things that keep you up at night: 1. morsi’s speech, 2. love as reflected in Arabic poetry

So things have been getting interesting in Egypt. Sunday, June 30th, marks one year since Egyptian president (& prominent Muslim Brotherhood member) Mohamed Morsi was elected, and things aren’t looking too rosy for him right now. Gas shortages, power outages, rising prices, sectarian violence, and a host of other problems large and small are dominating the Egyptian political landscape, and the Tamarod (“rebel”) movement is calling for mass protests on the 30th. Significant turnouts are expected and clashes between pro- and anti-government groups have already begun.

In the midst of all this, Morsi gave a speech last night. It was…a very long speech. It lasted two and a half hours. And it brought to mind a few lines of Ahwak, a Zaki Nassif poem/song performed by Fairuz (no, before you get excited, I’m not talking about Abdel Halim’s Ahwak. This one is different. Apologies to those of you for whom I know this will be a disappointment) – in which the speaker’s unrequited love keeps her up late at night when everyone but the moon is asleep. She has a conversation with the moon and explains her problem: It’s my own fault, she says. My heart is enraptured in a hopeless love.

And I thought to myself: I could change a few key words here and make the song all about how Morsi’s speech made so many Egyptians (plus journalists and Middle East studies hangers-on and Arab politics aficionados) stay up so late for what many Egyptians feel are empty promises and hopeless words.

So I did. You can listen to the song while reading my lyrics below instead of the original ones for the full effect (the first section is the chorus; the second is a verse. The form of the adapted version below more closely mirrors the second verse, rather than the first, in case you were wondering). If you don’t read Arabic, you should still listen to the song because Fairuz is a legend for a reason, but a translation is below. Feel free to blame all grammatical*, typographic, and mechanical errors on poetic license and the fact that I only slept three hours last night. And it’s all Morsi’s fault.

أسمعك… أسمعك

بس أسمعك بلا أمل

وكلامك…وكلامك يقلقني

و وعودك تغرينيي بشهية ديموقراسي

و وعودك تغريني علشانه كلام فاضي

في سَهَري أستمع و يطول بِيَ الخَطَب

سينزل المتمردون و يُعَزّز المعارضون

في نظرك إحنا الكافرون بس بصوتك أحنا مُعَذَّبون

و أصرّ نستحق النوم…واسمعك بلا أمل


I hear you…I hear you
But what I hear is hopeless
Your speech, your words, they worry me.
Just as your promises are inciting
An appetite for democracy
Those promises are a provocation
Because it’s all empty talk

During my sleepless vigil I listen…
And the speech just keeps getting longer
The rebels will take to the streets
As the opposition strengthens
You may think we’re all infidels
But we’re being tormented by your voice
And I insist: we deserve to sleep already!
And yet still I hear you keep going on and on…it’s really hopeless, isn’t it.

As long as we’re talking about music, a fun fact – if you feel like you have seen the word Tamarod before (or at least something from a simliar root) you may be thinking of a lone graffito on the side of a wall at the beginning of M.I.A.’s brilliant “Bad Girls” music video that reads “Al-Bināt Al-Mutamaridāt” – as in, bad girls, or rebellious girls, or badass girls. You know. Same root. The video is filmed in Morocco and uses a sweet South Asian dance beat to introduce subversive gender elements into the Khaliji (Arab Gulf) practice of drifting. All of which is to say that clearly this music video is begging for analysis and someday I’ll get there. In the meantime you should watch it because it’s the most fun music video since Michael Jackson.

*And I write this knowing that there are many grammatical errors. There was a war between grammar and rhyme. Grammar lost.

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