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International Reflective Writing


Mournir Marzuq: Satirical Ode to President Mubarak

An Egyptian civil servant, Mounir Marzuq,  was sentenced to the maximum sentence of three years in jail in 2009 for a poem he wrote satirizing President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981. The penalty for insulting a head of state in Egypt is a jail sentence of anywhere between 24 hours and 3 years. According to an article in the Huffington Post: Marzuq was jailed in Maghagha, southern Egypt, in May2009, after a colleague lodged a formal complaint about the poem deemed insulting to Mubarak, in power since 1981.

The case came to light after the penalised poet's brother appealed to the then, 81-year-old Mubarak for clemency, the independent newspaper, Al-Masri Al-Youm reported.


Partial translation of the poem in English appears here.  The Arabic version follows.

Shine, shine whom you shine on all of us
Shine, shine whom you shine wherever you go
No one can shine like you shine
You made people feel confused and lost
You made people feel happy and lost

Mounir Said Hanna was hoping that his lines would be turned into a ballad:


ونورد فيما يلي إحدى قصائد منير حنا:


زغلل زغلل زغللنى ياللى حبك جننى

زغلل زغلل زغللهم ياللى شكلك جننهم


زغلل زغلل يا مزغلل زغلل ع الكل خليت الدنيا حلوى وفل الفل

١- المرايا بتزغلل على واحد بس ولكن انت يا مزغلل زغللت الكل

٢- فلاش الكاميرا بيزغلل قبل الصورة ولكن انت يا مزغلل صوت وصورة

٣- زغلل زغلل يا مزغلل منين ماتروح بتخلى الدنيا حلوة وفيها روح

٤- زغلل زغلل يا مزغلل زغلل وقول مش أى حد ينفع يبقى زغلول

٥- اوعى تبطل تزغلل يا واد يا زغلول خليت الدنيا حلوة والفرح يطول

٦- زغلل زغلل ع الليلة وع الحاضرين خليت الناس فى حيرة وكمان تايهين

٧- زغلل زغلل ع الحفلة وع الحاضرين خليت الناس فى غفلة وكمان تايهين

٨- زغلل زغلل ع الفرح وع الحاضرين خليت الناس فى مرح وكمان تايهين



Mohamed ElBaradei: Next Steps for Egypt

Mohamed ElBaradei, as the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. He is the author of the forthcoming book The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times.

WHEN I was a young man in Cairo, we voiced our political views in whispers, if at all, and only to friends we could trust. We lived in an atmosphere of fear and repression. As far back as I can remember, I felt outrage as I witnessed the misery of Egyptians struggling to put food on the table, keep a roof over their heads and get medical care. I saw firsthand how poverty and repression can destroy values and crush dignity, self-worth and hope.

Half a century later, the freedoms of the Egyptian people remain largely denied. Egypt, the land of the Library of Alexandria, of a culture that contributed groundbreaking advances in mathematics, medicine and science, has fallen far behind. More than 40 percent of our people live on less than $2 per day. Nearly 30 percent are illiterate, and Egypt is on the list of failed states.

Under the three decades of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, Egyptian society has lived under a draconian “emergency law” that strips people of their most basic rights, including freedom of association and of assembly, and has imprisoned tens of thousands of political dissidents. While this Orwellian regime has been valued by some of Egypt’s Western allies as “stable,” providing, among other assets, a convenient location for rendition, it has been in reality a ticking bomb and a vehicle for radicalism.

But one aspect of Egyptian society has changed in recent years. Young Egyptians, gazing through the windows of the Internet, have gained a keener sense than many of their elders of the freedoms and opportunities they lack. They have found in social media a way to interact and share ideas, bypassing, in virtual space, the restrictions placed on physical freedom of assembly.

The world has witnessed their courage and determination in recent weeks, but democracy is not a cause that first occurred to them on Jan. 25. Propelled by a passionate belief in democratic ideals and the yearning for a better future, they have long been mobilizing and laying the groundwork for change that they view as inevitable.

