Poetry News

The Arab Spring and the shelf life of political poetry

By Harriet Staff

In a recent article in the Asia Times, historian Sami Moubayed considers the fate of the revolutionary poetry composed by Arab writers of a previous generation -- people like Nizar Qabbani, who wrote in Beirut in the 1960s and then in London in the 1970s and 80s, becoming "a voice for the oppressed across the Arab world," writes Moubayed. He continues:

For obvious reasons, much of his poetry was banned in Iraq, Egypt, Tunisia, Saud Arabia and even in his own Syria. Often he was accused of "harming public morale" by exposing weaknesses in Arab society, calling on people to revolt against their military governments.

Many other Arab intellectuals spoke with similar boldness - if not more - during the long years of Arab military dictatorships. They include Syrian playwright Saadallah Wannus, Syrian poet Mohammad al-Maghout, Egyptian poet Ahmad Fouad Najem, Iraqi poet Muzaffar al-Nawwab, and many others.

All of that literature, however, suddenly sounds obsolete because it no longer applies to the Arabs of today. All generations since the war of 1967 were indeed "staring blankly into the skies, like idiots" but the young generation of today - that of the Arab Spring - does not merit such a derogatory description.

Simply put, people have put Nizar's words into action, and revolted. All political literature similar to Nizar's suddenly lost its meaning the day the Tunisian revolt started exactly one year ago, on December 17, 2010. These young Arabs are no longer weak, nor are they willing to tolerate their miserable political conditions any longer.

So what becomes of that old literature once it has accomplished its goal -- namely, to inspire revolution? Moubayed wonders if it can outlast its original political purpose and, frankly, isn't too optimistic:

All of that literature will seem outdated, irrelevant and in fact boring to a rising Arab generation that will emerge after the Arab Spring, perhaps five to 10 years from now.

One day, they will definitely see the light, yet again, where need for them re-arises, perhaps when the Islamists coming to power today turn into another Hosni Mubarak or another Gaddafi.

Read the whole article here.

Originally Published: December 9th, 2011