Amin, Galal (1935–)

views updated

Amin, Galal

Galal (also Jalal) Ahmad Amin is a noted Egyptian economist, professor, author, and commentator.


Amin was born in Egypt in 1935. His father, Ahmad Amin, was a prominent writer, judge, and professor. Galal Amin studied at Cairo University, receiving his LL.B. degree there in 1955, a diploma in economics in 1956, and a diploma in public law in 1957. Amin then traveled to Britain in 1958 to study on a government grant, and there he earned an M.S. (1961) and a Ph.D. (1964) in economics from the prestigious London School of Economics.

After returning to Egypt, Amin taught economics at Ayn Shams University from 1964–1974. He also served as an economic advisor for the Kuwait Fund for Economic Development simultaneously from 1969–1974. Amin taught for one year at UCLA from 1978–1979, and then commenced teaching economics at The American University in Cairo where he remains as of 2007. In addition to teaching, Amin regularly writes books and articles, as well as opinion pieces in the media. He is one of Egypt's most famous economists, and his lively and sometimes controversial opinion pieces have resulted in a large public following.

Amin has been a member of the Egyptian Economic Society since 1964, served on the board of directors of the Egyptian Economic Society from 1991 to 1994, and was on the board of the Arab Society of Economic Research and Research Coordinator from 1995 to 1997. He has also shown an interest in human rights. He has been a member of the Egyptian Society for Human Rights since 1978 and the Arab Society for Human Rights since 1985.


Amin was influenced by the secular intellectual analysis of his father. Moreover, as a young man he witnessed the July 1952 military coup in Egypt that overthrew the unpopular monarchy and replaced it with a republic, which was soon dominated by the charismatic figure of Jamal Abd al-Nasir (Gamal Abdel Nasser). As a college student, Amin observed Nasir in his heyday. Decades later, he recalled the euphoria he and other Arabs felt about their future at that time:

"I vividly remember the great mood of optimism that characterized this period in Egypt, the Arab world and indeed in the whole world. It looked as if the world was embarking upon a great new age of rapid economic development, greater equality within as well as between nations, helped by an international organization [the UN] in which small countries would at last have a say in running world affairs. Foreign aid looked as if it was to continue to pour from the rich to the poorer countries of the world, to pay for past injustices of colonialism. Cultural differences would be respected and every national allowed to protect its national heritage, but groups of countries that have strong cultural and historical ties would be encouraged to get together to form new economic and political entities, after the example of the newly-formed European Common Market (established in 1957), allowing the new young countries a greater bargaining power vis-à-vis the more powerful nations. The Arab world was of course one of the most likely candidates for such economic and political integration, and the formation of the United Arab Republic was seen as just the beginning of a grand scheme of Arab unity."

               ("FROM SUEZ TO BAGHDAD" AL-AHRAM WEEKLY [NOVEMBER 1-7, 2006])


Name: Galal (also Jamal) Ahmad Amin

Birth: 1935, Egypt

Nationality: Egyptian

Family: Wife; children

Education: LL.B., 1955, economics diploma, 1956, public law diploma, 1957, Cairo University; M.S., 1961, Ph.D., 1964, London School of Economics


Nasir's state-centered economic and social policies aimed at the creation of a planned national economy and promotion of social justice impacted young Amin. So, too, did Nasir's attempts to defend Egyptian interests by confronting Europe, North America, and Israel, as well as his goal of keeping Egypt non-aligned. These ideas left their mark on Amin long after Nasir's death in 1970, and after the regimes of Anwar al-Sadat and husni mubarak opened Egypt's doors to foreign investment capital, made peace with Israel, and became a close ally of the United States.

As an academic writing about microeconomics, economic history, and other topics, Amin's contributions include more than thirty books in Arabic and English. He published his first two books in 1966: Food Supply and Economic Development (in English), and Introduction to Economic Analysis (in Arabic). He became widely known for two books on Egypt that were published in English in 2000 and 2006, respectively: Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? Changes in Egyptian Society from 1950 to the Present, and Whatever Else Happened to the Egyptians?: From the Revolution to the Age of Globalization. Both combine his penetrating insights with his trademark use of anecdotes from his family and from Egyptian society at large. Known for being intense and controversial, yet possessing a sense of humor, Amin also is a popular columnist in the Egyptian press and is known for his hostility toward capitalism, globalization, and modern technology.

Amin has taken great pains to analyze the roots of the Arab world's economic backwardness, which he ties strongly to continued imperialist pressure from Western powers and Israel. He continues to look back fondly on Nasir's economic policies, although he is critical of some of his missteps. He supported Nasir's attempts at import substitution, industrial growth, and his attempt to preserve and expand a national Egyptian economy. Amin—whom some have called an economic nationalist—admits that it is hard today for a country within a globalized capitalist economic system to preserve cultural and economic forms that are distinct to it. "China is trying to do this," he noted in an interview with Egypt's Daily Star, "but China is in a very happy position because of its size and power. The small countries, like Bahrain and Kuwait, don't have the chance of cunning, of outwitting the West. Cunning requires power."

