Egypt: Brothers get routed in student elections

Results for student elections taking place in Egyptian universities this week suggest the Muslim Brotherhood, normally one of the best-organized and most successful political movements in student politics, has lost much ground. This tends to confirm and accelerate trends first seen last year of new political movements on campus becoming more popular, as well as some good coalition-building between radicals, leftists, liberals and others to face challenges by Brothers and the Salafis. The trend has also been seen in professional syndicates over the last year, and may also grow this year. This should be striking, as one would expect the Brotherhood to reap the benefits of being the party in power. But the opposite is happening, and the failure of the Brotherhood to win a majority in a single election yesterday (although of course there will be more) is telling of the discontent with them.

Three things stand out to me other than the Brothers' relatively poor performance:

  1. Coalitions of non-Islamist political trends seem to work quite well, suggesting it is worth it for them to contest elections;
  2. I think the formation of Salafi factions on campus is a new thing (someone tell me if I'm wrong — Update: Assiut of course had strong Gamaa Islamiya presence in university), and they are doing well in places (like Minya in Upper Egypt), possibly at the expense of the MB.
  3. In several places the Destour Party (of Mohamed ElBaradei) is running in coalitions or alone and doing quite well — which shows that contrary to the prevalent armchair punditry that they are getting out there and mobilizing to some extent.

How does this translate in a national election? It's not clear. Obviously university students are more educated and live in an urban environment (although many, of course, will come from a rural background — or what passes as rural in one of the mostly densely populated countries in the world.) They are not that representative of the national whole, and vote for different reasons. The Brotherhood's electoral machine alone, depending on who else is running, makes its goal of winning an outright majority in the upcoming parliamentary within reach — although I think it's a longshot.

Below are results of elections in various university faculties, culled by Nour The Intern from the @afteegypt Twitter account which has been doing some sterling coverage of student politics.

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Egypt's sinking schools

Solid, interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor about Egypt's sinking school system. I knew things were bad, but we are talking Titanic:

According to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2012-13, Egypt ranked 139th out of 144 countries in the quality of its educational system and 129th in staff training.

Of the 15 countries considered to be in the same development stage as Egypt, only Libya ranked lower for the educational system's quality. Mongolia and Honduras were a few spots ahead at Nos. 136 and 135, respectively.

The Ministry of Education has a budget of £50 billion (Egyptian; US$7.8 billion) to educate some 18 million students, according to Nesr Eldin Shahad, an education professor at Helwan University on the outskirts of Cairo and an adviser to the education committee of the ruling Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Some 85 percent of that goes to salaries – the education sector is the largest government employer in Egypt – leaving only a fraction of the funds available for other student needs.

According to Mr. Abou Serie, the budget needs to at least double to deal with all the problems facing the system.

Even just focusing on what Mr. Shahad views as the most critical problem – bringing class sizes down from as large as 100 students to under 40 – will require somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 new schools, as well as more teachers to staff them, at a cost of more than £10 billion ($1.6 billion) by Shahad's estimate.

The article also discusses the greater openness of teachers and students after the revolution, but I wish they had also touched on the ongoing problem of rampant corporal punishment, and on instances of teachers abusing their powers. 

Update: Here is the full WEF report.

How textbooks protect the al-Sauds

How nasty textbooks protect the al-Sauds

From piece on textbooks around the world in The Economist:

Other people’s textbooks have long been a source of worry. After the first world war, the League of Nations sought to make them less nationalistic. Anxieties increased, though, after the attacks on America on September 11th 2001, when some in both America and Saudi Arabia, including officials, supposed that Saudi Arabia’s curriculum of intolerance was responsible, at least in part, for the emergence of al-Qaeda’s brutal brand of jihad. Buffeted by the criticism, Saudi rulers promised reform. From King Abdullah down, Saudis have insisted repeatedly that the intolerant bits of their teaching materials have been removed. But in a stubbornly autocratic country that adheres to a puritanical Wahhabism, there is a lot of intolerance to go round.

The Institute for Gulf Affairs (IGA), a think-tank and human-rights lobby in Washington, DC, reports that much of the material that provoked fury in the West after September 2001 is still used in Saudi classrooms today. Ali al-Ahmed, director of the IGA and author of a forthcoming work on Saudi textbooks, cites such examples as “The Jews and Christians are enemies of the believers”, and “The Jews occupied Palestine with the help of the crusaders’ malevolence towards Islam… But the Muslims will not remain silent”. The Saudi education minister says the books are being revised—but that it will take another three years. Mr Ahmed says change is not happening sooner “because the state would be putting its survival at risk. The purpose of education is to ensure social obedience to the ruler.”

