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Ahmed Fouad Negm is the Coolest Arab Poet You’ve Never Heard of

Waed Athamneh, Assistant Professor of Arabic Studies

Ahmed Fouad Negm is an Egyptian cultural icon and leading poet who craftily used his poetry to advocate for the liberation of citizens in the Arab world. All of his poetry is written in colloquial Egyptian Arabic rather than Modern Standard Arabic. This made his poems instantly recognizable by the masses of Egyptians who loved Negm because he expressed their struggles in the language they speak.

Ahmed Fouad Negm is considered a giant of folk poetry in the Arab world. He lived to be 84, and wrote folk poetry for the majority of his life. He used his poems as aesthetic weapons of resistance against political oppression. In his poetry, he fights against authoritarian regimes and inspires the Arab public to defy the status quo and refuse to be a defeated nation.

Ok. So this is all fine and dandy, but what actually makes Ahmed Fouad Negm so cool? Well, here is a small list:

1. He used poetry to fight for social justice.

From 1950-2013, Negm wrote poetry in colloquial Egyptian Arabic to call for social justice, and to shape and give rise to political resistance in Egypt as well as the rest of the Arab world. Negm wrote poetry in the language of the people and about their everyday concerns, against injustice, oppression and dictatorship.

2. He bravely defied ALL of Egypt’s regimes.

Negm challenged and criticized every single president of Egypt from 1970s to 2013: Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, and Morsi. Add to the list the Muslim Brotherhood!

3. Prison? No Problem!

Negm was imprisoned for a total of 18 years of his life for criticizing Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak, but he never gave up! Every time he was released, his voice grew louder and his poetry stung even more.

4. His poetry was chanted by thousands in Tahrir Square.

In 2011, Negm inspired generations of Egyptians to march in Tahrir Square to protest against decades of oppression. They chanted his poetry, especially the lines “The brave men are brave/ The cowards are cowardly/ Come with the brave/ Together to the Square.”

Negm wrote poetry in the language of the people and about their everyday concerns, against injustice, oppression and dictatorship.​

5. He had awesome nicknames.

Egyptians loved Negm, so they gave him some cool nicknames. Some of his nicknames are: “the voice of the revolution,” “the poet of the people,” “our uncle,” “the true voice of Egypt” and “the voice of the underclass.”

6. Hashish, girlfriends, and expletives!

Negm relentlessly challenged many cultural taboos. He was openly secular; he spoke publicly about his use of hashish; and he talked about his girlfriends. Add to that his love of curse words in life and poetry and you get a unique combination. One thing is for sure: Negm always had fierce words and he wasn't afraid to use them.

7. Number of marriages: 6.

Over the course of his long life, Negm married six times and had three daughters. He was passionate about being a father and wrote about it in his poetry. One of his most famous poems is titled "Nuwara" after his daughter. In it he describes his interactions with his young daughter and delves into his wishes for a better life for her generation, without the strict restrictions of freedoms his own generation had endured.

8. Number of siblings: 17.

You read that right! Negm was one of 17 siblings. But as he would often say in his poetry, he has an even bigger family: the Egyptian people. He continued to express his camaraderie with the men and women abused by Egypt’s regimes.

9. He formed a 30-Year Duo with a blind Egyptian singer.

Negm formed a duo with the blind Egyptian composer/singer/artist Sheikh Imam (1918-1995) that lasted 30 years. Together, they became a unique team with an unmatched sense of powerful poetry and music that has a dissident and inspiring social message.

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10. He won awards and received recognition.
Negm was chosen as ambassador of the poor in 2007 by the United Nations Poverty Action. He won and was scheduled to receive the Prince Claus Award for ‘Unwavering Integrity” in the Netherlands on December 11th, 2013, but he passed away on December 3, 2013.


A short (8 min) documentary about Ahmed Fouad Negm's career.

Waed Athamneh is an Assistant Professor of Arabic Studies at Connecticut College. Her research focuses on modern Arabic poetry and 20th-century Arab politics. Athamneh's book, Modern Arabic Poetry: Revolution and Conflict, is forthcoming from University of Notre Dame Press.

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