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Egypt bids farewell to people's poet Negm

Ahmed Negm, whose poems became an emblem of resistance in the 2011 revolution, has died aged 84.

Last updated: 04 Dec 2013 09:21
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Ahmed Fouad Negm, the Egyptian poet renowned for his sharp tongue and sarcasm, died early on Tuesday in Cairo at the age of 84 after a long battle with illness, state-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported.

His funeral ceremony took place at medieval Cairo's historic mosque of Imam Al-Hussien, after noon prayers.

Negm, who was known as the "poet of the people," was one of Egypt’s best colloquial Arabic poets of the second half of the twentieth century, and was known for his harsh criticism of successive regimes, including deposed presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Morsi.

Oh how amazing, our officers have returned from the front line,
Life is just great so long as his excellency and entourage are fine,
Don't Sina-me or Sinai-me-not,
So what if a whole nation is humiliated or lost?

Excerpts of Negm's works following Arabs's defeat in 1967 war by Israel

He was one of the main voices of opposition since 1967, when he wrote his famous poems on the Six Day War. His fiery words expressed Egyptians' and Arabs' anger towards milestone events such as the 1967 defeat against Israel and the 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Such openly-political works have led to his imprisonment under the rule of generals Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.

Revolutionary hero

Negm's poetry communicated both a love for his country and scathing criticism of its ills.

"We are a society that only cares about the hungry when they are voters and only cares about the naked when they are women," he once said, suggesting that people care more about "morality" than ensuring everyone can afford clothes.

Working closely with late composer Sheikh Imam Essa, many of Negm’s revolutionary poems were turned into revolutionary songs that panned the whole Arab region, despite official attempts to curb their spread.

Together with the blind oud player who sung his songs, Negm's works lived on. The duo's songs echoed across Egypt’s iconic Tahrir Square during the 2011 uprising against Mubarak, as the masses chanted them over the 18-day revolt which ended with Mubarak’s ouster.

To many young activists involved in the Arab world's political scene, Negm’s works are an inspiration.

Early history

Negm was one of 17 siblings, and was raised in an orphanage. It was during a three-year jail period, that he served as a young man for forging papers, that he wrote his first poems.

Egypt, our glowing mother,
Dressed in a scarf and a gallabeya,
Time has aged, while you're still young,
It has gone, but you have just begun. 

Excerpts from Negm and Sheikh Imam's "Egypt, our Glowing Mother.

His poems were written in witty, sharp slang words of everyday Egyptians, merging cynicism with vivid descriptions of oppression and frustration. Inmates began to smuggle tape recorders into his cell and his prison guards, themselves struggling to get by, would help pass on his poems.

He was sentenced to 11 years in prison by Sadat for a poem that poked fun at his television speeches. The verdict turned him into an Egyptian and Arab hero.

Negm's appearance and lifestyle matched the bluntness and the nature of his verse, immersed in the language of the poor. He wore a galabiya, a flowing Egyptian robe, at all times.

Over the course of his life he took jobs as a house servant and a postal worker.  Poems written by Negm were weaved into many of Egypt’s most popular movies and have become an emblem of resistance and opposition.

Negm’s daughter, Nawara, has inherited her father’s vocal bluntness and politics, and has been a leading activist in the Egyptian uprising. Negm is survived by two other daughters, Zeinab and Afaf.

"You may not find in the life of your father something to brag about, but you will certainly not find anything that you will be ashamed of," he wrote once when dedicating a book to them.

"That is the belief I defended and happily paid a price for."

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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