What I've been up to lately (besides obsessing over presidential elections)

So here are a few recent stories I've forgotten to link to:

An article on curricular and education reform in Egypt and Tunisia (which with the exception of some edits to the civic education books -- the most egregious offenders in terms of flattering references to the countries' dictators -- hasn't really started yet) in Foreign Policy. In Egypt, at least, the challenges to reforming public education are so gargantuan that removing sycophantic references to the Mubarak regime is the least of anyone's worries. 

And a piece in The National on the verdict against Egyptian comic Adel Imam last week for "insulting Islam" in his comedies featuring religious fundamentalists. Of course the verdict (whatever you think of Imam's movies and politics) is terrible, but I try to put it in context. The final verdict is expected early July. 

Imam's portrayals of religious fundamentalists are broad and unflattering - featuring false beards, furrowed brows and stentorian deliveries. The overwhelming suggestion is that Salafists (the ultra-conservative Muslims who have recently won 25 per cent of seats in parliament) are all extremists, hypocrites and manipulators. Then again, while his portrayals may lack nuance and be unsympathetic, it's worth remembering that they were filmed at a time when armed Islamists groups were engaging in terrorism in Upper Egypt and that it's hard to find anything more ridiculous or extreme in them than what some Islamists have actually said and done.

Egyptian law allows anyone to bring charges against "whoever exploits religion in words or writing or any other methods to promote extremist ideologies, with a view of stirring up sedition, disparaging or contempt of any divine religion or its adherents, or prejudicing national unity and social peace." Islamists have taken this already spectacularly broad clause to mean that they have legal protection from ridicule, whereas it should be obvious that making fun of the way certain individuals practice their religion is not the same thing as insulting religion itself.

Imam's position is complicated by the fact that his relationship with the former regime and the Mubarak family was cosy and he often spoke out in defence of government policies. His movies never had any trouble with the censors, and many of those that skewered religious fundamentalism aligned themselves so neatly with government positions as to skirt the edge of propaganda and lead some of his colleagues to accuse him of being a government "spokesman".

Arab Knowledge Report 2009

AKR09_Full_English.jpg The Arab Knowledge Report 2009 is out. From the press release:
Dubai – Arab societies need nurturing institutions and supportive policies to experience a significant boost in knowledge production and creation, according to The Arab Knowledge Report 2009. The report, launched today, maintains that political, institutional, cultural and intellectual reforms, as well as reform of the media and information technologies are vital if Arab societies are to bridge the knowledge gap. The Arab Knowledge Report 2009: Towards productive intercommunication for knowledge, emphasises two central and mutually dependent premises. The first is the connection between knowledge, development and freedom. The second is the close relationship between the demands of development and the building of the knowledge society. “With solid commitment and long-term vision, the route to the knowledge society will not be impossible,” asserted Adel El Shared, Vice Chairman and Managing Director of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation. “This is what we have sought to achieve over the past two years, emphasizing our commitment to the purpose and objectives for which the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation was established – strengthening the knowledge economy in the Arab world, which can only be achieved through close cooperation with serious partners who share our vision and objectives. Today we are happy to launch the fruit of such a collaborative effort with UNDP: the Arab Knowledge Report 2009: Towards productive intercommunication for knowledge,” he elaborated. The Report addresses the factors that impede the establishment of a knowledge society in the Arab world and assesses the state of education, information and communication technologies, research and innovation in the region. It concludes with a roadmap for action so that the Arab world can integrate itself in a rapidly globalising knowledge society.
via Brian Whitaker. Here's the link to the full 300+ page report in PDF. Glancing quickly through the report, and as the PR blurb above shows, much of the report is about creating a "knowledge society" and developing ICT. It contains a lot of turgid language about moving towards that. I would have liked to see (but may very well have missed in the report) a section looking at syllabus content, teaching techniques, and why so many countries that have expressed a need for primary and secondary educational reform have thus far done so little (and also the politics of teachers and reforming teachers' training, a big issue in Morocco and Egypt and I'm sure elsewhere.)
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Links for 07.21.09

Israel weighs confiscation of more Palestinian land - Haaretz - Israel News | In other words, trend set in past 40 years set to continue, despite what Bibi says, unless more forceful action is taken. BM News: American troops expected in Egypt this September « Bikya Masr | 425 National Guard troops expected to be stationed near Rafah. Apollo astronauts advocate trip to Mars - Bring the Tang | I love the space program, even thought it might be pretty pointless in the end. But can't we seize all the assets of Goldman Sachs and use them to build a rocket for Mars? Come on... Saudi Authorities Arrest Over 65,000 Illegal Immigrants in Three Months |
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- The Saudi Security apparatus has revealed that it has arrested over 65,000 illegal immigrants and 1,084 smugglers attempting to illegally enter Saudi Arabia during the second
Internationally Recognised Core Labour Standards In Morocco | WTO report on labor issues in Morocco. Make no little plans - The National Newspaper | On NYU's plans to open a school in Abu Dhabi as part of "global network university" and questions about academic freedom in the Gulf.
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