How can Egyptians trust the history they are taught?

How can Egyptians trust the history they are taught?
Comment: When so much of what Egyptians are told is what their leaders want them to hear, is it any wonder that they don't believe anything, says Ahmed Maher.
5 min read
14 Apr, 2015
Many Egyptians believe little of what their government tells them [Anadolu]
My interest in politics and public affairs began with the large protests on 20 and 21 March 2003 against the US invasion of Iraq.

I was one of the thousands of youths who took part in demonstrations in Tahrir Square against American thuggery.

After those protests, I began looking for political groups and got to know a few in university, after which I began to find political parties in university. All appeared to be the same despite their varying slogans.

I had a friend in university who thought politics could "land a person in a lot of trouble and even prison."

In 2003, I found the Revolutionary Socialists in university. Their brave radical discourse and daily activities appeal to me.

After the invasion of Iraq, there was a lot of anger against Hosni Mubarak when his shady alliances with the US administration became known, and for his prominent role in assisting US forces to occupy Iraq.

I had a friend in university who did not care about politics and saw it as a waste of time that could "land a person in a lot of trouble and even prison". This was the common view before the 25 January revolution and has become so once again.

My friend attempted to keep me away from politics, like any good citizen "who knows what's best for them". He would encourage me to focus on my studies and then on my work, especially as I was in my final year of university, studying engineering and preparing my graduation project.

I used to have daily arguments with my friend, who like most Egyptians at the time did not see any hope of change, did not believe things could be any better, and that Mubarak was a greedy thief. That was all before I joined the Kefaya (Enough) movement early in 2005.

My friend always doubted history books and the information we had learned in school. When we disagreed, he would say my references to books, articles, historical accounts could easily be lies or an attempt to appease authorities.

I used to trust many official historical accounts. But with time, it became apparent that my friend was right. We discovered the accounts of the October 1973 war were not all accurate.

An account of Colonel General Saad el-Shazly and the confusion after crossing the Suez Canal made our blood boil, and the delay in developing the advance that led to Israel being able to absorb the attack after 21 October.

We also recently learned, through the writings of Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, that Anwar Sadat did not want to defeat Israel or liberate the land through war, he merely wanted to create diplomatic capital that would allow him to negotiate.

Various versions of history

When we were children, they told us and taught us in school that Farouk was a corrupt and ruthless king, and that Egypt was constantly on the verge of collapse before 1952.

However, when we grew up we discovered that Farouk was not as corrupt as they had said he was and that corruption before 1952 was less than the corruption under the Free Officers Movement that expelled him.

We discovered that Egypt was suffering a lack of politics and political parties and a weak political and legal class due to decisions to destroy politics, annul political parties, nationalise the judiciary and stifle dissent in the 1950s.

They are now falsifying history while we are still alive, when only a few years have passed since the events themselves took place.

We also learned that Ahmed Urabi died of sadness after returning from exile, and people used to insult him in the streets and call him a traitor, and that his children and grandchildren were on the verge of destitution.

We also learned that newspapers and books described Urabi as a traitor who brought destruction and occupation to Egypt for 40 years after the failure of Urabi's revolution against the Khedive Tewfik.

Now, dozens of books and articles wrongfully accuse the 25 January revolution of being a foreign conspiracy, and that the April 6 movement is full of traitors who intend to destroy Egypt, and that Abdel Fatah el-Sisi is the saviour of the planet and humanity.

They are now falsifying history while we are still alive, when only a few years have passed since the events took place. The strong control the wealth, the media and the military. The state's resources can silence any dissent.

Now, while I remain alive in a dark prison cell, I read and hear that I used to have palaces.

I hear I have received foreign funding to sabotage Egypt, while I do not have any money and have not received a cent from anyone.

The military authorities, who control the state's resources, the nation's wealth and the media, falsify events we have all lived through. They attempt to distort the awareness of future generations with fabrications.

Unfortunately, we do not have a right to respond. They distort history while we are still alive, so how can we trust any historical account now?

* Ahmed Maher is an Egyptian activist who led protests against Mohamed Morsi. He has been in jail since 2013 for protesting against anti-demonstration laws introduced by Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.