Saturday, October 14, 2006

Not quite modern day Maqrizi but nice effort

Book Review:
Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?: Changes in Egyptian Society from 1850 to the Present
by Galal Amin

The social history of Egypt in the Middle Ages is well documented by the legendary historian Al Maqrizi who wrote volumes of fascinating history of Egyptians, their rulers, classes and habits. In the last few hundred years starting with Lane writing the social history of Egypt became dominated by the Orientalists who brought their own baggage and prejudices and often supremacist attitudes to the task. Few rare exceptions such as Cairo City Victorious defy the traditional orientalist narratives.

Galal Amin wrote a light hearted, mostly easy to read book about the massive changes that occurred in the Egyptian society since the 1952 military coup aka The Revolution. Amin attributes much of the change in Egypt’s society to a massive expansion of the middle class started under Nasser but accelerated under Sadat with the Open Door policy and the massive demand for Egyptian workers (including unskilled and semiskilled) in the oil rich Arab countries.

Amin used a number of personal but very interesting yard sticks to track the changes in the society. He contrasted his university professor salary with that of the house servant. The gap narrowed significantly after 1952 and much more so after 1972 and started to widen again in recent years. Amin also addressed the role of women in the society and contrasted the changes from his mothers, to his sisters to his daughter. Remarkable change has occurred and Amin’s admittedly non scientific findings correlate closely with those of Leila Ahmed (Women & Gender in Islam). For many women in Egypt the headscarf is a tool of liberation not oppression. Also interesting is Amin’s demonstration of the reduced dependence on the state comparing the days of his father (the famous Egyptian Writer & Professor Ahmad Amin) to the generations of his kids and nephews and nieces.

Overall it is a really nice easy to read book, it is a compilation of different articles and research papers that mostly mesh in nicely to form a reasonably coherent whole

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