Ahmed Fouad Negm: Important Announcement

The Egyptian giant Ahmed Fouad Negm passed away five years ago today. Below is my rough translation of a poem, “Bayān Hāmm,” * a poem that was composed for recitation, not song. When Negm performed it, he liked to mimic the public speaking style of Anwar Sadat and there was no mistaking who the butt of the joke was. It is replete with references to the trips Sadat made to Iran in 1976 to visit his friend, the Shah, and filled with the kinds of linguistic gaffes — overcorrections, grammatical infelicities and surprise leaps from register to register — for which Sadat was famous. I’ve tried to capture the brilliance of Negm’s language which captures all the “mistakes” of an incompetent (or stoned) public official.

Negm was arrested in the fall of 1977 for a performance of this poem he gave at Ain Shams University. He was initially charged in a civilian court with defamation and incitement. The defamation charges were quickly dropped since, to prove them, the aggrieved party — Sadat — would have had to come forward to show that he was the basis for the ridiculous figure of Shahhata al-Mi‘assal. Sadat declined to do this, depriving history of great theatre.

The eminent Egyptian historian, Salah ‘Isa (who passed away last year at about this same time), wrote the story of how Negm and five others were eventually convicted in a military court on charges of fomenting rebellion and insulting the President of the Republic. Before sentencing, however, Negm went into hiding. Negm remained a fugitive for more than three years before he was finally caught. Here’s the poem that caused all the trouble.

Important Announcement

Upsidedownistan here.

Your sweet ole radio station.

Coming to you from Cairo and Kurdifan

From every Arab country and Japan

From Venezuela and even Iran

And any country open to the rule

Of tourism à l’américaine.

Tumblestan here.

Your good ole radio station.

We present to you, in every language

Plays and movies and all the arts

And press and speeches and televisionings

And mosque sermons, cheese and olives.

We show up in your home uninvited, riding on every airwave

Studying and grasping all issues

No matter the occasion, we’re bright and loud

No one listens, and no one cares

Listen or not, it doesn’t matter to us

You see, we’re the types who get paid either way.

Keep to yourself and don’t make us give you a lashing with our pen and tongue!

Somersaultistan here.

Your good ole radio station.

It pleases us (even if it doesn’t please you)

On this occasion (to which you haven’t been invited)

To bring to you—and don’t be disgusted—

Shaḥḥāta al-Mi‘assal, totally unvarnished.

The Chief Broker of the Developeding World

Educator of Croupiers

Destroyer of Farms, Pawner of Crops

And—may your wishes come true—Commander of Armies

You can’t deny it, can’t say you don’t know him.

Can’t say you’ve never heard of him.

Shaḥḥāta al-Mi‘assal, beloved by all hearts

He gets out the stains, the worries and fears,

He tokes, he snorts, he pops pills

You won’t understand him as he blathers on

Understand, or not—we don’t care.

Because you understand, even if you pretend you don’t.

You can deny it and swear it, but I tell you:

Don’t bother. You’ll give us both a headache.

Upsidedownistan here.

Your good ole radio station.

Because what was hidden has been revealed, clear as day

The issues are out for all to see

Stories have been told, even in print

About the smuggling and shirking and about this and that

About the influence peddling and deceit

That have appeared in the city like a flood

Sinking boats and inundating fields.

More boats are yet to sink.

And the crisis in housing, and the crisis in public safety.

While some eat well off a hungry world

The place is filled with a stench of conspiracy

And planning treason with the Americans

To slaughter the people and burn down the neighbors

People are chattering about it, so an announcement is in order.

As the ears have reported to us

For this reason and that, and the other one, too

We present to you the sugar doll and horse

Shaḥḥāta al-Mi‘assal, and this announcement.

Upsidedownistan here.

Your good ole radio station.

In the name of God.

A peace upon you. And salmon and bananas.

As far as everything’s going, it’s all hunky dory.

O Brethren, O Brothe…

Here is my announcement, as to what follows:

Everything is A-okay.

And all that talk that’s going around is just talk.

Verily, Don’t be impatiently! And don’t worry—

It’s the stuff of small-minded people, and I won’t accept it!

Nothing is wrong.

I swear most solemnly, most solemnly thrice,

There is nothing wrong, nothing at all.

And know this: even if there was something

There’s nothing.

There’s no reason to talk about it or nag me.

And shame on kids

Who go on with their churlishness

Making me pay them attention, forcing me to debate them.

By my very nature, I am against big dealers

For the sake of free competition and neighborliness.

But, it is not in my character

To expose the scandal

Of an associate of mine who’s pocketed a few bills.

Everybody puts things away for themselves

The new ones do it, just like the old ones did before.

So People: Zionize yourself and go with the flow!

Have a good toke and a good evening.

My good Iranian buddy, Prince Bazarmīṭ

Wrote me this year to invite me to a big party,

I accepted, of course, and we went to the bash,

It was the kind of banquet that only happens once.

My God—what fried foods, and the puddings!

What stews and platters!

To be frank, my head began spinning

From all the luxury and Persianate trimming.

There, for instance, when you drink second-hand dregs

They serve it with sweetmeats and veal pastrami as appetizers.

Over there, I never saw anyone envying anyone

Or people insulting anyone

Who happened to purchase two farms on the cheap

Because he was such a smart entrepreneur and developed them into housing.

After the feast we collected our presents

Silver plated and gold plated, and faience, too.

And of course, my good buddy the Prince Bazarmīṭ

Told me something

Which I’ll tell you about

at some appropriate time.

Some punks will come after me without cause.

Getting up in my face, sitting to judge me.

That is socialist resentment, and I will not tolerate it.

If they were my sons, I’d ground them at home.

Talk about wheeler-dealers, Talk about whoring—

Fake news and tired old slogans!

They want to turn the whole country into chaos!

They have long wanted me to leave the country

But I will not give it up, or let security slip

Not by the police, nor by the public prosecutor.

O People, do me a solid and hang tightly tight!

Stay the course and the money will come.

Eat and drink according to what comes to you,

Let yourself drown in a sea of slaves and slave-girls,

Paint your life as you like

As brothels and palaces fill the streets.

Say your prayers and thank God

For the blessings of garbage and sewer overspills.

In closing, peacely,

And finally, in terms of words,

Necessitarily, calm and harmony must prevail

Or else, and if not, I will smash it to bits, or else…

I will take all my money and leave this country at oncely!

A peace upon you, and salmon and bananas,

By my authority as president, and father and husband.

—————————

* This translation is based on a recording of the November 14, 1977 performance of “Bayān Hāmm” at ‘Ayn Shams University. Negm composed and performed versions of the poem in the first months of 1976. These, along others, exist in multiple guises across different print and electronic media. The print version closest to this transcription can be found in Aḥmad Fu’ād Najm, al-A‘māl al-kāmila (Damascus: Dar Tlas, 1986), v. I, 133-158. An earlier print version of the text can be found in: Aḥmad Fu’ād Najm, Bayān hāmm: ghanā’ Shaykh Imām; dirāsat al-Ṭāhir Aḥmad Mikkī (Beirut: Dār al-Fārābī, 1976). For more information on Negm’s legal troubles with this poem, see: Ṣalāḥ ‘Īsa, Shā‘ir takdīr al-amn al-‘āmm: al-milaffāt al-qaḍā’īya li-l-shā‘ir Aḥmad Fu’ād Najm (Cairo: Dar al-Shorouk, 2007), 205-242.