Dana Gioia, poet and former boss of the National Endowment for the Arts, many years ago wrote a book titled “Does Poetry Matter?” The inside back page essay in yesterday’s NYTimes Book Review by Robyn Cresswell (poetry editor of The Paris Review) had this to say about “Egypt: The Cultural Revolution”:
But for the crowds in Tahrir, now is above all a time for poetry, and the muse of the moment may be Ahmed Fouad Negm. Born in 1929, Negm was a railroad worker, postman, and political prisoner before he became a hero of the counterculture in the 1970s. During that decade, he paired up with the oud player Sheikh Imam and recorded dozens of amusingly anti-authoritarian songs—including a famous lampoon of Richard Nixon and an equally famous elegy for Che Guevara—that circulated in cassette form among university students. Since the early days of the demonstrations, these songs and poems have resurfaced on the square. Interviewed on Al Jazeera shortly after the protests began, Negm was burbling with excitement. He immediately launched into his poem “Good Morning,” which he composed for high school students during a series of demonstrations in 1972 and borrows its theme from folk songs that celebrate a newborn’s first week of life. Asked if he had been to Tahrir, Negm said he hadn’t, explaining that he was “an old man.” In fact, he is one year younger than Hosni Mubarek, but maybe he just meant that he knew when to get off the stage.
. . .While Egypt’s intellectual class may be internally divided, the people in the square have, for now, drawn very clear lines in the sand. In the words of Negm, often chanted in Tahrir: “Who are they, and who are we?/They are the authority, the sultans./They are the rich, and the government is on their side./We are the poor, the governed./Think about it, use your head./See which one of us rules the other.”
The public is invited to a panel discussion about “Egypt’s Future” on Tuesday, Feb. 22, in the O’Leary Library Auditorium, Room 222, 61 Wilder Street, on the South Campus of UMass Lowell. A reception with refreshments starts at 5 p.m, with the program follwing at 5.30 p.m.
Presenters will include UMass Lowell Provost Ahmed Abdelal, UML Political Science Prof. Deina Abdelkader, UML Prof. of Art Stephen Mishol, Gregory Aftandilian of the UML Middle East Center, and Northeastern University Prof. Dennis Sullivan, director of Northeastern’s Middle East Center. UML Prof. Paula Rayman, director of the UML Middle East Center, will moderate the discussion.
UMass Lowell Provost Ahmed Abdelal checking news from Egypt. (Web photo courtesy of CBSBoston.com and WBZ Radio)
UMass Lowell Provost Ahmed Abdelal has been following the news from Egypt closely. He was born in Egypt and has relatives and colleagues in Cairo. UMass Lowell will be hosting an exhibition of contemporary art from Egypt later this semester. He spoke to WBZ Radio today about the tumultuous events shaking the Egyptian government and society. Listen to the interview here.
Mubarak’s supporters gather near a fallen horse and rider (foreground on the right) as others take on anti-government protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo on Wednesday. (AP)
In today’s NYTimes, Sen. John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote about Egypt and the post-Mubarak scenario. Read his guest column here, and get the NYT if you want more.
“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. …”
—from The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America (July 4, 1776)