Hesham Kandil, a water and irrigation minister who received his Ph.D. in biological and agricultural engineering with a minor in water resources from NC State in 1993, was named prime minister by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi on Tuesday.
Kandil was born in 1962. He received a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Cairo in 1984, then went on to earn a master’s in irrigation and drainage from Utah State University in 1988, according to BBC news. He earned his PhD from NC State in biological and agricultural engineering with a minor in water resources in 1993.
In Kandil’s dissertation, he extended a computer simulation model of water drainage developed at NC State. The work, titled “DRAINMOD-S: A Water Management Model for Irrigated, Arid Lands,” uses data from field plots in Egypt. The computer model developed at NC State simulates how water moves through poorly drained, high-water table soils on an hour-by-hour and day-by-day basis for long periods of as long as 50 years. Kandil’s paper helps predict salinity on arid lands—an issue in parts of the world like Egypt.
Wayne Skaggs, William Neal Reynolds professor of drainage and agricultural water management, was Kandil’s adviser at NC State. Skaggs remembers Kandil as a “very bright, hard-working student who did an outstanding job on his PhD….a personable, very technically able individual who works well with people in all levels.” Skaggs noted that although one news report referred to him as an “obscure technocrat,” he found Kandil to be out of “outstanding moral and ethical character…a pleasure to be around.”
“My experience with Hesham indicates that he is absolutely honest and will work as hard as he can to do his very best to benefit the people of Egypt. I am very proud of him. The job he now has is enormous,” Skaggs said in an email message.
As an American-educated technocrat, Kandil is likely to be comfortable working with international agencies, news reports noted. At age 50, he is one of the youngest prime ministers in the country’s modern history. His leadership skills will be tested as he begins to assemble a cabinet that would replace the current one, appointed by the military after a 2011 uprising ended the nearly 30-year reign of President Hosni Mubarak.
Kandil’s selection came a week after a deadline that Morsi had himself to name a cabinet. So far, no other members of a new government have been announced, and government ministries remain under the control of figures from the Mubarak era.
According to the New York Times, Kandil came to the public eye briefly in June when a subordinate in his ministry climbed out on a building ledge and threatened to commit suicide. Kandil reportedly quietly persuaded him to come back inside the building. Exactly what he said to the man was not revealed, giving Kandil a reputation for discretion as well, according to the Times.
The Washington Post reported that Kandil will the first prime minister in Egypt to wear a beard, which is seen as an outward display of Islamic piety. Morsi is Egypt’s first bearded president.