Egypt’s Biggest Literary Award to Poet and ‘Language Guardian’ Farouk Shousha

On Sunday, June 5, Egypt handed out its most lucrative state-run prizes — now called the “Nile Prize” (previously Mubarak) — with award money around 7 million LE:

shoushaThe top literary prize went to Farouk Shousha, a poet who hosted the “Cultural Evening” TV program from 1977-2006 and who previously won a State Encouragement award for poetry (1986) and a State Appreciation award for literature (1997). He has issued a new poetry collection every few years since 1966.

Moheet reported that Farouk Shousha took 31 of the 64 possible votes to former Culture Minister Gaber Asfour’s 15. The author Taher Mekki was also in the running for the 400,000LE prize.

A report on the prize in Al-Bawabh calls Shousha a “love poet,” but Shousha said in a 2006 interview with Al Ahram Weekly, “Critics tend to think that my poems were written for specific women, but this is not true. Sometimes the point is something else, like the relationship between Egypt and the Nile. The women in my poems are often associated with my sense of Egypt as my country.”

You can read his poem “The Nile” (in Arabic) online.

From his TV program, Shousha went on to work for the Arab Language Academy. According to a biography on the American University in Cairo website:

In 2005, Shousha was named secretary general of the Arabic Language Academy, a body described by Al-Ahram Weekly as “the guardian of the language.” In his role as secretary general, Shousha has been critical of what he considers to be a decline in the quality of Arabic in Egypt, a problem he attributes to radio and television announcers, poor teaching standards and the lack of libraries in schools. Shousha has described the problem as “an issue of national security.”

Poet Abdel-Rahman El-Abnoudi and novelists Bahaa Taher and Ibrahim Aslan have previously won the prize now known as the Nile Award. However, the prize grew somewhat more cautious after 2003, the year Sonallah Ibrahim refused to accept the state-run prize.

Nile Awards are also given out in the fields of arts and social sciences. One of the Excellency Awards in social sciences went to Abdel-Meguied Mahmoud, according to Ahram Online; the last Mubarak-era attorney general.

Literature’s 2016 “Appreciation Awards,” a step down from the main Nile Prize, went to poet Ahmed Sweilam, accomplished short-story writer and novelist Said al-Kafrawi, and folklore professor Salah al-Rawy. Al-Kafrawi has a short-story collection — Hill of Gypsies, trans. Denys Johnson-Davies — available in English. His short story “The Naked,” trans. Sally Gomaa, is also online courtesy of Banipal magazine.

Literature’s 2016 “Excellency Awards,” the next step down, went to colloquial poet Zein al-Abedin Fouad and playwright Baheeg Ismail.