jun 112018
 

A Letter from Tora Prison

pablo (28)

Opening:

You, something

in the heart, unspoken,

something

in the throat, the last wish

of a man on the gallows

when the hour of hanging comes,

the great need

for oblivion; you, prison

and death, free of charge;

you, the truest meaning of man,

the word “no”—

I kiss your hand

and, preparing for the trial,

put on a suit and pray

for your Eid to come.

I’m the one

who escaped from the Mamluks,

I’m the child

whose father’s name is Zahran,

and I swim in your name, addiction.

I’m the companion of outlawed poets.

O my oblivion, I’m the clay

that precedes the law of concrete.

 

In the heart of this night

I own nothing

but my smile.

I take my country in my arms

and talk to her

about all the prisoners’ lives… out there

beyond the prison’s borders,

beyond the jailer’s grasp,

and about man’s need… for his fellow man,

about a dream

that was licit

and possible,

about a burden

that could be borne

if everyone took part in it.

 

I laugh at a song

they call “criminal,”

which provoked them

to erect a hundred barricades.

On our account, they block out the sun

and the thoughts in the head.

They want to hide the past

behind locks and bolts,

preventing him from whispering

about how things once were.

They want to hide him

by appointing guards—

weak-minded foreigners

estranged from the people.

But what wonder is this?

His fate is written

in all the prison cells.

His cell has neither bricks

nor steel,

and he was not defeated

within it.

Outside… a squadron of slaves.

Inside… a crucified messiah.

The thorns above his brow

are witnesses: You betrayed his revolution

with your own hands.

With shame in your eyes, you

are the Judases of the past,

whatever your religion, whatever

miniscule vision you have.

We’ve come back

and we see you.

 

You who imprisoned

the light, that naked groaning.

The light doesn’t care

how tall the fence is;

it’s not hemmed in

by steel bars

or officers’ uniforms.

It cannot be forgotten.

You can take a public square away from us,

but there are thousands and thousands of others,

and I’ll be there, waiting for you.

Our land will not betray us.

With each olive branch

we’re weaving your shrouds.

And the young man you killed

has come back, awake now

and angry.

He’s got a bone to pick

with his killer.

He’s got a bone to pick

with the one who betrayed him,

the one who, on that night of hope,

acquiesced, fell silent, and slept.

His wound has healed; he’s come back,

a knight

without a bridle;

he’s setting up the trial

while an imam prays among us

and illumines the one who was blind;

he’s rolling up his sleeves, preparing

for a fight;

he was killed—yes, it’s true—and yet

he has his role in this epic;

he stands there now

and holds his ground.

 

We’ve returned

to call on God

and proclaim it: “We’ve come back,

come back

hand in hand.”

Again we proclaim it: “We’ve come back,

and we vow

to spread the light,

the new dawn,

the keen-sighted conscience.”

We’ve come back, and we can smell

the fear in in your veins;

and our cheers tonight

are the sweetest of all:

“We are not afraid.

We are not afraid.”

 

We saw a country

rise from sleep

to trample a pharaoh

and cleanse the age

of the cane and cudgel.

We saw a country sing:

those were no slave songs,

no harbingers of doom, rather

songs fitting

for a new kind of steel.

We saw it.

We saw a country

where no one is oppressed.

Galal El-Behairy, the Tora Prison, Cairo, May 2018

Translated from Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Due to the potential for political repercussions against himself and his family, the translator of this poem has chosen to remain anonymous.

maj 092018
 

Egypt's grim blow on freedom of expression and human rights:

the tortured poet Galal El-Behairy must be freed

8 May 2018

The President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

The Egyptian Minister of Justice Mohamed Hossam Abdel-Rahim

The Egyptian Minister of the Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffa

The Egyptian Public Prosecutor

The Egyptian Military Public Prosecutor

The Egyptian poet Galal El-Behairy is currently detained and faces charges in the Military Court related to his latest book of poetry, ‘The Finest Women on Earth’ (خير نسوان الأرض), published earlier in 2018. El-Behairy likewise faces charges for writing the lyrics for artist Ramy Essam’s song ‘Balaha’ in a separate case investigated by the High State Security Prosecution. He was arrested, beaten and tortured after the release of the song.

On May 6, 2018, El-Behairy was given the information that the verdict will be given on May 9 by the Military Court. Charges against him in the Military Court case include insulting the military and spreading false news.

Ramy Essam’s song and music video Balaha was released on February 26, 2018. Soon after the release of the song, which criticizes the government and policies of Egypt, various pro-state TV hosts launched a smear campaign against Essam and El-Behairy.

On March 3, 2018 El-Behairy was arrested, and his whereabouts were not disclosed to his family or lawyers until he appeared before the High State Security Prosecution one week later, on March 10, 2018. He showed signs of severe torture and beating, and the High State Security Prosecution ordered him to undergo forensic medical examination.

On May 6, 2018 Galal El-Behairy attended a trial in the Military Court, and to a great surprise, was given the information that the verdict will be given already in three days, on May 9, on the case that handles the content of his book of poetry.

At the same time, El-Behairy is being investigated by the High State Security Prosecution for both ‘The Finest Women on Earth’ (خير نسوان الأرض) and the lyrics he wrote for ‘Balaha’. The High State Security charges against him include joining a terrorist organization, spreading false news, abuse of social media networks, blasphemy, contempt of religion, and insulting the military. An arrest warrant in the same case has been issued against Ramy Essam related to the song ‘Balaha’.

We, the undersigned PEN centres, stand in solidarity with Galal El-Behairy and Ramy Essam and urge Egyptian authorities to:

  • Drop all charges against Galal El-Behairy, in both the Military Court and the High State Security Court, in connection with the book of poetry ‘The Finest Women on Earth’ and the lyrics of ‘Balaha’, and release him immediately and unconditionally, as he is being held solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression;
  • Ensure that Galal El-Behairy receives a fair trial, full legal representation, adequate medical care, and full access to family visits whilst detained;
  • Ensure the safety of Galal El-Behairy and his family and end all forms of harassment, intimidation, and attacks against them;
  • Drop all charges against and the arrest warrant for Ramy Essam, as he too has been peacefully practicing his legal right of freedom of expression;
  • Ensure that the right to freedom of expression in Egypt is fully respected in law and practice as provided for under the Egyptian Constitution and under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Egypt is a state party; and
  • Ensure that Egypt respects the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) to which Egypt is a state party.

Venla Hiidensalo, President, Finnish PEN

Per Øhrgaard, President, Danish PEN

William Nygaard, President, Norwegian PEN

Jesper Bengtsson, President, Swedish PEN

PEN International