Report Sparks Profound Discussion on Need to Change Middle East Education

Al Jazeera, the most popular Arabic-language TV network, broadcast on May 13, 2016 a highly unusual debate around a recently published IMPACT-se report that covered changes to Egypt’s educational curriculum.

The Impact-se report, written by Ofir Winter of the Institute of National Security Studies (INSS), found that for the first time, Egypt is teaching children about the positive benefits of its peace treaty with Israel and characterizing Israel as a legitimate peace partner—all changes to the curriculum made following the rise of Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah el-Sissi.

The Qatar-funded broadcast network, with a worldwide viewership estimated at around 35 million, has historically supported Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood movement and is antagonistic to el-Sissi. The 30-minute program included an Egyptian studio guest, three Egyptian phone panelists and social media interaction via Twitter and Facebook.

The program, playing to its traditional audience, criticized the Egyptian regime for trying to erase Israel’s portrayal as the enemy of the Arab world, complaining that there are now less references within the curriculum to conflict and war and more about portraying the peace treaty with Israel as a strategic national security interest.

However, with screenshots of quotations from textbooks of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty, along with photos of the treaty signing (rather than the usual conflict images seen when discussing Israel) a profound debate emerged about the pressing need to transform curricula across the Middle East.

It was acknowledged that Israel is important to the Egyptian economy and an ally in fighting the war on terror and that Egypt has a legal commitment to normalization with Israel. One participant said, “It is a mistake to deal with the state of Israel as an enemy; if we were to think realistically and logically about an entity that exists in the region … and an important future ally.”

Another suggested, “May they learn from Israel [where] the state curriculum is in service of the citizen and for the citizen, not for the destruction of the citizen’s house”, (an allusion to suicide bombings and martyrdom).

The goal of education was discussed and fascinatingly, a panelist, even while complaining about the curriculum changes in Egypt, asked whether the changes are in fact what is necessary to prevent students from becoming violent in the future.

The Al Jazeera segment is here.

Our original report can be found here.

And an Op-Ed published in the Times of Israel about the report is here.