Mourid Barghouti (1944–2021)

The acclaimed and revered  Palestinian poet and writer Mourid Barghouti passed away on February 14 at the age of 76.

Born in Ramallah, in Mandate Palestine, in 1944, he came to Cairo in 1963 to study English literature at Cairo University, where he graduated in 1967, the year of the June Arab–Israeli war. It was at university that he met Rawda Ashour, the late distinguished Egyptian academic and novelist, whom he married in 1970.

Barghouti’s return to Ramallah, after thirty years of forced exile, inspired his first-person narrative work Ra’aytu Ramallah (I Saw Ramallah), which was awarded the 1997 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature. The autobiographical memoir was translated into English by Ahdaf Soueif (AUC Press, 2003, paperback edition). Today the book is still a number one bestseller in Middle Eastern Literary Criticism on Amazon.

Edward W. Said, the late Palestinian-American academic, political activist, and literary critic, who wrote the foreword to I Saw Ramallah, described Barghouti’s testimony about the ironies of his homecoming as “one of the finest existential accounts of Palestinian displacement that we now have.” The Times Literary Supplement called it “the most eloquent statement in English of what it is like to be Palestinian today.

Barghouti’s I Was Born There, I Was Born Here, translated by Humphrey Davies (AUC Press, 2012), was also widely acclaimed. The book tells of his return to Ramallah in 2003, this time to introduce his Cairo-born son, Tamim Barghouti, to his Palestinian family. The Guardian described this evocative follow-up memoir as “moving,” while The Independent wrote that it was “an honest confrontation with Israeli violence and impunity, an unflinching description of the Palestinian Authority’s compromising failures, and a plea for joy.”

Barghouti published thirteen books of poetry in Arabic, including a Collected Works (1997) and received the Palestine Award for Poetry in 2000. A selection of his poetry, Midnight and Other Poems, was published in English in 2008.

“I have lived in 46 houses, in three continents, and left them against my will,” Barghouti once said. “I don’t attach myself to places, because I’m afraid I would leave them. I live in time not in places, and I write most of my poems during winter.”

This sense of displacement and forced exile resonates in much of his writing. During an interview with The Guardian in 2008, Barghouti reflected on the “dilemma of Palestinian writers that [are] expected to address the needs of people denied self-expression under occupation, to express their pain.” He said: “You don’t have the right to tell the reader how to feel, to say ‘love me, understand my cause, hate my enemies.’ Show him a scene and leave him to respond; this is democratic. I invite you to a window, a gallery, and leave you.”

Tributes have been pouring in for Barghouti on social media since yesterday. The AUC Press extends its condolences to his family at this difficult time.

Photo (from left): Rawda Ashour, Mourid Barghouti, and son Tamim Barghouti

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