In an interview with Al-Masry Al-Youm, poet Farouk Shousha talked about his memories. His poem “Khadam” (Servants), which he recited at the Sharjah International Book Fair this year, was a harsh criticism of the corruption and decay in the cultural scene.
Q: Why did you address the intellectuals with this poem?
A: I wrote this poem after 20 years of observation of the conditions of culture in general and intellectuals in particular. I feel conditions have deteriorated year after year.
What amazes me is that the heads of the cultural institutions over those 20 years were the ones who wrote about corruption in the cultural scene, as if they were not part of it.
So I wrote this poem to tell them that they are the makers of corruption and the geniuses of decay. They have obliterated all correct and noble values. They made of those institutions futile entities that offer nothing.
The other thing that amazes me is that those intellectuals are opportunists willing to do anything for an official position or an award. For this they have bowed to the deteriorating conditions.
They are responsible for our cultural setback. They used their power only to settle old accounts. They call themselves thinkers whereas they do not think in the first place.
Meanwhile, the other silently frustrated intellectuals are either staying at home or have left the country. They became the idiots who did not understand the language of the age. They did not benefit from the gifts of the ruler, for they sought no position or award. No one mentions them and no one sees their pictures in the media.
Q: How can conditions of Arab intellectuals be improved?
A: They need to admit that they are responsible for what we are instead of throwing it on others.
In my poem I tell them look in the mirror and you will see your faults. You will see the lying, the deception, the hypocrisy and the cronyism with which you have infected the intellectual community.
At the Sharjah International Book Fair I think I pricked the conscience of the Egyptian and Arab intellectuals when I talked about those who boast of the infamous prizes they were awarded although they are hollow inside.
I wrote other poems about the hollow Arab intellectuals. They are “Similar to Our Time”, “The Dwarf” and “Faces in Memory”.
Q: What about the broader meaning of culture in terms of education and other tributaries of knowledge?
A: The real place for culture is in schools. Schools feed children with the concept reading. And culture begins with reading.
Mohammed bin Rashid, the ruler of Dubai, launched an initiative for one million schoolchildren in the Arab world to read 50 books each every year. This is not impossible, for children’s books are small and contain attractive drawings. It might save culture in the Arab world.
Q: By the way, what do you think of children's literature in Egypt?
A: There will be no culture for the Egyptian children unless the culture and education ministries are integrated. The education minister needs to be an intellectual who has educational and cultural skills. Schools should be cultural and educational institutions.
Q: What about the many culture palaces we have?
A: They are not that many, given the number of villages and towns. Culture should come to the children at school rather than the children go to culture palaces.
When we say Sharjah is the capital of Arab culture, this was not achieved with conferences and festivals, but rather with laying a solid infrastructure for culture in schools and universities. I hope Egypt succeeds in making Luxor a capital of culture one day.
Q: To what extent do you believe your radio program “Our Beautiful Language” has impacted Arab culture and linguistics?
A: It has to a large extent impacted my generation for over 48 years. They still listen to it today. It made them aware of Arab poetry because no poet of beautiful phrases has not been mentioned in the program.
Interestingly, I learned from President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s daughter that her father used to listen to my program every day. I am glad I did not know that, for I would have stuttered had I known he was listening.
Q: What gave you the idea for the program?
A: It was in the wake of the 1967 defeat when a state official said that the reason we lost the war was because we lost affiliation with our cultural roots and values and our Arab heritage.
Q: Who were the poets you talked about in your program?
A: Every poet is a tree in the Arabic poetry garden. For poetry is not just words. It has a humanitarian message to give.
Q: What about your TV program “A Cultural Evening”?
A: It stayed on-air for 30 years. The challenge was that it involved more than one person to prepare it, unlike the radio program that I did alone.
Q: How come poet Amal Donqol appeared in your program? Was he not sick and hospitalized at the time?
A: We stole him with his consent and without the knowledge of his doctor to record the program. Unfortunately, there were repairs at the studio. So we took him back and stole him once again a few days later. We wanted him to appear on TV before he dies.
Q: Would you present your two programs on satellite channels?
A: Working for satellite channels is not an honor. Most of them contrive a conspiracy against the Arab mind. Their staff is unprofessional. They are corrupt. They only express the interests of the businessmen who own them.
Q: Songs have contributed significantly to the deterioration of the Arabic language, including the colloquial. Would you agree?
A: This we cannot control. But what we can do in order to preserve our language is teach sciences in Arabic. We have more than 30 dictionaries for medicine, pharmacy, engineering … etc.
Q: Sayyid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood thinker, was your teacher. What would you tell us about this?
A: Qutb at that time was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and did not have any particular political inclination. He just taught us Quranic sciences.
Q: How do you see the Muslim Brotherhood?
A: I am against theocracy. All they had in mind was to establish the illusory Islamic Caliphate.
Q: And how do you see President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi?
A: He is a patriotic and courageous man. He saved the country from the brink of collapse. He has ideas for major national projects, although I think he should give priority to smaller projects that improve the daily life of citizens.
He has patience, but the people are impatient. They want quick solutions to their daily problems.
Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm