Connect to share and comment

Egyptian history a foreign concept

Many Egyptians ignore their country's historic sites.


Still, Eyptians steer clear of these monuments. According to the Ministry of Tourism, they make up only about 5 percent of tourists visiting the sites each year.

“For a very long time, we took our sites for granted,” said ministry spokesperson Omayma El-Husseini.

Many say that the ignorance of and a lack of appreciation for Egypt’s history is the result of a failed education system.

Some, including El Ayoubi, blame former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nasser nationalized the education system, bringing it to the most remote corners of the country. But, with resources stretched too thin, many say his policies led to a dramatic decline in the system as a whole.

Nasser also politicized the curriculum, making the Arabic language, Arab nationalism, and certain vocations cornerstones of educational life.

“The lack of education leads to a person’s total loss of orientation, of a sense of where they come from and whatever cultural heritage they have,” said Egyptian historian Samir A. Rafaat in a recent book, "Inside Egypt: The Land of the Pharaohs on the brink of a Revolution."

The book’s author, John R. Bradley, called the education system “bloated and inefficient.”

El-Husseini, from the Tourism Ministry, said the government has only recently tried to help put history back in the classroom. “We have a number of programs” that were created in the 1990s, she said, “that have been getting primary schools to incorporate the historical sites” into their lesson plans.

Teachers have more often begun to take their students on field trips to sites like the Pyramids. The Egyptian government has also started publicizing its monuments more to its own people, as part of an effort to get them to re-engage.

These are small steps for what some view as a problem beyond repair.

There is an old saying in the Middle East: “Egypt writes, Lebanon prints and Iraq reads.” 

If there’s one truism here, it’s that many Egyptians say their countrymen aren’t big readers.

“They don’t read about their history,” El Ayoubi lamented.

If she’s right, the fierce battle of El Alamein may be lost on Egyptians forever.