Hazem Fahmy


At the Gates, Jibril Asks Me Where I Come From

And I know exactly what
he wants. This isn’t the first time
I have been asked to tell this
story, but I don’t know where

to start.

He says: the beginning. I

                       The 10th millennium Before                                  Christ, hunter -gatherers up
                       the Nile terraces replaced                                         by a grinding culture. Then,
                       around 8000 B.C.,                                                              tribal peoples migrated
                       to the Nile basin where they                                            developed a centralized


But this is not enough, so
I say:

                      The English name Egypt is                                  derived from the Ancient Greek
                       Aígyptos (Αἴγυπτος), through the Middle                     French Egypte and the Latin
                       Aegyptus. Misr (or as it                                                     is pronounced in Egyptian
                      Arabic, مَصر) however,                                                  comes from Classic Quranic
                      Arabic and remains the                                                      modern official name of


                      The name is of Semitic                                                            origin and is cognate
                      with other Semitic words                                                   for Egypt. For example:

                      the Hebrew Mitzráyim (מִצְרַיִם).

Still, this is not enough, so

I say:

                      After the time of Yusuf,                                                          Musa was born into a
                      family of Israelites                                                                     living in Egypt after
                      the Pharaoh had enslaved the                                          Israelites after his dream
                      of a fire coming straight from                                               Jerusalem, burning all

                      in his kingdom except the                                                                           Israelites.

                     In a few millennia, in                                                                        the year 42 anno
                     Domini, the first church is                                                   established in Egypt, by
                     Morkos the Evangelist.                                                       Soon, the patriarchate of
                     Alexandria becomes                                            one of the centers through which

                     Christianity spreads.

                     Six-hundred years later, Amr                                              ibn al-‘As left for Egypt
                     in December 639                                                                  AD with a force of four-
                     thousand troops. ‘Umar, thinking                                   it foolish to conquer such
                     a large country with a mere                                   force of four-thousand, wrote a
                     letter to Amr commanding                                      him to come back. Amr didn’t
                     heed the letter and went on                                                   to capture all of Egypt

                     by 642 AD.

He says:

                      I have heard all this before.

I say:

                      July ‘56, Egypt                                                                           nationalized the Suez
                     Canal Company, closing                                                                the canal to Israeli
                     shipping. Israel responds                                                         by invading the Sinai

                     Peninsula with British                                                                and French support.

                     During the Suez Crisis,                                                              Israel captured Gaza
                     and Sinai, but the U.S.                                                  and the U.N. soon pressured
                     it into a ceasefire, so                                                                         Israel agreed to a
                     withdrawal from Egyptian                                                          territory and Egypt
                     agreed to allow freedom                                                             of navigation in the


                     Soon after, Egypt began                                                                  to expel and exile
                     much of its local                                                                      Jewish population and
                     cease Jewish-owned property.                                                           In 2016, the last
                     leader of the remaining                                                 Jews in Egypt, Magda Tania
                     Haroun, stated that there were                                            6 Jews remaining in the

                     entire country, all women                                                        over the age of sixty-

He says:

                      Not every story has to

                      be written in bullets.

I say:

                      Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad                                                        was founded in ‘99
                      in Iraq, where it pledged its                                                  allegiance to al-Qaeda
                      and joined the insurgency                                                     following the invasion
                      of Western forces. About                                            fifteen years later, the group
                      proclaimed itself a worldwide                                             caliphate and began to

                      refer to itself as the                                                   Islamic State (الدولةَ الإسلامية) or IS.

He takes my hand, tells me:

                      سمي الشيطان بإسمو

I say:

                       The khawal (خول, plural khawalat,                                        similar to the Turkish,
                       köçek), a traditional                                                 Egyptian ‘male’ dancer, cross-
                       dressed, feminine attire,                                                           popular up until the
                       late eighteenth, early nineteenth                                      centuries. The tradition
                       of ‘transvestite’ performers                                                in Arabia can be traced
                       back to pre-Islamic times,                                  like in Egypt, where they gained
                       prominence, after Muhammad                                  Ali banned female dancers,
                       who were replaced by khawalat,                         who were found seductive. The
                       practice wasn’t banned until                                       the twenties. Now, a khawal

                       is the closest Egyptian                                                                 Arabic has to a fag.

He says:

                       I asked for a name.

I say:

                       A man I once trusted reached                                        under my covers and my

                       father blames his hands for the                                         death of my manhood.

He says:

                       إحمل الصخر فوق الجبل وإرميه

I say:

                       A culture of hunters replaced the Nile, developed a centralized English via
                       French. Egypte. Aegyptus. Misr. Mitzráyim. Semitic Musa. Enslaved
                       dream. Fire from Jerusalem. Everything kingdom, except anno Domini.
                       Morkos centers six-hundred years. Amr left. ‘Umar wrote. Nationalized
                       the company, invaded Sinai, Gaza. Israel agreed. Freedom of navigation,
                       Magda found. Iraq. Caliphate. Khawal. Köçek. Tradition. Native Arabia,
                       traced centuries. Muhammad Ali banned. Seductive years. Egyptian

                       faggot. Trust. Reach. Manhood.

He lets my hand go, opens

the gates wide.


Hazem Fahmy is a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominated poet and critic from Cairo. He is currently pursuing his MA in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. His debut chapbook, Red//Jild//Prayer won the 2017 Diode Editions Contest. A Watering Hole Fellow, his poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming in Apogee, Bat City Review, Mizna, and The Offing. His performances have been featured on Button Poetry and Write About Now. He is a reader for the Shade Journal, a poetry editor for Voicemail Poems, and a contributing writer to Film Inquiry.

<< Go back to Gayath Almadhoun’s ‘How hope became green’

Return to Issue 5