Interview with Ibrahim Araq:
We would like to begin by asking you the usual questions about your marital status, your salary, your age and so forth.
I am 31, married, but with no children. I work as an accountant at the National Library in Cairo (Dar al-Kutub). My net monthly pay is 29.77 pounds. My wife is a nurse at the Diabetes Institute and makes 28 pounds. I live in Maadi. My rent is 16.55 pounds a month; I pay 6 pounds and my wife 4 pounds for transportation each month. (At the exchange rate of the time, one Egyptian pound was worth $1.78.)
Could you describe your job for us?
It’s very routine, always the same thing. Officially I work 5 hours a day, 6 days a week. Actually I do real work for about 15 minutes a day.
You pay 26 pounds for transportation and housing….
And 7 pounds for cigarettes and 4 pounds for utilities.
That leaves 20 pounds. How do you manage food and clothing with this amount?
We buy clothes whenever there is a bonus or any additional income. We buy a kilo of meat every week, and various vegetables. We spend an average of 15 pounds a month on food. We save 2 or 3 pounds every month, sometimes 5.
The fact that you don’t have a child, is that for economic reasons?
There’s a baby on the way. It’s going to be quite a problem. We don’t have any day care centers nearby. Besides, we don’t trust them, especially since our first baby died of neglect in the hospital just 12 hours after birth. It’s against my principles to hire a maid. We have no choice but to send the child to live with my parents or my wife’s parents.
Tell us about your family and your education.
My father was a peasant. He became a mechanic in the textile industry at Mahalla, and moved to Cairo in the early 1940s. He started out working for mere piasters. His salary rose to about 20 pounds in 1961 and now he earns about 50 pounds per month. His life was rough.
I have four brothers and two sisters. One brother is an engineer, another an industrial technician. My oldest sister is an agricultural researcher, and the other will enter university this year. My two youngest brothers are in twelfth and ninth grades. I’m the eldest.
How and where did you meet your wife?
We met in Libya when I was in the army there from 1971 to 1973. Toward the end of my stay we received bonuses and I managed to save about 200 pounds. My wife and I agreed to share all marriage expenses, and I did not have to pay a bride price.
What do you think of relations between Egypt and the US?
I think we’ve paved the way for America to subjugate us politically and economically.
What about America giving us arms?
That’s absurd. America will never give us enough arms to fight Israel.
How about our relations with the Soviet Union?
There is a lot of tension for which there is no justification. I can’t see any logical reason for it.
As an accountant in the public sector, you must come across a lot of corruption and theft. What do you think is the solution for this problem?
Whoever steals from the public sector spends what he steals in the private sector. The solution is to limit the activities of the private sector.
But some people argue that corruption became widespread because of the public sector and therefore we should do away with it.
On the contrary, it is the private sector that instigates theft in the public sector.
What do you think of our economic problems?
The only solution I can see is socialism. The government should fix prices to fit the incomes of the people.
But some say inflation is a worldwide problem. It’s a problem in the non-socialist world.
What do you think of the policy of infitah?
It is obvious that the capitalist world will not risk its capital to really develop our economy which is already largely based on the public sector. The capitalist world will only invest in high return industries that benefit a small class while hurting the majority of our people.
Let’s talk about your personal relationship to the 1952 revolution since you were brought up and educated under it.
Without the 1952 revolution I don’t think I could have afforded an education. I am definitely a product of the revolution. That’s the single most important aspect of my personality.
Do you have any specific criticisms of the revolution?
Certainly. The revolution made significant gains in bringing about a measure of social justice and fighting imperialism. It failed, however, to bring democracy to the masses. There was a definite inability to politicize and promote revolutionary consciousness among people.
What is your evaluation of the “generation of the revolution” — the workers’ and peasants’ sons who received an education and became intellectuals?
I think they will start playing their part in ten years when they take over leadership positions. But left to their own devices, they could become divided and ineffective in bringing about change.
What is your evaluation of the role of Nasser in the revolution?
He definitely made Egypt “leap forward.” His main mistake was making all the decisions by himself and not allowing the people to participate.
Which class did he serve the most?
His class, the middle class. But he definitely did a lot for the workers and peasants.
What are your most important demands on the government?
Democracy and real opposition in the parliament, rigid price controls and real development of the economy.