If the sun drowns in a sea of clouds
And extends a wave of darkness onto the world
And vision dies in the eyes of the vigilant
And the road is lost in lines and circles
O shrewd traveler in straight lines and in circles,
You have no guide but the eyes of speech 

Ahmed Fouad Negm

Ahmed Fouad Negm was a revolutionary Egyptian poet, often described as the poet of the Egyptian people. 
His poetry acted as a vehicle for radical social and political change and was forged by experience of poverty and prison. He spent 18 years in prison. 
He wrote poetry in colloquial Arabic that told of the experiences and grim humour of working-class life in Egypt. His poetry was banned in Egypt and often existed in oral form or cassettes.
Negm believed that poetry and the poetic form was a mode of political resistance and opposition:
How sweet are the poems?
In times of bitter hardship…and the songs
How sweet are the spoken words of love?
In times of privation
(from The Strike)
He started writing poetry in prison in the 1960’s. His sympathy was with the poor and downtrodden, and his poetry expressed contempt for the powerful elites who controlled Egypt.
He became well known in the 1960’s as a result of a partnership with Sheikh Imam Eissa, a composer and oud player, who put music to Negm’s verse. They worked together for more than 20 years.
Negm had little formal education and worked as a domestic worker and a postal worker. He was jailed for his political views under the rule of presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.
He was imprisoned in 1967 by the regime of General Nasser for performing verses that criticised the President’s handling the 1967 war against Israel. In 1978 he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for attacking President Anwar Sadat. He spent three years on the run before his eventual capture.
His poems were cited by demonstrators and protestors during the Egyptian uprising and Arab Spring of 2011 that bought down the Mubarak Government. Lines from his poem “Who Are They, and Who Are We?” was a chant slogan in Tahir square.:
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the sultans
They are the ones with wealth and power
And we are the impoverished and deprived
His son Nawara Negm, is a prominent Egyptian activist and columnist who was a key figure in the 2011 revolt. Negm also has two daughters.
Negm died in 2013. Obituaries are here and here
Who Are They and Who Are We
by Ahmed Fouad Negm
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are the ones with wealth and power
And we are the impoverished and deprived
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is governing whom?
Who are they and who are we?
We are the constructing, we are the workers
We are Al-Sunna, We are Al-Fard
We are the people both height and breadth
From our health, the land raises
And by our sweat, the meadows turn green
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who serves whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are the mansions and the cars
And the selected women
Consumerist animals
Their job is only to stuff their guts
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is eating whom?
Who are they and who are we?
We are the war, its stones and fire
We are the army liberating the land
We are the martyrs
Defeated or successful
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is killing whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They are mere images behind the music
They are the men of politics
Naturally, with blank brains
But with colorful decorative images
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who is betraying whom?
Who are they and who are we?
They are the princes and the Sultans
They wear the latest fashions
But we live seven in a single room
They eat beef and chicken
And we eat nothing but beans
They walk around in private planes
We get crammed in buses
Their lives are nice and flowery
They’re one specie; we are another
Use your mind, guess…
Guess who will defeat whom?Translated by: Walaa Quisay

On Your Seventy Something Birthday
Ahmed Fouad Negm
Mister President
On your seventy something birthday
Happy Birthday
Although it is not a very happy day for us
And every year you are the sovereign
And we are your subjects,
We are the oppressed,
We are the humiliated,
I wonder, O sweetheart of millions
Do you still remember us, or are we forgotten?
Do you recall your political prisoners?
Or the hungry
Do you remember the displaced?
Do you remember those that were burnt to death?
Or those that drowned to their demise
May God be with you,
How much do we expect you to remember?
On your seventy something birthday
I’ll say a couple of words

We carry filth on our backs
Do you know that The Nile is infested?
And the air is polluted, and life is hell
And the hearts of the honest are raging
You are massacring them
The economy is in shambles
And you legitimize thuggery
You say: Egypt just needs a little more tourism
But all the land here is for sale

Woe betides us
To walk one step, during your reign, is to walk a mile
And laughter has become sobs and wails
And the vegetables
Do you know about the vegetables?
Well I can write books about all that’s wrong with them
And the universities have either become nightclubs or old age homes
And the youth have become drunkards, without alcohol!
And knowledge has become a burden on the educated
And the teachers have become imposters
All the leaders have become your personal orchestra
Take me to my ruin, O sweetheart of millions!

Do you know the Japanese?
Long ago, in nineteen fifty two
We had our own cars; we had education and the educated
We had a culture and the cultured
And literature, science and many artists
The Japanese
Were recovering from a nuclear attack
What now have they become, and what have we?

The country’s well-being is guarded by a dragon
And the courts are filled with injustices
That’s your justice in its perfection
Where word of truth is discarded
And those that say it rot in cells

The public sector …. Public?
And corruption prevailed
Devouring the corpses of my country
What more can I say, your majesty?
Each memory has its tears
I swore to myself
To write seventy eight memories
But I can’t afford the paper
So happy birthday to you
And to us