In late December 2011 education bureaus throughout Egypt dispatched year-end exams to schools in their districts. This was no business-as-usual year. Rather, the country had experienced the most momentous prodemocracy event in more than half a century-the January 25 Revolution, which lasted 18 days and led to the fall of 30-year dictator and president Mohamed Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. Students carried the spirit of revolution back to their schools and universities. They led sit-ins, demonstrations, and Facebook campaigns to expose corrupt teachers and administrators; they demanded reforms of the curriculum and exam system; they set up drives to help the families of the martyrs of the revolution. In the wake of these events, many expected the government-administered annual exams to provide an opportunity for pupils to write about some aspect of these democratic changes stirring in the country that they themselves had been so instrumental in sparking. But the Arabic exam for first-year high-school students represented a conspicuously prerevolution approach to education. The one compulsory essay on an exam from the northern province of Gharbia read as follows: “Write a letter to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) thanking them for supporting the revolution. Thank SCAF also for their steadfastness in protecting the nation from all the agents despite being opposed and insulted.” 2
SCAF, the temporary caretaker government composed of 21 high-ranking military officers, had been ruling the country with an iron fist since Mubarak’s fall and was the object of much civil protest. The exam question signaled that the “new” ruling regime carried the mindset of the old one. It continued to equate citizenship building with obedience to authority and treated schools as hierarchical, nonconsultative, and highly controlled institutions-as if no revolution had ever taken place.