The tipping point came with the Tunisian revolution, which sent a powerful psychological message: “Yes, we can.” These young leaders are the future of Egypt. They are too intelligent, too aware of what is at stake, too weary of promises long unfulfilled, to settle for anything less than the departure of the old regime. I am humbled by their bravery and resolve.

Many, particularly in the West, have bought the Mubarak regime’s fiction that a democratic Egypt will turn into chaos or a religious state, abrogate the fragile peace with Israel and become hostile to the West. But the people of Egypt — the grandmothers in veils who have dared to share Tahrir Square with army tanks, the jubilant young people who have risked their lives for their first taste of these new freedoms — are not so easily fooled.

The United States and its allies have spent the better part of the last decade, at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and countless lives, fighting wars to establish democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now that the youth of Cairo, armed with nothing but Facebook and the power of their convictions, have drawn millions into the street to demand a true Egyptian democracy, it would be absurd to continue to tacitly endorse the rule of a regime that has lost its own people’s trust.

Egypt will not wait forever on this caricature of a leader we witnessed on television yesterday evening, deaf to the voice of the people, hanging on obsessively to power that is no longer his to keep.

What needs to happen instead is a peaceful and orderly transition of power, to channel the revolutionary fervor into concrete steps for a new Egypt based on freedom and social justice. The new leaders will have to guarantee the rights of all Egyptians. They will need to dissolve the current Parliament, no longer remotely representative of the people. They will also need to abolish the Constitution, which has become an instrument of repression, and replace it with a provisional Constitution, a three-person presidential council and a transitional government of national unity.

The presidential council should include a representative of the military, embodying the sharing of power needed to ensure continuity and stability during this critical transition. The job of the presidential council and the interim government during this period should be to set in motion the process that will turn Egypt into a free and democratic society. This includes drafting a democratic Constitution to be put to a referendum, and preparing for free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections within one year.

We are at the dawn of a new Egypt. A free and democratic society, at peace with itself and with its neighbors, will be a bulwark of stability in the Middle East and a worthy partner in the international community. The rebirth of Egypt represents the hope of a new era in which Arab society, Muslim culture and the Middle East are no longer viewed through the lens of war and radicalism, but as contributors to the forward march of humanity, modernized by advanced science and technology, enriched by our diversity of art and culture and united by shared universal values.

We have nothing to fear but the shadow of a repressive past.




Mohammad Salah Eldin Bahgat Helmy

Salah Jahin (1930-1986) was not only a poet, playwright, lyricist, cartoonist and painter but also used artistic expression to serve his thought. His art and thought always had patriotic motives. The creative colloquial poetry he composed is considered as the 1952 Revolution's historical record - hence the title "Poet of the Revolution". 

Mohammed Salah el-Din Helmi Bahgat, known as Salah Jahin, was born on 25 December 1930 in Cairo. His father was a judge and the family had to move from one governorate to another. This, however, helped shape his patriotic fervour which was manifested in his attitude towards the Revolution. He graduated from Cairo University with a degree in law.  

Colloquial Arabic Poetry

Salah Jahin  has had a singular effect on development of colloquial Arabic poetry in Egypt. With Beyram Al-Tunsi (1893-1961) the art of writing in the colloquial language attained recognized literary status, but poets felt it imperative to go beyond Beyram's achievement. 

To explore a new literary world Fouad Haddad (1930-1985) created a colloquial poetry that dared to be not only innovative, but revolutionary. His work legitimized experimentation and the search for new and different resources.  

Salah Jahin mastered colloquial writing with ease, producing poetry of a simple and concise nature with a profound effect.  

His genius lay in his sensitivity, his ability to tune in to the faintest vibrations of feeling in the world around him, his technical resources developed, his work became more spontaneous in its effects. His themes return constantly to the idea of a society struggling to free it-self from the bonds of the past, thus freeing its literary artists to use new forms of expression. 

