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Forbidden poetry - Ahmed Douma

Monday 21 March 2022 - 9:00am

Ahmed Douma

Ahmed Doma

متاح بالعربية هنا

Ahmed Doma is a young Egyptian poet and a prominent activist who participated in the Egyptian Uprising that overthrew the Mubarak regime in 2011. Egyptian authorities arrested Doma on several occasions under different administrations and governments. Doma spent prolonged periods in arbitrary detention due to the practice of his right to freedom of expression.

Over his prolonged years in prison, Doma kept writing about his experiences, dreams, and aspirations in his poetry. He published his poetry collection “Soutak Talee” (Your voice is Heard) in 2012 via Dewan publishing house. In his collection, he shared his revolutionary poetry and his experiences with several youth and reformist movements in Egypt, including Kefaya and 6 of April Youth Movement. Doma documented the dates and locations during his imprisonment at the end of this poem, in which he told his story of imprisonment and oppression.

Also, his poetry collection “Curly” was printed and published during the 2021 Cairo International Book Fair via EL Maraya publishing house. However, security officials attended to the publishing house section during the fair and asked them to take Doma’s poetry collection down.

PEN International believes that poet Ahmed Douma has been targeted because of his political activism and opposition to the authorities and that banning his poems violates his right to freedom of expression, and calls on the Egyptian government to end the ban on his writings and release him immediately.


Background:

Ahmed Doma has been arbitrarily detained since December 2013, when security forces arrested him over appearing at Abdeen Court in Cairo during a protest against the notorious protest law. He faced several charges that Egyptian human rights organisations considered trumped-up and came as a punishment for his critical views of the government. He was later convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment followed by three years of parole.

In 2015, Doma faced several charges, including “ill-legal assembly” and “assaulting security forces” over his participation in protests known as “Alshoura council events” in 2011. He was handed a 25 years sentence and 17 million fines (with others) following a grossly unfair trial where the judge showed a personal bias against him. The judge additionally sentenced him to a further three years for “insulting the judiciary” during the trial.

Doma’s lawyers appealed the sentence, and his case was sent to another court for a re-trial. However, he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and 6 million Egyptian pounds following an unfair trial. In 2020, the Court of Cassation rejected his appeal and upheld the sentence against him.

His health condition has been significantly deteriorating due to the poor detention conditions, including keeping him in solitary confinement for over eight years which had a devastating impact on his mental health. Doma also suffers from severe joints, nerve and blood issues.

Show your solidarity with Ahmed Doma today, share his poems and writings. Call upon the Egyptian authorities to left the ban on his poetry, end his arbitrary detention and immediately release him.

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Excerpt from Ahmed Douma, Blasphemy (Tajdīf)

Translated by Ahmed Hassan and Elliott Colla

Nothing is more precious than the opening of a new window onto the world… or onto freedom. This is true everywhere, but it is especially true here.

Our world is measured by the freedom we possess. We might spend our whole life boring a hole to squeeze through.

Here, the complex problem we face has to do with the thickness of the walls: they are impenetrable.

Yes, the window remains, one-sided as ever. But, as I tell my soul and its wishes, the window is merely the beginning of error. It is confusing that it looks at you while you cannot see. Very confusing.

But most important of all is this: the ability to see means that you are alive and that despite everything, you have agency. This fact explodes the the jailer’s intentions and the prison’s goals, which resemble stagnation, cruelty, and hostility to life!

Allow me, then, to breathe this space with you. To take merely a breath without purpose or aim. As I might smoke a cigarette on the balcony of my house (now ruined by absence). As I might kiss my beloved (I look around now but do not find her—has she, too, gone away?). Or even as I might pray (not out of duty, but out of an abundance of longing).

Only this: I close my eyes, spread my wings, and take my time sniffing around this empty space.

And then perhaps from you I will learn to speak and write again.

When for many years you are deprived of everything that your instinct inclines you to put into action, you are lead back to the beginning of things, to their pristine state.

You possess nothing but what you will learn. Or what circumstance compels you to learn.

Come here, Child! Take baby steps toward the doorway. One after the other.

Together, let us spell out LIFE, which is like nothing else. Let us keep spelling until it is time for our appointment with freedom.

