Galal Amin: The People vs. the Army

Egyptian author Galal Amin’s new book is certainly timely. “Egypt in the Era of Hosni Mubarak, 1981-2011” chronicles the corruption and misrule that led to Egypt’s January 25 revolution. Amin, a professor at the American University in Cairo, spoke to the Cairo Review after his book launch.

Egyptian author Galal Amin’s new book is certainly timely. “Egypt in the Era of Hosni Mubarak, 1981-2011” chronicles the corruption and misrule that led to Egypt’s January 25 revolution. Amin, a professor at the American University in Cairo, spoke to the Cairo Review after his book launch.

Did you expect January 25?

I always felt that the Egyptians weren’t the type to a make revolution. I knew and felt how awful the situation was. How miserable people were, and how frustrated. I always knew there was a new kind of young people being informed. I could see it in my students. They have qualities that didn’t exist in my generation. They are more ambitious, more self-confident, more able to express themselves. They are more open to the world as a result of information and the communications revolution. This surely played a role.

What are the challenges now?

There’s a separation between ownership and management in the revolution. The owners of the revolution are those who went into the square. But the management is the army. It’s creating problems. In 1952, the army made the revolution or the coup and they started governing the country. In the 1919 revolution, the people made the revolution and they brought their leader as the prime minister. But here you are, a situation where the people made the revolution and the army is making the decisions.  It’s created a lot of tension and is still responsible for things people don’t like. For instance, the first government after the 25th of January was headed by a man, [Ahmed] Shafiq, who clearly belonged to the old regime. He kept a number of ministers who are among the most hated by the people. That was very surprising. And one of the top men in the presidential office is still signing papers.  And in television, there are positions still occupied by people close to Mubarak. You may say it’s still too soon, but it’s not. They can be out with the stroke of a pen.

Why isn’t that being done?

No one knows. Everybody is worried, but everybody has their own guess. And another cause for concern is why the hurry on a referendum on a new constitution and elections for presidency and parliament? You’re trying to remove the legacy of sixty years of dictatorship where people didn’t know what democracy and freedom of expression was. Why don’t you leave us for a year or two to form parties?

What’s the hurry?

I think the army people have an agenda, which is not declared. They support the demand of the people to get rid of Mubarak and his clique, yes. Without the help of the army, one doubts very much if the revolution would have succeeded. The army supports this, but they have an agenda, which if known, it may not be to the complete liking of the majority. We’ll have to wait and see. No one knows.

In your book, you talked a lot about Egypt’s institutionalization of corruption. Has the revolution chipped away at this?

I’ve been thinking a lot about that, because corruption is now everywhere. To eliminate it completely is a very terrible and heavy task. You may need years. The causes of corruption, like poverty and frustration–the feeling of injustice, are so vast. And they make corruption almost acceptable. It will take a very long time for this to improve.

Is the idea of a national project going to be important for Egypt moving forward?

Mubarak certainly didn’t have one and that led to his demise.  People didn’t have anyone to look up to–or someone that summarized their feelings.  In the coming decades, the obvious goals are to strive for something as close to a democratic system as possible, to resume the interrupted process of economic development, including wiping the unemployment problem, taking important measures to reduce class disparity. And I would add to regain our role in the Arab world. This is important for cultural and psychological reasons.

How do you foresee religious discourse changing?

The rise of Islamicism in Egypt over the past years, I believe, is response to alienation and oppression. I don’t think it’s like some people say, a response to Wahhabism, when Egyptians returned from working in the Gulf. We’ll continue to see an increase in religiosity unless you solve the economic problems, which I’m afraid will take some time. Probably ten years.

You talk about a loss of cultural icons in Egypt, marking its decline in the region? Will this be different post-January 25?

You cannot bring back the past. An Umm Kulthum cannot be repeated. Of course, the Arab countries have developed in the past thirty years. So the gap between Egypt and the rest has narrowed. So actually an Egyptian singer could make his fortune in Syria than maybe the other way around. So the mother hen that Egypt used to be is still sort of true, the Arabs feel without Egypt they can’t do anything. They still feel the same.