Mohsen’s poetry is very much ingrained in the tradition of poetry as a voice of resistance; his specificity to the Egyptian incarceration experience speaks to the broad themes of injustice, the harshness and the inhumanity of his time in prison, the friendships, and the community that the closeness of prison creates.
Mohsen and I met by chance at a workshop at the Cairo Institute of Liberal Arts Studies (CILAS) conducted by one of my friends, Mina Ibrahim. His poetic voice immediately resonated with me, and I asked if he had ever considered translation. At the time, there was no publishing promise or anything, just a craving on my part to be drawn into his world and the beautiful rhythmic flow of his Egyptian vernacular poetry.
Throughout the pandemic, I worked on this translation; I put my own work aside, feeling the need to give voice to Mohsen’s words at that distinct point in history. At a time when everyone was complaining about the restrictions of being locked in within the comfort of their homes and surrounded by family, his experience and that of his fellow inmates was especially poignant. My mind constantly returned to the many unjustly incarcerated in Egypt and how their lives had been upended without due process. As the pandemic dragged on and the situation worsened on the outside, conditions in prison deteriorated even more given the lack of healthcare, hygiene, and sanitation.
Mohsen’s ability to convey his deep sense of loneliness mirrored the feelings of many across the world and echoed vociferously on social media. However, his prison is a beast with a life of its own, a creature that devours and consumes. He is constantly surrounded, but isolated; his poems are a retreat into self, a journey of reflection and profound solitude. The title, No One Is On The Line, reflects this enveloping sense of disconnectedness. Even after his release, Mohsen’s recollections show how the pain of prison and the feeling of isolation persist after incarceration ends, fed by the memories of friends and encounters imprinted on the soul.