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Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?

Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?: Changes in Egyptian Society from 1950 to the Present

Galal Amin
Illustrations by Golo
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 184
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt15m7kg6
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    Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?
    Book Description:

    Based on both academic research and the author’s own personal experiences and impressions, this delightful and informative book examines the underlying causes of some of the more disturbing social, political, economic, and cultural phenomena that characterize Egyptian society in the 1990s. Egypt’s crisis of culture and other woes are often attributed to the ‘open door policy’ (Infitah) initiated under President Sadat in the mid-1970s, and to the large-scale migration of Egyptian workers to the oil-rich states of the Gulf that began around the same time. Galal Amin contends, however, that these factors alone are insufficient to explain the fundamental changes in behavior and attitudes that characterize modern Egyptian life. The ‘missing link,’ Amin argues, lies in the social mobility unleashed by the July Revolution of 1952, which was later accelerated by Infitah and workers’ migration. The sudden upward mobility and attendant prestige, self-confidence, and purchasing power of a large segment of Egyptian society—and the desire to display this new-found social position as conspicuously as possible—have had an enormous effect on the attitudes and allegiances of these groups. Through a fascinating and often highly entertaining examination of issues ranging from the middle class, religious fanaticism, and attitudes to the West and Western culture, to the Egyptian institution of the summer holiday by the sea and the performing arts and entertainment, Amin posits that social mobility has changed the customs and habits, moral and material values, and patterns of consumption and investment of the aspiring classes, and has, furthermore, induced the Egyptian people to ignore national and ideological issues of grave importance. This insightful book will prove a thought-provoking read for those concerned with emerging economies, international development, and privatization, and will intrigue anyone with an interest in the social history of Egypt. The Arabic edition of this book was awarded the Cairo International Book Fair Prize for the best book in Social Studies in 1998. Comments on the Arabic edition: “A rare example of combining social theory with concrete observation and intimate personal experience.... A very perceptive account of Egyptian social development with almost the impact of a dramatic creation." Abd al-Qader al-Qutt, al-Ahram, 2000. “A very valuable and highly important contribution to social thought and to Egypt’s social history.... A highly original and enjoyable book." Faruq Shusha, al-Ahram, 1999.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-052-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-6)
    Galal Amin

    In 1996, the Egyptian monthly journalal-Hilaldecided to dedicate a section of each issue to a discussion of the question ‘Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?,’ asking a number of its writers to contribute their opinions from any perspective they might choose. As we were on the threshold of the twenty-first century, the editor ofal-Hilaldeemed it fitting that we contemplate the changes that had taken place in Egyptian social life.

    I welcomed the opportunity to participate in the discussion and chose to write about the changes that I had observed in the status of women in Egypt over...

  4. 1 Social Mobility
    (pp. 7-30)

    For some years now, Egyptians have been expressing a feeling of discontent, whether on the subject of the performance of the Egyptian economy, the state of culture and intellectual life, social relationships, morality, or political developments—whether domestic or in relation to other Arab or foreign countries.

    Egyptian economists have been complaining about imbalances and distortions: a severe deficit in the balance of payments and a growing external debt, an imbalance in the state budget, and an output and employment structure too heavily dominated by the service sectors. Saving and investment ratios may indeed have reached unusually high levels between...

  5. 2 Religious Fanaticism
    (pp. 31-44)

    In trying to justify his ‘socialist’ measures of the 1960s, the late Egyptian president, Gamal Abd al-Nasser frequently described Egyptian society on the eve of the 1952 revolution as “the half percent society,” meaning that the proportion of the Egyptian population that controlled most of Egypt’s resources as well as its political life did not exceed that tiny percentage. This may have been an exaggeration but if so, only a slight one. The statement also hinted at a very small middle class and its relatively weak economic and political position.

    Some idea of the smallness and weakness of the Egyptian...

  6. 3 Westernization
    (pp. 45-54)

    One of the failings that all post-revolution Egyptian governments have shared is their lack of an original vision of how Egypt’s cultural revival would develop. In spite of all the proclamations of the revolution that it aimed at freeing Egypt from colonialism, that it was leading the struggle of the Arab nation for independence, preserving national sovereignty and regaining control of the nation’s destiny, and even in spite of the real successes it achieved with regard to certain kinds of ‘liberation,’ the leaders of the revolution could not rid themselves of the western conception of ‘progress.’ No one can deny...

  7. 4 Masters and Servants
    (pp. 55-64)

    One of the best indicators of a rise in the economic welfare of a country is the rise in the economic value of human labor which could be measured by the increase in real wages. A country where human labor can be bought at a price barely sufficient to provide minimum subsistence, is a typically poor and underdeveloped country. But a country where you cannot get hold of a laborer’s services unless you provide him or her with a car or two cars for personal use, is almost certainly an economically advanced country. During the fifty years that have elapsed...

