(Boston Revised 08/10/11) New England Law | Boston: Wassem Amin ’12 can’t practice law in his native Egypt, but that isn’t dampening his enthusiasm for completing his J.D. and returning home. The historic uprising that toppled autocratic President Hosni Mubarak has inspired Amin and millions of his compatriots to seize the moment and rebuild their nation.
From the safety of the law school library last winter, he’d sneak glances on his laptop at live feeds from Tahrir Square, the revolutionary epicenter that is a mere two blocks from where he grew up. “It was very difficult to just watch as people sacrificed their lives for me and every other Egyptian,” he says somberly.
Contrasts and contradictions are nothing new to Amin, who left teeming Cairo, a metropolis of nearly 11 million, to board at a private high school in rural, northern Maine. “My family places a high value on education,” he explains, “and wanted me to get away from the corruption and lack of opportunities in Egypt.”
Having never seen snow before, he arrived at Maine Central Institute in 1998 in time to contend with a major ice storm that blacked-out the region. “Learning to walk on snow and ice was a character-building experience,” he says wryly, recalling the unsteadiness of his introduction to America.
Amin’s physical adaptation to his new surroundings turned out to be minor in comparison to a much greater revelation, as he gradually came to appreciate the freedoms that his fellow students took for granted.
America represented “a complete 180,” Amin realized. “Due process and freedom of speech are nonexistent in Egypt, and the way you do business is different too.” In Egypt, legal niceties take a back seat to the relationships that must be slowly built before deals can be struck. “There’s a lot less respect for the law, and in turn not that much respect for lawyers either.”
Nevertheless, Amin began to see the law as a way to impact his corrupt homeland and decided in his teens to pursue international law. This would enable him to help Egypt from a distance, he reasoned, which he believed was necessary since returning home, where Mubarak’s hated regime held sway, seemed out of the question.
Maine grew on him, and after high school he earned a B.A. in international business and finance and an M.B.A. from Husson University in Bangor. He also launched a sideline as an international business consultant focused on the Middle East.
At New England Law | Boston, he’s continued to augment schoolwork with substantial extracurricular accomplishments. He has interned and clerked for Dhar Law LLP, a Boston business law and litigation practice that values his business background. (Amin found out about the Dhar Law internship through the Career Service Office.)
“I head the African business development program for the firm,” Amin says. “I’m trying to find opportunities in Egypt as I’ve already done in Rwanda and Kenya.”
Amin nervously followed the events leading to Mubarak’s ouster. “I have family and friends who were in the middle of the protests. My parents grew up their whole lives with the corruption and they called me, crying with happiness, when the government stepped down. It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”
Amin has revised his post-law school plans and now cautiously looks forward to playing a role in the latest rebirth of his ancient nation. “What I want to do and what I can do are two different things,” he says softly, as he continues to monitor the political intrigues and power struggles that will determine his options.
His law-related options are already restricted. He would consider running for the elected judiciary but is ineligible because of his anticipated New England Law degree, which would be from a foreign institution and therefore invalid in Egypt. He’s also turned down offers to practice because that would force him to participate in a corrupt system.
“Maybe I’ll start my own nonprofit, I’m not sure how it’ll work out,” Amin says. “Whatever I do, my goal is to have as immediate an impact as possible. I’m looking for ways to implement my educational experience right away.”
Egypt is awakening from years of stifled ambitions and dashed hopes, and Amin embodies the pent-up energy and expectations of his country.
Efforts are underway to build a representative government in Egypt while simultaneously stabilizing an economy plagued by endemic corruption. “Both things go hand in hand in my opinion,” Amin says. Daunting tasks to be sure, but Amin is eager to take them on.
Whether he returns to Egypt after graduation is still to be determined, but there’s no doubt that his heart has never left.