Ahmad Fouad Najm
Ahmad Fouad Najm (22 May 1929 – 3 December 2013), popularly known as el-Fagommi was an Egyptian vernacular poet. Najm is well known for his work with Egyptian composer Sheikh Imam, as well as his patriotic and revolutionary Egyptian Arabic poetry. Najm has been regarded as "a bit of a folk hero in Egypt."
Ahmad Fouad Najm was born in Sharqia, Egypt, to a family of fellahin. His mother, Hanem Morsi Najm, was a housewife, and his father Mohammed Ezat Najm, a police officer. Najm was one of seventeen brothers. Like many poets and writers of his generation, he received his education at the religious Kutaab schools managed by El-Azhar.
When his father died, he went to live with his uncle Hussein in Zagazig, but was placed in an orphanage in 1936 where he first met famous singer Abdel Halim Hafez. In 1945, at the age of 17, he left the orphanage and returned to his village to work as a shepherd. Later, he moved to Cairo to live with his brother who eventually kicked him out only to return to his village again to work in one of the English camps while helping with guerilla operations.
After the agreement between Egypt and Britain, the Egyptian National Workers’ Movement asked everyone in the English camps to quit their job. Najm was then appointed by the Egyptian government as a laborer in mechanical workshops. He was imprisoned for 3 years for counterfeiting form, during which he participated and won first place in a writing competition organized by the Supreme Council for the Arts. He then published his first collection “Pictures from Life and Prison” in vernacular Egyptian Arabic and became famous after Suhair El-Alamawi introduced his book while he was still in prison. After he was released, he was appointed as a clerk in the organization for Asian and African peoples. He also became a regular poet on Egyptian radio.
Najm lived in a small room on the rooftop of a house in Boulaq el-Dakror neighborhood. When he met singer and composer Sheikh Imam in Khosh Adam neighborhood, they became roommates and formed a famous signing duet. Najm was also imprisoned several times due to his political views, particularly his harsh criticism of Egyptian presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.
The residence of Ahmad Fouad Najm in the poorest neighborhoods of Cairo, Egypt, exposed him to the most talented professionals such as Sheikh Imam Issa, impoverished poets and artists. But, Sheikh Imam in particular compensated Najm for the earlier rejection by his orphanage-mate Abdel Halim Hafez.
In 1962, Najm was introduced to Imam by a friend who believed that the two, poet Najm and composer Imam, could make a perfect duo. On the first occasion, Najm noticed that Imam took over an hour to tweak the strings of the Oud before starting his first demonstration to the new guest. Najm shouted "Allah" upon listening to Imam's singing and playing the Oud. The blind Sheikh was equally longing for inspiring words of the sort Najm had. That was the spark that lasted 30 years of concerted writing by Najm, composing by Imam, and singing by the two combined.
Najm was quick enough to sense that the blind Sheikh was a hidden treasure of Islamic literacy and music talent, and with his physical handicap, he could use the help of Najm's eyes and words. Hence, Najm proposed to stay in Imam's residence. As he recounted, his other rented room has properties worth 6 Egyptian pounds, thus if he threw away the key for his other room, the landlord was required three months before breaking into the room and possessing its content. Najm took the risk, abandoned his rented room with its contents and stuck with Sheikh Imam from 1962 throughout 1995.
In 2007, Najm was chosen by the United Nations Poverty Action as Ambassador of the poor.
Ahmad Fouad Najm won the 2013 Prince Claus Award for ‘Unwavering Integrity’.
In the early hours of 3 December 2013, Najm died at the age of 84 in Cairo.