  8. 5 Public and Private Sectors
    (pp. 65-76)

    When at the beginning of the First World War, more than eighty years ago, my father came to ask for my mother’s hand in marriage, one of the merits that recommended him to her family was the fact that he had a ‘mirijob,’ that is, that he worked for the government. He was a teacher in the Sharia Law School and therefore subject to the governmental rules of appointment, confirmation, promotion and retirement. At that time, these rules assured a government employee a decent life and the highest possible degree of stability and security. No family with a daughter...

  9. 6 The Position of Women
    (pp. 77-84)

    When it occurred to me to review the changes that have taken place in the position of women in Egypt over the last fifty years, I decided not to mention anything that I had not seen with my own eyes nor had direct personal experience of. It seemed appropriate to confine myself to a comparison between my mother’s way of life as I knew it as a child and young boy, and that of my daughter after she married and had a child of her own. I found it necessary however, to exclude anything untypical in their experiences.

    When I...

  10. 7 The Arabic Language
    (pp. 85-92)

    Anyone who still remembers the respect and esteem with which Egyptians regarded the Arabic language forty or fifty years ago, cannot help but be grieved by the treatment it receives today. People used to take pride in being able to write good Arabic, in being well acquainted with the rules of Arabic grammar and in observing them even in writing an ordinary letter, let alone in giving a speech in public. This was made possible for our generation by the teachers we had, themselves masters of the language. It was taken for granted that a journalist, even if he was...

  11. 8 Migration
    (pp. 93-100)

    My father was still a young man when he was appointed a teacher of Arabic at a school in Tanta at the beginning of the 1900s. He and his family lived in Cairo, and he felt extreme apprehension about having to travel to Tanta, a city only 100km from Cairo, and live there by himself. He had never before been on a train; he had never even seen the pyramids of Giza. His only journeys had been from his house to al-Azhar, to take his lessons, and then home again. Many years later, having become a well-known writer, he published...

  12. 9 Private Cars
    (pp. 101-108)

    If we were to imagine a person from another planet landing on one of the streets of downtown Cairo at any hour of the day, what could he possibly think of this thing that we call the private car? Let us suppose that no one had told him anything about it, that for instance, we consider it a quick, convenient, and economical means of transportation; would this occur to him as he saw these thousands of cars parked on both sides of the road, or proceeding at the pace of a turtle through narrow streets, moving forward for a few...

  13. 10 Weddings
    (pp. 109-118)

    I don’t recall attending a single wedding celebration during the 1940s and 1950s that was held in a hotel. Weddings were traditionally held in the homes of the families concerned. If the house was too small to accommodate all the invited guests, marquees that could accommodate any number of people would be erected in the garden or on the roof of the building. Nor do I recall seeing cameras at any of the weddings of my childhood. Either before or after the wedding ceremony, the bride and groom would go to a photography studio, and some photographs would be taken...

  14. 11 Summer Vacations
    (pp. 119-132)

    The concept of the summer vacation is of course known to most nations of the world, but it does have features and meanings peculiar to Egyptians, who have even coined a special word for it. These special features find their origins in Egyptian history and geography, as well as in Egypt’s class structure, and have led the summer vacations to acquire a degree of importance for the Egyptian people which cannot perhaps be found elsewhere.

    According to Gamal Hamdan, Egypt has “an extreme continental climate,” characterized by a “sharply defined binary seasonality,” while Egypt’s topography renders her “wide open to...

  15. 12 The Cinema
    (pp. 133-146)

    Although I have often accompanied my children to the cinema, either at their insistence or at my own suggestion, the one and only time my father took me to the cinema was a momentous occasion.

    My father was already over forty when the first Egyptian film was produced; what else, then, could one have expected of him? As for that great film which my father thought he had to see, it was nothing but a Walt Disney cartoon picture, by the name ofPinocchio. It seems that my father had heard about the film from one of his friends, who...

  16. 13 Egyptian Economists
    (pp. 147-168)

    Before the First World War it was difficult to find Egyptians who specialized in economics. Yes, there were some writings on economic issues and was some teaching of economics in Egypt before then, but those who wrote and taught at that time did not regard themselves, nor were they regarded by others, as economists. The 1920s is therefore a reasonable starting point to take for tracing the development of the economic profession in Egypt.

    The first generation of Egyptian economists (1920–45) consisted mostly of graduates of either the School of Law established by Isma‘ il Pasha in 1867, or...

  17. 14 Egypt and the Market Culture
    (pp. 169-174)

    A little more than half a century ago, the great British economic historian and sociologist Karl Polanyi published a book with the titleThe Great Transformation,²¹ which achieved great fame and continues to be widely quoted. By “the great transformation,” Polanyi meant a particular change that came over Europe a little more than two centuries ago. This was neither the emergence of capitalism, nor the acceleration of manufacturing, nor the rapid advance of science and technology, nor the beginning of the Enlightenment, but the emergence of ‘the market system.’ By ‘the market system’ Polanyi did not of course mean the...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 175-177)