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

Galal Amin

illustrated by Golo
translated from the Arabic
The American University in Cairo Press 2000
A book review by Danny Yee © 2011 http://dannyreviews.com/
Looking at social change in Egypt from 1950 to 2000, Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? claims to be a mix of "academic analysis and personal observation" but, though written by an academic economist, it is dominated by the personal observations.

Fourteen chapters tackle different topics. Amin starts and ends with the more formal material. He argues that the major driving force in Egyptian social change has been social mobility, driven by economic liberalization, education, the rise of the military, foreign employers, migrant workers, and inflation. He links this to religious fanaticism and westernization. And he finishes with a twenty page history of Egyptian economics and, following Karl Polanyi, a look at the spread of market society into all aspects of Egyptian life.

In between Amin tackles a range of topics in everyday life: masters and servants and the increasing cost of domestic labour, the status of women, the decline in status of government jobs with respect to the private sector, the "decline" of the Arabic language, migration, private cars as status symbols, weddings, summer vacations, and the cinema. Most of this relies on personal observation: Amin illustrates changes in the status of women, for example, by describing differences in the lives of his mother and his daughters/nieces.

Amin's own prejudices are fairly obviously those of an aging Western-educated academic. So he's happy to link "unproductive activities" with "irrational habits of thought" and the "rentier economy" with "religious fanaticism". And his rant about language decline, poor grammar, and foreign words and neologisms seems almost identical to conservative complaints about changes in English (or French), making it hard to know if there really is something different about Eygptian Arabic in this regard.

Whatever Happened to the Egyptians? was published in 2000 but it covers trends over fifty years and is not particularly dated. So it offers a perspective on the underlying social tensions and stresses behind recent upheavals.

March 2011

External links:
- buy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
- buy from Wordery
Related reviews:
- more Arabic literature
- books about Egypt + North Africa
- more social history
%T Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?
%S Changes in Egyptian Society from 1950 to the Present
%A Amin, Galal
%M Arabic
%Q Golo
%I The American University in Cairo Press
%D 2000 [1998]
%O paperback
%G ISBN-13 9789774245596
%P 177pp