Cairo Concept: New Photographs by Youssef Rakha

My soul, where are you? Do you hear me? I speak, I call you – are you there? I have returned, I am here again. I have shaken the dust of all the lands from my feet, and I have come to you, I am with you. After long years of long wandering, I have come to you again. Should I tell you everything I have seen, experienced, and drunk in? Or do you not want to hear about all the noise of life and the world? But one thing you must know: the one thing I have learned is that one must live this life. Do you still know me? How long the separation lasted! Everything has become so different. And how did I find you? How strange my journey was! What words should I use to tell you on what twisted paths a good star has guided me to you? Give me your hand, my almost forgotten soul. How warm the joy at seeing you again, you long disavowed soul. Life has led me back to you. Let us thank the life I have lived for all the happy and all the sad hours, for every joy, for every sadness. My soul, my journey should continue with you. I will wander with you and ascend to my solitude.

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Robin Moger Translates 1997 Youssef Rakha

Youssef Rakha, Eagle Shadow, 2021

My Heart on the Table

I was not born on the mountaintops. but from the first the sea was my destination. wrestling the ghosts which pursue me was my singular work. exemplary. no, sadly. no, I was not born upon the mountaintops. and my childhood was without gardens. When I let my ghosts drift away to distant lands. I found night at my bedroom window. and I did not stop. until I grew tired of watching the stars. the day I lost my innocence in a whirlpool of light. and hated the sight of my city by day. I had to do something with myself. took time as my enemy before I knew what it was. and became used to sitting on the riverbank. watching the water as it ran on its way. caring nothing for associations of place. I learned to walk in streets that remained nameless. at least to me.

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Youssef Rakha Translates Sargon Boulus, Again

Butterfly Dream

The butterfly that flies as if

tied by an invisible thread to paradise

almost brushed my chin while I sat in the garden

drinking my first coffee

shaking last night’s nightmares out of my head

lolling in the sun

I saw it drift over the wooden fence

like a dream or a prayer, what was

only yesterday a caterpillar

locked up in its tight cocoon.

Beirut’s Just a Place: Robin Moger Translates “Beirut Shi Mahal” (An Extract)

“A sea breeze bearing the sound of a car as it passes down the Corniche: enough to make you feel you knew these roads once, before the wars, before the city changed and became what it came to be.”

Rabie Jaber


The plane still pitching forward like a bullet as my head rattles and jars to words I once composed on another journey: “Let the days go by, just set your heart on the nearest table and wait.” It’s not the landing that scares me so much as this wild careen across the tarmac, as though the danger’s only real to me when it submits to gravity.

Years since I’ve returned to Cairo this way.

“Not a drop of rain fell tonight. To go away with no goodbyes: I’ve no regrets.”

In the passport queue I remember when these lines had come to me: in transit between Egypt and England, a university student, miserable most of the time, my life like a dream, transient and insubstantial against the solid reality of airports. Not poems I had expended any great time on, and maybe I’d never have thought of them again had they not rattled back into my head on the runway. Mind you, though: when they were published, several people had told me they were the strongest thing I’d written. It was only by (almost) pure chance that they had been published at all, and in Beirut, from where I’m returning.

No response to my greeting from the customs officer at his window and I’m hunched over the conveyor belt, waiting in agony for my bags. An agonising need to piss. This was one of the most exhausting trips I’ve ever taken, but it had certainly had its uses.

Has mother sent a man to wait for me among the drivers with their signs?


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Youssef Rakha: The Bad Lens Files

The way the world looks through my broken phone camera:

Antoine d’Agata says, “Photographers have to accept they can just convey fragments of illusory realities and relate their own intimate experience of the world. In this process of fictionalising an unreachable truth, it’s up to them to impose their doubts about any photographic truth, or accept being impotent pawns in the mediatic game.”

I’m interested in imposing my doubts about photographic truth. These photos are small fictions that draw on and use reality. They are documents in the equivocal sense of artefacts that can evoke responses.

Youssef Rakha: Sartre, My Father and Me

When my father’s body gave in at the age of 67, there was no cause of death as such. His health was undoubtedly poorly, he was addicted to a range of pharmaceuticals — but none of the vital organs had stopped functioning. Strangely, my mother and I saw it coming: there were tears on the day, long before we could have known it was happening. And when it did happen, the relief of no longer having to care for a prostrate depressive seemed to justify it. In the next few months there was oblivion. I had felt alienated from his dead body, I saw it wrapped in white cloth, in public, and I thought I was over the fact.

