Al-Ahram Weekly Online   19 - 25 June 2003
Issue No. 643
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Hossam Badrawi:

Physician, parliamentarian, perfectionist: a great many hats to wear

Critical mass

Profile by Niveen Wahish
photo: Randa Shaath

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From top: with President Mubarak; performing a surgery; at Al-Ahli Club sports events
font size =-2>The name Hossam Badrawi may well conjure up a single image, that of the handsome, smiling face adorning election posters that seemed to be everywhere you looked in the Qasr Al-Nil district during the parliamentary elections of 1995 and 2000. Quite why Badrawi, a physician specialising in obstetrics and gynecology, should be so keen to run for parliamentary elections had many people wondering. The move, though, was clearly an extension of earlier activities and neatly fitted with his own conceptions of what his role in society, and his responsibilities towards it, should be.

Being a member of parliament is but one of many hats worn by Badrawi. He is also a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University, which is, he says, his primary interest.

After graduating from Cairo University's Faculty of Medicine in 1974 he obtained his Master's degree in Obstetrics and Gynecology four years later. He then proceeded to Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, where he did post-graduate research between 1979 and 1980. Subsequently he moved to North Western University in Chicago, Illinois where he practiced as a resident and medical attache for two years. In 1983 he received his doctorate degree from Cairo University and then, to develop his teaching skills, he moved to the Boston University School of Medicine where he obtained a Master's in medical curriculum design. This latter was part of an agreement between Cairo University, Suez Canal University and Boston University intended to facilitate the upgrading of health care education in Egypt.

At the outset of his teaching career Badrawi was consciously following in the footsteps of his mentor, Hassan Hamdi, the late dean of Cairo University. He attempted to be close to his students, to actively engage with them socially as well as academically. He would often take his whole class out to the cinema. He also initiated a student club, the Grandsons of Pharaohs, that became a model for other clubs. He describes his relationship with his students as an "inspiration".

"It brought me close to the student community and inspired me to think of students as the end product of the educational process more than anything else."

"You have to measure your end product, which is the student, and his practical performance in life situations." It's not, believes Badrawi, the number of schools or universities that indicates whether or not a country offers a decent education. Rather, you "should look at whether the students are competitive or not, have skills or not, have access to information, are capable of self-learning and whether they can compete internationally, or just locally".

He sent his own children abroad after high school. His older son Hassan, 26, now a financial analyst, is a graduate of the School of Economics, Duke University. Dalia, his daughter of 21, is working towards a degree teaching primary school children with special needs at Boston College. He is happy that neither of his children opted for medical school. "I teach there and I know its shortcomings. And it's not only the academic side of education, but the entire system."

At Wayne State University he would often complete a research project in less than three weeks. Returning to Cairo he published only six papers in 10 years.

"I am the same person, with the same mentality, making the same effort. It's the atmosphere and the system within the university that makes one more productive."

Finding the time to do research has become even more difficult as his responsibilities have grown. Nonetheless, he has published 128 papers as well as contributing to six textbooks.

Badrawi's dedication is apparent in the several careers he runs concurrently. Besides teaching and his medical practice, he is also chairman of the Nile Badrawi for Investment and Development, a holding company which includes under its umbrella companies dealing in construction and real-estate as well as operating in the field of technology and entertainment. Two health related businesses also fall under the holding company, the Nile Badrawi Hospital, one of the largest private hospitals in Egypt, and Middle East Medicare, a company specialising in health insurance.

Badrawi's ability to deliver information convincingly is given further impetus by his will to make a difference. He has played a major role in establishing a number of NGOs catering to wide-range of interests, including the American Chamber of Commerce, the New Civic Forum, Egypt's Economic Forum, the Egyptian Society for Youth Development (Dreamers of Tomorrow) and the Businessmen's Association for Social Development (Takafol).

His involvement with the NGO community was instrumental in changing his mindset towards those domains, most notably economics and politics, in which he had previously claimed no expertise. His latest project is the Iraqi- Egyptian Development Forum, designed to activate civil society in Iraq. The forum will be made up of 40 Egyptian businessmen and an equal number of Iraqis.

His involvement in politics, then, is clearly an extension of his firmly held belief in participatory citizenship. And he makes no bones about his hopes to be part of a wave that will push forward much needed reforms in Egyptian society.

