Cairo and Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—Arab literary figures in Egypt and Lebanon paid tribute to the great Palestinian poet Samih Al-Qasim, who died on Tuesday at the age of 75 at Safed Hospital in Israel, after a long battle with cancer.
Qasim was a prominent Palestinian poet whose works, like those of Mahmoud Darwish, Tawfiq Ziad and Muin Bseiso, were linked to the Palestinian cause.
During his lifetime, Qasim visited many Arab capitals and established friendships with dozens of poets across the Arab world.
Egyptian poets and writers received the news of his death with great sadness. Many knew him well and spoke of memories of evenings spent together in Cairo—which Qasim loved and saw as his second home—and other Egyptian cities.
“I feel sad at the passing of Palestinian poet Samih Al-Qasim, because the Palestinian resistance has lost Samih after losing Mahmoud Darwish. But their words will remain with us, always reminding us of them,” said Egyptian poet Ahmed Abdel Muti Hijazi.
Qasim was born in the Jordanian city of Zarqa in 1939 to a Palestinian family from the village of Ramah near the Sea of Galilee. He went to school in Ramah and Nazareth, and joined the Communist Party at an early age. He later left the party to devote his time to his literary work.
The Egyptian Writers Union on Wednesday mourned Qasim’s death. Its president, Mohamed Salmawy, said: “We shared a relationship which lasted through the years, and I found him to be a symbol of modern Arab poetry and a symbol of the Palestinian cause at the same time.”
Salmawy added: “I remember deciding to award him the Naguib Mahfouz Arab Writer award, and he was very pleased and came to Cairo to receive it despite his illness.”
He said: “I still remember his words clearly, when he said at the award ceremony: ‘I am luckier than Naguib Mahfouz because I won an award which bears the name of one of the noblest men and a genius novelist who helped shape the minds of a whole Arab generation’.”
Literary critic Dr. Salah Fadil said the death of Qasim was a great loss to Arab poetry.
Testimonies from admirers in Lebanon spoke of Qasim’s poetic genius, his patriotism and humanity.
Bilal Sharara, a poet and the Secretary General for Foreign Affairs in the Lebanese parliament, said: “His body has left us but he remains with us through his work. We were brought up on the works of Samih Al-Qasim and Mahmoud Darwish.”
“Our brother Qasim battled illness for a long time, and we are not capable of saving him or other great poets like him from death, poets who wrote about Palestine and made us aware of it; their works talked about the suffering and the dreams of the Palestinian people.”
He added: “The death of Samih Al-Qasim is not the death of Palestinian poetry, nor the death of Arab poetry; the famous poet Al-Mutanabbi died, but Arab poetry did not. There is always someone who will carry the banner, and we hope those who carry it will raise it high.”
Abido Basha, a Lebanese writer and theater critic, said: “Many of his poems are recited by Arabs without their knowing they are the work of Qasim. There are three poets who took Palestinian poetry beyond Palestine. They are Mahmoud Darwish, a poet who is unrivaled, killed by his heart; Tawfiq Ziad, killed in a car accident; and now Samih Al-Qasim, who was killed by cancer.”