Obituary: Mourid Barghouti, a story of diaspora and a dispossessed country

Mohammed Saad , Monday 15 Feb 2021

Barghouti died in Amman on 14 February at the age of 76

Mourid Barghouti
Mourid Barghouti. Al-Ahram
Almost six years after his wife, iconic Egyptian author Radwa Ashour, died in December 2014, Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti departed to join his wife, whose presence in his works is unmistakable.

Barghouti died in the Jordanian capital Amman on 14 February at the age of 76. He is survived by his son, poet Tamim Barghouti.

Mourid Barghouti’s work has been a strong voice of Palestine and the Palestinian cause, weaved in an unmatchable prosaic language that established his reputation as a great writer. He dedicated his life and works for Palestine and immortalised its story in his books; a story of an occupied, appropriated, dispossessed, renamed country, and a story of the displaced Palestinians who were living in the diaspora.

Barghouti was born in Deir Ghassana near Ramallah on the West bank on 8 July 1944. He travelled to Egypt in 1963 to study English literature in Cairo University, from which he graduated in 1967. This is the same year Israel occupied the rest of Palestine, which prohibited him from going back to Ramallah for 30 years. He was only able to return in 1997.

After his visit to Ramallah, he wrote his autobiographical book, Ra’yt Ramallah (I Saw Ramallah) in which he gave an insight into 30 years of diaspora and ironies of coming home after long absence. He summarised the experience of coming back home by saying “No absent thing comes back whole, and nothing can be retrieved as it was.” The book was published in Cairo by Dar Al-Hilal before it was published in English by the AUC Press with the translation of Ahdaf Soueif and forward by Edward Said.

The book offers Barghouti's narrative about home and homelessness and the harrowing experience of a Palestinian who is denied the most elementary human rights in his occupied country and in exile alike. It provides a view of Palestine that has been dispossessed and changed beyond recognition by  usurpers, yet from the heap of broken images and shattered homes.

The book won him the Naguib Mahfouz Prize in Literature in 2017.

In Cairo, Barghouti met the love of his life, Ashour, the author of the Trilogy of Granada. They got married in 1970 and stayed together until her death in 2014, although in 1977 he was deported from Egypt after his opposition to the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. The family then had to move to Hungary.

His other book that is considered a landmark in his career is “Woledt Honak, Woldet Hona (I was born There, I was Born Here,” published in 2009. The book can be regarded as a continuation of I Saw Ramallah, as he describes his journey back to his hometown in 2003 with his son who was born in Egypt. The book was also translated into English by renowned translator Soueif and published by the AUC Press in 2012.

The book traces Barghouti’s life in recent years and in the past — his early life in Palestine, his expulsion from Cairo and exile to Budapest, marriage and birth of his son, and then the young man’s own expulsion from Cairo. It tells the story of the Palestinian journey of the father and son.

In addition to these two important books, Barghouti published 12 poetry books between 1972 and 2005.

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