Jahin's colloquial poetry bore many interesting features of the cartoons he did. It is mainly characterized by the creative use of lexical items, startlingly intense images and well-planned compact structures. It becomes very dear to every heart once read or listened to. Jahin, thus, set the trend for others to follow. 

His quatrains written in 1963 mark the emergence of situation poetry as a genre of modern folk literature. They successfully manifest Jahin's philosophical viewpoint of life, death, existence, man and the eternal struggle between good and evil. Each of Jahin's quatrains ends ironically with "Wonders will Never Cease!."

Jahin & Cartoon 

Founder of the Modern Egyptian School of Cartoon. The all-round Salah Jahin set standards that are unlikely to be surpassed in the literary and artistic circles. Jahin shone at all the posts to which he was appointed. He was the first cartoonist offered the editorship of a weekly magazine in Egypt. The national awakening that accompanied the 1952 Revolution was best illustrated throughout his poetry, musicals and cartoons. 

Jahin's career in journalism started in the early 50's. In 1955, he worked as an amateur cartoonist in Rose El-Youssef. One year later, when the first issue of Sabah el-Khair saw the light of day, he turned professional. There, he had the opportunity to shine to such an extent that he was appointed Editor-in-Chief. In 1957, Jahin visited the former Soviet Union, then, wrote a book entitled "A Flower in Moscow" about his impression of the journey. In 1964, Jahin moved to "Al-Ahram". 

At the age of 13, Jahin's immense talent for drawing first appeared. When he was a student in Assuit preparatory school, the art teacher asked his student to draw a picture of a storm in a forest. Jahin's picture gained the teacher's admiration and drew his attention to the remarkable talent the little boy possessed. The teacher's words were a great encouragement to him. His father who was an art-lover always encouraged him to develop his talent. Jahin's cartoons did serve to highlight vital issues in Egypt and the Arab World as well. He is the founder of the modern Egyptian cartoon school. The brilliant success of Jahin's cartoons arose out of the fact that he done them in the best interest of the people. Among Jahin's remarkably innumerable cartoon series were Hashish Addicts, Vigor Coffee-house and the Government Departments. 

Source: Arab World Books:

In Egypt's Name-Ala Esm Mas (an excerpt)

History may say what it wishes in Egypt name

Egypt, for me, is the most beloved and most beautiful things.

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.



Omar Baddar: The Day Young Arabs Will Never Forget

Mubarak is Gone
by Omar Baddar

The past few weeks have been incredibly moving and emotional for me, watching millions of Egyptians take to the streets with fierce determination to bring fundamental change to Egypt. For those of us who grew up in the Middle East in the 1980s and 1990s, certain political figures and realities seemed completely unalterable, including political repression in large parts of the region, and the perpetual presence of iconic figures like Saddam Hussein and Hosni Mubarak. Iraq and Egypt without them was kind of unimaginable.

That reigning order ceased to be perceived as indestructible in 2003, when the world's super power shook the region by removing Saddam Hussein from power. But that was hardly empowering to the Arab street since that destabilization was externally imposed by a very unpopular war that was vehemently opposed in the region (and indeed the world). If anything, the Iraq war only deepened the feeling of powerlessness in the face major tectonic political shifts which they could not influence in any meaningful way.

This revolution in Egypt is altogether different. Hosni Mubarak's regime was plagued by corruption, nepotism, and police brutality at home, and an unpopular foreign policy in the region. The regime also enjoyed US backing, which made it seem all the more unshakable. Undeniably inspired by the Tunisian example, tens of thousands of Egyptians defied all the powers that be by taking to the streets to demand an end to the Mubarak regime. Soon after, and despite lethal violent repression, they turned into hundreds of thousands. And shortly after that, they turned into millions, and finally earned their freedom.

