Egypt last week witnessed teenagers pouring into the streets to protest the failure of the new national exam system instituted by the country’s military dictatorship.
Thousands of freshman high schoolers, most of them 15 years of age, peacefully marched, calling for the dismissal of Tarek Shawqi, the minister of education.
Since he took control of the nation’s education system in February of 2017, Shawqi has said he wants a new educational system that will bring about positive change for Egypt. Some had high hopes for Shawqi, with his background as a UNESCO team leader. He was heralded by the Sisi dictatorship and its supporters as an expert in both education in general and communications technology in particular.
It was expected then he would begin his tenure by tackling the system-wide problems with education in Egypt. Among the biggest problems are the insufficient number of schools, the huge classroom sizes, poorly trained teachers, lack of adequate science curriculum, and lack of education that is geared to improving the analytical abilities of students. Too much of the curriculum in Egyptian schools is geared to worn-out methods of rote learning rather than critical thinking.
When it comes to updated technology Egyptian schools also suffer major deficits including lack of reliable Internet networks and inadequate numbers of properly equipped computer labs.
Before tackling any of these major problems, however, Shawqi unexplainably decided to make introduction of a tablet for student exams to be his first major “reform.” He did this despite the lack of sufficient infrastructure to support the change and despite a total lack of preparation of either teachers or students for the change.
In the schools, at least, the Sisi dictatorship and its supporters seem to be as incompetent as they are harsh and cruel. The incredible level of their incompetence was reflected almost immediately after the tablet system was introduced.
First, the entire system crashed. And it was not just once, but several times.
Shawqi explained that the crashes happened because too many thousands were logging in at the same time.
After the log-in rates were staggered the system still continued to crash. Then he blamed it on the Ministry of Education, his own agency, for having not paid its Internet bills. He demanded that 11 billion Egyptian pounds be handed over to him or else the tablet system would not work.
Unable to complete their final exams and facing major disruption of their plans and livelihoods, students poured out into the streets in protest against not just the failure of the tablet system but in support of overhaul of all the problematic aspects of education in Egypt.
Instead of listening to their demands and solving the problems the Sisi government turned the police out against the teenagers, Cops threatened, beat, sexually abused and arrested students at gunpoint.
Once again, both police and the Ministry of Education, like most other Egyptian institutions, showed that they have been turned into tools of the military dictatorship. The Sisi regime has been taking dramatic steps to destroy any part of the state infrastructure that does not serve to maintain the power of the military dictatorship and the business classes it serves. The regime silences its opponents at every turn.
The military coup leader, General Abdelfattah El-Sisi, doesn’t believe in the importance of education, free-of-charge education, or education for all. He announced his intention to make education available only to certain categories of students, those “who will lead the country later on.” There he has in mind only the children of the upper classes.
While Egyptian state-owned media ignored the student protests, social media activists posted too many videos and pictures that show the protests, and pictures of the police use of force against them. Many pictures show strong-muscled government agents and police officers beating teenagers, and pointing guns at them.
The fascistic government cannot change the fact, however, that the protests reflect the teenagers’ awareness of their rights, and their ability to organize themselves into peaceful protests. It also shows that the new generation is breaking through the fear that the military coup regime has been counting on to prevent another revolution in Egypt.
The demonstrators were only nine years old when the coup occurred, and they have since observed all kinds of government crimes including massacres of peaceful protesters. They are unafraid despite having been witness to daily murders carried out by the regime.
It is no mystery then why Egypt’s military rulers fear the youth uprising and use force against it.
Young people are showing that they may just be the critical ingredient in construction of the coalition that will one day end the rule of the Sisi dictatorship.