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Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Samir Amin – Egyptian internationalist

Even those who differed with him ideologically expressed their admiration and respect for the late Egyptian economist and thinker Samir Amin

Walid M Abdelnasser , Thursday 13 Sep 2018
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The recent passing away of the late Egyptian, Arab, African and international thinker, the political economist and activist Samir Amin was a source of sorrow for many people around the world.

This was particularly the case among those who were aware of the very important role Amin played throughout his life in raising awareness in the global South regarding the bitter realities of its relationship with the North and the negative repercussions this relationship has had for the countries and peoples of the South.

Amin was one of the most famous Egyptian figures in the rest of the world. Even those who differed with him intellectually expressed their admiration and respect for his loyalty to the objectives and ideals that he consistently lived and fought for.

Amin always sided with the deprived, the exploited and the marginalised on the global scale, in other words with the have nots. He devoted his intellectual production and political stands to these same constituencies.

I became acquainted with Samir Amin early on through his writings, but there were also three occasions on which I met him in person and witnessed his outstanding contributions in the context of national and international conferences.

The first occasion was when he was invited as a keynote speaker at the first annual conference of the Egyptian Society for Political Economy, Statistics and Legislation held after the assassination of late Egyptian president Anwar Al-Sadat.

At that time, Egypt was in the midst of a rich and diverse national dialogue regarding its future and in particular its economy. Amin’s participation at the conference was his first appearance in Egypt after years in which he had criticised both the regimes of former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser and Al-Sadat, sometimes for different reasons.

His lecture was particularly important as it reflected the combination of someone who had a deep knowledge of the development of Egypt over the preceding decades, of course from his own leftist/Marxist ideological standpoint, and who had made important contributions to the theory of international relations and the international economy.

Amin was one of the founders, along with German-American thinker Andre Gunder Frank and others, of the famous “dependency school” of development in its various versions.

Amin was particularly articulate in presenting his theory of unequal development between the global “core” (the North) and “periphery” (the South), as well as in his recommendation for the countries and peoples of the South to “delink” from the world capitalist order.

He was outspoken in his argument that the development of the developed countries (the North) had only been possible through the underdevelopment of the developing countries (the South), due to the continuous and systematic exploitation of the wealth and resources of the latter at the hands of the former.

This phenomenon did not come to an end with the political independence of the former colonies of the South, he argued, as the dependency created under European colonialism had been a structural one that had been pursued even after political independence.

The second occasion on which I met Amin came three years later and took place when he was an invited speaker at a conference held in 1985 by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry and the Cairo-based Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organisation on the 30th anniversary of the Bandung Summit that had seen the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement.

Amin genuinely believed in the important role the Afro-Asian bloc could play in world affairs, but he said that this would only be possible if it acted as a united front based on the adoption of independent stands derived solely from the interests of the peoples of Africa and Asia and not dictated by external powers from the First World.

Later, after the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, Amin underlined the continued relevance of the Non-Aligned Movement and its conceptual approach, seeing non-alignment as combatting versions of globalisation that were inequitable and unfavourable to the South.

He wanted to see a new Non-Aligned Movement given the task of replacing the current version of globalisation with a new one characterised by equity and justice.

The third and last occasion on which I met Amin was at a conference organised by the Afro-Asian Peoples’ Solidarity Organisation in Cairo in March 1997 under the title of the “Clash of Civilisations or the Dialogue of Cultures?” It was a great privilege for me to be a speaker at this conference, in which Amin was the keynote speaker.

He developed a sophisticated counter-argument to the “clash of civilisations” thesis put forward by the late American political scientist Samuel Huntington that saw inevitable clashes between the world’s civilisations.

Amin undermined the main assumptions on which Huntington had based his views, considering the so-called “clash of civilisations” to be simply ideological cover to justify creating new enemies for the West (the First World) after the collapse of the former Soviet Union in order to maintain the unity of the Western capitalist camp and to divert attention away from real contradictions which Amin thought were always socio-economic ones.

Amin also saw in the idea of the “clash of civilisations” a new reflection of the ethnocentrism of the Western North, even as he himself always took the side of the non-Western South.

The above are examples of the great intellectual contributions made by Samir Amin to humanity at large, as well as to his country Egypt, the Arab nation and the African continent over a long and committed life consecrated to the causes he always believed in and that he fought for until the end of his life.

* The writer is a commentator.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 September 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Samir Amin – Egyptian internationalist 

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