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Egypt has resorted to framing teachers as terrorists

Egyptian teachers and students shout slogans during a protest against the Minister of Education in Cairo on 10 September 2015 [Amr Sayed/Apaimages]
Egyptian teachers and students shout slogans during a protest against the Minister of Education in Cairo on 10 September 2015 [Amr Sayed/Apaimages]

It's becoming a scene all too familiar, the public anger at the ruling elites, the repeated calls for mass protests, the flashpoints of demonstrations erupting in Cairo's Tahrir Square, almost as if the 2011 revolution is incomplete.

At present, Cairo is under a heavy lockdown with authorities and plainclothes security men stationed around the streets stopping young men to interrogate them, for on the spot identification checks and to look through their phones for "political" material.

This came after thousands of people took to the streets in rallies since 20 September demanding President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi leave office.

In response, security forces dispersed the protests and arrested thousands of people.

Activists say more than 2,600 people have been arrested in connection with the protests over the last three weeks, human rights lawyers, academics, politicians and children as young as 11, in a country which has relied on widespread abuse including torture, according to Human Rights Watch.

READ: Egypt forcibly disappears female activist

Despite state media attempting to down play the demonstrations, videos posted on social media spread across the country forced the government to confront them.

Al-Sisi, of course, suggested the opposition Muslim Brotherhood – which he outlawed – was behind the recent anti-government protests.

However, there is an obvious absent link to the Muslim Brotherhood, as the protests appeared to be in response to the economic failures and alleged government graft, triggered by a series of Facebook videos released by the self-exiled contractor Mohamed Ali.

Film producer and real-estate investor Mohamed Ali Abdel Khaleq

Film producer and real-estate investor Mohamed Ali Abdel Khaleq

After working with the Egyptian military, he accused the government of high-level corruption, including wasting public money on building luxury properties at a time of austerity.

The president dismissed the allegations as "lies and slander".

Observers stressed that increasing economic hardship due to inflation and a high rate of poverty has been a driving force for the recent surge of demonstrations.

A 36-year-old Cairo-based teacher, who wished to remain anonymous fearing the government's reprisal, told MEMO: "Unfortunately, things are becoming worse on many levels and a lot of people are frustrated. The cost of living is getting higher and higher and there's many people who can't afford a decent life."

READ: Egyptian actor accuses Sisi of 'committing 5 crimes'

She explained how they are now required to spend a lot more money on taxes, gas and electricity while the salaries people earn are small in comparison; and unemployment is rising.

Young people are finding it difficult to get married because they are unable to afford the necessities of family life, she added.

There are so many single girls nowadays, which was never the case in the past. Being able to afford a flat so they can get married and start a family is almost impossible and this results in more social problems, but no one is paying attention to these troubles.

She's convinced the government only talks about innovative projects "as a façade" to distract people from the vital issues concerning the country such as the demand for an improved education system.

In 2012, more than 95 per cent of Egyptian children aged between six and 18 were enrolled in school, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.

However, the quality of education remained a "major challenge" as a result of pupil participation not being encouraged enough and poor infrastructure with around one in five school buildings unfit for use.

Last year, Egypt ranked 129th globally in terms of quality of education, according to the British magazine Spectator Index.

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Arrests during the recent protests have included teachers, with the Minister of Education Tarek Shawki announcing that 1,070 have been dismissed for adopting extremist ideas.

Shawki said that the teachers were fired for their links to the Muslim Brotherhood and vowed to investigate teachers "unfit to work" to purge Egyptian schools of "destructive ideas" and "politically extreme views", according to the New Arab.

The ministry then announced it was hiring 120,000 new teachers to cover shortages in government schools.

Twenty-four-year-old master's student in Budapest, Hussein, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, said: "I am not surprised, it was only recently that there were protests known as Ulama Masr al-ghadiboon [Egyptian scientists are angry] held by masters degree graduates protesting wage stagnation and unfulfilled funding promises by the government."

"This was faced by some political violence, as some of them were arrested until they eventually stopped."

Almost 60,000 professors and teaching staff took part in the "Egyptian scientists are angry" campaign in August, demanding fairer salaries to help them meet their living costs after food and fuel subsidies were eradicated and rising inflation caused prices to soar.

According to the American news agency Media Line, Egyptian university teachers are currently earning between 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($184) and 10,000 Egyptian pounds ($616) a month.

In many cases, I think a lot of people go into teaching positions because they don't have money, a lot of people pick it up as an additional job, and if their main job is teaching, then they try to seek another teaching position or teach private lessons for economic needs

added Hussein.

On 29 July the national statistics agency released a long-delayed report on household finances, which revealed that 32.5% per cent of Egypt's 99 million people were classified as poor last year, up from 28 per cent in 2015.

Moreover, in a report published by the World Bank in April, it was calculated that "some 60% of Egypt's population is either poor or vulnerable."

Economic reforms under a 2016 loan deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), in exchange for a $12 billion loan may have earned Al-Sisi international praise, but not from his own citizens, as it led to the introduction of valued-added tax, devalued the currency and raised the prices of electricity and fuel.

READ: Shaking the Egyptian mindset

Twenty-seven-year-old Rami, an English teacher at the British Council, said Egypt's economy had been deteriorating for the past three years.

He said: "Prices rose high and salaries stayed the same, which shifted the scale of classes in Egypt; it simply pushed middle classes down the pyramid thus many people realised that day to day life in Egypt is getting more and more expensive."

Speaking from Hungary, Hussein explained that since Al-Sisi agreed to the IMF loans, Egypt has witnessed a state of neoliberalisation of resources, which enables the state to control everything.

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi speaks during the celebration of Africa Day, in Cairo, Egypt, on 25 May, 2019 [Egyptian President Office]

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi speaks during the celebration of Africa Day, in Cairo, Egypt, on 25 May 2019 [Egyptian President Office]

He said: "The current political situation we are witnessing now is a counter revolution, so far this counter revolution is trying to overthrow any kind of revolutionary spirit, or anything that rise from the 2011 uprising."

The Muslim Brotherhood, he explained, has become a useful regional bogeyman to justify the government's repressive measures.

READ: Sisi resorts to 'subsidies' to contain Egyptian rage

He emphasised the importance of political participation by citizens to address the economic and social imbalances in Arab countries that have experienced revolutions, instead of labelling them as terrorists.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia criminalised the Muslim Brotherhood, he said, and uses it as a "vacuum for anyone with a political history to be labelled a terrorist", turning this into an "international campaign".

Its members have been systematically hunted and killed since 2013 or are currently in prison being tortured to death like former President Mohamed Morsi, who died in June during a court session after six years in solitary confinement.

Saudi Arabia formally designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation in 2014, and there are reports that US President Donald Trump is working to do the same, following Al-Sisi's visit to the White House in April.

Hussein stated: "Since the last protest, there is no Muslim Brotherhood on the ground, but the regime is hunting down opposition [member] from the Muslim Brotherhood outside Egypt, and Al-Sisi is only blaming them because this is what Trump ultimately wants, after all, was he not described as his favourite dictator?"

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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