The Egyptian colloquial poet Ahmad Fouad Negm died Tuesday morning at the age of 84, just before he was to travel to receive the 2013 Prince Claus Award for “Unwavering Integrity”:
Negm, according to Prince Claus organizers, was to be 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 was raised in a poor village in Sharkiya and spent most of his early years either in orphanages or in prison, where he was sent for forging documents. From these beginnings, Negm grew into a poet of unparalleled stature in Egypt, and wrote about the nation’s poor and disenfranchised like no one else.
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. Andeel also translated a few excerpts on Mada Masr’s obituary.
Negm’s funeral was held at Al-Hussein Mosque in Cairo, located near Khan Al-Khalili bazzar; the blogger Zeinobia has organized photos.
Negm leaves behind his sixth wife and children of various ages, including Nawara Negm, a prominent journalist and blogger.
A few online responses: