Egypt Independent

The constitution’s bad education



I discussed last week some articles of the draft constitution being finalized by the Constituent Assembly, arguing that the essence of the document creates a fascist state. This is particularly true because the document adopts an exclusionary conception of citizenship, one that imposes a predetermined identity — particularly Sunni Muslim — on its citizens, deeming all other identities as “alien” to society.

I also argued that, by doing so, the constitution promotes a suppressive state, one that slays freedom and pluralism.

The following is an attempt to build on my previous article by exposing the constitutional articles on education to outline how the document paves the way for the slaying of creativity and pluralism.

One of the important state tools is education, and Article 21 of the draft constitution stipulates that “education is a right and duty guaranteed by the state for every citizen.” It adds that the purpose of education is to “bolster religious and national loyalty.”

The state should not bolster loyalty through education, because it would be imposing itself as the caretaker of individuals and their loyalties. Loyalty is a corollary of the existence of the state’s ability to adopt successful policies and gain popularity; therefore, loyalty should not be imposed on the citizens by the state.

Additionally, assuming that the state’s goal is nurturing the national spirit opens the door to sectarianism, extremism and xenophobia. This insistence on loyalty and the nurturing of a national spirit is at the heart of authoritarian states.

Article 23 states that “public, private and national education institutions should commit to the state’s education plan and its goals.” The state should supervise education to safeguard individuals’ rights by preventing the teaching of material that incites hatred and extremism.

But the idea of commitment to the state education plan stops all grassroots initiatives and closes the door to creativity, since it confines the educational process to the dictates of government bodies and policies.

For example, Article 24 of the draft constitution specifies that “religious education and Arabic language are two basic courses in education curricula of all types and in all stages.” It further adds that “the state should work to Arabize sciences and knowledge in preparation for Arabizing the process of education in all stages.”

The attempt to insert a mandatory form of ethical preaching — referred to above as “religious education” — at the university level emanates from a desire to have citizens besieged with certain official values and ethics that are promoted using public money to herd people into a predetermined type of identity, rather than celebrate diversity and encourage creativity.

Another problematic aspect of the article has to do with the desire for the Arabization of the sciences. This notion is regressive, and has proved its failure in Syria, for instance, since it should be preceded by notable Arab contributions to sciences.

Even in Germany, professors often write their research in English, because this allows for better engagement with the global scientific community.

Article 27 deals with the freedom to undertake scientific research. Yet there is a loophole in the articulation. The article reads: “The state and society ensure the independence of universities and scientific research centers, guarantee responsible freedom to undertake research, work to develop it, provide the adequate resources for it, and create a link between its educational and research programs and the needs of society and production.”

The insertion of the word “responsible” next to freedom is telling of a strong desire on the part of the committee to control research when deemed irresponsible. The scientific society should be left to determine the direction of research through scientific channels.

As for harmful research that uses humans, for instance, in experiments, or that harms the environment, the law prohibits them. The word “responsible freedom” here opens the door for state intervention by sanctioning scientific research in a selective manner.

The previous articles on education are indicative of the assembly’s efforts to create an authoritarian state, which disciplines and shape its citizens, in this case, through education. Education in this draft constitution is highly regulated by the state, which directs every aspect of the educational process, dismissing creative bottom-up initiatives.

The aim is to create model citizens who abide by a predetermined, exclusionary conception of citizenship. By doing so, the assembly is producing a document that massacres Egypt’s pluralism and creative minds.

Sherif Younis is a lecturer of Egyptian and European modern history at Helwan University, and a professional translator. This article was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.