By Iqbal Tamimi
The 2011 revolution of the people of Egypt shocked the international community on different levels. The Egyptians shown unprecedented solidarity from all sectors and backgrounds, they stood side by side in their demands. The Christian and the Muslims, its men and women, the poor and the rich, the educated elites and the illiterate, the young and the old, all demanded democracy and freedoms and they all wanted to change the regime. Their stand has been captured and reflected through different means including art and literature produced by creative people following the 25th of January revolt, including the book of poems in discussion here.
The General Egyptian Book Bureau in Cairo released “The Bible of the revolution and its Quran” in August 2011. It is a book of poems created by the controversial Egyptian poet Dr Hasan Teleb. The 163 page book of poems came as a trilogy talking about the latest revolt in Egypt, from the 25th of January 2011, until the moment the ex President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak has stepped down. The first part of the Trilogy entitled “ The battlefield Verse” was written between January and May of 2011, where Dr Teleb saw the revolution as an act of worship and perceived its activities as prayers.
He dedicated his book to: “The souls of the martyrs, heroes of the revolution of the twenty-fifth of January who placed their belonging to their country ahead of any religious or sectarianic affiliation. Whose souls departed while chanting the name of Egypt, Egypt alone and above all, regardless of faith, or community affiliation”.
The Bible of the revolution and its Quran contains 33 poems that carry titles all born from the womb of the revolution, charged
withpride and enthusiasm and releasing years of bottled up emotions.
Titles such as “Tuesday 25 of January”, “Real Myth”, “Enough”, “The Sixth of April”, “the “National Assembly”, “We are all Khaled Said” ,”A group of groups”, and many more talked about that magical short period that ended the rule of a tyrant.
The first poem is entitled “al-Fatehah”. Al-Fatihah in Arabic means a new start, an opening, or inauguration, but it is as well the name of the first verse in the Quran, the holy book of the Muslims. In his poem, “al-Fatehah” he wrote:
The revolution is content now with its faith
For its temple is its battlefield
And its Quran today is its Bible
And Its Bible is its Quran.
Hassan Teleb was born in December 1944 in Sohag (Upper Egypt), and he graduated from the Faculty of Arts, department of philosophy at Cairo University. He is currently working as a professor of philosophy, teaching at the Faculty of Arts at Helwan University.
My first encounter with Dr Hassan Teleb, the very quiet looking volcano, was in UAE at a conference held at the Sharjah House of Poetry where we were both invited as participants of the poetry annual festival, along with a number of poets from the Arab region. I was somehow shocked to see him there because of the very selective procedures regarding inviting iconic guests due to the conservative policies of the Emirate of Sharjah, especially when it comes to inviting controversial literary personalities who happen to step to the forbidden grounds of religious or sexual symbolism, and Dr Teleb was certainly one of those. He has published twelve books of poetry; the first was entitled “Washmon Ala Nahdiey Fatah” (Tattoos on the Breasts of a Young Woman).
Teleb has his own writing style of playing on the phonetics and rearranging the alphabet characters, conjuring them to come out with a new creature that carries the most creative messages of political poetry. It is almost like playing a conundrum game with the characters, creating a brilliant new structure of awakening messages. He is also known for his satirical political poetry, that one of the poems that he wrote in 2005 when Mubarak nominated himself, again, for the Presidency, sparked controversy that no newspaper in Egypt would publish it. The poem entitled ‘Mabrook Mubarak’ which translates Congratulations Mubarak. I have translated few lines of that poem in which he says:
Congratulations .. Mubarak .. Congratulations
You will win
Be happy, and make us sad
Before you arrived,
Few bushes were about to blossom at the entrance of our street
How we loved that scene
They used to ease some of our pains
Until you arrived,
and released your mules to graze on them ..
And you left your donkey!
We wish you never came..
Agitating toxins in our pains
or blowing your dust
But what’s done is done ..
Unfortunately you will win
By Falsehood or by right you will win
Definitely and no doubt..
Those who are like you
They either succeed.. or succeed!
By bribes or by bullying,
You will win
From his poem “Overthrowing the Regime” that he published in ‘”The Bible of the revolution and its Quran”’ I have translated the following few lines:
What should not have lasted…did
The tyrant President
To go to sleep..
The peace in the city’s night has settled, as they have told him
The land was quiet
And on top of the soil was a nation
Wrapped with darkness
… When the dawn breaks tomorrow
The tyrant President will celebrate his shadow,
The country will be handed over to his son
And the speeches will be arranged.
Dr Teleb was one of the very few who fought extremism and worked on interfaith dialogue through poetry. He wrote a poem entitled ‘Draw a Cross that looks like a Crescent’. He finished this poem by the end of 2007. It stirred controversy because it was an open call addressing the Christian Copts of Egypt to practice their faith with pride and to express themselves and their heritage along with the Muslims of Egypt. Teleb said this poem is part of project and he will complete his project by writing its other half entitled ‘Draw your Crescent that looks like a Cross’.
He did not address the Copts and Muslims only, but he wrote a book of poems entitled ‘Letters to Om Ali’ addressed to his wife, each poem was written as a letter justifying his political weakness to his wife. His letters were political dissection of the relationships between the authority and the oppressed citizen. The fact that he resorted to symbolism and visualisation and creating images of comparisons can be justified because censorship and lack of freedom of expression were the spark that ignited his flood of his poetry that the average reader could not understand. He was even attacked following the publishing of ‘Ayato Jeem’ which translates as ‘The Verse of the Letter J’. He was accused of showing disrespect to the holy Quran, for using expressions that were present in the Quran, the holy book of Muslims and for using some of the rhyming sounds that comes in its verses because they were wrongly perceived as disrespecting the divine text.