Early 20th-century Egyptian poet Shawqi comments on the responsibilities of government and populace vis-a-vis education.
BACKGROUND: The Egyptian Revolution, soon after World War I, led to the Egypt’s independence from Britain in 1922, and a parliamentary representative system, that allowed for balancing of powers, was adopted by the 1923 Constitution. Independent Egypt’s new parliament opened on 15 March 1924, a day Shawqi refers to in the poem as “the Great Saturday.” It was a euphoric day, with widespread celebration, and Shawqi recited his poem in a gathering that took place on the cusp of this momentous event. Shawqi congratulates his countrymen, telling them the fruits of their struggle for liberty and democracy are now in reach. They should thank all those who made this possible : those still living, as well as those who gave their lives for the new liberty. Parliament has a responsibility to help further education, while the populace has a duty to elect only qualified (and hence educated) people to parliament. At the same time, the teachers must continue to serve sincerely and selflessly (as “Unknown Soldiers”) if the newly-found liberty is to produce meaningful results.
Below is my liberal, literary translation (in pentametric blank verse) of lines 50-59 of Shawqi’s poem.
If Egypt should appraise its past, it will Find no day that can match Great Saturday: The gallery of parliament shall cast A welcome shade upon the happy vale! When education calls to them for help, We hope they won't be stingy to their land! O tell the youth: this day your sowing's blessed! The fruits hang low, suspended for to pluck! Greet every martyr who has died and left, And on their gravestones go and place a wreath! Your gratitude abundantly bestow Upon those who still live, and those who died. The constitution won't reach its spirit Until as Unknown Soldiers you all toil. I urge you, while the martyrs' blood's still fresh, Elect no ignorants to parliament! For of the seats it one day shall be asked: Did they bear heavywights, or mere dead weights? From actors insufficiently apprised, Incompetent performance will result.
– Suheil Laher
“Cairo – a panorama from the citadel,” William Henry Jackson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACairo_-_panorama_from_the_Citadel_-_right_half_LCCN2004707270.jpg
“Roi Fouad,” loki11 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ARoi_Fouad.jpg