March 9, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1495

Egyptian Press Criticizes the Muslim Brotherhood's Infiltration of Egypt's Education System

March 9, 2007
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 1495

Recent investigative articles in the Egyptian press have exposed the infiltration of Muslim Brotherhood elements into the country's education system, and have shown how they are directly influencing school curricula. Coptic Christian columnist Sameh Fawzi has written several articles criticizing these curricula, saying that they distort the pupils' perception of history, disregard the role of Christian (i.e. Coptic) Egyptians, and encourage religious intolerance.

The following are excerpts from Fawzi's articles and from one of the investigative pieces.

Schoolbooks Present the Mosque as a Military Training Ground

In an article in the Egyptian Culture Ministry weekly Al-Kahira, Fawzi wrote: "[Egyptian] schoolbooks teach the pupil to regard the [Islamic] faith as his homeland, placing no value on Egypt [itself] apart from its religious significance as part of dar al-Islam [i.e. the region under Islamic rule]. For example, the fifth-grade textbook Islamic Religious Education includes a poem titled 'Biladi' ['My Homeland'], which teaches the pupils to associate their homeland with [the Islamic] religion, as though [Egypt] were not characterized by cultural and religious diversity. [One line in this poem reads]: 'Islam is the most perfect religion'…

"In another part [of the book], the author lists the important aspects of the mosque. An examination of the [list] reveals that, in this book, the mosque has been transformed from a place of worship… into a venue for recruitment and training for war. According to a third-grade textbook, the mosque is 'a school where Muslims learn about their religion and their world… and the place where Allah's soldiers meet before every important operation…'

"[The fifth-grade textbook Islamic Religious Education] strips the Israeli-Arab conflict of its strategic, political, economic, and cultural aspects, turning it into a religious conflict between Muslims and Jews… It turns the victory of October 1973 into a Muslim [rather than an Egyptian] victory over the Jews… What about the role of [Egypt's] Christian [citizens] in this homeland? Why must everything be given a religious character - [our] reality, [our] institutions, and even [our] history?… Isn't the [1973] victory a national victory of which every Egyptian is proud?...

"This schoolbook [also] says: 'As for the Bar-Lev fortifications line, Allah gave us victory over the Jews, just as he gave the Prophet victory over the Jews in Al-Madina when he caused their fortifications to collapse on their heads.' [According to this textbook], then, the [1973] war was a religious war, and this is what the child is expected to learn.

"This schoolbook states that its objective is to familiarize [the pupils] with the honor of martyrdom for the sake of Allah, to warn [them] against the Jews and their treacherousness, and to draw an analogy between the Jews' current character and their character in the past.

"In another [section], headed 'Allah Will Grant Victory to the Believers,' the book continues to present the Arab-Israeli conflict in a religious light. Referring to the evacuation of Yamit, [1] it says: 'This is what the Jews do with every place they evacuate, so that its inhabitants will not be able to enjoy it. The [Jewish tribe] of Banu Nadhir did exactly the same when they left their homes in Al-Medina'…

"Why does the book disregard the involvement of Christian Arabs in the conflict with Israel? Is it trying to tell the Christians that [Egypt] is no longer their homeland, that this history is no longer their history, and that this future is not their future? If this is indeed the case, the natural result will be massive emigration of Christian Arabs to the West, so that in time, the Arab region will be stripped of its religious diversity. Religious tolerance will [then] disappear, and the various Muslim sects will be pushed into fighting one another. [For] is it not the case that rejecting the other is a prelude to internal rejection and division?" [2]

"The Material [Studied in Schools] Displays Striking Similarity to the Ideology of Hamas and Hizbullah"

On the reformist website, Fawzi posted an open letter to Egypt's education minister in which he called upon him to complete the Education Ministry campaign to purge the school curricula of extremist content:

"The previous education minister, Dr. Hussein Kamel Bahaa Al-Din, launched an intensive campaign to modify the curricula, which had become infused with extremism, rejection of the other, and monolithic thinking. As part of this campaign, about 1,600 teachers were transferred to administrative positions, after they were found to have been involved in spreading a culture of extremism. This campaign was thought to be over, but [apparently] it [needs to] continue…

"A close examination of the materials given to young children reveals a striking similarity to the ideology of the organizations of political Islam. [This is the case] not only in Egypt, but all over the Arab region. Are these not [the attitudes of] Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine?… Why are Egyptian pupils presented with materials that distort their perception of history? [These materials] bring the pupils close to the ideologies of the organizations of political Islam, more than they bring them close to the ideology of the Egyptian state, which has invested considerable efforts and diplomatic resources in implementing the peace process in the Middle East. The formal education [system] has been hijacked by the organizations of closed-mindedness and extremism." [3]

Investigative Article: Political Islam Has Taken Over the Education System

Several investigative articles on the Muslim Brotherhood's infiltration of the education system have appeared recently in the Egyptian press. Following are excerpts from an April 2006 article in the Roz Al-Yousef weekly, titled "How the [Muslim] Brotherhood and the Terrorists Infiltrated the Egyptian Education [System]," by Dr. Imad Siam: [4]

"The education system is the institution that shapes the nations' intellect, conscience, values and conduct. [However], despite… its importance and its [great] impact on the future of the nation, facts show that it is in a disastrous state. There is only one movement - [political Islam] - that gives it the attention it deserves, as a system [that shapes the youth's] social growth.

"Political Islam and its various organizations have always, throughout history, set education as [their] goal, and regarded it as one of the aspects of their political activity… The success that political Islam has had in creating and establishing a cultural climate that supports its Salafi [i.e. fundamentalist] ideology - [an ideology] that is largely hostile to rationality, liberty… tolerance and acceptance of the other on the basis of citizenship and equality - is difficult to differentiate from the movement's success in infiltrating and taking control of the education system."

The Muslim Brotherhood, explains Dr. Siam, infiltrates the education system: "The first method is planned and organized infiltration by various political Islam organizations, that aim to take control of the [state's] political authorities through direct, meaning violent, political activity, or through propaganda carried out by thousands of political Islam activists in [various] political organizations, unions, and NGOs.

"The second method is indirect infiltration… [carried out] by encouraging wide sectors of society to endorse political Islam's ideology and activity without necessarily joining its political organizations. This latter type of infiltration is the most dangerous and difficult to control…

"[These two types of infiltration] have ultimately turned the education system into the chief production line of sectarian ideas, extremism and irrationality."

Political Islam Movements Hamper Education Reform

According to Dr. Siam, there are several indications that the first type of infiltration, namely planned and organized infiltration, is indeed taking place in the education system. The first indication is that "prominent leaders of political Islam, who played political, ideological and organizational roles in various [Islamist] organizations and movements, [also] held positions in the education system. Moreover, some of them even held important administrative and educational posts for many years, which enabled them, and still enables them, to use the education system as a platform to build up their political and ideological influence…"

Dr. Siam lists some 15 senior Muslim Brotherhood members who have held positions in the Egyptian education system. They include the movement's founder and first leader Hassan Al-Bana, who worked as an Arabic teacher for many years; Sayyid Qutb, who was also an Arabic teacher and, in 1948, an assistant Education Ministry supervisor; Muhammad Hassan 'Ashmawi, education minister in Isma'il Sidqi's government, who allocated ministry funds to Muslim Brotherhood schools; current Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Mahdi 'Akef, who taught education in high school; and Mahmoud Sayyid Salim and Samir Abu Al-Ma'ati from the Al-Jama'a Al-Islamiyya organization, who were teachers; they were responsible for many terrorist operations.

Dr. Siam stressed that this was only a small sample of prominent political Islam activists who are, or were, part of the education system. He said that tens of thousands other such activists are currently teachers, principals and administrators in schools of all levels throughout the country, and have held their posts for many years. Thus, he said, they "have had the opportunity to spread their ideas and to produce millions of children and youths inculcated with closed-mindedness, irrationality, religious arrogance towards others, and discriminatory [attitudes]."

According to Dr. Siam, the second indication of the Muslim Brotherhood's infiltration of the education system is its takeover of private schools. "With the general deterioration of the education system," he wrote, "many middle class families have turned to private education. The political Islam movements, for their part, did not miss this opportunity to shape the culture of the wealthy middle class, whose sons will one day hold midlevel positions in the state's university faculties, in various professional [fields], in the security apparatuses, and in the military. Hence, since the 1970s, [Islamist circles] have been interested in establishing private Islamic schools."

The third indication, Dr. Siam wrote, is "[Islamist activists'] opposition to any attempt to develop or reform curricula by introducing values of rationalism, tolerance, citizenship, or human rights, by reducing the amount of religion [being taught], or by presenting the material in a more enlightened way…"

Dr. Siam concluded: "These are the primary indications reflecting the extent to which political Islam has infiltrated the education system. It has come to a point where most of the Islamist activists arrested for belonging to banned organizations or for participating in acts of violence or terrorism are - teachers."

[1] The Israeli town of Yamit, in the Sinai, was evacuated in 1982 as part of Israel's withdrawal. After the evacuation, the Israeli authorities had the buildings destroyed.

[2] Al-Kahira (Egypt) January 9, 2007.

[3], December 17, 2006.

[4] Roz Al-Yousef (Egypt) April 22, 2006. Two other pieces on this topic published in recent months are an article titled "Children - the Modern [Product] of the Banned Organizations," published in Roz Al-Yousef on December 23, 2006, and an article titled "The Muslim Brotherhood's Kindergartens," published in the government weekly October on January 14, 2006.

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