Dubai: Saeed Aql, Lebanon’s leading poet whose fame once spread throughout the Arab world, died at the age of 102 on Friday.
The ultra-nationalist Aql wrote his poems in classical Arabic as well as Lebanese dialect which he used to refer to as “the Lebanese language.”
Some of his most famous poems were sung by Lebanon’s top singer, Fairuz, including the emotional “Take Me Back to My Country,” as well as “Rose of the Cities,” a tribute to Occupied Jerusalem that has become one of the most popular anthems of Arab lamentation over the loss of the holy city to the Israeli regime in 1967.
Formerly a supporter of the Palestinian cause, he provoked controversy when he welcomed the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that was aimed at clearing out Palestinian resistance fighters from the country. The Israelis were subsequently held responsible for the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in the camps of Sabra and Shatila by Christian militiamen. Aql was strongly opposed to the presence of the Palestinians in the country.
Having started as a Syrian nationalist, he eventually adopted extreme Lebanese nationalistic views which strongly influenced a nationalist movement called Guardians of the Cedars. The movement advocated a departure from Lebanon’s Arab identity, stressing Lebanon as a disctint civilisation rooted in ancient Phoenician identity and culture. Aql supported the designation of “Lebanese” as a distinct language from Arabic, and developed a Latin script for it.
Aql was born in 1912 to a Maronite Catholic family in Lebanon’s eastern city of Zahle. He left school at the age of 15 after the death of his father, and went on to work in journalism and teaching in his home town, before settling in the capital Beirut in the 1930s. He later went on to study Islamic history and theology, and penned a poem called “I sang Makkah” in reference to Islam’s holiest city. That poem was also sung by Fairuz.
His poetry moved some of his most vocal critics. As’ad Abu Khalil, a Lebanese-American columnist for the left-leaning Al Akhbar, had called Aql a “fascist” for to his views on Lebanese nationalism, but said nonetheless that he was “one of the best Arabic poets of the 20th century”.
- with inputs from AP