CAIRO: Economist Galal Amin’s autobiography was lauded for its piercing honesty. But this doesn’t mean there was no criticism. There was. Ironically a large portion of it was directed at this honesty, a critique which Amin himself agrees with.
“What Life has Taught Me, published earlier this year and now in its second edition, surveys Amin’s upbringing, the relationship between his parents, the ups and downs of his siblings’ eventful lives and the changes in Egypt’s political, economic and cultural history.
While some chapters were mere recordings of life, others were more critical and introspective, sometimes defending certain positions Amin had taken against or in support of prominent intellectuals and politicians.
Some argue that Amin revealed too much about his parents and siblings, but didn’t discuss his children and his relationships. He didn’t criticize himself as much as he criticized others, said critics. To all this, the economist nods in agreement.
Open and down-to-earth, Amin doesn’t shy away from criticism and never discredits any of these observations.
“I can defend each point but it isn’t always an acceptable defense, he told Daily News Egypt.
Laughing, he admits intentionally leaving out details of his children because “honestly I don’t want to upset them, he says. He only published some pictures from the family album showing his children and grandchildren growing up. Some of the photos capture Amin as the endearing grandfather, as opposed to the stern image usually associated with economists.
But this doesn t mean he regrets any word published. I regret not saying certain things, he adds. Some friends were upset with what he wrote about them, more upset than he expected. They do have their admirable qualities, he explains, but for the sole purpose of effective storytelling he sometimes focused on one situation without drawing the whole picture.
He might add a line or two about them in the next edition. He is still considering adding the chapter that was left in the first two print runs. This chapter, entitled Galal s War , showed his critical rebellious nature and included the self-criticism which was arguably lacking.
When I m criticized in areas I m less confident about, I m more hurt and affected, he says. He recalls the time he was invited to talk in Zagazig and decided to focus on cultural damage, which he describes as one of the worst things that has happened to Egypt … worse than any political or economic damage. But his choice of topic was heavily criticized. Two thirds of the water we are drinking is not fit for human consumption and you come to talk to us about cultural damage? he was told.
The comments left him wondering about his opinion. I m sure that the cultural damage is awful but I m not very sure that it is really worse than poverty.
The argument, he explains, is whether sacrificing culture in its anthropological sense, and the inclusive set of values and traditions is worth any economic benefits.
A closer look at this readable autobiography reveals this self-criticism, especially when Amin reconsiders his life choices and describes his disappointments.
Besides the ideological changes, the different conclusions he made about religion and changes in his political affiliations, Amin also reconsidered his area of expertise, namely economics.
I started to realize that economics alone … isn t enough to present solutions to important problems, he writes in his autobiography.
Although he wrote this in reference to the time he was pursuing his Masters Degree in London in the late 1950s, it was in 1982 that Amin discovered he could be more than an economist. After getting positive feedback about an article criticizing the inclusion of politics in a grade school exam, he gradually realized his fondness for linking personal experience to commentary on general issues.
It was his bestselling book Whatever Happened to the Egyptians that strengthened his confidences in being a writer and not just an economist.
The problem with economy, he explains, is that it can t be studied in isolation. It has to be a combination of branches of knowledge to reach the truth.
Yet, he doesn t think he would change the course of his studies if he went back in time. Maybe I would have chosen economics, but now I know that I would have to start very early to combine it with other fields of knowledge.
There are no regrets, he stresses. Even though he admits wasting valuable time reading silly books and attending silly meetings in London, he says they were probably crucial to the development of his character at the time.
What would you expect from a boy of 24. He needs company and he needs self-confidence. You can t be rational all the time. It isn’t possible, Amin says with his usual sense of humor.
But there are other things he s sure about. He points to the lack of political democracy in the 1950s and 1960s as the main flaw of the era. As a die-hard socialist he is also sure that opening up the economy without strong state supervision and control in the 1970s was responsible for much of the political, economic and cultural deterioration that riddles Egypt to this day. Indeed it was in the 1970s that he started to reconsider his opposition on Nasser s policies.
He s also sure about American hegemony over Egyptian policies which started in the 1950s. He is sure the US isn t genuinely interested in democracy in spite of its occasional intervention in favor of journalists and political activists.
I m sure that America supports the [current] regime, but continuously demands from it unpopular things, which the regime is often embarrassed to do. So America has to manipulate this correctly to get what it wants, he said.
But the most important thing he s sure about is his identity as a socialist, in spite of mounting criticism to this school of thought.
I m a socialist in the sense that I feel strongly about the injustice of the social system in the world, not only in Egypt, he says.
Resuming his satirical tone he adds, I m also a socialist in the sense that I believe that public ownership of many means of production is not as bad as people make out to be. I m not against the growth of the private sector in Egypt, but I very much hate privatizing a successful public sector company or a public sector company that could be easily made successful without selling it.
So I m a socialist in that sense and I m not ashamed of it.
Dr. Galal Amin will be writing an exclusive weekly column for Daily News Egypt every Thursday, starting Oct. 25. His “Thoughts on Egypt will appear with the commentaries on page 7.