Protesters throughout the Middle East are using famous poetry as subversive chants against the government. Josh Dzieza on countries where verse still has power—and the Pete Seeger of Egypt.
To The Tyrant
Imperious despot, insolent in strife,
Lover of ruin, enemy of life!
You mock the anguish of an impotent land
Whose people’s blood has stained your tyrant hand,
And desecrate the magic of this earth,
sowing your thorns, to bring despair to birth,
Patience! Let not the Spring delude you now,
The morning light, the skies’ unclouded brow;
Fear gathers in the broad horizon’s murk
Where winds are rising, and deep thunders lurk;
When the weak weeps, receive him not with scorn—
Who soweth thorns, shall not his flesh be torn?
Wait! Where you thought to reap the lives of men,
The flowers of hope, never to bloom again,
Where you have soaked the furrows’ heart with blood,
Drenched them with tears, until they overflowed,
A gale of flame shall suddenly consume,
A bloody torrent sweep you to your doom!
by Abu ‘l-Qasim al-Shabbi
from Arabic Literature (in English)