Amin came out strongly against the 2002 Arab Human Development Report issued by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The report listed a host of problems in the Arab world that its authors blamed for the region's malaise. Amin criticized the report harshly in a number of venues, arguing that, despite the presence of many of the internal Arab social and cultural problems highlighted in the report, the real factors behind the Arab world's weakness were external and largely political. In one opinion piece in the al-Ahram Weekly, he noted:

"It is also true that there are outside factors that dealt well-aimed blows to the economies of most Arab countries, regardless of what these countries did or failed to do. There is, for example, the Israeli aggression in 1967, the excessive slump in oil prices and revenues, the severe fluctuations in the revenues of tourism as a result of terrorist attacks that many, including myself, blame on foreign, not just local, schemes. There is also the reluctance of foreign private investment to come to the Arab region as smoothly as it flows into Southeast Asia or Latin America. Many, including myself, see political, and not just economic reasons for this reluctance. Some of these reasons, I believe, have nothing to do with our willingness to pamper foreign investors or satisfy their wishes."


If you have a positive view of human beings, not a cynical one, if you think there is any real value to a human being, it certainly isn't this [modern technology]. There is the soul, there is emotion, there is sympathy. Man is losing his soul. It is not only rhetoric. We can express it in very concrete terms. Modern man is losing his soul. When you come back from work and throw yourself in an armchair in front of television, watching one program or soap opera after another until you sleep, what have you been doing during that period? You are practically nonexistent, except physically. You have delivered your soul somewhere else.

                  MAY 2004 INTERVIEW IN EGYPT TODAY

This has been a feature of the Egyptian economy for the last thirty years. The share of manufacturing in the local economy increased considerably in the 1960s. From the 1970s until now, the shares of services are growing, and there is a relative neglect in both manufacturing and agriculture. The service sector is growing for a number of reasons. One reason is that manufacturing in a developing country cannot grow rapidly [without] state support—and South Korea proves it. Manufacturing is absolutely vital for growth [but] tourism is looked at favorably by the foreign institutions because it brings in an easy foreign exchange to the country.



Amin has been recognized as one of Egypt's leading economists. The Egyptian government awarded him the State Prize for Economics in 1976, and President al-Sadat bestowed on him the Order of Merit for the Sciences and Arts in 1977. Amin also received the Award for Economics from the Kuwait Foundation for the Advance-ment of Science in 1981. In addition to his broadsides against capitalism and globalization, Amin further is famous within Egypt as a staunch critic of modern technology. He argues that it is not technology per se to which he objects, but rather the fact that the poor expend precious resources trying to acquire it, further distorting the picture of a society in which modern technology coexists with grinding poverty and backwardness.

Outside Egypt, Amin was criticized by some in the West for comments he wrote in a piece in the 7 April 2004 edition of al-Ahram Weekly. In it, he articulated his belief, one not uncommon in the Middle East, that there is no clear evidence that the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States were the result of an Arab/Islamic plot:

"One is that there is still doubt that the September attacks were the outcome of Arab and Islamic terror. No conclusive proof to this effect is yet available. Many writers, American and European, as well as Arab, suspect that the attacks were carried out by Americans, or with American assistance, or that Americans knew about them and kept silent. Such doubts are strong and rest on damning evidence, but the U.S. administration forcefully censors them and bans any discussion of the matter—something that, by the way, makes one suspect the U.S. administration's commitment to knowledge."


Galal Amin will be remembered as a staunch opponent of Egypt's increasing incorporation into the global capitalist economy since the early 1970s, as well as for a vigorous voice within Egyptian civil society's public debates about the great issues facing Egypt today.


Ahmed, Hanaa. "The Dissenter." Business Today.Com Egypt (November 2006). Available from

Amin, Galal. "Colonial Echoes." al-Ahram Weekly Online (1-7 April 2004). Available from

Amin, Galal. Egypt's Economic Predicament: A Study in the Interaction of External Pressure, Political Folly and Social Tension in Egypt, 1960–1990. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1995.

Amin, Galal. The Illusion of Progress in the Arab World: A Critique of Western Misconstructions. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2006.

Amin, Galal. "Memories of a Revolution." al-Ahram Weekly Online (10-16 August 2006). Available from

Amin, Galal. Whatever Else Happened to the Egyptians?: From the Revolution to the Age of Globalization. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2004.

Amin, Galal. Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? Changes in Egyptian Society from 1950 to the Present. Cairo, Egypt: American University in Cairo Press, 2000.

El Sirgany, Sarah. "None of the Existing Political Streams in Best for Egypt: Galal Amin." The Daily Star Egypt (3 October 2006). Available from

Hassan, Abdallah F. "Soul Searching." Egypt Today: The Magazine of Egypt (May 2004). Available from

                                        Michael R. Fischbach