Pessimism mixes with optimism in the economist s hope for “alert intellects to preserve culture, lead to better future
CAIRO: When asked if there is a party or a stream of thought that he thinks is the best for Egypt, economist Galal Amin says, I wish I knew. His answer, coming after an initial pause, expresses Amin s dislike of any party or player on the current political scene. Even the opposition, he adds, is in continuous dispute with the ruling system, but they don t explain anything to the public.
Part of the opposition is idiotic and part is not sincere, he adds. He explains there is a minority within the opposition that is genuinely sincere and understands what s happening in the world. In his latest book, Amin rebuffs conventional perceptions of progress and embraced a number of explanations that others would label as conspiracy theories.
Foreign plans, whether unintentional or premeditated, to suppress local cultures for economic gains, were surveyed in his book.
With low expectations for the domestic scene, Amin asks, Shall we wait for better times when the international situation gets better? Amin, professor of economics at the American University in Cairo, explains, In today s world, things can t be done in isolation. The 20-30 year-old dream of self reliance, or the so called de-linking, isn t possible, he adds.
Laughing, Amin notes that cunning is necessary for this process of reform and progress that has the preservation of local cultures in mind. While you are to some extent linked to the world, he explains, You manage to do it your own way.
China is trying to do this, 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.
He says that hope lies in Arab unity, a factor that would give the countries of the region the power to stand up to the West and force their own interests on the international agenda without cutting off their relations with the world. But that fell apart with the continuous Western intervention to stall productive talks.
But apart from relying on the remote possibility of a change in the international climate, Amin can’t easily find a domestically-born solution to address the problems he raises in his writings and especially in his latest offering The Illusion of Progress in the Arab World: A Critique of Western Misconstructions.
He says, In a brief answer, that I m sure is not sufficient, in my opinion, complying with what I said that we need a spiritual revolution, the role of the alert intellect is very important, more important than the politician s. You have to reach people s minds and hearts, more importantly than to get their votes.
To stand up against aggressive consumerism, which poses a great danger to all cultures in his opinion, a spiritual revolution is required. While this Gandhi-esque revolution would take place on a global basis, he explains, on the local scene it is up to intellectuals to preserve the culture and explain the truth to the public.
The truth, in Amin s opinion, has many aspects. Conspiracy theories are the first of these political truths he wants revealed, cautioning, behind many political acts said to be of the noblest intent are hidden selfish aims which are directly opposed to the interests of those for whom the policies are announced.
He points to a mix of premeditated and unplanned conspiracies directed at the region. One of the most conspicuous cases where the decision to suppress our local cultures deliberately and consciously is taken is what the Americans are doing right now in the Arab educational system.
Amin argues in his book that replacing religious studies in schools by ethics’ curriculum would ultimately undermine morality.
“These are conscious decisions to change the culture in directions that suit them. They want to change the education to change our stance towards Israel, the United States and more.
Unconscious plots include the disproportionate encouragement of boosting tourism. He says the West encourages governments to work on increasing tourism instead of industrialization for its economic benefit without taking into account its toll on local culture. Due to inferiority complexes, he explains, locals often compromise their cultures and traditions to accommodate tourists, something that eventually leads to the erosion of local cultures. He is not against tourism, but it has to be done sanely.
Another aspect of truth is properly understanding progress. Amin argues in his book that people have misconceptions of progress, for example, people assume that military power is automatically associated with progress in other realms, such as democracy or human rights. Consequently, people take the whole structure as a model for progress without considering the deficiencies or questioning their existence.
This is why Amin repeatedly highlights the role of the intellectual who is alert to such conspiracies and is willing to go the extra mile to question what others take for granted to explain it to the public.
Noting that there is a growing tendency among young generations of loyalty to old traditions, he admits that his words carry a lot of wishful thinking. Sometimes people are forced to be pessimistic, because the human has been proven to be terribly stupid and weak, in spite of his great aspects like imagination and moral sense, he says.
This does not mean, however, that he has lost hope, but admittedly his hope is mixed with criticism. On July 23, , we woke up and found all our dreams realized. We reached the utmost despair on July 22. Suddenly we heard a revolution was made. After a while we were disappointed with the revolution, but in the first 10-15 years the revolution accomplished a lot of good things.
Progress won t happen in everything; there is nothing of the sort . Our status now is better than before.
He notes that the reduction of poverty and increased role of women, compared to the period pre-1950, have unfortunately been coupled with increased frustration.
People now are more discontent, because their hopes are higher.