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Egypt's 'poet of the people' Ahmed Fouad Negm dies at 84


Satirical poet's unvarnished reflections on Egyptian life inspired generations of young to push for change, including 2011 uprising

Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm has died. He was 84.

Negm died in the early hours of Tuesday, his friend and publisher Mohammed Hashem said..

Known as the "poet of the people", Negm's use of colloquial Egyptian Arabic endeared him to his countrymen, who saw in his verse an unvarnished reflection of how they felt about milestones in their nation's history such as the humiliating defeat at the hands of Israel in 1967, the 1979 peace treaty with Israel and the authoritarian rule of Hosni Mubarak.

Negm shot to fame in the 1970s when his poetry was sung by the musician Sheikh Imam Issa. The duo, who mostly performed in popular coffee houses and to university students, inspired generations of youth hoping for change.

He was a supporter of the 2011 uprising that toppled the Mubarak regime. A self-proclaimed secularist, Negm was a critic of Islamists. His poetry communicated both a love for his country and scathing criticism of its ills.

"We are a society that only cares about the hungry when they are voters and only cares about the naked when they are women," he once said, suggesting that people care more about "morality" than ensuring everyone can afford clothes.

Negm had little formal education. Over the course of his life he took jobs as a domestic worker and a postal worker. He was jailed for his political views under the rule of former presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat.

"I am not a humble person and I am not stupid; I know I am a poet that has affected this nation," he once told an interviewer.

Negm's appearance and lifestyle matched the bluntness and the nature of his verse, immersed in the language of the poor. He wore a galabiya, a flowing Egyptian robe, at all times. His last home was a small flat in a social housing block given to him by the authorities when he lost his home in a 1992 earthquake.

He often boasted that his fame did not tempt him to be seduced by offers of money or perks. "No one can co-opt or seduce him, because I want nothing – I have all I want here," he said during an interview in his flat.

He is the father of prominent activist and columnist Nawara Negm, a prominent figure in the 2011 revolt. He has two other daughters, Zeinab and Afaf.

"You may not find in the life of your father something to brag about, but you will certainly not find anything that you will be ashamed of," he wrote in the dedication of a book of his verses to his three daughters. "That is the belief I defended and happily paid a price for."

Negm's funeral will be held at the Imam Hussein mosque in the medieval section of the Egyptian capital.

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