The Civic Education Conference Alexandria 2013
The Goethe-Institut Cairo, together with Tahrir Lounge, had invited an audience committed to the cause of civic education to attend the conference at the famous Bibliotheca Alexandrina; other partners were the Hanns Seidel Foundation, the German Federal Agency for Civic Education and the Center for Democracy and Social Peace Studies at the Bibliotheca. The small group of organizations emerging from the Institute’s transformation partnerships had put together a top-notch program that opened with a keynote by Prof Dieter Rucht of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. Rucht highlighted the concept of “civility” as a “tool and means to advance social freedom” and shed light on how civility and democracy strengthened each other. In his keynote, Dr. Abdel Monem Al-Mashat, Professor at Future University Egypt, described the 20th and early 21st century as one big uprising against authoritarian regimes all over the world. The conference was moderated by Nelly Corbel, founder and head of a research group for civic engagement at the American University in Cairo, and journalist and presenter Amira El Ahl.
Learning from the German Experience
The keynotes and the ensuing panel discussion about National and International Perspectives constituted the basis on which an exchange of opinions and thoughts could then take place. The audience joined in the discussion vivaciously to a degree which made it impossible to accept all the requests to speak. It quickly became obvious that the role of Egyptian schools was considered crucial, and yet in need of improvement, in developing a participatory society.
The second day of the conference was opened by Thomas Krüger, President of the Federal Agency for Civic Education, with a presentation about civic education in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Of particular interest to the mostly Egyptian audience were points of comparison between the Egyptian and German experience, even though Krüger could naturally not make any recommendations on how to proceed in Egypt’s case. In the following panel discussion the topic was raised to a more general level as consensus-building was discussed as a basic means of civic education.
Tolerance and Acceptance of Differences
In the afternoon everyone got down to business when, in four parallel workshops, the attendees dealt with four subject areas: What are central challenges in fostering civic education? How to reach neutrality and tolerance towards the intolerant? What is the content of civic education and who are important actors in the process of implementing it? At the end of these parallel workshops the group leaders wrote down recommendations, which all conference participants decided on democratically in a final joint meeting.
It was of great importance to the organizers that the results of the CEC not restrict themselves to high-sounding declarations. However, Egypt, as well as other countries in the region, is just at the beginning of a very bumpy road towards a functioning political education. The recommendations put forward by the conference attendees therefore took into account the differing religious and traditional backgrounds of Egypt’s regions – where for example the structure in the Sinai and Upper Egypt is quite unlike Egypt’s two urban centers and hence requires a different approach to designing a curriculum for civic education. Tolerance, inclusion and acceptance of differences were, however, seen as central concepts in the shaping of each curriculum.
More Self-Reflection and Networking
The attendees identified several critical challenges to be faced, such as retaining a critical view of one’s methods, more strongly involving the existing NGO’s and creating networks between them and, most importantly, motivating young citizens to become active in civil society. The Goethe-Institut, Tahrir Lounge and all other participating organizations expressed their willingness to continue to take on an active part in this process in the future.
Kai Boeckmann, delegate of the German Embassy in Cairo, had referred in his speech right at the beginning of the Civic Education Conference in Alexandria to the poet Ahmed Fuad Negm, who died in December 2013. Using the Egyptian Arabic dialect as one of the first in his time, the renowned poet won over the hearts of the Egyptian people. That, according to Boeckmann, is the fundamental thought of political education: to speak the language of the citizens – with them, not about them.
was officer for press and public affairs at the Goethe-Institut Cairo until December 2013 and is working now as a freelance journalist.
Translation: Jana Duman
Copyright: Goethe-Institut Kairo