Ahmed Fouad Negm: Poet whose revolutionary work inspired decades of leftist protest against Egypt's ruling elite

 

Ahmed Fouad Negm was Egypt's poet of revolution, inspiring protesters from the 1970s through to the current uprisings with sharply political verses excoriating the country's leaders in the rich slang of colloquial Arabic. Negm, always seen wearing the traditional galabeya robes of the poor, tapped into the sentiments of Egypt's impoverished population, marginalised by the ruling elite.

Key to his poetry was his use of the Egyptian dialect, playing with puns, obscenities and rhyming slang straight from Cairo's slums or Egypt's long-neglected rural areas. Negm shot to fame in the 1970s and 1980s when his poetry was sung by the blind musician Sheik Imam Issa who played the oud. Their songs blasted Gamal Abdel-Nasser and his successor Anwar Sadat over the defeat to Israel in the 1967 war, then what they saw as a surrender with the 1979 peace treaty. The duo performed in coffee houses and for students, their songs becoming the soundtrack for student protests.

Negm saw a revival during the later years of the rule of Hosni Mubarak, whom he skewered with his harshest verses. That made him a star of the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak, and a new generation of protest singers put his verses to music and performed them in Tahrir Square. An avowed secularist, Negm turned on Mubarak's successor, Mohammed Morsi, and supported his removal in a coup in July. Negm was jailed for a total of 18 years for his political views under Nasser and Sadat.

"A judge once told me that my poetry was crude," he recalled. "I asked him: 'Is it more crude than what is happening in Egypt?' The judge laughed."

HAMZA HENDAWI

Ahmed Fouad Negm, writer: born 22 May 1929; married six times (three daughters); died 3 December 2013.

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