The funeral of former Egyptian prime minister Kamal Al-Ganzouri took place last Friday in a military ceremony headed by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.
Al-Ganzouri passed away on Wednesday 31 March after having kept a low profile for over a year and ending an otherwise high-profile presence in public affairs since he became governor of the Al-Wadi Al-Gadid governorate in the mid-1970s under the rule of former president Anwar Al-Sadat.
Having graduated with a BSc in agriculture from Cairo University and PhD in planning from the University of Michigan, in 1981 Al-Ganzouri became minister of planning under former president Hosni Mubarak. In the mid-1990s, he became Mubarak’s prime minister but was removed three years later in an abrupt fashion that caused speculation about politics in the presidential palace at the time. There were also questions about the agricultural schemes launched during his years as prime minister despite the scepticism of some experts.
After the 25 January Revolution, Al-Ganzouri, considered an honest man ousted by Mubarak for refusing to compromise his political and economic assessments, made a comeback when he was reappointed as prime minister by the then ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) towards the end of 2011. He kept his job for only a few months, remaining prime minister into the early weeks of Mohamed Morsi’s presidency.
Upon exiting the office of prime minister, Al-Ganzouri wrote two volumes of memoirs in another abrupt fashion that was compatible with the spirit of the times. These were published by Dar Al-Shorouk in 2013 and described as the testimony of one of the most dedicated members of the Egyptian establishment that Al-Ganzouri had joined when he returned to Egypt with his PhD a few months after the shocking military defeat of 1967.
“My Path – Years of Hope, Shock and Isolation. From the Village to the Office of Prime Minister” was the first volume of the memoirs that told the story of a middle-class man who had come to Cairo to attend secondary school and had graduated a few years after the beginning of the rule of former president Gamal Abdel-Nasser. The latter had secured the largest possible number of scholarships for university graduates, and in this Al-Ganzouri’s experience was typical of many other high-level civil servants of the Al-Sadat and Mubarak years.
Al-Ganzouri’s account of his career in this almost 200-page volume reveals a lot about his professional profile, which was as dedicated as it was uncompromising. It also reveals the path of politics in the higher echelons of the executive under Mubarak, especially during the famous shift in the former president’s rule that started in the late 1990s after two decades in office.
In the early years of his time in office, Al-Ganzouri said in his memoirs, Mubarak had been very careful about choosing his aides and ministers, and he had invested much time and thought in making sure that only those who could perform well were in office. Al-Ganzouri said that this was true of civilian as well as of military assignments.
According to Al-Ganzouri’s memoirs, Mubarak was also very careful about keeping a balance between the military and civilians in high-level executive posts. “He really cared about the best interests of the country,” Al-Ganzouri wrote.
He recalled that in 1984 Mubarak had decided after some second thoughts on keeping his then minister of education, Mustafa Helmi, who also had the title of deputy prime minister, to avoid having three military men in leading positions — Mubarak himself, as a former air-force officer, Kamal Hassan Ali as a former military man and prime minister, and Mohamed Abu Ghazala as minister of defence and deputy prime minister. Al-Ganzouri wrote that Mubarak decided to appoint Helmi rather than Abu Ghazala as first deputy prime minister.
The memoirs also reveal another side of the shift in Mubarak’s views at the beginning of his third decade in office when he gave more space to disciples of neoliberalism, including Youssef Boutros Ghali, his last minister of finance, whose economic choices were not compatible with those of Al-Ganzouri. The latter had favoured a sharp reduction in foreign debt and a tough line on the conditions attached to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-sponsored economic reform programme since his time as minister of international cooperation in the mid-1980s.
Sometimes called “the prime minister of the poor,” Al-Ganzouri was vocal about his opposition to the school of neoliberalism that dominated Mubarak’s last decade in office before he was removed in the 25 January Revolution.
The first volume of Al-Ganzouri’s memoirs also offer a cautious account of controversial figures and issues from the mid-1990s, including energy cooperation with Israel, the allocation of state-owned land, and the role of Hussein Salem, an old confidante of Mubarak, and Omar Suleiman, his long-serving head of the General Intelligence Agency.
It is in the second volume of his memoirs, “Egypt and Development,” another 200-page book, that Al-Ganzouri addresses the controversial large-scale schemes he launched while in office, particularly the Toshka scheme, called a waste of money by critics. Al-Ganzouri offers a detailed defence of his economic choices, and he blames members of Mubarak’s inner circle at the time for having deliberately skewed the potential of such investments that could have secured a considerable shift in Egypt’s agricultural capacities and improved its development rates.
The two volumes are the testimony of a man who was never criticised for bad faith, even if he was at times criticised for having failed to pick up newer economic and development trends, whether legitimately or not.
President Al-Sisi wrote on his Twitter account on 31 March that Al-Ganzouri was “a statesman of a unique calibre who was always faithful to his country.” He often invited Al-Ganzouri to take part in public events, something that the president does to show his respect and gratitude to men he thinks have served the country’s interests well.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly