Nawara Negm’s Al-Jazeera Interview on January 26th

For our second assignment, we focused on two interviews that we felt were instrumental in sustaining and inspiring the revolution.  The first interview we considered was that of Nawara Negm on Al-Jazeera on January 26th.  You can watch it at

This interview was slightly more than a minute long and yet served as a main catalyst for further protests.  Here is the original Arabic text:

نوارة نجم على قناة الجزيرة

مش هدفنا أن نحن نزعج النطام ولا نخض النظام ولا أي حاجة…امبارح الناس لما هتفت الهتاف إللي قالته: “الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام “الناس ديْ كانت جادة وهذه حقيقة إنتفاضة الجمال و نحن فاض بنا الكيل ونحن سنستمر حتى نسمع كلمة “أنا فهمتكم” – هذاهو مطلبنا الأخير – مطلبنا النهائي وهذا هو سقف مطلبنا – يعني ده – مش هانوطي السقف عن كدة.  الألاف هاينرلوا إن شاء الله , الألاف متشجعين – إمبارح الناس عندها أصرار غريب – النهارده بعد ما انضربنا بالقنابل المسيلة للدموع – وإمبارح بعد ما ضربوا الناس بالقنابل المسيلة للدموع، أنا كنت موجودة لمّا الناس كانت بتتضرب وترجع.  وبعد إللي حصل إمبارح وبعد اعتقال ألف واحد – أنا أحب أصحح للجزيرة: أنا أخذت من مركز هشام مبارك القانوني أن نحن عندنا ألف اسم معتقل غير الناس المتغيبة إللي نحن مش عارفين هما فين – بعد هذا الناس – الناس نزلت النهارده – بالألاف – تاني – في عدة أماكن – وفي عدة مجافظات – ونحن مستمرون حتى نسمع كلمة أنا فهمتكم

Two groups considered this interview, and each took a different track in translating Negm’s words.  Both groups contained native and non-native speakers of Arabic and English, yet several difficulties were encountered in translating some of Negm’s humor and cultural references.   One important element found in this week’s translations is our groups’ decision to include Arabic words (from the source language) in our English translations (the target language).  This is a conscious decision on the part of our translators, for those words left in the source language are left in order to illustrate particular thematic concepts or messages that can be understood even by non-speakers of Arabic.  The second group explores the theatricality of televised speech through the addition of stage directions, obviously not included in the original text.  It is hoped that our audience will be able to absorb these words and better appreciate the text as a whole through these choices.  Enjoy!

Group 1:


We don´t wish to bother the regime – or anything of the sort. Yesterday, when the people shouted “Al Shaab yoreed eskat el nizam” – Those people were serious. This is the rebellion of patience and endurance. We´re done. And we will keep on until we hear those words « Ana fehemtokom». This is our last demand – our final demand; we will not accept anything less. Thousands of impassioned people will come, thousands of people will participate inshallah. People have demonstrated a surprising persistence; after being hit by tear gas, yesterday, I saw them all return to the scene.  After what happened yesterday and the arresting – I would like to correct a statement made by Aljazeera, according to the Hisham Mubarak Legal Center, one thousand people have been arrested and add to this, those who have disappeared. Despite that, thousands of people are still marching in the protests today in several places and governorates in Egypt and we will continue until we hear «Ana fehemtokom».


This interview with Nawara Negm, for many reasons, is considered a very important turning point in the media’s encounter with the revolution, given the critical moment and the background of the person interviewed. First of all, the interview took place on the 26th of January; only one day after the protests first broke out, an uncertain time for the revolution.  Also, this interview was with a political activist and a participant who was very close to the leaders of the youth movement who helped organize the first protests.  This interview also took place in a time when Egyptian national television was still in a state of denial and complete separation from reality.

Nawara served as a voice for the demonstrators and gave a clear and direct statement about the main goals of the revolution, targeting those who were still uncertain about participation.  In addition, viewers could sense the firmness and persistence of the protesters in her expressions, body language, and voice tone.  This persistence is visible when she repeated firmly some of her statements such as “we will not leave until we hear the word “fehemtkom”.  That was a clear message to people who thought that the protests would vanish in few days. This expression is very important as well, as it contrasted the statements of the Egyptian officials that “Egypt is not Tunisia”. It shows the close connection between the two revolutions and its main objectives. This Arabic word “fehmtkom” or “I understood you” has gained a lot of attention and became a symbol of liberation among Arab people. That’s the reason why our group decided to keep it in Arabic to preserve the perceptive associations of the word. The same can be applied to “alshaab yoreed eskat enezam” equivalent to “the people want to overthrow the regime” which has turned out to be the most widespread slogan in the Arab world at this time.

Susan Basnett’s analysis of translation problems are applied here in regard to the loss and gain approach, and untranslatability. These cases can be traced in the slogans as in “ashaab yoreed eskat enezam”, some culturally loaded expressions as in “the entifada of the camels”, and religious expressions as in “inshaallah”.  As mentioned above, we decided to translate some of these, while we left others in the original language.

