Egyptian Education Reforms Eliminating Antisemitism from Curriculum, According to New Report
by Dion J. Pierre
A nationwide reform of Egyptian curricula has made progress towards eliminating antisemitism from state issued textbooks, according to a new report by Israeli education watchdog Impact-se.
In 2018, the Egyptian Ministry of Education, which serves over 25 million children, launched “Education 2.0,” a twelve year plan included in the government’s 2030 Strategic Vision for promoting modernization and economic and social change. Education 2.0, according to a 2022 paper on the subject, aims to upgrade K-12 curriculum to meet international standards.
Impact-se, writing in “Generational Change: Egypt’s Quest to Reform its School Curriculum,” said that between 2018 and 2023, when textbooks for grades 1-5 were updated, Egyptian educational materials taught “common values shared by monotheistic religions within Egyptian society” and embraced “coexistence between Islam and Judaism.”
In one example cited by the report, a Grade 5 social studies textbook emphasizes that the state’s constitution guarantees the “realization of equality between women and men in all civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.” Additionally, no textbooks written since 2021 include antisemitic stereotypes.
Elementary school textbooks for Christian Education also discuss the Jewish people’s connection to Israel and the history of the Temple Mount.
“The Egyptian government under President [Abdel Fattah El-Sisi] has fulfilled its promise to reform its school curriculum,” Impact-se CEO Marcus Sheff said on Monday in a press release. “Egypt has the largest education system in the Middle East and North Africa, with 25 million children enrolled in schools, so this process of removing antisemitism and other hatred from school textbooks is a significant contribution to the emergence of a tolerant Egyptian society and region.”
Jews, however, in a Grade 2 textbook, are blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and while “friendly” ties to Israel are promoted, the country is described in upper-grade materials, on which work has not yet begun, as “illegitimate” and a “Zionist entity.”
Also, Israel is called a “colonial entity” in certain textbook passages even as the 1979 peace agreement signed by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin is framed as a positive development between the two nations. Impact-se said such treatment of Israel is “contradictory, explaining that Israel is not listed on any maps and ‘liberating’ Palestine “is presented as an Islamic duty,” reflecting a “cold peace” between Israel and Egypt that exists alongside record increases in bilateral trade and hopes for it to increase to as much as $700 million by 2025.
“The image of Israel presented by the textbooks is multifaceted: on the one hand, it is still described as a possible threat to Egypt and as an occupier of Palestinian-Arab territories and Muslim holy sites, of which Egypt still sees itself as committed to their liberation,” the report continued. “On the other hand, Israel is shown to have adopted the choice of peace with Egypt following the 1973 war.”
Other MENA countries have made progress towards eliminating antisemitism from their curricula.
Qatar, for example, has removed antisemitic content describing Jews as treacherous, immoral, and responsible for Germany’s loss in World War I, and in January, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced that it will include Holocaust education in its school curriculum, nearly two years after normalizing relations with Israel through the Abraham Accords. Additionally, textbooks in the Kingdom of Morocco now promote appreciation of Jews and educate students about their contributions to the country, according to an analysis by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and in 2020, the Kingdom became the first Arab country to include Jewish history in its curriculum.
Education in territories administered by the Palestinian Authority and funded by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) remains the most antisemitic in the MENA region, creating an atmosphere of hate and incitement that European Parliament members called “simply intolerable” in March 2022.
Examples of the virulent antisemitism that continuously shows up in educational materials provided to children living in territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority include study cards for eleventh graders accusing Jews of being “in control of global events through financial power,” an assignment instructing seventh graders to describe Israeli soldiers as “Satan’s aides,” and a textbook chapter imploring Muslims to “liberate” the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Teachers and staff working at Palestinian schools also promote antisemitism and hate on social media and in the classroom, a report issued by Impact-se in March said, citing over 200 examples of the problem.
UNRWA, established by the United Nations in 1949, according to its website, has a “zero tolerance” policy on “hate speech and incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence” and has repeatedly denied claims to the contrary. It receives over a billion dollars from donor states across the world, with the United States and the European Union (EU) alone contributing $511.5 million in 2021, a sum that, lawmakers across the Atlantic have said, is essentially awarded without any guarantee that UNRWA will expunge antisemitism in its curricula and bring its schools in line with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s standards.
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.