September 10, 2014, Cairo – The American University in Cairo (AUC) appointed Mahmoud El-Gamal ’83, ’85, professor of economics and statistics at Rice University, as the University’s provost. The first alum to serve as provost, El-Gamal is excited about returning to Egypt and to AUC. “The opportunity to come back and contribute to my alma mater and native homeland was too inviting to let go,” said El-Gamal. He is a leading scholar in the field of Islamic economics and holds the endowed Chair in Islamic Economics, Finance and Management at Rice University. “I was interested in the field of Islamic economics from the time I was an undergraduate student,” said El-Gamal. “It’s a field that was created out of identity politics rather than true rigorous social scientific thought, so I am more critical of the field than most people are.”El-Gamal earned a bachelor’s in economics, with a minor in computer science, and a master’s in economics from AUC. In 1983, he received the President’s Cup for graduating top of his class. El-Gamal also received a Master of Science in statistics from Stanford University and a PhD in economics from Northwestern University.
At AUC, El-Gamal hopes to “re-establish a sense of community and integrate the University more in Egyptian society.” His ultimate goal is for AUC to be recognized as a premier institution in the region and around the world. “I want AUC alumni to be admitted in the top programs around the world, to be employed in the top corporations without a second thought, for people to know that AUC produces excellent students,” he said. “To produce students of that caliber, we must have faculty who are globally recognized.”
Examining the higher education realm in post-revolution Egypt, El-Gamal noted that the biggest challenge is impatience. “I think people of all ages have the unreasonable expectation that they can have a transformation into a prosperous, Swedish-style democracy in the course of a year or two,” he said. “For young people, it’s particularly difficult to teach patience. AUC as an educational institution should play the role of teaching history and knowledge in all its areas in a way that will help the transformation of Egypt into a more prosperous, more inclusive society in the long term, but the challenge is to explain to students that they have to learn. They cannot assume that they know it all.”
Before joining Rice in 1998, Professor El-Gamal served as associate professor of economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and assistant professor at the University of Rochester and the California Institute of Technology. He was also an economist at the Middle East department of the International Monetary Fund (1995 -1996) and the first scholar-in-residence on Islamic finance at the U.S. Department of Treasury (2004). He is the author of Islamic Finance: Law, Economics and Practice (Cambridge University Press, 2006) andOil, Dollars, Debt and Crises: The Global Curse of Black Gold, with Amy Myers Jaffe (Cambridge University Press, 2010). In December 2013, he delivered a lecture at AUC titled “Bread + Freedom = Social Justice,” as part of the Transforming Egypt seminar series, hosted by the School of Business.