Education Minister Moheb al-Rafie said that the ministry is working on “cleansing school curriculum from lessons that incite violence,” the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm reported on Monday.
Rafie’s remarks came during a meeting headed by Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb with the ministerial committee set to develop school curricula. The meeting was convened to present the Education Ministry’s plan to remove lessons that “incite violence” from the curriculum.
Amany Dourgam, the Education Ministry spokesperson, stated in late March that the ministry would focus on reviewing the content of historical novels taught as part of religion and Arabic literature courses, especially those where students are taught that Islam was spread through the power of the sword.
She gave the example of a novel about Islamic crusader Okba Ibn Nafea, which she said includes sections inciting violence that need to be removed. “It is not logical to tell third graders a story where a group of birds conspire to kill an eagle and burn his nest. This is not right at all,” continued Dourgham referring to a different text.
A former Education Ministry employee told Mada Masr that the ministry’s decision to remove material that ‘incites violence’ was taken during former Education Minister Mahmoud Abul Nasr’s time in office.
“It is a ministerial decision and is not supported by research by any committee. The [original] decision to remove some parts of the curriculum that incite violence was never implemented and the only new action is implementing it,” the source explained.
The ministry’s efforts come on the heels of a state-engineered campaign to combat religious extremism as part of its battle with the ousted Muslim Brotherhood organization. In a January speech in al-Azhar, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for a “religious revolution” inside Islamic discourse calling for the abandonment of many old traditional doctrines.
In his speech, Sisi urged Azhar scholars to reform many wrongfully perceived religious traditions that “tarnish the image of Islam.”
“Will 1.5 billion Muslims kill seven billion so they can survive? It’s impossible, we need a religious revolution,” he said.
While many praised Sisi’s uncompromising stance on Islamism, reading it as a necessary move in the war on terror, other commentators viewed the former field marshal’s message as an effort to monopolize religious discourse and push groups like the Muslim Brotherhood out of the public sphere.
In a recent and more aggressive move, a group of Education Ministry officials in Giza burned down several books on Islamic thought on Wednesday. According to social media and local media reports the officials burned the books after confiscating them from school libraries. In photos widely distributed on social media, ministry officials are seen standing in a school front yard around a group of book being burned while holding Egyptian flags.
The books included “The role of women in Islamic civilization,” “The importance of prayers in Islam,” “Islamic civilizations: Lessons learned” and “Educational concepts for the young,” among others. Press reports said that ministry officials believe the books are authored by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and aim at spreading their thought. Ministry officials were not available for comment.
Kamal Mougheith, a researcher at the National Center for Educational Research, said the ministry’s decision to reform the curriculum is promising, but not enough. “Violence is not the only problem, the issue of reforming educational curriculum extends way beyond violence,” he said.
He explained that Egypt’s current school curriculum is mostly outdated and does not encourage principles like respecting diversity and acknowledging the rights of religious minorities and women.
“How can we say that we will combat violence while Copts are forced to memorize Quran while studying Arabic? Why do we only eradicate violence when girls are forced to abandon sports in school due to allegations that sports are only for boys?” he asked.
For Mougheith, the ministry should work first on putting general guidelines on how to reform educational curriculum altogether and then work on the issue of violence.
“If unveiled girls have their hair cut off [in school,] the question of violence becomes bigger than just reforming curriculum” Mougheith said.
Despite viewing the ministry’s decision as a good move, Amr al-Nemr, the head of Teachers’ Syndicate, told Mada Masr that the environment inside Egyptian schools breeds violence in of itself.
“We see news of violence against students by teachers on a daily basis. Many teachers are not psychologically prepared to deal with students at the first place,” he explained.
The Egyptian Centre for Children Rights (ECCR) found that in the last year 19 children have died due to negligence or violence, 26 students were sexually harassed by teachers or other school staff, 36 students were injured by violent teachers, and 26 other children were injured due to unsafe transportation.