Profiles In Badassery: Essam Sharaf

A few weeks ago I wrote about Herman Cain, a Purdue graduate and political pundit who is planning a run for the 2012 Presidency. Thanks to the turbulent situation currently going on in the Middle East, it appears our Purdue plan for World Domination may be a little ahead of schedule. I guess we figured that since we already own the solar system by claiming the moon, we might as well start conquering back home.

Several people have mentioned this week that Essam Sharaf, the new Prime Minister of Egypt in the wake of the Hosni Mubarak resignation, is a Purdue graduate. This makes for the first Purdue head of state, at least to my knowledge. Reader benjapal asked how many heads of state Indiana has, allowing JustAJ to respond that the Prime Minister of Lebanon is an Indiana grad. While I don't expect to hear the "Boiler Up" chant ringing through the halls of the UN (or Who-Who-Who-HOOSIERS!), it is cool that the Big Ten has at least two foreign heads of state.

Let's learn a little more about our fellow Boilermaker.

Sharaf's background

Sharaf was born in 1952 in the Egyptian city of Giza. Giza is pretty much a suburb of Cairo, but has a population of over 2.6 million people in its own right. I believe it also has a couple of monuments that attract a tourist or two.

With Purdue's renown for producing architectural marvels (the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam have been profiled here) it is appropriate that the most famous ancient marvel in the world was practically in Sharaf's back yard. This may have had something to do with his interest in Civil Engineering. Sharaf received his bachelor's in CE from the Cairo University, then came to the United States in search of postgraduate education.

He ended up in West Lafayette (slightly colder and less sandy) where he earned a Master's in 1980 and a Ph.D in 1984 in Civil Engineering. Here is his Purdue profile:

Solving Puzzles, Dreaming Dreams

As a kid growing up in Egypt, Essam Sharaf was fascinated with puzzles: assembling the pieces to form the whole. And that, for him, is the essence of engineering. "It's not a science," he says. "Rather, it is a profession that is based on assembling, or using, facts and basic sciences-math, physics, chemistry, etc.-to get a product usable by living beings."

Civil engineering in particular intrigued Sharaf since his teens. "I used to be amazed every time I saw all these astonishing civil works and projects: roads, bridges, houses, high-rise buildings, hospitals, schools, shopping centers," he says. "How were these products made? Slowly I recognized that they are not simply the work of contractors but that they start with an extensive effort by the designers. Sitting in front of a blank paper-we had no computers at that time-and converting that paper into a design that tells the details and functions of every small piece of a man-made product was always a dream for me."

On to Purdue

In 1975 Sharaf completed his bachelor's degree in civil engineering at Cairo University, where he studied under Abdel-Monem Osman, the Middle East's founder of highway engineering. Sharaf had clearly made his mark.

"I was selected by the College of Engineering to be a graduate instructor and continue my career as a faculty member," he recalls. "At that time, Dr. Osman had three graduate instructors working with him, and it was impossible for him to add another graduate instructor according to the department and college rules. Dr. Osman, in the department council, announced that he decided to replace the three graduate instructors with Essam Sharaf. I will never forget that. Then he encouraged me and helped me to get an assistantship from Purdue!"

Working with Professors E. J. Yoder and K. C. Sinha to complete a master's and doctoral degree in West Lafayette, Sharaf devoted himself to a new research area: highway maintenance and highway maintenance management. "Up to the mid-'70s, most highway research was geared toward the design of new infrastructure," he says. "Then, with the aging network and limited budget allocated to maintain the network at an appropriate and usable level, it was necessary to develop tools and methods that maximize the effect of the available budget."

Life After Purdue

Sharaf was in the United States studying at Purdue when Mubarak took over Egypt in 1981. Once he was finished with his studies, however, he returned to Egypt so that he could give back to his home country. He started out by becoming an assistant professor of highway and traffic engineering at Cairo University. His research focused on maintenance management, pavement management, highway management, safety management, and transport asset management. There is no word on what effect West Lafayette potholes in the middle of winter had on his research, but after driving on roads for my entire life in Indiana I would gladly have him back here if he can fix them up, especially in Indianapolis.

He later worked at King Saud University in Saudi Arabia for six years, then returned to Cairo University to become a full professor in 1996. In 2004 his work was thought of enough that he was named Minister of Transport, which began his career in public service. He did not serve in this position long, resigning in protest in December 2005. Here is a summation of his work in that short time, however:

During his service as transport minister, which concluded in early 2006, Sharaf undertook unprecedented initiatives to modernize Egypt's transportation infrastructure system, consisting of 46,000 kilometers of highways, 9,400 kilometers of railroads, 36 river ports, 3,000 kilometers of canals, 80 seaports and special-purpose ports, many tunnels and transfer terminals, and the Cairo subway system. His program included improving transportation security and tourism services, expanding the highway system to encourage a balanced distribution of population and land use, constructing new links for improved transportation to neighboring countries, and providing employment opportunities on the order of hundreds of thousands of jobs. "The improvement plan for Alexandria's seaport alone will generate about 70,000 jobs over four to five years," he says.

After resigning his position he returned to Cairo University, where he once again was a professor. There he served as a vocal critic of the Mubarak regime, which is not exactly a safe position. Sharaf wanted to be a voice of those who were oppressed, however, and he put himself out there.

Viva la revolución !

When the protests began against Mubarak he was present and active at the Tahir Square protests. This gave him the backing of the people, as he was a former government official willing to speak out against the current regime. After the military council took over power, they suggest Sharaf as a possible leader because of the public appeal he held. As a result, his brief service resulted in him being named Prime Minister yesterday. From yesterday's article mentioning his ascension:

He steps into the post after Egypt's only successful popular-led revolution led to the ouster of former president Hosny Mubarak, who ruled the country for nearly 30 years. The local newspaper al-Shorouk reported last month that he led an anti-Mubarak march by professors from Cairo University to Tahrir Square.

Just hours ahead of a mass sit-in by activists in Cairo's Tahrir Square to demand the resignation of ministers appointed by Mubarak, the armed forces announced that Sharaf would be the country's new prime minister.

He takes over the post from the controversial Ahmed Shafiq, an Air Force general seen by opposition and activists as a remnant of Mubarak's old guard and a continuation of the military's rule over Egypt.

Sharaf, a civilian who most recently served as a distinguished professor of civil engineering at Cairo University, is known among opposition circles for his 'good reputation.'

Egypt's largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the secular April 6th Youth Movement, both welcomed his appointment to the post.

Obviously, it is very early in his regime to rule on success or failure, but so far he seems like a candidate that most of the country seems to like. They appreciate his previous work on improving Egypt's transportation infrastructure. He is truly a badass if he can bring calm to a country that has been in the middle of a boiling revolution for a while now.

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