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Ten years ago today, the first demonstrations took place in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Poets respond to this historic milestone.

  • Jan 25 2021
  • Kholod Saghir
    is an acting chief-in-editor of PENN/Opp.

"A poem is a thought that bores through the heart—exploding it"

- Marie Lundquist

Ten years have passed since we witnessed the Arab world’s much longed for uprising against decades of tyranny and oppression. The Arab world is a generalizing term for a geographical area that stretches over two continents and that includes several different ethnic groups, but it is also a heterogenous world where the Arabic language dominates.

People—women and men, young and old—mobilized and demonstrated in the streets and in the squares. With peaceful means they demanded democracy and human rights. The spark of this heady uprising was the young Tunisian vegetable dealer Mohamed Bouazizi who in desperation committed the act of self-immolation in the town of Sidi Bouzid. He literally became the torch that ignited the people’s revolt. When the people demanded the end of tyranny there was at last hope for the future.

This young desperate man fired the already existent democracy movements throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East and down the Arabian Peninsula.

The words and the slogans lay latent in people’s hearts.

My Arabic heart was overjoyed—this uprising overturned the idea in the West that people in the Middle East and in North Africa seemed mainly to be marking time. True advocates of democracy welcomed it. In news reports well-phrased men and women were suddenly speaking fluent English. These were political activists, journalists, bloggers, filmmakers, doctors, academics, artists, writers, and poets dressed in faded jeans and t-shirts. Television screens in Europe had never before portrayed the Arab people with such nuances. Suddenly it was not as easy to dispatch Arabs as being uncivilized, dogmatic, full of hatred and with a propensity for violence. Samuel Huntington’s thesis was given its antithesis. Muslims demanded democracy and they were therefore prepared to sacrifice their own lives. Thus spoke my Arabic heart.

But the synthesis did not happen, and spring turned into autumn and the leaves fell.

The pen will survive though and despite having seen even harsher censorship in some countries after the Arab Spring than before, as for example in Egypt with the dictatorship of Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, poets and most writers continue to do what they have always done: they write. They write as witnesses to their own times. They operate in their home countries under a programmed self-censorship that they are either aware of or not, others keep writing much as they always have done and without warning find themselves behind bars. Some have distanced themselves from these events finding themselves in forced or voluntary exile; most keep up their writing activities from a more obfuscate position—that of the refugee’s.

"I live in a country that has been grieving far too long, a country that has not properly managed to honour their dead or to fully free them, a country that keeps pushing life and all living into the future, a country where one is creating a snare of conflicts in order to avoid touching at the heart of the real conflict. One must manage to be silent in order to accept the grief, be silent in order to break out of this whirlwind of convulsions, be silent to avoid the language of conflict—to be silent is sometimes the only possible breakpoint, the only possible act of resistance."

- Samira Negrouche, “From the intimacy of the collective to the horizon of the self.” 


هاوية الرجل الطيب

كان يا مكان..
الرجل المنسابة أوردته لكلاب الشوارع
وأقواله المأثورة
" إدي الحريق يرويك"

قال لي ذات مرة
"ليس على الإنسان أن يسعد نفسه
لا سبيل لذلك.
كن هشا كالوردة وجميلا
يشرب منك المارة،
يستنشقك حبيبان
أو تقطفك بنت السابعة عشر
وتلعب مع أوراقك الاحتمالات
كن حريصا ولا تخذلها
اخلق من ضلعك ورقة أخيرة
إن استدعى الحب
واحذف نفسك كاملة إن زدت عليه"

الرجل الطيب
بات ذات ليلة بإحدى الخرابات
ولما مر عليه قاطعا طريق
يشربان البيرة ويضحكان
وضع لهما قلبه (مَزّة) ومضى.

من وقتها صار حضوره مرتبطا بالمزاج دائما
وصار طقسا معتادا بعد كل حفلة سكر
أن يجتمع السكارى ويتبولون بحفرة واحدة ليروه متجسدا بصورة HD

مموحسا على ذرات الماء ومتشحا بالأبيض
والمعجزة كانت تحدث بينما ينتهون من التبول وتسقط الأعضاء في البناطيل
حيث تظل آخر دفقة منسابة شامخة ومتدفقة هكذا من الهواء
ما صنع (فورة)2 بوسط المدينة
سماها الناس عيون الخمورجي.

هاوية الرجل الحكيم

وفجأة صار لا أحد
تعلم المكياج وطرق التحول من كس امرأة إلى فيلسوف
وتعلم أن
الحياة أطول من أن تعاش بوجه وحيد..
_ جووكر
أنااا جوووكر


ذاكر جيدا
فيلم I'm not there
ونظرية موت المؤلف
وزوال الأدب
وكذب الهوية
وجاك لاكان وبلانشو
وتحور قرموط البحر.
ثم ارتدى حمالة صدر صاروخية وجوارب شفافة وطويلة ومكياج فاقع، دخَّن، بصق بلغمه على الرجال والسيارات المهمة
ومزق جواربه بثقوب وقحة.
ركض بميدان التحرير"حُرياااااه حُرياااااه"
كان بالفعل أكثر شجاعة بملابس دراغ كوين3

لكنه لم يُحدد نفسه أبدا
تحول وتحور
من شحاذ لمطرب آندر جراوند، من لمياء السيد إلى عبد الرحمن كامل، من بلطجي إلى ممثل بانتومايم
ومن بدلة الجوكر إلى بدلة باتمان

(حَلَّة مثقوبة عند العينين
وكيس أسود طويل، يطير فوق ظهره)

كان يقفز على أكوام الزبالة
هذه الجبال
عليك تتبُّع سلاسلها جميعا
والجلوس على كل جبل
مرة بوضع البوذا
ومرة بوضع الدوجي
ومرة بالقفز من الأعلى
كن عاهرة أوكرانية بالثلاثين
ثم إلها شرق أوسطي
(أنا الذي يعلم كل شيء)

في النهاية
اقترحت على نفسي أن أموت
ثم تكاسلت
فاختلفت النهاية هذه المرة
وكانت تلك طريقتي النرجسية
لأكرر جنازاتي بألف اسم
وأشتغلُ الجميع..

- Muhammad Ashraf


This is an excerpt from the editorial of the new issue of the PENN/Opp magazine. The common denominators of texts in this issue are history of resistance, the history of defeat, the histories of colonialism and slavery, the histories of unsuccessful post-colonial regimes, the history of racism, the history of civil war, the history of genocide, and the history of neo-colonialism.



  • About
    PEN/Opp is an international online magazine founded by Swedish PEN in 2011. The magazine serves as a forum for people to tell stories that relate to the pervasive and explosive struggle for the freedom of expression. By publishing writers and journalists who are not allowed to publish in their home countries, PEN/Opp wants to retrieve the democratic head start and to function as a worldwide link between readers, writers, and media. Over the years, we have made accessible texts that have been censored or confiscated, texts that have disturbed those in power or been smuggled out of prisons, and texts that due to self-censorship have even struggled to be imagined. By publishing the texts that those in power want to silence, we want to continue to resist the attack on the freedom of expression that is currently shaping much of the political climate in the world.

    To date PEN/Opp has published texts by three hundred and twenty writers from fifty-five countries. Because we publish texts in their original language, as well as in English and Swedish—we now have readers in approximately one hundred and fifty countries.

    PEN/Opp is published with the support of SIDA, PEN International and the Swedish Arts Council.

    PEN/Opp was originally named The Dissident Blog and got its new name autumn 2019.

    Opp as in opposition!


    Translated from Arabic by Christina Cullhed



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