The Dreams of an Old Knight
Hamdy El Gazar addresses Egypt’s latest protests in the words of poet Salah Abdel Sabour
In 1993 I was twenty three years old. I was working as an editor of translated detective novels, getting paid no more than 50 piasters an hour. Under the glass top of my small desk I kept scraps of paper where I had copied choice lines by the poet Salah Abdel Sabour: “In a country where law does not rule, people stumble into prison by chance. There is no future for a country where poverty crawls like a snake in the sand. There is no future for a country whose women undress to eat.
There is no future.”
- “From Egypt” attempts to draw a cultural map of Egypt and the Arab world by profiling the artistic, literary, and political issues that affect the region via on-the-ground coverage of current events, publications, and the fight for freedom of expression.
- Hamdy El-Gazzar is an Egyptian writer and one of the 39 young Arab writers included in the Beirut 39 Project. His first novel, Sihr Aswad (Dar Merit, 2005) won the prestigious Sawaris Award, and was subsequently translated by Humphrey Davies (Black Magic, AUC Press, 2007). His second novel, Ladhdhat Sirriyya (Secret Pleasures) was published by Dar al-Dar in 2008. He is currently working on a third novel.
Twenty years later, at the beginning of this February, when I went out among the people I did not dress in black with a mask over my face like those in the “Black Bloc.” Instead, I stepped out with a new face that grew on me. A brown and beautiful face, with a black mustache and wide, pained eyes. A sad face and yet, a strikingly beautiful one: Salah Abdel Sabour’s face. With this face, I stepped out and began to preach on the streets and in the squares, reciting: “Recklessness, when these days are serious. I do not know how to flourish in our sweet valley.” This is a curse from the bastards and the crooks. In all honesty I tell you, “Who is brown in darkness is surprised by the light that exposes him.”
“Freedom and justice shine their lights in our eyes and become a madness. Like the madness of lovers. What breaks of their light becomes a wave that drags our longing towards the future. The future. The time that is approaching with two shining stars on its shoulders: Freedom and justice. The time that will break tyranny and injustice like the breaking of a bottle of poison.”
Justice is not a heritage that the living inherit from the dead. Nor is it simply a model of leadership that is attached to an individual king.
The just king may live
the just king may die.
Justice is a stance.
Justice is a question I would like to see asked.
O’ people of our city
O’ people of our city
A bigger terror than the one you now face will come.
You will not be rescued from it by hiding on the high mountain top
or in the belly of the jungle.
You will not be rescued by hiding in your rooms
or under your pillows or in the sewers.
You will not be rescued by clinging to the walls until you become the shadows of ghosts.
You will not be saved by being shrunk down to the point of sticking to the ground
or sized to fit in the eye of a needle.
O’ let us remember Salah Abdel Sabour:
The time to act is now.