-----

Ahmed Douma, poem # 10 from Curly

Translated by Ahmed Hassan and Elliott Colla

This throng of questions wounds

Especially when the situation is ‘silent.’

Loneliness eats at my mind

And so I begin to fume and babble.

With no one around, I find

That my resurrection has come.

This swarm of questions is a kind of madness

That begins with Why was I created?

It drags me down a road

That ends with Whose side

Was the Lord on?

With those living who seek

To avenge Hussein’s death?

Or with street dogs?

Put differently, At this very moment

Where was the Lord’s heart?

In Lazoghly or Tahrir Square?

I am not referring to who won and who lost,

It’s just that I can’t understand

The wisdom behind everything that’s happened

While He – All Respect to His Almighty Power –

Still insists on silence.

Alienation is a kind of death.

The fray called to us.

Before the appointed moment

We wore no caution

We were stripped of experience

And dreams alone cannot challenge

Nothingness.

Especially when we are held in treachery’s embrace.

Then, what if Hope itself

Is what betrayed us,

Giving up the Game to despair?

At that moment, you will live in no homeland

But that of your alienation, your exile.

At that moment, Faith cannot survive

Except in the impossible.

So:

Glory belongs to the alienated, the foreigners, the strangers of every age and era.

And power belongs to the bastards and street dogs.

----

Ahmed Douma, poem # 11 from Curly.

Translation Ahmed Hassan and Elliott Colla

You, who believe the dream,

Who choose light

Despite the black nights

And the darkness of nightmares.

You, planted in fields:

Prison is wheat and hope

Staving off the homeland’s hunger until tomorrow

And freeing the prisoners

From your prison

You who know what is to come,

You who are loyal to the righteousness,

You who doubt Yes,

You who believe in No,

As you perform your duties

Together in bed.

You, companions of funerals

And sleeping on the pavement,

Laughing when death comes

As if it were a trip

Right and proper

Giving yourselves

Under fire, to a bride

As if there were a bridegroom among you.

You, generation of prophets

Whose message is ink and blood:

No matter how proud the flood

Your ship knows the way.

The only mountain protected

From despair is the dream.

Keep to its tracks,

No matter how mad it appears.

Touch its light

In the darkness of nightmares.

(Tora Penitentiary, 2014)

----

Ahmed Douma, poem #12 from Curly

Translated Ahmed Hassan & Elliott Colla

Your image has been memorized by those who believe

In dreams. Your letters are a loud cheer.

Where is your laughter, my Sweet? Where?

Without it, my heart begins to fear again.

**

Gate #7 asks the jailer

About you each day.

“Is she late?”

“She’s probably never coming back.”

Then slams its door in everyone’s faces.

After your soul taught the gate to smile

Before allowing people to pass through

**

I see you, standing still on the pavement,

Breaking the bones of boredom

By waiting

You fly the banner of day

Despite the bats and eagles.

**

You still stubbornly fight against hope

With wishes

Keeping the last promise

By way of a promise whose letters are a light.

Most beautiful pain, you are still

More beautiful than me

**

And the struggle’s noblest cause

You are still a sun that stops

The creeping shadows

And an impossibility

That destroys every wall

**

My cell sings you a song

Whose melody opposes return

Whose lyrics grant me

Spaciousness

A little song that, in hope, resembles

A homeland’s embrace

An embrace wide enough for all

A homeland

That is not merely a collection of graves.

**

My sweet, lively companion

You are still in the shell

You are still the sword of my stubbornness.

Amidst this sea of turmoil

In the melancholy darkness of prison

You are still a light.

---

Ahmed Douma, poem #13 from Curly

Trans. Ahmed Hassan and Elliott Colla

The first time

I see the door shut closed,

I feel the universe contract

And the faces of people troubled by something

Blurred by so many tears.

The first time

The sun blots out the light

And fear comes and won’t leave,

I see myself in a picture

But don’t recognize myself.

My features are

Not my own.

The first time I feel as if I were

Imprisoned,

That your absence is my jailer,

And the word weighing heavy on my tongue.

So I stop singing

And ask myself:

When will you stop forgetting me?