Christine Aziz

Author's Introduction:

I came to Cairo shortly after the 2011 revolution, and have watched it unravelling ever since. Having been a freelance journalist for many years reporting on humanitarian issues and from conflict areas, it seems natural that my poetry reflects events rather than any introspective dialogue. "It Was Not a Revolution" was written in 2012, and reflects the  growing despair of many activists as the Muslim Brotherhood take over the country. It was already clear that what had happened in Egypt was not a revolution but merely the country overthrowing its despot. The deeply embedded engines of the state - the army,  the Ministry of the Interior, the government's suffocating bureaucracy etc - had remained intact. Mohamed Mahmoud is a street running off from Tahrir Square. In November 2011 it became the site of deadly clashes with police and army. Forty seven  people were killed  and hundreds injured over five days of protests against the then ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF). Until now no one has been held accountable. A year later there was an anniversary protest and I saw a woman in the metro dressed in black, holding  a large framed photo of her dead in front of her. He was obviously a victim of Mohamed Mahmoud protests. Many were killed by snipers. I couldn't get her out of my mind, and was inspired to write the poem. "Verbs" was written following deaths of protesters, mainly by tear gas, in Alexandria. I was sitting with someone directly affected by the deaths, and began to write.

A room spillfull of twilight. 
I study Arabic.
Verbs, roots, conjugations.
Yeraf. Ye’eesh. Yesadda’
To know. To live. To believe.
You replay  yesterday. Alexandria.
 Sound of bullets. Women screaming.
 Ye’tel. Yekhon. Yesakkat.
To kill. To betray. To oppress. 
Silence returns. I drink tea.
You bury your head. 
Yeheb. Yemshi. Yeazzi.
To love. To leave. To mourn. 
Eleven floors above the  city. 
The dead float past the window.
Flocks of birds. Migrating. 
Yehlam. Yetmanna. Yeteer.
To dream. To hope. To fly. 

She walks across the ticket hall
draped in black, clutching a framed photograph
like a shield.
The son who  never came home
smiles at strangers as if from a window
shut in her heart.
She ascends to the light,
bearing her mausoleum of silence,
walks to where the mourners stand.
There’s a place somewhere near the kerb
where he stood - guns with
the small dark mouths of birds, aiming.
Every day she sees the hand that held the gun,
severed and alone
smaller than her son’s, perhaps.
Buttoning a shirt, turning a lock,
steering a wheel, lifting a cup,
holding a hand, waving. 
She imagines fingers unhinging,
selecting a spoon:
the injustice of stirring tea.  


We took away the king,
But left  behind the throne

It was not a revolution
We held a strangers hand,
And then we let it go.

It was not a revolution.
Our voices sang as one,
But we forgot the words

It was not a revolution.
We gathered for our children,
And now they sleep in streets.

It was not a revolution.
Our god was on our side,
But now we are alone. 

It was not a revolution.
We opened up our  cage,
But could not  find the key.

It was not a revolution.
We were a rolling tide,
But could not breach the wall.

It was not a revolution.
On our mothers’ lives, we said.
They’re weeping now for ours.

It was not a revolution.
We wanted bread for all,
But now we  fight for crumbs.

It was not a revolution
We marched to beating drums.
There is thunder overhead.


Christine Aziz is a British writer and lives in Cairo, Egypt.  She worked for many years as a freelance journalist reporting on  human rights and women and children in conflict areas.  Her book, The Olive Readers, won a  major literary award in the UK. Her articles have been published in a number of books covering human rights and womens’ issues.  She is working on her second novel and a series of poems inspired  by Egypt.  Blog:

Photo: Gigi Ibrahim, Cairo, Egypt