The implications for the region are profound, from other Arab governments' accountability to their people, to the regional equilibrium and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Analysts and commentators will debate and speculate on (and activists and policymakers will try to influence) the exact shape of the aftermath of this revolution (it's useful not to get ahead of ourselves and paint an overly rosy picture because many uncertainties remain). But one thing is not in doubt: this is a new era for the region's youth who now understand that they can and will change the face of the region, and chart their own future. They owe it to the heroic people of Egypt and Tunisia who have inspired us all!

Omar Baddar is a political scientist and a human rights activist who earned his M.A. in International Relations and Comparative Politics from the University of Memphis, where he wrote his Master's thesis on US policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He is the former Executive Director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee of Massachusetts, and the former Director of the Palestine Cultural Center for Peace in Boston, MA. He has participated in dozens of panels, lectures, and debates on college and university campuses throughout the country on conflicts in the Middle East and on US policy towards the region.and the former Director of the Palestine Cultural Center for Peace in Boston, MA. He has participated in dozens of panels, lectures, and debates on college and university campuses throughout the country on conflicts in the Middle East and on US policy towards the region.

Source: Huffington  Post:



Shahira Amin: Egyptian Journalist ADD

Propaganda Made Me Quit

Shahira Amin is an Egyptian journalist who resigned from state-owned Nile TV during the protests in Cairo.

CAIRO, February 10, 2011:  I am walking away from Tahrir Square with my own prize victory: the presence of camera crews from Egyptian state television filming the protest. I quit my job on Egypt's English-language satellite channel (part of state television) last Thursday for what I considered to be its biased coverage in favour of the regime. Angered by my inability to tell the story as it is because of media censorship, I walked out determined not to be part of the regime's propaganda machine.

Foreign networks raced to air my public criticism of the state media's misleading coverage. Its presenters were telling their audience the Muslim Brotherhood had instigated the protest when it had been young activists from the 6th of April Movement and the "We are all Khaled Saeed" group, named after the young man in Alexandria who was beaten to death by police in June last year. The focus of state media coverage was the pro-Mubarak rallies, rather than the revolution.

My resignation after 22 years as senior anchor and correspondent on state TV captured the attention of the international media partly because it happened to coincide with a government crackdown on foreign journalists. Many were attacked and their equipment destroyed in an effort to hamper their reporting of the crisis.

After criticism by the West, the newly appointed prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, appeared in an interview and urged television authorities to do away with the censorship. He asked them to present all sides of the story - apparently giving the green light for airing the views of the anti-regime protesters.

For state television, this is a complete turnaround and I was pleased to see a shift in the way the story has been covered.

As I left the square, I saw a mother lean over her seven-month-old baby. "Papa and I are here for you today. We have not known freedom but we want to make sure you will."

That, I told myself as I walked to my car, is precisely why tens of thousands of Egyptians are gathered here. For them, even death is a small price to pay.

Source: Washington Post

Egyptian Journalist Shahira Amin resigns from State TV:




The Protest Art of Egypt

by Colleen Gillard & Georgia Wells for The Atlantic, May 2011

At an art school in Cairo, students explore the Egyptian uprising through a once-banned medium: protest art

On the sidewalk outside Cairo's Faculty of Fine Arts college on leafy Zamalek Island, just across the Nile from Tahrir Square, hijab-wearing young women are elbow-deep in paint. Absorbed in their work, they climb ladders to study the effect, all the while graciously answering questions from a gathering audience. The students, whose sweet faces are framed by pastel scarves, don't look much like revolutionaries, even if their art tells stories of blood, agony and rage.

Two months after protests forced Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from office, these students are communicating their feelings about the revolution in the way they know best: by covering the school's drab gray walls with colorful political art.

One of the mural's artists, Youmna Mustafa, 20, points to the bound screaming face on her wall and says her piece is about freedom of speech.

"This is what the square meant to me," the student of mosaic art says. "This is why I went. Not to be able to speak your mind, your wants and desires, share your thoughts out loud, is to feel," she pauses, searching for the word, "dead."