Badrawi's political involvement includes his chairing of the Education and Scientific Research Committee of Parliament and the Education Committee of the National Democratic Party's (NDP) Policies Secretariat. He is also a member of the Policies' Secretariat's Higher Policies Council, the brainchild of NDP's legistlative proposals and reforms. And a member of the general secretariat, overseeing NDP activities in Ismailia, as well as being responsible for liaison with the business community through the Business Sector Secretariat.

Badrawi entered politics as a way of making a difference. Between 1995 and 2000, together with a group of others, he had thought of developing a new party but then concluded that working with the NDP might be more effective, and certainly less time consuming, than starting from scratch. He joined the NDP in 2000 and quickly located himself within its reformist wing. The drive towards reform, he believes, "will only be effective if it becomes a critical mass within the party".

"We are not there yet. But we are more effective. We are getting more space, we are not compromising our principles. And we are attracting large numbers of young people to the party and that will, eventually, create the necessary mass."

Badrawi is clear about some of the transformations he would like to see, and about the mechanisms necessary to achieve them.

"Ahead of us is the major task of human development through education, freedom and democracy while at the same time keeping the true values of our culture alive. And participation is a must in building any democratic capacity. When people have a say in the running of their daily life then they have an incentive to become actively involved in politics."

"We have to activate civil society through empowerment: education, training and giving people responsibility. It is only this kind of dynamic that can create democratic citizens."

But such goals require political will. "That is why I am in politics. If it was not needed I would not have become involved."

A simple formula, he believes, could well help in solving a great many seemingly intractable problems -- the separation of service provision from regulation and supervision.

"An independent monitoring system which sets standards would force various institutions to improve and live up to these standards. And this could be the key to solving a great many problems in education and health provision."

The public should know these standards and measure what they get against them, and then complain if what they get does not measure up.

"This," he says emphatically, "is democracy."

In speaking of reforms waiting to happen Badrawi sounds an increasingly optimistic note.

"Now is the time to make things happen," he says. "Nothing will happen if no one takes the initiative. And if someone takes the initiative, support them. Don't leave the reformers alone."

He believes the elements for success are all in place.

"There are people with vision. There are people capable of performing. The system was applied elsewhere and succeeded."

That 65 per cent of the Egyptian population is young he also thinks of as an asset. "They are better than those before them and they are better than we think."

It is time, he believes, another generation be given access to decision making on all levels.

"We should be courageous enough to open the door for them. If we create a critical mass within the political circle and within civil society I believe Egypt can take off."

How he juggles his many activities is no mystery: it requires organisation, dedication and a willingness to delegate. He has an office staffed with qualified personnel for each of his activities. He keeps his appointments in a file on the Internet to avoid any overlaps. Yet despite the breadth of his involvement in so many fields he still considers his profession as a physician as his major activity. He practices at the Nile Badrawi Hospital, at his private clinic and for some charity NGOs.

Here, as elsewhere, delegation is the key.

"My patients know that if they give birth on certain days, a certain doctor will be there."

He rarely stops something he is doing to go and deliver a baby. "Only," he says, "if there is a risk at stake."

His busy schedule, though, is bound to take its toll. He only teaches once a week now, and the same applies to surgery. His presence in parliament depends on the schedule, though during the past two years, with committee discussions of the intellectual property rights law, it was parliament that took most of his time.

One thing he has abandoned since moving in to politics is his involvement in sport. But it was his campaign in 1990, when some people advised him to run in the elections for the board of Al-Ahli, that fuelled his appetite for campaigning. He entered the race late, just four days before the vote, and won.

"If people can see something in me I thought, why not go into a broader election."

Badrawi takes his leadership role seriously and strives to adopt the principles and concepts of his idol, Abbass Al- Aqaad. He is also a great admirer of Gandhi and his ability to self-discipline as a means of disciplining others.

Badrawi tries to put to work the best he sees in these characters. When running for parliamentary elections he ignored the advice of those who told him to dress more simply, to avoid wearing a suit and tie, and to drive a less expensive car. He wanted to be honest about himself. "People feel it when someone is honest."

Another source of inspiration is Gibran Khalil Gibran's The Prophet. He never tires of going back to it. Going over an old book, or beginning a new one, is how he likes to unwind. In the past, when he had more time to himself, Badrawi tried to learn music. He would drop everything and go to his piano lesson. He also began painting. And he has written poetry though most of his writing today is in the form of articles.

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