The HyperTexts

The Bible of the Revolution and its Quran

by Iqbal Tamimi, a Palestinian journalist

The Bible of the Revolution and its Quran has just been published in Egypt. The 2011 revolution of the people of Egypt shocked the international community on different levels. The Egyptians displayed unprecedented solidarity from all sectors and backgrounds; they stood side by side in their demands. The Christian and the Muslims, the men and the women, the poor and the rich, the educated elites and the illiterate, the young and the old ... all demanded democracy and freedom and they all wanted to change the regime. Their stand has been captured and reflected through various means, including art and literature produced by creative people following the 25th of January revolt, and including the book of poems in discussion here.

The General Egyptian Book Bureau in Cairo released The Bible of the Revolution and its Quran in August 2011. It is a book of poems created by the controversial Egyptian poet Dr. Hasan Teleb. This 163 page book of poems came as a trilogy talking about the latest revolt in Egypt, from the 25th of January 2011 until the moment the ex-President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, stepped down. The first part of the Trilogy entitled “The Battlefield Verse” was written between January and May of 2011, when Dr. Teleb saw the revolution as an act of worship and perceived its activities as prayers.

He dedicated his book to “The souls of the martyrs, heroes of the revolution of the twenty-fifth of January who placed their belonging to their country ahead of any religious or sectarian affiliation. Whose souls departed while chanting the name of Egypt, Egypt alone and above all, regardless of faith, or community affiliation”.

The Bible of the Revolution and its Quran contains 33 poems born from the womb of the revolution, charged with pride and enthusiasm and releasing years of bottled-up emotions.

Titles such as “Tuesday 25 of January”, “Real Myth”, “Enough”, “The Sixth of April”, “The National Assembly”, “We are all Khaled Said”, “A group of groups”, and many other poems spoke of that magical short period that ended the rule of a tyrant.

The first poem is entitled “al-Fatehah”. Al-Fatihah in Arabic means a new start, an opening, or inauguration, but is also the name of the first verse in the Quran, the holy book of the Muslims. In his poem, “al-Fatehah” Dr. Teleb wrote:

The revolution is content now with its faith
For its temple is its battlefield
And its Quran today is its Bible
And its Bible is its Quran.

Hassan Teleb was born in December 1944 in Sohag (Upper Egypt). He graduated from the Faculty of Arts, department of philosophy, at Cairo University. He is currently working as a professor of philosophy, teaching at the Faculty of Arts at Helwan University.
My first encounter with Dr. Hassan Teleb, the very quiet-looking volcano, was in UAE at a conference held at the Shajah House of Poetry where we were both invited as participants of the annual poetry festival, along with a number of other poets from the Arab region. I was shocked to see him there because of the very selective procedures regarding inviting iconic guests, due to the conservative policies of the Emirate of Sharjah, especially when it comes to inviting controversial literary personalities who venture into the forbidden territory of religious or sexual symbolism (and Dr. Teleb was certainly one of those). He has published twelve books of poetry; the first entitled Washmon Ala Nahdiey Fatah (Tattoos on the Breasts of a Young Woman).
Teleb has his own writing style of playing with phonetics and rearranging alphabetic characters, conjuring them to come out with a new creature that carries the most creative messages of political poetry. It is almost like playing a conundrum game with the characters, creating a brilliant new structure of awakening messages. He is also known for his satirical political poetry, such as the poem he wrote in 2005 when Mubarak nominated himself once again for the Presidency. His poem sparked such controversy that no newspaper in Egypt would publish it. The poem was entitled ‘Mabrook Mubarak,’ which translates as 'Congratulations Mubarak.' I have translated a few lines of the poem:

Congratulations ... Mubarak ... Congratulations!
You will win,
Be happy, and make us sad.
Before you arrived
A few bushes were about to blossom at the entrances of our streets.
How we loved those scenes!
They used to ease some of our pains
Until you arrived
And released your mules to graze on them ...
And you left your donkey!
We wish you had never come
Agitating toxins in our pains
And billowing dust,
But what’s done is done ...
Unfortunately you will win:
By falsehood or by right you will win.
Definitely and no doubt ...
Those who are like you
They either succeed ... or succeed!
By bribes or by bullying,
You will win.

From his poem “Overthrowing the Regime” that he published in The Bible of the Revolution and its Quran, I have translated the following lines:

What should not have lasted ... did.
The tyrant President
To go to sleep ...
The peace of the city’s night has settled, as his advisors commanded ...
The land became quiet
And on top of the soil lay a nation
Wrapped with darkness.
... When the dawn breaks tomorrow
The tyrant President will celebrate his shadow,
The country will be handed over to his son
And the speeches will be arranged.

Dr. Teleb was one of the very few who fought extremism and worked on interfaith dialogue through poetry. He wrote a poem entitled “Draw a Cross that looks like a Crescent”. He finished this poem by the end of 2007. It stirred controversy because it was an open call addressing the Christian Copts of Egypt to practice their faith with pride and to express themselves and their heritage along with the Muslims of Egypt. Teleb said this poem is part of a project and that he will complete his project by writing its other half entitled “Draw your Crescent that looks like a Cross”.

He did not address the Copts and Muslims only, but wrote a book of poems entitled “Letters to Om Ali” addressed to his wife; each poem was written as a letter justifying his political weakness to his wife. His letters were a political dissection of the relationships between authority and the oppressed citizen. The fact that he resorted to symbolism and visualisation and creating images of comparisons can be justified because censorship and lack of freedom of expression were the spark that ignited his flood of his poetry that the average reader could not understand. He was even attacked following the publishing of “Ayato Jeem”, which translates as “The Verse of the Letter J”. He was accused of showing disrespect to the holy Quran, for using expressions that were present in the Quran, the holy book of Muslims, and for using some of the rhyming sounds that occur in its verses because they were wrongly perceived as disrespecting the divine text.

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