INTERVIEW: Poet Osama Farahat on the many ‘images’ of Salah Jahine

Dina Ezzat , Monday 30 Jan 2023

His name is Mohamed Salaheddin Ahmed, but he is known as Salah Jahine. In the minds of the people, he is associated with many things, but most prominently the Quartets.

Salah Jahine

Jahine is remembered for his works since the heydays of the 1952 July Revolution, the most famous song that celebrates spring, and the Quartets that have been read and re-read by one generation after the other since he first started to write them in 1959, and through the years, until he died on 21 April 1986.

This year, Jahine is the celebrated cultural figure of the Cairo International Book Fair.


Born in Cairo on 25 December 1930, Jahine was haunted by his art right from the start – his ability to draw, to write, and to create images that go straight to the hearts and minds of the people was simply predominant, according to poet and critic Osama Farahat.

Author of a book that came out under the title “The Artistic Image in the Poetry of Salah Jahine”, Farahat argues that it is simply impossible to draw a cutting line between the many forms of artistic creation that Jahine produced throughout his relatively short life that ended with the consequences of a severe depression.

Jahine had initially opted to study art but somehow turned to law – possibly toeing in his father's footsteps or out of excessive talent that would not have succumbed to the limitations of text books. 

Whatever the reason, Jahine was a man whose eyes always caught an image that nobody else would necessarily catch and his words, as a poet or a script writer, and his drawings as a cartoonist would somehow re-work those images in full dimensions, Farahat argued.

“This is precisely why I was interested in the specific issue of artistic images in Jahine’s poetry; this is, I think, is a very special trait of his work – those rich, clear, warm, and very vivid images that the words carry to the reader and that give the words wholesome meanings way beyond the dictionary definitions,” Farahat said.

Jahine was a prominent poet from the 1950s to 1980s whose songs, especially those dedicated to tell the story of the 1952 Revolution and its ultra-charismatic leader Gamal Abdel-Nasser, never went out of fashion. 

He was equally an exceptionally talented caricaturist whose cartoons carried subtle, humorous, and shrewd satire on the pages of Al-Ahram daily. They were part of the paper’s claim to fame at a time when it had plenty to claim fame for. 

For sure, his scripts and production of some iconic films, like “Khali balak men zouzou” (Watch out for Zouzou) and “Amira, hobby ana” (Amira my love), featuring Souad Hosni and his operattas for the puppet theatre, especially the fabulous “El-leila El-kebira” (The Big Night) have an indelible print in the memory of the Egyptian silver screen. 

“In all of this, Jahine was the artist who carried the spirit of everything Egyptian and who portrayed everything Egyptian in a way that any Egyptian would relate to. In all of this, his images were present and were extracted from the very details of life in Egypt,” Farahat said. “This, I think, is why his work immediately clicked with the audience and survived for years beyond his own life,” he added.

“I think the questions of why Jahine had an immediate strong connection with the people from the 1950s to the 1980s and why today he is still celebrated come down to the same point that he was never dis-attached from his own people,” Farahat stressed.

According to Farahat, Jahine's talent has always been there to defy all attempts to label him in one way or another. So, he added, while it is very true that Jahine’s name is strongly associated with the July Revolution and Nasser, it is so hard to say that he was part of a propaganda machine that the July regime designed.

“Absolutely, not true; Jahine was committed to a certain concept of love, justice, and beauty and those concepts were echoed and portrayed in his work even before the July Revolution,” Farahat said. “When the revolution and Nasser came, Jahine looked at them as the embodiment of the ideas he had always subscribed to,” he added.

From the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s, Jahine worked with the legendary Abdel-Halim Hafez to produce some of the most emotional and passionate songs on the July Revolution, its call, and its leader. In 1966, Jahine, Halim along with composer Kamal El-Tawil gave the July Revolution and its leader one of the most memorable songs “Soura” (A picture) that showed an entire nation in unity behind a leader in the pursuit of a dream of political and economic strength. “Jahine’s songs of the time were so full of the real vibes that were predominant – very strong vibes and images in which one can hear and see images of the people, the battles, and the events of the time,” Farahat said.

However, a year later, Jahine's dream crashed with the shocking military defeat of 1967. That was the beginning of a very harsh phase in his life. He had to put aside his dreams and look fear in the eye after having tried to put it aside since the late 1950s when he was seeing politicians and intellectuals, including those who subscribed to the call of the 1952 Revolution and his friends, being sent off to obnoxious jail experiences. Jahine’s most difficult moment was to see Nasser – for whom he had written the vibrant song “Nasser ya horriyah” (Nasser, you are freedom) – not just as a president who allows terrible violations of human rights but also as a defeated president who tried to hide his failure.

Again, Farahat reminds that at this deepest moment of agony and despair, Jahine would resort to the incredibly rich reserve of images he always carried in his heart to ink it out in poems and cartoons that continued to carry his pain until the victorious crossing of October 1973. 

“I think it has been so wrong to forcibly limit Jahine to his work, especially his poems, and to the July Revolution, and Nasser; this is an overstretch of associating the artist with his political position which should not be the case,” Farahat said. He added, “it is equally unfair to only look at Jahine from the single lens of his poems – even his superb Quartets where he harnessed the words to carry the very poignant images of the eternally bewildering dualities of good and evil or fate and freedom."

Celebrating Jahine as the cultural figure of the Cairo International Book Fair for this year, Farahat said, should certainly be an opportunity to give overdue attention to the many "images" of Jahine who took colloquial Arabic to the height of its eloquence and to examine his brilliant cartoons, his sensitive scripts, and his captivating work for children. “There is so much there to look at and so much to tell about the fascinating talent and exceptional art of Salah Jahine,” he added. 

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