AUC bids Godfather Galal Amin farewell: “Each of us has only so much to teach”

The economist, commentator, historian, author, professor, scholar – there are many words that those who had brushed shoulders with the late Galal Amin use to describe him. Those nouns are usually accompanied by awe-inspiring adjectives such as gifted, brilliant, dedicated, magnanimous and authentic.

Amin is most famous for his book “Whatever happened to the Egyptians”, which examines the underlying causes of some of the social, political, economic, and cultural phenomena that characterized Egyptian society in the 1990s. But his legacy that runs through the walls of the American University in Cairo (AUC) and the various national and international universities where he enlightened his students and colleagues with his quite alternative views, has proven to be much greater than just one publication.

This tribute is not about his academic achievements which by far surpass the capacity of a single writer to compile, or his leftist views which have barely changed ever since they were molded in the 1950s-1960s, but rather his impact and his “humanity” – a trait that has seamlessly accompanied every person’s account of memories that he/she shared with the all-encompassing “Godfather”.

He had vision and he was honest

Pushing Egypt forward
His recurring criticism of social, political and economic norms and reforms in Egypt revolved around his diligence and persistence to push the country forward and to shine light on the right courses of action – and, most importantly and noticeably, sprung from a place of love for his country.

“One of the things I learned from him was passion for Egypt. I sensed this when I was his student back in the 1980s and I continued to sense this as I met him when I joined AUC as a staff member in 2008 and onwards. The same passion for Egypt was there – as a human being and as an Egyptian,” director of the Office of Internationalization and Partnerships at the School of Business Sherine Gad El Mawla recalls.

He had vision and he was honest. He did not care about what to say or not to say,” she adds.

Amin’s unparalleled humility, integrity, honesty and self-respect continues to shape his students’ lives and mentalities, as he sarcastically translated and conveyed his thoughts about the economics of Egypt and the world.

Transparency and groundedness

Amin made the time for those who needed and wanted it

Maybe it was this kind of honesty and transparency that had most impacted the people he had met. Maybe it was also his groundedness and focus on what mattered most, without getting caught up in the distractions that society is feeding on today.

“I adored the fact that he didn’t have a phone or computer in his office. He did not even have a mobile phone,” associate professor at AUC’s Department of Economics John Salevurakis recalls. “I remember thinking as a young professor that someday I would be able to get to the point where I can do that. Where I can be that focused on my work and also the person in front of me. The person, the student, the colleague, the staff member – whoever happens to be in my office.”

Amin made the time for those who needed and wanted it without allowing himself to divert his attention from the conversation he was having. And he did it genuinely with passion.

Maybe it was his passion for what he was doing, teaching and writing that grasped the people around him and turned him into the icon he is today, impacting those who became infatuated with the subject matter through his avidity.

His young spirit enticed students and colleagues alike

“It took only one class with Amin on a subject as usually dry as microeconomics. But he emphatically made it sound like the most inspiring scholarly endeavor, to convince me to change my major and life to economics,” associate professor at the department Mona Said recounts. Today, Said is the chair of the department of economics, although she had started her studies in computer science as an undergraduate.

Conveying knowledge accompanied by passion and being a natural thought leader was one of the traits that most affected his surrounders – and he had gained many admirers for it. However, a cohort of blind followers who could not make up their own mind was not what he sought.

“Unlike other thought leaders, who seek devoted followers, Amin encouraged his students to form their own worldviews,” professor of economics and statistics and chair of Islamic Economics, Finance and Management at Rice University Mahmoud El-Gamal remembers. “After taking two undergraduate courses with him, I tried to register for a third, but he advised me to take it with someone else: ‘Each of us has only so much to teach,’ he said. That was the unmistakable mark of a great thinker and educator.”

Love for his students
Amin was always in touch with younger generations throughout his teaching career, adding to his timeless character and exceptional sense of humor which just about everyone recalls. His young spirit enticed students and colleagues alike.

“I remember when I first joined the department, I met him in the corridor and he asked me how I was doing with my students. So I told him that everything was alright. He then told me to take care of them because they were poor souls,” associate professor at the AUC’s Department of Economics Hala El-Ramly tells Business Forward. “This advice I carry around with me until today. He loved his students and loved seeing their eyes light up with interest in what he was saying.”

By taking a look around, one notices that this love was definitely not unrequited, to say the least. Judging by the posts, quotes and messages being sent around, Amin’s legacy continues to live on in his students and everyone who had stood on the shoulders of that giant. While the loss is severe, his young spirit will always guard remain present and ever-touching through the generations that have propelled forward by harnessing the personal and academic lessons he directly and indirectly engraved into each one of them.

Dean of the AUC School of Business Sherif Kamel bid Amin farewell with the following comment: “In his simple, critical, sarcastic, sharp and to-the-point talks, as well as through his books and articles, he taught thousands of his students and informed many Egyptians about their economy, society and Egypt at large. It has been a true honor to be amongst his students, an incredible privilege to be one of his colleagues and an exceptional pleasure to have had the chance to interact with him over many years and in different capacities. He will be truly missed.”

Editor’s note: We understand that Galal Amin has touched the lives of many others who were not included in this article given editorial guidelines and the length of the story. Please share your memorable moments with Galal Amin via our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn). 

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