Anyone who has studied the Muslim Brotherhood’s history, or delved into its activities, knows how interested it is in education. This concern has nothing to do, though, with the vocation of its founder, Professor Hassan al-Banna, an Arabic language teacher.
As a result of this interest, schools and universities became some of the most important sources for new recruits, if not the most important of all. The Brotherhood’s student section was, therefore, of special significance to the Brotherhood and was used to recruit most of its members, in parallel with the work done by the Muslim Sisters Group.
Ever since it ascended to power, the Brotherhood has put education at the forefront of its priorities, within the framework of its plan to take control of the state’s institutions, and its continued quest to spread its influence throughout society.
Despite the difficulty inherent in trying to reconcile dominating the state and infiltrating society, especially when this domination is paired with policies that exacerbate the suffering of growing segments of that society, the Brotherhood nevertheless continues to strive to use its authority to minimize its declining popularity.
It would seem that one of the methods to which the Brotherhood will resort in this regard will be its exploitation of the National Council for Education and Scientific Research — which Brotherhood members of the Constituent Assembly insisted on being mentioned in the constitution — as a tool to dominate the education sector in an authoritarian manner reminiscent of the Stalinist Soviet era.
Toward that end, Brotherhood members of the Shura Council, in cooperation with their counterparts at the Ministries of Education and Higher Education, have presented a comprehensive draft proposal to the Shura Council aimed at giving the Brotherhood dominion over the educational system.
Indeed, the Council for Education’s role is not limited to establishing a general strategy for the development of education, as is done in some democratic countries, but also includes the authority to meddle with everything related to education, including interfering in its general administration.
The law establishing this council included giving it executive authority relating to policy development, above and beyond its task of setting general strategies, and the authority to monitor their implementation. Article 3 of the law provides that the council will be responsible for developing educational policies for all fields and levels, monitoring their implementation, evaluating educational institutions, overseeing their curricula and ensuring the implementation of policies and directives, as well as expressing an opinion when draft laws and regulations relating to education, scientific research and training are proposed.
This all means that the Council for Education will exercise the functions of the relevant authorities in the field — namely the Ministries of Education and Higher Education — but without any accountability to parliament or the people. On the contrary, this terrifying draft law allows the council to hold others accountable within the expanding purview of its authority to monitor implementation.
As a result, this “supercouncil" will combine the executive branch’s ability to set policies with the legislative branch’s expertise in monitoring the implementation of these policies and the expression of opinions relating to draft laws and regulations.
If the proposed law is passed as it currently stands, the Muslim Brotherhood will be guaranteed dominance over the education sector, even if it does not take part in the government to be formed following the legislative elections. This is a very possible eventuality, as the continued decline in the Brotherhood’s popularity will only assure it and its allies 25-30% of parliamentary seats, at most.
As a result, the Council for Education will be transformed into the Brotherhood’s tool for maintaining control over the education sector. Its formation, as provided for by the constitution and the draft law associated with it, which began circulating on March 21, will allow the Brotherhood to transform the council into a subservient entity.
In addition to the fact that the current Brotherhood-dominated Shura Council is completely in charge of the formation of the Council for Education, the proposed law does not refer to any objective criteria by which council members would be chosen. On the contrary, the vetting process is based on vague generalizations that would allow the appointment of anyone as member, as it states that the Council for Education will comprise “a president and 25 experts and scholars who have made outstanding contributions to any of the different fields of education, scientific research or any other fields of relevance.”
There are no agreed-upon definitions of "expert" or "scholar" in Egypt, and there is no one tasked with deciding what types of contributions are deemed "outstanding."
Maybe the most worrisome aspect of this very dangerous proposal is the fact that attempts to pass it occurred during a time of great trials and tribulations, decisions and legislation — which might distract attention away from it.
To the caretakers of Egyptian education, I say, beware. From the ruling party, I demand: Keep your hands off education.