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Jennifer Clement writes to Galal El-Behairy - Day of the Imprisoned Writer 2019

Friday 15 November 2019 - 2:30pm

Galal El-Behairy

These are not the first words of solidarity I have written to a fellow writer in prison, and this is a letter I wish I didn’t have to write, dear Galal. I know better than most how precious one’s freedom is and how swiftly it can be taken away. How cruel those with power can be, and how terribly they can wield it. I have also seen, time and time again the towering greatness of the human spirit.

It is extraordinary to me that Egypt, a country that has enriched culture, language, art, music across the world, is threatened by a song, by a poem. This is the country of Naguib Mahfouz, Nawal El Saadawi, Sayed Darwish. It is your country too. Those in power cannot erase your struggles. Generations to come will know what you have had to endure and what you have sacrificed for your country.

I read your poem, A Letter from Tora Prison:

In the heart of this night
I own nothing
but my smile.
I take my country in my arms
and talk to her
about all the prisoners’ lives… out there
beyond the prison’s borders,
beyond the jailer’s grasp,
and about man’s need… for his fellow man,
about a dream
that was licit
and possible,
about a burden
that could be borne
if everyone took part in it.

You are not alone in this dream, dear Galal. We are all in it with you.