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Why is the Egyptian army building international schools?

One journalist said the army’s decision will deal another blow to the economy

Sonia Farid

Published: Updated:

The Egyptian army’s involvement in civilian activities is not new. It has for decades been investing in a wide range of businesses. Nonetheless, its announcement of plans to invest in international schools, offering American and British curricula, has raised questions about whether this is another step toward further control of Egypt’s economy.

Writer Abdel Nasser Salama said the announcement, the first of its kind in Egypt’s history, raises a number of questions that need to be answered in order to evaluate its consequences: “Will those schools be fully supervised by the Ministry of Education like their counterparts? Will its budget be revised by civilian state institutions? Will the police now have the right to establish schools as well? Can the same be done by other entities such as the Journalists’ Syndicate or the Judges’ Club? What will happen if each entity becomes in charge of supervising its own schools?”

Salama said investing in education is entirely different from any other business, because the sector is already suffering greatly. “We have to face the fact that one of the main reasons for this deterioration is the involvement of people who are not experts in education at all and this includes officials appointed at the Ministry of Education and businessmen given permits to build schools and universities.”

Journalist Hanan Amer said the army’s decision will deal another blow to the economy, which is already negatively impacted by its involvement in different businesses. “Army businesses get a lot of exclusive privileges that are not allowed to their civilian counterparts,” she wrote.

“Companies affiliated to the military are exempted from taxes and customs, which enables them to offer their commodities and services at a much cheaper price, hence making it impossible for other companies to compete.”

Militarization

Journalist Mohamed Hamama said the companies affiliated with the army have another privilege as far as the labor force is concerned: “Workers in these companies or factories are mostly conscripts, which means that civilian labor laws do not apply to them.”

He added that this would make them subject to military trials. “For example, 26 workers from the Alexandria Shipyard Company were referred to the military court for calling for a strike, which is a constitutional right for civilian workers.”

Professor of Political Science Hazem Hosni saw the announcement as another step toward “the militarization of the Egyptian state.” In addition to his objection to the army’s involvement in businesses in general, Hosni slammed the decision to establish international schools: “So when the army decides to establish schools, it makes them international where thousands of pounds are paid each year. This totally undermines the prioritization of free education.”

Hosni said teaching British and American curricula at those schools means the army is promoting detachment from Egyptian culture. “In the meantime, we are asked to donate one pound to Egypt every morning,” he added, referring to the campaign to help boost the economy by sending text messages that cost one Egyptian pound (11 cents) each.

Journalist Mahmoud Bassiouni said army involvement in civilian projects, including schools, is not exclusive to Egypt: “The United States Army started investing in schools in 1941. It is also a partner in a number of businesses such as General Motors as well as the owner or the principal stockholder in 25 companies such as Lockheed Martin, Man Tech, HP, and General Electric.”

Bassiouni said Italy’s army started cultivating marijuana for medical purposes, especially for cancer patients, in order to curb drug cartels. “The Egyptian army did not invent this and it has been playing a major role in rescuing the Egyptian economy from business tycoons who only care about accumulating money and monopolizing businesses.”

Mokhtar Ghobashi, deputy director of the Arab Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said there is no problem with the army’s involvement in non-military activities as long as it does not affect its original duty or its performance. “Egypt is not in a state of war and is stable except for the few clashes that take place in the Sinai Peninsula. So why not take part in projects that will contribute to the development of Egypt and make life easier for Egyptian citizens?”

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