It is important to mention that Nawara Negm´s debut into the public sphere was at the heat of the January 25 revolution. Through her voice, people could hear the narrative of the revolution day by day; the persistence, disappointment, hope, and ultimately, victory of the protesters.

Nawara, born in 1973, is a journalist, satire writer, blogger, and political activist. Being the daughter of a poet, Ahmad Fouad Negm, and a journalist, Safinaz Kasim, paved the way for Nawara’s career as a writer. She has been a strong advocate for democracy, human rights, and freedom of the press. This interview with Al Jazeera took place as early as January 26th, a very critical moment in the age of the revolution, where she manages to give a vivid image of the square and the police forces´ suppression as an eye witness.

Group 2:


Nawara: (deadpan) We’re not trying to “startle” or “disturb” the regime, or anything. Yesterday when people chanted they said “the people demand the downfall of the regime.” These people were serious.  This is really the intifada of those who have had enough, and we will continue until we hear the words, “I have understood you.”  This is our last demand, our final demand, and our entire demand – meaning this – (cuts the air with her hand) we won’t lower the bar any further.  Thousands will take to the streets inshallah. Yesterday they hit us with tear gas, today they hit us with tear gas.  Thousands were inspired yesterday and today people are remarkably committed. I was there when people were gassed and they came back. And after what happened yesterday, and after the arrest of a thousand people – I would like to correct Al Jazeera on this – (points index finger to emphasize) – I confirmed with the Hisham Mubarak Law Center that we have the names of a thousand detainees, apart from those who have disappeared. After this, again, people went down today in thousands, in a number of places, in a number of districts, and we will continue until we hear him say, “I get you” (smiles).


Nawara Negm’s speech, as translated above, was part of a three-way interview given to Al Jazeera on 26th January.  The medium of Al Jazeera is significant, as it played an instrumental role in assisting the mobilization of the masses through interviews with activists such as Negm.  Significantly, Al Jazeera’s broadcasts were blocked in Egypt by the regime on 28th January.  This interview is worth translating, as Negm openly declares the revolution has begun to a viewing public that has been following Tunis with envy.  She expresses her solidarity with the protesters, using “we” repeatedly to show she is among them.

Negm is solemn and firm in her tone, almost as though reading out a communiqué, although her colloquial style and repetition of words and phrases is informal.  She uses local Egyptian dialect to show solidarity with the street, and switches to a more formal language register when making declarations or statements.  She is framed centrally to grab the reader’s attention.  Negm is well known for being an activist, blogger and journalist.  She is notably the daughter of leftist poet Ahmed Fouad Negm and Islamist feminist Safinaz Kazem, and as such would’ve been recognized by her audience.

Notorious for her dry wit, Negm begins with a sarcastic, almost rhetorical phrase. Irony and sarcasm in an oral performance or interview is difficult to inject into a written translation.  Susan Bassnett, in her book ‘Translation Studies’, addresses the problems of translating vocal performances that include subtle movement and changes in intonation as well as language.  She writes, “work in theatre semiotics has shown the linguistic system is only one optional component in a set of interrelated systems” (Bassnett, 2003, p.120).  One of the ways in which we represented the dynamics of Negm’s oral performance was to annotate the translation with stage directions – intervening as a director would to add notes regarding body language and eye contact, thus adding a subtext to the speech that is present when spoken aloud.  We also tried to indicate her sarcasm by adding quotation marks around the verbs in English.

This translation captures the underlying humor found in the source language through the use of “I get you” in place of انا فهمتكم at the end of the speech.  This colloquial way of saying “I have understood you” illustrates Negm’s switch to the Tunisian dialect at the end when adopting the words of Tunisian president Zine el abedine ben ali.  Here, the expectation is that Mubarak will soon be saying the same thing.

We had particular difficulty in translating the phrase, إنتفاضة الجمال ,  as the colloquial meaning was unclear without greatly changing the source text.  We decided against translating intifada, as the word has become well known in the target language and seems preferable to the translation – ‘sprung into action’, which loses some of the original meaning. We also kept Inshallah in the target language.  We discussed using the common translation “God willing”, but decided it altered Negm’s use of the word.  Although she is veiled, Negm is well known for being a leftist activist, and we felt here she was adopting the language of the people.  Lawrence Venuti, in the Translation studies reader, writes about the pros and cons of domesticating or maintaining words and phrases in the source material, thus rendering the translator more or less visible by his/her choice of language.  He argues translation studies have moved away from the invisible translator who “masks an insidious domestication of foreign texts” (Venuti, 1994, p.16-17) towards a more transparent discourse that purposely selects to leave some words in the source language where this adds to the reader’s understanding of the material.


About Jan 25 Translators

We are the students of ARIC 402/513 - Translating Revolution, taught by Samia Mehrez at the American University in Cairo.
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1 Response to Nawara Negm’s Al-Jazeera Interview on January 26th

  1. Pingback: In pursuit of truth: journalists fight back in battle for press freedom | SRI LANKA

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