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The Future of Egypt is in Education

December 12, 2014
Children in Saint Catherine had the rare opportunity to build a snowman at school in December 2013

In present terms, stable democracies are also liberal democracies, both composed of certain key characteristics such as free elections, multiple political parties, sovereignty in law, and a deep-seated respect for civil and human rights. In this model, education has been widely considered the foundation that enables civic societies to thrive.

Educating the masses pushes for active, knowledgeable participation in socio-political issues. Education and literacy, particularly an established standard of “civic education”, are fundamental to all stages of a society’s transition to democracy. The specific composition of such an education (that is the most efficient for a democracy) is continuously being debated.

Nonetheless, education is one of the prerequisites to a shift to democracy that should be prioritised in Egyptian policy. When discussing Egypt, it is a common tendency to also think about the Middle East, which, geopolitically, is an accurate association. However, Egypt has been a forgotten African power for many years.

Although its socioeconomic peak took place under president Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s, it is still Africa’s 3rd largest country. Egypt has an influential and valuable capacity for leadership, and it is believed that they can aspire in, and be inspired by Africa- tomorrow’s centre for the world.

One inspiration for Egyptian youth is Fred Swaniker. Swaniker is a young Ghanaian who has travelled and lived in around 10 different African nations after initially fleeing political uprisings and coups across the continent. He is a flourishing MBA graduate from Stanford Business School, and was selected as one of 115 young leaders invited to American President Barack Obama’s Forum for Young African Leaders at the White House in 2010. Founder of the African Leadership Academy, Swaniker is a prominent voice of Africa’s youth today.

What is the African Leadership Program?

Swaniker, amongst many others, believes that Africa’s biggest issues are the result of a deficit of effective, innovative yet ethical and accountable leaders. This is evident through Africa’s three generations of distinctive leaders, some of whose regimes often lead to corruption, famine, and war. Many feel that the current era has the potential to possibly become the greatest Africa has seen yet…if given the right tools.

The aim of Swaniker’s newfound institution is to provide knowledge on ethical and innovative leadership to African youth. The program seeks to facilitate lasting peace and prosperity in Africa by informing and educating Africa’s future leaders about what achieving that really entails.

The academy essentially consists of a two-year pre-university curriculum, but Gap-Year and Global-Scholars segments are also offered in order accommodate as many ambitious individuals as possible. Swaniker describes the program as simply the promotion of a leadership development formula in which education is given an increasingly important place in the minds of young Africans. This instills importance in knowledge so that they are better prepared to potentially hold leadership positions in the future.

Past African Leaders

Swaniker's academy
Swaniker’s academy

The first generation of leaders blossomed with new hopes and ambitions for the future of post-colonial Africa. The presidents of the 1960’s and 70’s are those to whom credit can be given for the successful eradication of colonialism across the continent. Presidents like Julius Nyrerere of Tanzania remain role models for young Africans until today. The presidents that followed, however, are known to have caused havoc in Africa by letting conflict, corruption and economic degradation take over. One tragic example of this is seen during the disastrous events that occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then Zaire) under Mobatu Sese Seko.

The most recent chapter of presidents and leaders seem to be attempting to reverse mistakes made by the former generations. Swaniker calls this the “stabilizer generation”. They are by no means perfect in his opinion, but they are indeed an improvement regarding, for instance, their responsibility to the people, mirroring some of the more noble examples, like Nelson Mandela.

Tying in Egypt

Egypt has experienced tension in recent years in its relationship with African states, such as Ethiopia and the concern of the Grand Renaissance Dam, or even the African Union as a whole when facing the ousting of former President Mohamed Morsi last year. These tensions highlight Egypt’s possible declining role in African economy and politics, which is crucial for its own development and amicable relations in the region.

Aside from Egypt’s geopolitical position in Africa, according to Swaniker’s observations, Egypt has gone through the same pattern of varying generations of leaders. Considering Nasser’s epoch, Mohamed Mubarak’s economically and socially devastating years in office, and finally today’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi brings hope to an unsatisfied nation, but is it enough to consider that Egypt is somehow doing better today?

Speaking of Egypt’s Improvement…


In a push towards development, Egypt should focus on educating its youngest generations, as they will comprise the future citizens and leaders of the country. Historically speaking, Egypt has ranked amongst the most educated of states in the Middle East and Africa overall when accounting for the amount of scholars, doctors, intellectuals and the like that originated from the nation.

Education took on a central role in modernization projects under the presidency of Nasser, allowing it to become free and accessible to all Egyptian citizens. What is crucial to understanding Egypt’s educational problem is that demand eventually exceeded the level of available state resources, causing a reduction in the quality of education received in public schools.

In the face of this dilemma, two trends appeared. First, students from wealthy families were provided with an alternative route: private schooling. Next, an informal and ineffective educational sector had grown out of the gaps in public schooling infrastructure, causing deep inequalities between students whose parents can afford private tutoring and those who cannot.

The following decline in the quality of education became more dangerous than many Egyptians believe it to be, and the civic values of any liberal democratic state are not being taught, leaving students uninformed of the dynamics of the nation they will one day be responsible for. No specific formula can be composed to create the perfect citizens of future societies, but many developments and improvements can be made in Egypt’s, and other nations’, educational systems. Some of the many hopeful outcomes include a decline in cultural violence, or even the beginning of an Egyptian secular state.

With the demographic boom Africa is seeing today, there seems to be a new sprout in the centre of our world: if treated well and provided with the right nurture and tools, the upcoming generations may turn Africa’s future into a more optimistic one. If not properly educated, however, future populations will consequently be facing even more alarming problems such in public policy, health, even nutrition.

Children in Saint Catherine had the rare opportunity to build a snowman at school in December 2013
Children in Saint Catherine had the rare opportunity to build a snowman at school in December 2013

President Al Sisi has succeeded in portraying his election as a turning point in Egyptian politics, and has launched development plans and ideas for projects that benefit Egypt, such as the Suez Canal Project, or his campaign supporting the use of bicycles as alternative means of transportation.

Meanwhile, many would heavily argue that not much has significantly changed since his term began, and that military dominance, lack of security and lack of responsibility in civil society’s infrastructure still prevails. The image of leadership and governmental power in Egypt is, until today, very limited, and not enough effort has been put into changing the composition of Egypt’s educational system.

We can only hope for more innovators like Swaniker to act upon their potential and help make Egypt and Africa’s future a brighter one by leading efforts to revolutionize the education system.

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