|Biographical detail : ||A poet of the people
A poet of the people Ahmad Fouad Negm popularly known, as el-Fagommi, an Egyptian who found himself at loggerheads with authority for much of his life was a political prisoner on and off for almost 19 years.
A vernacular poet whose writing pricked the very conscience of the Egyptian people, seeing subversion where poor went unpaid, homeless squatted in squalor, and rich held its grip on power through corruption and uncaring government officialdom. Negm pilloried the iniquities of successive regimes in poetry fizzing with colloquial language and scurrilous slang. “We are a society that cares about the hungry only when they are voters and only cares about the naked when they are women,” he said.
Nejm’s view of life came from his cramped and chaotic Cairo rooftop apartment — two plaster-peeled rooms overlooking rooftop water tanks, wires, drying laundry, satellite dishes and the human detritus that scratches out a filthy living in the Mokkatam neighbourhood of Cairo. He penned the guttural vernacular of the streets, giving voice to social sentiment and a biting political commentary on the drudgery of life and the struggle to makes ends at least line up if never meet.
A man who was born to illiterate parents and whose CV included stints as a shepherd, labourer, house servant, postman, felon, forger of documents and a musician, Nejm worked as labourer after leaving the village ‘kuttaab’ school where learning the Quran was all that mattered. His first spell in jail came from wrongful conviction, set up by corrupt officials who stole equipment from a workshop. In prison, he found time to put thought and anger to paper, publishing Images From Life In Prison in 1959 to limited critical acclaim.
It was his early years of social injustice, hardship and an unjust legal system that fuelled his life-long conflict with authority, government and the powers that be. “The government has always been run by pharaohs,” Nejm told Al Jazeera in an interview. “But at least they were honourable. Now, Egypt is ruled by a gang, led by Hosni Mubarak, and he is only there because America and Israel support him. He does not have the support of the street.”