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Egypt set to militarise high schools

Military vocational schools would be of more benefit to Egypt’s 14-17-year-olds than polytechnic high schools which teach students a skilled trade, suggests Ahmad El-Guweishy, Egypt’s deputy minister of education.

Adding military personnel to the administration of trade schools would bring about a much-needed element of patriotism and discipline – not only among students but among staff members – Guweishy told the Sada al-Balad newspaper.

There are 15 polytechnic high schools in Egypt that have already been converted into military academies. One of the earliest conversions took place in Dakahlia, a governorate north of Cairo.

Students from Al Bagour polytechnic high school for boys put on a military-style parade for the visiting deputy minister of education in 2015, which was widely celebrated by officials as an example to the rest of the country.

Polytechnic high schools are an important element of state-funded education in Egypt. Students who do not achieve academically at earlier stages are given the option to continue in one of the country’s 1,500 polytechnic high schools, where they can learn a variety of applied skills and take part in government-sponsored apprenticeships.

The deputy minister of education in the southern governorate of Sohag has also been in talks with the military over the possibility of beginning the conversation process there.

Students who attend state-funded polytechnic high schools often come from disadvantaged economic backgrounds, and such militarisation of the lower socioeconomic classes in Egypt could prove greatly beneficial for the nation’s ruling military regime.

After the devaluation of the Egyptian Pound late last year, the disparity between rich and poor has only became more evident. Paired with the scrapping of subsidies on essential consumer goods, the Egyptian lower classes are feeling the weight of the country’s faltering economy, as demonstrated by the outbreak of small-scale bread riots across Egypt in March.

Extending the military’s reach into vocational education could provide the regime with a chance to subdue a potentially problematic segment of Egyptian society before they become politically or socially active about their economic grievances.

A military presence in Egypt’s education sector is not a novel concept. In 2015, the military-owned Badr International School opened its gates to children of Egypt’s elites looking for an American or British-styled education.

The percentage of the Egyptian economy dominated by the country’s military is unknown, but some experts put the figure as high as 40 percent. The army’s revenue-generating business interests reach into every sector of the economy and vary from managing petrol stations to farming livestock to plastics manufacturing.

It has become a common theme of dark humour here for Egyptians to comment on the military’s pasta factories or the baby formula shortage that preceded the release of military-made milk. The military is also involved in building roads and bridges – and is not shy of advertising it.

With more than 400,000 conscripts, the Egyptian military has become an oligarchy due to its access to what could essentially be described as indentured labour.

The implications of the totality of the military regime’s control over the political and economic arenas in Egypt means the military ruling system has become entrenched and institutionalised, making any chances of its eventual dismantling seem an ever less likely prospect.

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