Born in Egypt the son of a United Nations diplomat, Mohamed El-Erian comes from a Muslim background. But his family always put a high priority on learning and understanding a multitude of perspectives. El-Erian recounted a lesson his father taught him, who said:

..there are many ways to think about the same issue; and no one should assume that they always have the right approach.1

Where religion meets politics, El-Erian has generally advised against the influence of religion. However, while a part of the Harvard Management Company, he referred to a book on Islamic finance by Mahmoud A. El-Gamal which cites the Muslim view that interest, or riba, should be illegal–even though his company PIMCO makes billions of dollars a year on interest payments.2

But when it comes to religion in government, El-Erian is against it. He has been a staunch supporter of the Arab Spring revolutions in Northern Africa, particularly his home country of Egypt, and the Middle East as well as the Occupy Wall Street movement in America. He touts the Arab Spring as a “secular” movement, saying:

This is not a movement that can be derailed by diversionary tactics seeking either to blame foreign involvement or to threaten the alternative of a repressive Islamic theocracy.3

Repressive Islamic theocracy? Isn’t it strange how the more educated and affluent one is, the more afraid of religion in government they are?

Unfortunately, Egypt’s recent elections basically voted in a religious theocracy.

Still, it’s clear that El-Erian believes strongly in democracy, and grass-roots democracy at that. Of the Occupy Wall Street movement, he said:

A peaceful drive for greater social justice [such as Occupy Wall Street] can unify people from diverse cultural backgrounds, political affiliations, religions, and social classes.4

He’s a complex character. He’s a billionaire banker supporting a movement whose main target is billionaire bankers. He made his fortune on interest payments while glorifying the precepts of Islamic finance.

But he just calls it like it is. Of American politician’s, he said:

At home, our elected representatives seem incapable as a group to respond properly to severe economic and social challenges. Continuous (and increasingly nasty) political bickering undermines the required trio of common purpose, joint vision, and acceptance of shared short-term sacrifices for generalized long-term benefits.5

Perhaps he is the nuanced result of an increasingly diverse and complicated world where those who are successful must straddle many fences.

  1. 2006 ABANA Achievement Award honors. Arabbankers. []
  2. El-Erian’s Remarks on Winning the Depressionary War and Losing the Post-Crisis Peace. Zerohedge. []
  3. Mohamed El-Erian. Reutersblog. []
  4. Listen to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Huffingtonpost. []
  5. Listen to the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Huffingtonpost. []