Ahmed Fouad Negm Wins 2013 Prince Claus Award for ‘Unwavering Integrity’

On Friday, Prince Claus Fund organizers announced the winners of the 2013 awards. The “Principal Prince Claus Award went to Egypt’s “poet of the people,” Ahmed Fouad Negm:

Image from Prince Claus website.
Image from Prince Claus website.

According to the news release, Negm is honored:

…for creating true poetry in vernacular Arabic that communicates deeply with people; for his independence, unwavering integrity, courage and rigorous commitment to the struggle for freedom and justice; for speaking truth to power, refusing to be silenced and inspiring more than three generations in the Arab-speaking world; for the aesthetic and political force of his work highlighting the basic need for culture and humour in harsh and difficult circumstances; and for his significant impact on Arabic poetry bringing recognition to the rich literary potential of the colloquial language.

Negm, who is 84 this year, is a poet of unparalleled stature in Egypt: A 2011 movie, “Al Fagoumy,” explored Negm’s life; a 2012 feature on Al Jazeera did the same. (It’s on YouTube for some.) There are countless recordings of Negm reading his poetry live and, later, on TV. Negm is particularly well-known for his work with Egyptian composer Sheikh Imam.

Promotional material on Alwan for the Arts once stated that, “if the Internationale were to have been written in Arabic, its author would likely have been Ahmed Fouad Negm.”

Negm has been little-translated into English, perhaps because it is so tied to the Egyptian context, but some individual bloggers have made attempts to bring his work across languages. Walaa Quisay translated his “What’s Wrong With Our President?,” “Who Are They And Who Are We?” along with many others. There’s also a new Kindle book (March 2013) by Mohamed F. El-Hewie that promises analysis and translation of Negm’s work.

Negm has been consistently opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood, comparing them with Israeli settlers of late, while praising al-Sisi, calling him a “second Nasser.”

Negm will receive his award in Amsterdam from Prince Constantijn while the other ten laureates will receive theirs from their respective countries’ Dutch ambassador.

Other Prince Claus recipients include Chileann writer Alejandro Zambra and Pakistani visual artist Naiza Khan.

But all 11 laureates are scheduled to travel for the ceremony: “For the first time ever, all 11 laureates will be present at the ceremony in Amsterdam,” the news release states, which will be held on December 11, coincidentally the birthday of Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz.