CAIRO — The omission on Page 5 is glaring.
In a fifth-grade government textbook, a name has been purged from a list of Egyptian Nobel laureates: Mohamed ElBaradei, who was awarded the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize along with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which he led.
Three years ago, the former diplomat stepped down as the country’s vice president to protest a violent crackdown by security forces on Islamists. Supporters of President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi considered the resignation an act of betrayal.
It seems they have yet to forgive him.
“They are rewriting history again,” said Sami Nassar, an education professor at Cairo University and former dean of its graduate school of education. “Now, Sissi is the president, so the curriculum should reflect the political regime.”
Since Egypt’s 1952 revolution, when a group of army officers overthrew the monarchy, the public education system has been an extension of the government. Textbooks and curriculums offered pro-government narratives, conveniently omitting facts or tweaking the truth. But now, the politicization in the schools has reached new heights, marked by efforts to erase or play down opponents’ contributions to history.
The Jan. 25, 2011, revolution, which ended autocrat Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule, is described in a few superficial paragraphs in government textbooks. The activists who launched the populist rebellion, part of the Arab Spring uprisings that spread across the region that year, are not mentioned. The moderate Islamists who played a crucial role are vilified.
“It’s like the revolution didn’t happen,” said Kamal Mougheeth, a researcher at Egypt’s National Council for Education and a former academic. “There are figures in the regime who had a problem with the revolution and are trying to attack any symbols of the revolution, not just Dr. ElBaradei.”
To critics, the textbook omissions are a calculated effort to bolster Sissi’s authority by minimizing the uprisings and their key orchestrators. Some say they are the latest example of an education system geared more toward pleasing the nation’s leaders than objectively teaching past events.
“The eyes of textbooks’ writers are on the president, the man on the throne,” Nassar said. “It’s a way of flattering the ruler, what gives him more influence over the people, what gives him a very good image. The history is not the history of the people. It’s the history of the ruler.”
The Ministry of Education did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
But in local media reports, the ministry’s spokesman, Bashir Hassan, said ElBaradei’s name was removed under the previous education minister after parents complained. The decision is being investigated, he said, adding that “no one should rewrite history, even if there are differences between the regime and Dr. ElBaradei.”
As far as anyone can remember, the first instance of a politically motivated omission in the school curriculum happened under President Gamel Abdel Nasser in the 1960s. In most textbooks, Nasser is portrayed as the nation’s first president. In fact, that distinction goes to Muhammad Naguib, a military general who launched the 1952 uprising with Nasser. Under his two successors — Anwar Sadat and Mubarak — textbooks glorified their military commands during Egypt’s conflicts against Israel, bringing both leaders more legitimacy.
The education system was altered again under Mohamed Morsi, who led the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to power in 2012, when he became Egypt’s first democratically elected president. The curriculum promoted the Islamists’ views, and schools became sites for Brotherhood gatherings and activities. Textbooks were recast to include pictures of women wearing veils.
A year later, Morsi was overthrown by Sissi in a military coup, and the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed. Thousands of textbooks printed during its rule were destroyed, education scholars said. Today, the Brotherhood is described in the curriculum as corrupt and power hungry, and its ousting by the military justified.
Last year, the Education Ministry also removed the stories of Saladin and Uqbah Ibn Nafi — historical figures in Islam who influenced radical Islamists — in a bid to counter extremism.
Today, in the pages of the ninth-grade civics textbook, the 2011 revolution barely exists. It is described benignly as how “national unity took its best form” and Christians and Muslims went to the streets to call for “freedom and dignity.” There’s no mention that the uprising was triggered by collective anger at Mubarak’s authoritarian rule, its cronyism and corruption.
“There is no mention of the protesters killed during the January 25th revolution,” Mougheeth said. “There is no mention of how the revolution started, no mention of police abuses, no mention of the corruption.”
The 12th-grade history textbook says the revolution was caused by election fraud and the deterioration of the economy and political life, and that the military took power to “save the revolution.”
The massive street demonstrations on June 30, 2013, that overthrew Morsi glorifies Sissi and his government as meeting the people’s demands that “the goals” of the 2011 revolution be fulfilled, according to the ninth-grade civics textbook. The uprising resulted in “a road-map that put Egypt on the right track in developing its resources and building its future,” the textbook says.
“All the people participated in the June 30th revolution,” Nassar said. “There was no one charismatic leader. But in the textbooks, Sissi is a national hero. He led the June 30th revolution and removed the Muslim Brotherhood.”
In other instances, even the slightest reference to revolutions has been removed. Last year, a television channel, Ewan24, reported that a lesson called “the revolution of the birds,” in which the birds revolt against a tyrannical cow, was purged from the first-grade syllabus. And a scene from the Shakespearean play “Antony and Cleopatra” that referred to a revolution was removed from the 12th-grade literature syllabus.
Scholars worry that the historical rewriting is undermining belief in the educational system. “Every time there’s change from one side to the other, from one extreme to another,” Nassar said. “So how can I believe in the subject? We don’t believe what’s in your curriculum. We just want the diploma. This is the attitude of both students and parents.”
Still, it’s unlikely the textbook omissions will alter the ethos of the 2011 uprising.
“This was a dream all Egyptians lived,” Mougheeth said. “It’s part of our national identity now. It will be very difficult to completely erase it.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story should have referred to military commanders Saladin and Uqbah Ibn Nafi as historical figures, not mythical.