Islam and the Humanities

Conference 2014

Mahmoud El-Gamal

Professor of Economics, Rice University

Bread (Rawls) + Freedom (Sen) = Social Justice? Religion and Economics in the Egyptian Spring

Many observers were surprised when Egyptians took to the streets first to overthrow the Mubarak regime in early 2011 and then to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood government in mid 2013. Bayesian Network analysis of public opinion surveys is used to uncover dependence structures in respondents’ attitudes. The analysis shows that the revolutionary moment leading up to 2011 was characterized by confounding of Islamism with egalitarianism, which was at the heart of Nasserist rhetoric. Muslim Brotherhood leaders had subscribed to this form of Islamism in the early twentieth century, but embraced premarket capitalism in later decades. Therefore, they pursued the same neoliberal economic policies of the Mubarak era, and likewise faced the wrath of an angry public. Data analysis shows that strong views favoring (re)distributive justice drive Egyptian antisecularism, as well as views on commutative justice and other aspects of society. Unlike in Turkey and Malaysia, theories of justice enshrined in today’s neoliberal economic policies were strongly rejected in Egypt. The solution for Egypt cannot be reduced simply to institutional reforms and rule of law, as most economists would suggest. An Egyptian social contract, given current sentiments, requires a different theory of justice.

Mahmoud A. El-Gamal, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Economics at Rice University, where he also holds the endowed Chair in Islamic Economics, Finance and Management. He is also a Rice scholar at the Baker Institute at Rice University. Before joining Rice in 1998, he was an associate professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He has also worked as an assistant professor at the University of Rochester and the California Institute of Technology; as an economist at the Middle East department of the International Monetary Fund (1995-1996); and as the first scholar-in-residence on Islamic finance at the U.S. Department of Treasury (2004). El-Gamal has published extensively on finance, econometrics, decision science, economics of the Middle East and Islamic transactions law. His recent books include Islamic Finance: Law, Economics and Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2006) and Oil, Dollars, Debt and Crises: The Global Curse of Black Gold with Amy Myers Jaffe (Cambridge University Press, 2010).