In another ten-by-ten-foot panel, Anas Muhammed, 21, explores the role that the Internet and social media had in informing the public and publicizing the protests. He has drawn a man whose head, once helmeted and blinded by state media, is now brilliantly lit by Twitter, Facebook, and Al Jazeera.

Before the Internet, he says, "all we had to unify us was the Egyptian flag--which I show bleeding from the disrespect Mubarak showed us."

Most of the school's faculty and 2,500-student body attended the demonstrations, according to the genteel Professor of Mural Art Sabry Mansour. Those 18 days of protest and President Mubarak's departure were an emotional earthquake for the country, he says, and he wanted to find a way to capture the energy, optimism, and passion, especially that expressed by the students.

Gazing around the school's courtyard -- where a fully-clothed male model, dressed in shirt and ironed slacks, leans on draped boxes before a life-drawing class of a half-dozen young women -- Professor Mansour says he finally decided to do something that would have been impossible under President Mubarak: protest art.

"The school's walls on the street were covered with graffiti, only it was not" Professor Mansour hesitates politely, "very good graffiti." He realized then, of course, the revolution would make better street art.

Students at the century-old school responded well. After losing one of their peers to the violence -- a well-loved young man majoring in Interior Design and Decor --the students found great meaning in the assignment, Professor Mansour says. All 60 students in the course made a mural design to present. The class held a "democratic vote" to select the seven best.

A green snake winds through another painting on Ismail Mohammed Street, strangling people and drawing blood. "This is about Mubarak, the corrupt, the unjust. A true snake who deceived his own people," says 21-year-old Rehan Nabil.

When asked about the many young women who joined the protests and what kind of place they hoped for in a new regime, Nabil shakes her head.

"This is not about women; this is about everyone. Our country's problems are much bigger than women's rights."

Not just women's rights, she points out, needed better protection. "Everything women have suffered, all our citizens have suffered. Everything you might want for women -- like opportunity, education, jobs, respect, freedom -- you want for everyone."

Nabil describes Mubarak's regime as filled with thieves. "They robbed us of a future." More than anything, she says she wants to see her people's potential and talents put to use.

"We deserve to have a better place in the world. We deserve to join the First World and leave the Third World behind."

But when asked about her confidence in the current political process to bring her country a better future, her smile fades. "We are all holding our breath, waiting to see what will happen." When asked if she worries a theocracy will rise from the ruins of what was once President Mubarak's private kingdom, the sweet young woman in the hijab raises her chin. "We may be a devout people," she says, "but we don't want to be told what to do. We value freedom as much as anyone."

Other students, such as Mustafa, say they feel more confident that good things will come from the culture of the protests. Tahrir Square felt like a new country, she says, "a utopia," full of camaraderie. The power and meaning of joining her countrymen, united by a common goal, brought her to tears, her young face shining. "I felt alive! For the first time, I felt hope for my country."

For now, the murals are a testament to the anger these young people feel about the injustices of the past as well as their hope for the future. They are generating smiles and interest from the neighborhood.

"Passers-by are curious," says Professor Mansour, calling it appropriate and good that the students take public ownership of their pride in helping to change the country.

"It is a very good feeling to change a very bad regime," Professor Mansour says, looking over the murals with avuncular satisfaction. "It feels especially good to communicate this by doing something that would have had us arrested not very many weeks ago. Very, very liberating."




Other Examples of Egyptian Protest Art




The Revolutionary Women of Egypt ADD

The most remarkable thing about the Egyptian protests might not be the size and scope but that women are involved in the first place. 

BEENISH AHMED | February 11, 2011 

Asmaa Mahfouz -- a 26-year-old Cairo University graduate -- starred in video appeals widely circulated on Facebook that helped spur the latest protests in Egypt and turn them into a mass public uprising. It's not only remarkable that social media was so effective in a country where dissent has for decades been driven underground: It's perhaps most remarkable that Mahfouz is a woman.

