Egypt: 500 days since arrest of poet Galal El-Behairy

Today, 15 July 2019, marks 500 days since the arrest of Egyptian poet and lyricist Galal El-Behairy. El-Behairy is serving a three-year prison sentence for ‘insulting the military’ and ‘spreading false news’, charges related to his unpublished collection of poetry, The Finest Women on Earth.

Read more about Galal El-Behairy in Romaissaa Benzizoune’s ‘500 tomorrows’

To mark the occasion, we are proud to publish a new English translation of his latest prison poem ‘I have a date with tomorrow’. You can also read the original poem in Arabic here.

Please read and share his work and join the call for his release. #FreeGalal

I have a date with tomorrow

I have a date with tomorrow

But, man, I am in prison

I would love to see you tomorrow

So will you visit me, if only in my dreams?

Tomorrow is not coming tomorrow

And my heart is oozing blood!

Between coffee and smoke

Between mattress and prison bars

Between jail and jailer

Between lucidity and disorientation

I wait…

The prison walls don’t know us

They don’t see the human in us!

They only know humans as prisoners

As numbers

Always standing in line

Living and dying in line

We’re the people who are born and die


O Freedom!

You most beautiful of women

You most difficult of women

I implore you, meet me on a date tomorrow

If only for a second…

Give me new steps

And a heart made of steel

That doesn’t grow tired

And people who love without fear

And a promise that’s new

A promise not heard before

Nights that pass, my brunette …

– you know –

In this prison

Nights are merciless.

My heart is eroded in the flood

My soul trembles and wilts.

Patience, it turns out, is not enough

Nor does it heal

Nor is it a virtue…

I am away

You and I are tired of being away

This dawn is not truthful

This night is not deceitful

O prison outside of me

O imprisoned sigh

O prison inside of me

Your walls are stubborn, without doors.

O friends and lovers

We wait…

Despite the ghastly sight

Despite the hidden moon

Your smell is a knife in the rib

Your taste, in my mind, is sugar sweet

Your love… a divine touch

I touch it with my soul, and I break.

From the ruins, an image emerges

Tender, smelling of ambergris

An image that can be

Very easily interpreted.

The years of prison and exile

In my heart, you know,

The letters of your name are hidden

Beneath red lipstick.

And man, I sit in my prison cell

The dream visits me, carrying another dream

Distress leaves

Making room for more distress

And I wait for tomorrow’s date

To come tomorrow, late!

The translator has asked to remain anonymous.

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

View all posts by Cat Lucas →

2 Comments on “Egypt: 500 days since arrest of poet Galal El-Behairy”

  1. I would gladly support any campaign PEN undertakes to urge the Egyptian government to release GalalEll-Behairy immediately.

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