Leaking exam papers or leaking with the intent of cheating may now mean prison terms or fines for Egypt’s school and university students according to new legislation.
The law issued in the Official Gazette on Thursday imposes prison sentences of up to one year and fines ranging from LE20,000 to LE50,000 for those who leak exams either through printing, broadcasting or any other means of publication. The legislation imposes the same penalties for anyone who takes part in the leaking of any exams with the intent of cheating.
Dozens of high school students are arrested each year for their involvement in leaking thanaweya amma exams.
A Facebook page named Chaw Ming Helps Thanaweya Amma Students Cheat rose to fame as it leaked the exams, which determine college placements and are unified across the country, the night before each scheduled exam. In some cases, the exams and answers are leaked just a few minutes before the test begins.
The page had a few hundred thousand likes. There are several similar pages with the same name on Facebook — it is unclear if all or any of these are run by the same administrators.
When Mada Masr asked students their thoughts on the legislation, they responded with a wave of sarcasm and criticism. One student remarked that “Egyptian universities will turn into one huge prison” referring to how cheating in exams has become a normalized and endemic practice in Egypt’s schools and universities.
Another student tweeted, “I agree with it if it is applied retroactively and we examine Sisi and see if he deserves a primary school degree or not.”
Bassant Maximus, a university student, explained to Mada Masr that although she opposes cheating in exams and “hates cheating,” she does not support the legislation. Most of those who leak exams in universities are students themselves and she thinks it is unfair that they would face prison sentences.
“Good monitoring could prevent cheating. If a professor is facilitating cheating, he can be administratively be punished. A student can fail the course, but prison sentences are over the top and unjustifiable,” Maximus said.
Another student Louai Elemam told Mada Masr that the legislation would be difficult to implement. “I cannot take this piece of news seriously, something like that [jailing those who leak exams] would never happen,” he said. “Can you imagine a police officer arresting a student from the exam hall because he helped other students cheat? What if I bribed the professor and I cheated, how would the police officer know? It is a stupid decision.”
Mayar al-Shamy, a new university freshman, however, strongly supports the new law after what happened during her thanaweya amma. “Exams were leaked minutes before the exams and mobile phones were allowed in the exam rooms. People who did not study a word for the entire year got very high grades,” she said.
“It is so widespread that a school headmaster said, ‘let them cheat’ in a quiet voice. It is unfair,” she added. “I would go for the death sentence for those cheaters.”
Lawyer at the Egyptian Center for Social and Economic Rights Adel Suleiman explained to Mada Masr that it is difficult to impose prison sentences on crimes that can be referred to disciplinary committees. He believes that the current legislation is part of a tendency by the state to resort to criminal penalties.
A number of contentious laws have been passed in the absence of parliament in the past two years many of which impose harsh prison sentences for a number of acts including unauthorized protests or the receipt of foreign funds.
“The main purpose of any law is to be general and to respond to general needs,” Suleiman explains. “It should be logical and easy to implement, which is impossible in this case. People will not obey such laws.”
Suleiman even suggests that the law may have the opposite to its intended effect, and in case simply sidesteps the question of the causes of endemic cheating.
“The state tends to listen to loud voices that call for violence and hatred more than seeing the necessity of reform,” he said. “It is better to reform education and see why students cheat rather than jailing cheaters.”