In Egypt, street and sexual harassment has been endemic, even described as a "social cancer." Egyptian women have become rightfully wary of any sort of public demonstration where they might become targets of abuse. During the 2009 celebration of Eid al-Fitr, no fewer than 150 men were arrested for a harassing spree in a single Cairo neighborhood.

Photo: Egyptian mother at recent protest with her children


It might even be worse during protests, which have proved especially disconcerting for women, in part because many alleged attacks come from the security forces as a way to quell the demonstrations. In 2005, for instance, hundreds of young men affiliated with President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party assisted in physically and sexually assaulting female protesters of a government referendum, tearing blouses off two.

But the current uprising has been more inclusive, and unlike its precursors, it has remained a relatively civil affair. Indeed, many have brought children to demonstrations or have taken shifts with a spouse -- Elham Eidarous, 30, and her husband alternate nights in Tahrir Square in order to share the responsibility of caring for their young son.

As Eidarous notes, women who once braced themselves for sexual harassment whenever they stepped foot outside of their home are now sleeping relatively peacefully on the streets outside of the Egyptian Parliament, with fellow protesters standing guard over them.

That's partly because women like Mahfouz took control. The way Mahfouz played into traditional gender roles has made a lot of difference. In order to undermine the potential for gender-based violence, she insisted, "If you have any honor and dignity as a man, come. Come and protect me and the other girls in the protest." And they did -- not in ones and twos but by the tens of thousands. Her sheer bravado cut deep enough into the machismo of Egyptian culture to incite and inspire.

Mahfouz's friend and fellow founder of a youth group that organized nationwide strikes in 2008 in what's known as the April 6 Movement, Amr Ezz, 27, told New York Times correspondent Mona El-Naggar, "[Mahfouz] got in front of the camera and said what she wanted with a daring and enthusiastic attitude that encouraged people. The fact that a woman was able to do this made the men feel challenged."

But organizers had messages for the female protesters, too. As Mona Eltahawy, an award-winning Egyptian-born journalist explained, this time around, Twitter, Facebook, and text messages were widely used to encourage women to take precautions. As she described to National Public Radio's Michel Martin, "They would say things like wear two layers of clothes so that if they rip off the first, you're still dressed. No zippers. Carry a can of mace. If you wear a headscarf, make sure you tie it this way and not that way and wear two." Women might have hoped for the best, but they were prepared for the worst.

These preemptive measures to protect women are especially necessary during times of protest, Eltahawy says, because women were both physically and sexually assaulted during previous public demonstrations. The fear that women might be brutalized as they marched for increased civil liberties has now struck a blow at something larger than life for many Egyptians: honor.

The protests -- and these methods of protecting the women in them -- are also taking place amid concentrated efforts to reduce all types of gender-based violence, especially using new media. HarassMap, an interactive website, collects and reports unwarranted sexual activity that ranges from ogling to indecent exposure to stalking to sexual invites. While more and more reports were collected in recent months, they have all but stopped since protesters took to the streets on Jan. 25.

By fostering accountability and awareness for gender-based violence, such initiatives reveal a broad desire for purposive and proactive social change, one that has been bubbling beneath the same political discontent that has filled Cairo's Tahrir Square.

Concentrating on getting women involved and keeping them safe has helped the protests, too. By deliberately framing this uprising as a matter of honor for men and women alike, its organizers have succeeded in drawing millions of discontented Egyptian denizens out onto the streets and keeping them there for weeks. Since ever-rising unemployment rates and a culture of corruption offer the most common explanations for sexual harassment, attacking those forces could also protect women in the long run.

