“When the people demand freedom, Destiny must surely respond” (The will to live). This poem, by Tunisian Abu al-qasim al-Shabbi, was the driving force and inspiration behind the Tunisian protest that shook the Arab world.
History shows that political poetry in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has played a major role in revolutionary movements throughout the region.
A majority of these political poems are composed in a colloquial manner, which makes the poetry incredibly captivating and easy to chant.
For example, “Down with the regime” and “Aīsh, huriyya, ‘adāla igtimā’iyya (bread, freedom, social justice)“ were popular slogans that were chanted throughout the 2011 uprising in Egypt. Egypt has been through a number of revolutions, where it’s citizens protested for weeks on end against corruption and tyranny.
On January 26, 1952 the Egyptians protested against the monarchy. From January 18-19, 1977 Egyptians took to the streets to revolt against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund’s mandated termination of state subsidies on basic food supplies.
Each protest gave birth to prominent political poets, such as Mahmoud Sami al- Baroudi who was an Egyptian political figure and prominent poet. al-Baroudi was rightly known as “rab aseif wel qalam” (Lord of sword and pen). In his poem “Oh tyrant in your kingdom” al-Baroudi criticized and condemned tyranny in Egypt.
Salah Jahin was also a well-known political poet. In 1971 Jahin wrote an epic piece of poetry titled, “Ala Esm masr” (In Egypt’s name). In this poem Jahin expressed his undying love for his country.In one stanza he said,
“History may say what it wishes in Egypt’s name.
Egypt, for me, is the most beloved and most beautiful of things.
I love her when she owns the earth, east and west.
And I love her when she is down, wounded in a battle. I love her fiercely, gently and with modesty. I hate her and curse her with the passion of the lovesick. I leave her and flee down one path, and she remains in another.
She turns to find me beside her in misfortune.
My veins pulsating with a thousand tunes and rhythms.
In Egypt’s name.”
Ahmed Fouad Negm “the poet of the people” used colloquial Egyptian Arabic in his poetry and also sung his poetry with musician Sheikh Imam. A supporter of the 2011 uprising that toppled the Mubarak regime, his poetry communicated both a love for his country and criticism of its problems.His poetry inspired generations of youth hoping for change.
“Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are the mansions and the cars
And the selected women
Their job is only to stuff their guts
Use your mind, guess…Guess who is eating whom? Who are they and who are we? We are the war, its stones and fire. We are the army liberating the land. We are the martyrs.
Defeated or successful
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is killing whom?“
It seems as if Egyptians have always resorted to poetry of revolt in the midst of their storms and tribulations, because of the great influence and power the poetry has. Revolutionary poetry has the power to manifest and express their messages of anger and frustrations, that cannot be conveyed in other forms.