Salah Jaheen, the revolutions' poet

Doaa Hamza, Thursday 21 Apr 2011

It is 25 years since legendary Egyptian poet Salah Jaheen (1930-1986) died, but his powerful and compelling words were still relevant during the recent uprising in Egypt

salah jaheen

“Look, watch the youth corner row after row, whistles of objections from the youth corner in cinemas. The youth corner has thousands of young men objecting to the authority of fathers and kings. Watch them lest you remember….”

As a child, Salah Jaheen's family moved around Egypt with his father’s job as a judge. This allowed him to explore the richness and diversity of Egyptian society from an early age.

His genuine, simple yet philosophical words along with the ability to get to the core of the Egyptian personality; falling somewhere between criticism, optimism and wit; made him one of the most popular vernacular poets in modern Egypt.

Together with his life-long friend, colloquial poet Fouad Haddad, they revived vernacular poetry, following in the footsteps of the great poet Beiram Al Tounsy.

Often known as the “poet of the revolution”, Jaheen’s lyrics were not political but had an innate nationalistic flair, perhaps the key to the timelessness of his poetry.  

The lyrics he wrote before and after the 1952 revolution  transcends time and space and evokes the same sublime emotions of solidarity, patriotism and unconditional love for one’s country, evident during the 25 January revolution.

During the protests in Tahrir Square, Jaheen’s patriotic songs were broadcast constantly to evoke passion and inspire the protesters. Songs like Soura (Photograph) ring as true today as they did on the day they were written: “A photograph, all of us need to be captured in a photograph, a photo of the happy people beneath the victorious flag.”

Salah Jaheen’s belief in resistance, optimism and the rights for social justice, liberty and the power of the people were apparent in his songs: Ehna El Shaab “We the people, have chosen you from the people, you who have opened the door to freedom,” Bel Ahdan (Embrace), Ya ahlan belma'arek (O battles we welcome thee), and El-mas'oulia (The Responsibility) to name a few.

Highlighting the importance of unity and solidarity among all Egyptians was the theme in his songs and together with renowned singer Abdel Halim Hafez and famous music composer Kamal El Taweel, these patriotic songs have been chanted by millions of Egyptians for the last sixty years.

Even in Egypt’s darkest hours his remarkable words have the capacity to transform defeat into resistance and encourage hope to rise once again with a sincere belief in future victories, hence his universal appeal. Ala Esm Masr (In the name of Egypt, 1971) is a vivid example and who can forget his famous quartets, where philosophy and simplicity intertwine.

Apart from his poetry, Jaheen was a renowned cartoonist, screen writer and actor. This multi-talented artist was the editor-in-chief of Sabah el Kheir magazine in 1956, later on joining Al-Ahram.

One of his cinematic masterpieces is Khali Balak Men Zouzou (Take Care of Zouzou) from 1972. The movie, starring the legendary Souad Hosny, was screened for over a year in local cinemas and the sound track and script is deeply embedded in Egypt’s social history.

Jaheen was the first to integrate poetry narration into Egyptian cinema. The 1978 film Shafiqa We Metwali (Shafiqa and Metwali) is based on the folktale of Shafiqa and her brother Metwali, and documented the social history of Egypt during the construction of the Suez Canal.

Salah Jaheen was awarded the Egyptian Order of Science and Arts First Class in 1965.

When he died in 1986, the world lost a phenomenal artist whose humanity, spontaneity and talent continue to inspire 25 years later.

Indeed he is the poet of all revolutions.

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