As Dr. Helen Rizzo of the American University in Cairo told ABC News, "The issue is that you have young men that are unemployed or underemployed hanging out on the street with nothing to do. This [sexual harassment] is the way they prove their manliness to each other." A lack of economic opportunities in a conservative society such as Egypt helps fuel the violence against women. Complicating matters is the fact that men are only considered eligible partners in Egypt -- where many marriages are arranged -- once employed, and usually wait to move out of their parents' home until they get a job. In a state of prolonged adolescence, men often turn their frustrations toward women.

By focusing their frustration squarely on Mubarak and expressing dissent in a way that has never before been possible, young men and women hope to overcome the challenge of unemployment and build a future for themselves. The focus on changing economic and political realities has been strong, which might also help explain why the movement has been largely free from brutality. There is simply too much at stake.

Eidarous says, "This is a revolutionary moment in the development of our society. The situation of harassment in this country will depend on many things. If Egypt becomes more democratic, more free, if there is more deterrence for such crimes, more police enforcement, maybe the phenomenon of sexual harassment will cease."

Whether or not this current uprising can be called a Purity Protest, as Mike Giglio, a correspondent for The Daily Beast submits, one thing seems clear: The changes of the sort many Egyptians long to see are not limited to the realm of politics. As Mahfouz put it, "All of Egypt awaits tomorrow!"

Source: The American Prospect:

Beenish Ahmed recently served as a Fulbright Scholar to the United Kingdom. She is a writer and social justice activist.




Yahia Lababidi


Yahia Lababidi is an internationally published aphorist, poet, and essayist, with work appearing in such publications as World Literature Today, Cimarron Review, AGNI, Rain Taxi, and Philosophy Now. His latest book is the critically acclaimed new essay collection Trial by Ink: From Nietzsche to Belly Dancing. His Signposts to Elsewheres selected as a 2008 Book of the Year by The Independent (UK). Lababidi’s work has appeared in several anthologies, including the best-selling Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing and Geary’s Guide to the World’s Great Aphorists. His writing has been translated into Arabic, Slovak, Swedish, Turkish, and Italian. (updated 12/2010)

Read Alex Stein’s “The Prayer of Attention: A Conversation with Yahia Lababidi,” an AGNI Online interview.



Words are like days:
coloring books or pickpockets,
signposts or scratching posts,
fakirs over hot coals.

Certain words must be earned
just as emotions are suffered
before they can be uttered
- clean as a kept promise.

Words as witnesses
testifying their truths
squalid or rarefied
inevitable, irrefutable.

But, words must not carry
more than they can 
it’s not good for their backs
or their reputations.

For, whether they dance alone
or with an invisible partner,
every word is a cosmos 
dissolving the inarticulate


If there were more than one of me
I'd shave my head and grow my beard
I'd be a Doctor of Theology 

In great coat of myth, impermeable to ridicule
I'd raise my voice and sing
hymns to the Unknown god 

Another me would come undone voluptuously
submit to possessions, deliriously
mate with night in vicious delight 

I would be, in a word, unspeakable
indulge an appetite artistically criminal
gloriously indifferent to utter: ruin! 

Yet another me would take to stage
part animal, part angel in improbable outfit
strike ecstatic pose and fuse with masses 

Or perhaps, at last, renounce words and self
occupy an eye, to better see
in silent awe, peripherally 

But, there is only this ambitious pen, and playpen
fencing a mass of miscarriages
trembling from time in unquiet blood 

And I, with reluctant fidelity, am guardian

looking over the restless, violent lot

for fear of fratricide

What is to Give Light

Inspired by the Egyptian revolution, 2011

What is to give light must endure
burning, a man once said
Another man became the matchstick
that set a nation aflame


But fire, and its appetite, cannot be
calculated, like freedom
Injustice and desperation make men
combustible, like dry wood


When words lose their meaning
and an entire people their voice --
so they can neither laugh nor scream --
death and life begin to taste the same

From Tunis, to Egypt, to Lebanon to Yemen
the light from a burning man proved catching
And those with nothing to lose, or offer, but bodies
fanned the embers of their hopes into a blazing dream. 



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