Jaheen (1930-1986), Abdul-Rahman al-Abnudi (1938), and Ahmed Fouad Negm (1929).

At the height of the January 25 Egyptian revolution, a rubaiya, or four-line poem, attributed to Jaheen spread amongst the demonstrators. It sounded like it was written today. And indeed it was.

“O soldier on your horse standing on my body/You are neither the hero nor my neighborhood strongman/The day you say I will take the country/I will tell you to take it but over my dead body,” it read, and ended with the famous refrain used by Jaheen in all his rubaiyat, “Oh my wonder.”

The humble artistic effort of the above quatrain and its directness does not pay tribute to a poet known for his mainly existential philosophical musings, but there is a simpler reason why it cannot be attributed to Jaheen: Its meter is not only broken, it is shattered and the poetry lines unrelated.

Nevertheless, it spread on every page and tongue, leading Samia Jaheen, the poet’s daughter and member of the group Iskinderella, to ask Facebook users to stop sharing it as her father’s poem. But her pleas were not heeded.

The poem, whose only claim for being a rubaiya was that it had four lines, only disappeared following the end of the clashes with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Lieutenant General Sami Anan stepping aside.

Jaheen was also victim of a more curious kind of plagiarism, which was shared on Facebook. “O people sleeping on the sidewalks/Being swept with a broom/There are those who toil for a loaf of bread/And others who get tired of playing tennis,” it went.

The meter seemed correct, at least. This is because the poem was actually written by another well-known colloquial poet, Fouad Qaoud.

In the 1970s, the poet wrote two lines, which went, “Society is like a sidewalk/It is dirty and needs to be cleaned.” But the plagiarizer decided to add the remaining lines, and attributed it to Jaheen.

Abnudi’s work, on the other hand, was not plagiarized, but its meaning was distorted. A poem attributed to Abnudi titled “A Letter to the Muslim Brotherhood” became very popular on the Internet.

“I had a brother/Comrades in sickness and in health and in revolution/In the sweet and the bitter/For years and years/We say and say and never stop the chat/I had a brother/We get detained and we never say, “Ah”/We get beaten and never say, “Akh”/The cells taught us about the sweetest moments of sorrow,” it began.

The poem continued until the moment when the revolutionary narrator and his Muslim Brother friend drift apart.

“It means, so I can get you back, again/My friend/And companion on the rest of my journey/I have to give up my true opinion/I have to give up my true consciousness/I have to give up my true heart/I have to give up my true poetry,” it continued.

Abnudi’s negative opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood is well-known and he never hid his animosity, but the above poem is not on this subject. In fact, it appeared in Arab Colonialism, a long poem written Abnudi at the end of 1990, as a reaction to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the resulting calamity.

Negm, on the other hand, has his own opinion on these matters. The false attributions never bothered him, and in fact, he encourages them. Before the January 25 revolution, poems attributed to al-Fagoumi, his nickname, attacking Mubarak and his son and heir-apparent Jamal, were popular.

“We support another term for your excellency/To continue your merry process/Why not also sell the scraps/There is nothing else to sell no more,” one of them read.

Such poems would be shared saying they were the latest by Ahmed Fouad Negm. Most – regardless of the varying artistic level – were given away by the lack of nuance between a sharp tongue and a lewd one.

Negm would always comment on the issue by repeating the same phrase, “They are hiding behind me.” The poet has lived his life one day at a time, not afraid to go to jail nor concerned about intellectual property squabbles.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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