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البودكاست، مع مينا وإسلام🎙: (١٢) الطغرى والإنجليزي: مقابلة مع يوسف رخا

Photo of Youssef Rakha courtesy of the subject

في حلقة بودكاست ختم السلطان الثانية عشرة – والأخيرة لسنة ٢٠١٩ – يتحدث مضيف البودكاست يوسف رخا عن تاريخه مع الكتابة والعمل ومآخذه على الوسط الأدبي المصري، وعن الإجابات التي أعانته على أسئلة صعبة من قبيل جدوى الإبداع ومحاولات خلق مجتمع أدبي بديل. كما يناقش النشر والأنواع الأدبية والفروق بين العالم العربي والغرب والقيم الريفية في المدينة.


بودكاست ختم السلطان هو إنتاج وتنسيق مينا ناجي وإسلام حنيش. هما من يختاران الضيف، ويحددان الأسئلة، ويديران الجوانب التنسيقية والتقنية. وليس للموقع فضل ولا عليه لوم غير استضافة البرنامج

يوسف رخا: دِيَم، المتنبي ١

أربعة وأربعون عاماً حتى أعرف أن الديمة هي المطر الحنون، ذلك الذي حين يَنزل لا تُصاحبه أصوات مُفزعة، وأن مجيئه متوقف على أمزجة الغمام. جرّبي مرّة أن تكدّريه، أن تذكّريه بمتاعب الحياة، ولو رأيتِ غير أهوال السماء اتفلي على وجهي. معقول كل هذه السنين وأنا أكابر؟ الصواعق التي تحيلني شبحاً مُعتذِراً يزحف على أمل أن تمصّه الأرض، التي تجعل المياه إيهاماً بالغرق والجفاف تعذيباً بالكهرباء، وحده الغمام يقدر على منعها كما يُرسِل الدِيَمَ غيداء وشهية وفرحانة باحتوائي. أربعة وأربعون عاماً حتى أراها كراتٍ من الفضة تتراقص في أسراب على هيئة طائرة أو حصان، تتجسّم للقائي. فأعرف أن الشوق ليس سوى المياه التي تَقطُر من أجسامنا حين يعصرنا الفراق. الدِيَم عندي أنا يا حبيبتي. في جلدة رأسي من الداخل سماء أحاول أن أكون غمامها. وحتى الأرض التي تحملني مجرد حجة لأكتب لك. الآن ينقعني المطر.

ثلاث قصائد لأوشان فونغ ترجمة يوسف رخا

Ocean Vuong. Source:

هايبون المهاجر


الطريق التي تقودني إليك آمنة
حتى وإن صَبّت في المحيطات
– إدمون جابيس
ثُم، وكأنّه يتنفس، انتفخ البحر من تحتنا. إذا كان ولابد أن تَعرف أي شيء، اعرف أنّ أصعب مُهمة هي أن ​تعيش مرة واحدة. أنّ امرأةً على سفينة غارقة تُصبح قارب نجاة – مهما كان جِلْدها ناعماً. بينما أنا نائم، أَحرَق كمنجته الأخيرة لتبقى قدماي دافئتين. رقد إلى جانبي ووضع كلمة على قفاي، ذابت فإذا هي قطرة ويسكي. صَدَأٌ ذهبيٌ بامتداد ظهري. لنا شهور مُبحِرون. الملح في عِباراتنا. مبحرون ولا أثر لحافة العالم.

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الثورة بجد: قصائد مختارة ليوسف رخا

Rakha, Iford Delta 3200 Negative, 2003

Youssef Rakha, Iford Delta 3200 Negative, 2003

رسالة إلى صديقي*


أكتب لكَ والمنافض أهرام من الأعقاب.
الشيء الذي حذّرتَني من دَوَامِه توقّف.
وصداع النوم المُمَزَّق يجعل الدنيا خاوية. أنت فاهم.
في جيوب الحياة ننقّب عن عملة من عصور سحيقة،
عملة صدئة وربما قبيحة لكنها سارية في سوق الأبدية.
نصبح ملائكة حين نعثر عليها. نجترها حتى نتأكد
أنها لا تشتري البقاء.

