When crowds in Tunisia marched against the despotism of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, they chanted a short poem by the Tunisian poet Abu al-Qasim al-Shabi. A few months later the poem was being sung from Manama to Morocco, and appeared on t-shirts sold in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

If, one day, a people desires to live, then fate will answer their call.
And their night will then begin to fade, and their chains break and fall.
For he who is not embraced by a passion for life will dissipate into thin air,
At least that is what all creation has told me, and what its hidden spirits declare.

Translation by Elliott Colla

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