- Educational Roots of Political Crisis in Egypt
Judith Cochran, author of this scholarly, interesting, and timely book, is professor of education at the University of Missouri – St. Louis. She is the right person to connect expert knowledge, education, and politics in Egypt, where she spent three years in the early 1980s, researching and writing about the country. This book is the product of that experience.
Cochran arrived in Cairo in September 1980. She was a senior Fulbright Scholar assigned to the dean of the College of Education of the Ain Shams University, a giant institution of 150,000 students. Anwar Sadat was then president of Egypt. With twelve graduate student assistants, she was asked to reorganize the education of teachers in Egypt. The assassination of Sadat by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1981, however, froze change in Egypt. In 1983 Cochran returned to the University of North Texas where she published Education in Egypt (1986), her early findings on her Egyptian investigations. She brought together data from Egypt and from the archives of the World Bank and the US Agency for International Development, which had been funding educational reform in Egypt for several years. [End Page 125]
The author admits she was disappointed by America's investment in Egypt. She knew that investment rose sharply in 1979 when the US for political, not educational, reasons started giving Egypt and Israel a combined $6 billion every year. Cochran figured some of that money made a difference, because Egypt remains "a leader in education throughout the Middle East." Further, Egypt for years guaranteed free education and employment, a boon to poor Egyptians. Yet President Muhammad Hosny Mubarak, whose rule has lasted longer than all but two of the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, is undermining the benefits that education brought to poor Egyptians. Women suffer the most.
According to Cochran, in the absence of free education and guaranteed employment in Egypt, "one cannot be optimistic about the country's economic and social stability." With this idea in mind, Cochran sought insights from the "history, economics and outcomes of the Egyptian educational system." In this pursuit, Cochran is much more than an academic trying to prove a theory. She is a politician seeking ammunition for those stakeholders funding educational reform in Egypt. That way, she hopes, these stakeholders would train Egyptians and others she calls "human capital" to enhance the "stability" of Egypt.
The first two chapters explore the roots of Egyptian education from the time of the pharaohs to 1250 of our era. The summary account is a rosy depiction of ancient Egyptian achievements. For example, Cochran credits Egypt for having "the first university, the University of Ur or Heliopolis, known in the 40th century B.C. to have within its walls the 'most wise men on earth,' according to Herodotus." The fifth-century Greek historian Herodotus said nothing about Heliopolis being the University of Ur. In the third paragraph of the second book of The Histories, Herodotus says, "The people of Heliopolis are said to be the most learned of the Egyptians" (from the translation by A. D. Godley, Loeb Classical Library). This, of course, in no way diminishes the remarkable accomplishments of Egyptians in building the pyramids and making contributions to astronomy, mathematics, and medicine.
Cochran is also biased in her assessment of Islam and how that monotheistic religion shaped modern Egypt. She writes like a Muslim defending her faith. Yes, Muslims translated the major philosophical and scientific works of the Greeks into Arabic, a movement that sparked a renaissance from the eighth to the tenth centuries. But with the exception of this singular achievement, Islam triumphed exactly like Christianity did — with fire and the sword. The life of an illiterate man, Muhammad, and the Koran, supposedly revealed to this illiterate man by God, have been the model for education in Egypt and everywhere else in the Muslim world. Cochran admits that religious education has been the key to political power.