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Youssef Rakha: You Will Still Hear the Scream

Reading “Correction” in Cairo

Thomas Bernhard by Michael Horowitz, 1976. Source:

“If one disregards the money that goes with them,” says the narrator in Wittgenstein’s Nephew, a more or less real-life avatar of the writer Thomas Bernhard, “there is nothing in the world more intolerable than award ceremonies.” Berhard goes on to describe his experience with literary awards and how they “do nothing to enhance one’s standing”—also the subject of a dedicated little book of his, My Prizes: An Accounting—revealing the depth of his contempt for the institution, for Vienna’s “literary coffee houses”, which have a “deadly effect on the writer”, and for the compromises and dishonesties required by the writerly life:

I let them piss on me in all these city halls and assembly rooms, for to award someone a prize is no different from pissing on him. And to receive a prize is no different from allowing oneself to be pissed on, because one is being paid for it. I have always felt that being awarded a prize was not an honor but the greatest indignity imaginable. For a prize is always awarded by incompetents who want to piss on the recipient. And they have a perfect right to do so, because he is base and despicable enough to receive it.

For a Third World writer inevitably enraged by the tastes, biases and ulterior, including politically correct motives of Third World award juries, the effect is one of liberation. So even in grand old Austria this happens! It is also one of recognition. Here, dead since 1989, is someone who not only knew the truth but wasn’t afraid to say it, going so far as to integrate it into the fabric of his art.

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الحدوتة التي أحكيها: شهادة يوسف رخا، صيف ٢٠١٧


Youssef Rakha, Self Portrait on Kismet’s Birthday, 2018

الحدوتة التي أحكيها عن نفسي… لا يهم إن كانت حقيقية وإلى أي حد، لكن الكلام لن يكون مجديًا في غير كونه حدوتة.
أليس جميلًا مثلًا أني تفاديت فخ الزَفّة العائلية التي تقيمها طائفة المثقفين لأعضائها وخرجت من وسط البلد بسلام؟ في هذه المرحلة عندي استعداد صادق للتصالح، ليس بمعنى التنازل عن رؤيتي أو كتابة ما لا يرضيني نزولًا على الرائج لكن فقط القبول بحدود المتاح من نجاح برحابة صدر والامتنان العميق لما أمكنني إنجازه بغض النظر عن الاحتفاء. سبع سنين كاملة مرت على فراغي من أكثر مشروع شعرت بضرورة إتمامه: كتاب الطغرى. فربما يصح لي أن أحكي…
الحدوتة تبدأ سنة ٢٠٠٥.  في ٢٠٠٥ انطلقتْ صحوة ما في المجال الأدبي أو الثقافي في القاهرة. وفي ٢٠٠٥ ذهبتُ إلى بيروت. الصحوة جاءت أحداث ٢٠١١ لتُخمدها كالقضاء. والغرام الذي نشب في صدري من ناحية لبنان تحول إلى ما يشبه العداء، مع الوقت. لكن، وبفضل أشياء مثل أمكنة في الإسكندرية وزوايا في بيروت ثم دار رياض الريس مرورًا بمحيي اللباد وجماعة أخبار الأدب، في ٢٠٠٥ جاءت رِجلي مرة ثانية وعدت إلى نشرالكتابة.

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Christmas Gift: Youssef Rakha’s Arab Porn *Remixed*


Youssef Rakha. A stock photo of a woman in niqab is made up of versions of Aliaa Magda Elmahdy’s iconic picture, her act of protest of 2011.

Human behaviour flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.
– Plato, BC 427–347

Always I have and will
Scatter god and gold to the four winds.
When we meet, I delight in what the Book forbids.
And flee what is allowed.
– Abu Nuwas, AD 756–813

The moment a man questions the meaning and value of life, he is sick, since objectively neither has any existence; by asking this question one is merely admitting to a store of unsatisfied libido to which something else must have happened, a kind of fermentation leading to sadness and depression.
– Sigmund Freud, 1937

The revolution is for the sake of life, not death.
― Herbert Marcuse, 1977

Eros is an issue of boundaries.
– Anne Carson, 1986


“Hi, I’m writing a piece on Arab porn and would love to get your input…”

“Why would I be relevant to Arab porn?”

“Porn meaning explicit web content, or sexual self expression in general.”

“I see. Well, okay. I’d like to read what you’re writing but I don’t want to contribute. Not because I’m against the idea. I just don’t feel like revealing anything at this point, or I don’t have anything to reveal. I don’t want to explain myself or my sexuality or whatever.”

