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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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
You fly the banner of day
Despite the bats and eagles.
You still stubbornly fight against hope
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
A little song that, in hope, resembles
A homeland’s embrace
An embrace wide enough for all
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
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?