Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Splendid Egypt, Our Mother, Has Returned to the Square": a poem by Saadi Yousef

"Splendid Egypt, Our Mother, Has Returned to the Square"

To Ahmad Fouad Negm

By Saadi Yousef

Translated by Salih J. Altoma

Splendid Egypt, our mother, has returned to the square
Splendid Egypt has unfurled her head scarf to the wind
And turned around, as a banner fragrant with jasmine and gunpowder
Splendid Egypt, our mother, has returned to the square


And you,
My lifetime comrade
Are there
As I had known you
With your steps ablaze in Liberation Square
How splendid the struggle is!
How inglorious restfulness is!
Splendid Egypt, our mother, has returned to the square


I see you there
With the speckled Kufiyyah,
And the Palestinian flag,
And the dream which you nurtured,
Generation after generation
In Egypt’s lands
O Ahmed Fouad Negm
Here it is: the day of resurrection
Splendid Egypt, our mother, has returned to the square

London 30.01.2011

Saadi Yousef (Sa‘di Yusuf) b.1934, one of the leading and prolific contemporary Arab poets , has lived for decades in Arab and European exile due to his revolutionary anti-establishment orientation.He was among the first poets to write this poem in support of the Egyptian uprising two weeks before its triumph. Saadi Yousef’s published works include more than 40 books of verse and numerous translations. For more information, see his website:

Ahmed Fouad Negm (=Ahmad Fu’ad Najm) b. 1929 is perhaps the most popular vernacular poet in Egypt (and beyond) highly regarded for his patriotic and revolutinary poetry. He is revered as a folk hero giving voice to the Egyptian underclass. One of his anti-Mubarak regime poems entitled “As If You Are Nothing [non-existent]” which has been circulated lately lampoons in his customary biting and irreverent style Mubarak’s reign of repression, wide-spread corruption and self-aggrandisement. It concludes with words echoing the central demands of the recent Egyptian uprisng in Tahrir (Liberation) Square:

“Gather your family, amass your fortune, take away your “Gamal”, leave us and go away.” It can be accessed in its original language accompanied with relevant photographic scences at:

Saadi Yousef’s original text uses the verb “come” جاء but the translator chose “return” instead in consultation with the poet who agreed that the verb عاد is more suitable or appropriate in reference to the new Egyptian awakening. It serves to remind us of another great Egyptian revolution as captured by Tawfiq al-Hakim in his celebrated novel “عودة الروح the Return of the Spirit.”

Salih J Altoma, Professor Emeritus, Arabic and Comparative Literature, Indiana University

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