Ahmed Fouad Negm’s “Who Are They And Who Are We?”

Slum in Old Cairo, Egypt. Between the buildings are streets with piles of solid waste.
Slum in Old Cairo, Egypt. Between the buildings are streets with piles of solid waste.

Ahmed Fouad Negm was a revolutionary Arab poet who wrote many vernacular protest poems, a great deal of which were aimed at Egypt’s presidents Gabdal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak. Living in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Cairo, Negm befriended many impoverished artists and musicians, including blind musician Sheikh Imam Issa, which led to a 30-year collaboration where Imam composed music to Negm’s written verse and the two of them sang together. In 2007, Negm was chosen by the United Nations Poverty Action as Ambassador of the poor, and Negm is widely considered a folk hero in modern Egypt. Negm died on December 3, 2013.

They eat beef and chicken
And we eat nothing but beans…

In (“Who Are They And Who Are We?)”, translated by Walaa Quisay, we can see many of the literary devices used in poetry of social change. Negm’s main literary device — the alternating of question and answers — assumes great power by the end of his poem and with the repetition and slight change of the refrain that begins with “Guess who…?” I particularly admire how Negm’s colloquial style urges his audience — the poor — to compare and contrast their lives with the lives of the wealthy and powerful, something I think American poets could take more advantage of in their own poems. He offers a spark of hope amid the anger and litany, too, and a prediction, almost a prophecy, of the future he sees.

(Who Are They And Who Are We?)


Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are the ones with wealth and power
And we are the impoverished and deprived
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is governing whom?
Who are they and who are we?
We are the constructing, we are the workers
We are Al-Sunna, We are Al-Fard
We are the people both height and breadth
From our health, the land raises
And by our sweat, the meadows turn green
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who serves whom?
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
Consumerist animals
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?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are mere images behind the music
They are the men of politics
Naturally, with blank brains
But with colorful decorative images
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is betraying whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They wear the latest fashions
But we live seven in a single room
They eat beef and chicken
And we eat nothing but beans
They walk around in private planes
We get crammed in buses
Their lives are nice and flowery
They’re one specie; we are another
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who will defeat whom?

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Ahmed Fouad Negm’s “Who Are They And Who Are We?””

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s