In Egypt, a new wind is blowing in the direction of Israel. After more than 40 years of official peace, it is high time for it. Egypt has a military dictatorship under President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi and understands that it all starts with education. Under al-Sisi, textbooks on Jews and Israel are being rewritten positively, but when you see Tarik Saleh’s new feature film The Cairo Conspiracy, it comes at a price. The system has to be corrupt and oppressive in order to keep the fanatical Muslim Brotherhood out of the game. In the film, which actually bears the original title The Boy from Heaven, the Egyptian security service manipulates the power struggle at the renowned al-Azhar University in Cairo. The next head of Sunni Islam must not be a sheikh of the Muslim Brotherhood. Now one has to ask oneself if this is the only way to make changes in the Arab world. By the way, I highly recommend the film.
A new study by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE) indicates an improvement in attitudes towards Jews in Egyptian schoolbooks. And the mood is also becoming more positive when it comes to peace agreements with Israel. The study by the Research and Policy Institute, which specializes in analyzing textbooks on wars in the world and in particular in the Middle East, traced a gradual reform carried out by the Egyptian Ministry of Education from 2018 to 2023. This study examined more than 270 Egyptian textbooks that have been published since the beginning of the reform until today.
The study shows that there is a clear and positive shift in relation to Yiddish and Judaism in textbooks that have been rewritten in the elementary school curriculum. This is reflected in the introduction of plenty of content that promotes peace, tolerance and acceptance of others. At the same time, antisemitic and violent motifs toward Jews and Israel that existed in earlier books were removed, such as negative stereotypes of Jews including deceit, greed and betrayal.
A good example of this is the new Islamic educational book for fifth graders. In the previous book there was a connection between the Yom Kippur War and the wars of the Prophet Mohammed against the Jews. Describing the Jews as inherently treacherous, the book told the students that the Jews are always like this,” and gave them the task of searching for verses in the Koran that deal with the treachery of the Jews.
Now, new content has been introduced, for example, the idea that Islam recognizes the Torah, and stories from the Koran that emphasize coexistence with Jews on the basis of peace, justice and cooperation. It is also expressly pointed out that Mohammed was looking for peaceful coexistence and compassionate treatment of Jews. Another positive note is that Egypt’s Ministry of Education has released new textbooks for students from the Coptic Christian minority detailing the Jews’ connection to the historic land of Israel and the existence of King Solomon’s First Temple in Jerusalem.
In the same breath, it must be emphasized that in the higher grades 6 to 12, antisemitic motifs are still part of the curriculum, such as blaming the Jews for antisemitism in Europe. One history book accuses the Zionists of falsely claiming that “six million Jews were killed or burned by the Nazis” as an excuse to justify the immigration of Jews to Palestine.
Referring to the new study, Arik Agassi, Vice President of IMPACT-SE, admitted that the overall reform of the Egyptian curriculum is bold and groundbreaking. “The removal of antisemitic motifs and other hate speech from textbooks, as well as the positive changes in attitudes towards Israel in a country with over 20 million students, will have a significant contribution to Egyptian society and introduce a more tolerant governance in the future,” Agassi underlined. “Egyptian President Fatah al-Sisi is proving he understands how textbooks are crucial barriers to bigotry from an early age. Al-Sisi wants to stabilize the next generation.”
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