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Youssef Rakha: Nawwah

Rakha, Masr Station, 2007

Youssef Rakha, Masr Station, 2007

And verily We had empowered them with that wherewith We have not empowered you, and had assigned them ears and eyes and hearts—Quran, xlvi, 26

My instructions are to deliver the corpse to Nastassja Kinsky. We are to meet at nine tomorrow morning in the lobby of the Cecil Hotel, just off the seashore in downtown Alexandria. The corpse is a lightweight microelectronic bolt that looks like a miniature coffin; Nastassja Kinsky is an agent of the Plant. If I revealed what the Plant is, I would die.

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I Saw a Man Hugging a Fridge: Twelve Poems by Youssef Rakha in Robin Moger’s Translation

HAITI. Gonaives. 1994. U.S. invasion.

Alex Webb, Gonaives, Haiti, US invasion, 1994. Source:

First song of autumn


Joy of my days, come

watch me run

I’ve bought white shoes

and see-through eagle’s wings

I am the clarinet’s mouth

and you the ransomed player

Kneel and guzzle me, set

the sea’s taste in my throat

and make my breast a wave

upon whose mane the sun

sows jewels

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الأسد على حق: ألن جينسبرج ترجمة يوسف رخا

Allen Ginsberg at Human Be-In 1967 (Album cover for Dharma Lion), uncredited. Source:

كن صامتًا من أجلي، أيها الإله المتأمل
عدت إلى بيتي لأجد في الصالة أسدًا 
وهرعت إلى بئر السلم أصرخ: أسد! أسد
السكرتيرتان الجارتان، عقصت كل منهما شعرها الأدكن. وبصفقة ارتدت نافذتهما مقفلة
أسرعت إلى بيت أهلي في باتيرسون، ومكثت نهارين    

هاتفت طبيبي النفسي، تلميذ رايخ 
كان قد حرمني من الجلسات عقابًا على التحشيش 
حصل” – هكذا لهثت في أذنه – “في صالة بيتي أسد.”    
للأسف، لا مجال للمناقشة،وضع السماعة 

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Youssef Rakha: Office Diptych

Silver Box, Girl in Office

I work on the ninth floor of a cramped office tower in downtown Cairo, where like everyone else I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time in the elevators. Waiting and watching.

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Youssef Rakha: The Postmuslim

Tanya Habjouqa. Source:

Return of the Prodigal Muslim

Everybody knows the Enlightenment is dying. I don’t mean in the hells from which people board immigrant boats. It was never very alive here in the first place. I mean in the heavens to which the boat people seek suicidal access.

They end up drowning less for the love of the Postchristian West, it would seem, than out of despair with the Muslim East. Blame politics and economics, for sure. But could it be that all three phenomena – despair, poverty and dictatorship – are rooted in the same cultural impasse?

Today Brexits, Trumps and, let us not forget, the Islamic Invasion of Europe are spelling an Endarkenment all across the North, confining progressive and egalitarian principles to intensive care units. And I’m wondering what that could mean for despairing Muslims in the South.

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Youssef Rakha: Revolution’s Residue

I had my camera when I went out to demonstrate on Friday, January 28, the climax of the Egyptian revolution (January 25-February 11, 2011). I was on the streets for over twelve hours but I took only two pictures; they were to sit for years on my hard drive, unedited and undisplayed: my only trophies from the revolution. Unlike the majority of “Arab Spring revolutionaries”, from the moment Tahrir Square was occupied in the small hours of Saturday, January 29 and until the long-time president Hosni Mubarak stepped down, I felt that I couldn’t photograph and protest at the same time, that to be photographing would render my presence in the protests insincere and that the protests were about more important things than photography.

At the same time the figures and the faces that I saw daily in and around the protests, and which belonged to both “revolutionaries” and “counterrevolutionaries”, imprinted themselves on my mind more forcefully than ever before: sullen and despairing men, slim women in high heels and children everywhere.

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Youssef Rakha: Three Times Cairo

One: Instagram Dreams

Sleep-deprivation is like being high. I know because I was high for a long time, then I started sleeping irregularly. It’s supposed to have something to do with lack of sugar in the brain, which is also the theory of what LSD does to consciousness. Things grow fluid and dreamlike, but at the same time there is a paranoid awareness of motion and a heaviness in the heart. Colour and sound become a lot sharper, and time feels totally irrelevant. Normal speed is fast but fast can pass for normal. A moment lasts for days, days can fit in a moment. Talking and laughing are far more involving, especially laughing. The grotesque animal implicit in each person comes out, sometimes messing up the conversation. And then it’s as if you have no body. As in the best music, an uncanny lightness balances the overriding melancholy. There is joy in flying when you don’t need to move. All through this, what’s more, every passing emotion turns into an epic experience.

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