Shawqi, Ahmad (احمد شوقي) (1868–1932) By Luce, Mark D.
Ahmad Shawqi was the leading poet and pioneer playwright of the neo-classical period of Arabic literature. Shawqi benefited from a secular education, which allowed him to study law, but, more importantly for him, French. Shawqi’s mastery of Arabic and his talents as a poet led him to the Egyptian Khedive’s court as a poet. He found favour with the Khedive and consequently received a fellowship to study abroad in France.
Shawqi returned to the Khedive’s court heavily influenced by his studies abroad. He distinguished himself as an innovator and a rejuvenator of Arabic poetry; however, his efforts to incorporate Western influences into his poetry were not favoured by the Khedive. As a result, Shawqi excelled in creating poetry on modern themes in the classical tradition, with its complicated metres and rhymes.
Shawqi’s poetry championed two causes: Egyptian anti-colonialist sentiments and praise for the Ottoman caliphate. After Egypt’s independence in 1927, Shawqi became a patron of the arts and was honoured with the title Amir al-shu’ara’ (امير الشعراء) or Prince of Poets, a great honour which recognized his contribution to Arabic literature. In the last eight years of his life, he produced seven plays that were performed in Egypt. Ahmad Shawqi’s works represent the best of the neo-classical period that made the leap from pure classical tradition to new poetic forms and genres.