Middle East: Egypt’s new hope for education
The top demand of the new, independent Egyptian trade union movement is to secure the immediate passing of a labour law and the repeal of an anti-strike decree recently passed by the military interim council.
The TUC has worked with the ITUC and labourstart to launch an online petition calling on the Egyptian Prime Minister to do exactly this.
NASUWT is urging members and activists to:
1. Sign the petition
2. Put it on your website and circulate it throughout your networks.
3. Write a letter to the Egyptian Prime Minister (email@example.com) on behalf of your union.
Statement - 30 September 2011
To the British Trade Union Congress and affiliated unions
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We greet you in the name of hundreds of thousands of Egyptian workers who are entering a great battle to complete the goals of our great revolution of social justice and cleansing our country of corruption. We founded the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions in Tahrir Square in the midst of the revolution with four independent unions. Now our numbers have increased to more than 100 unions with a membership of around 1 million workers in all economic sectors. Our ranks include pilots and peasants, transport workers and postal workers, teachers and health workers, and we are calling on all those who work for a wage to join us in our struggle for our legitimate rights to a decent life, and against poverty, hunger and dictatorship.
We welcome your solidarity with us, and we have not forgotten the long history of workers’ solidarity between Egypt and Britain even during the period of British occupation of our country. We salute your support for the struggle of our brothers and sisters in Occupied Palestine and we welcome the decision of TUC Congress 2011 to review its links with all Israeli institutions including the Histadrut. We urge colleagues in the British trade union movement to cut all connections with this racist body which has no link with the genuine workers’ movement.
We also wish to send you solidarity greetings in your battle with the British government in defence of the right to decent pension in old age. Your struggle cannot be separated from our struggle against the governments of businessmen which want to make workers and the poor pay the price for the world economic crisis.
We also welcome the decision of TUC Congress in resolution 72, which encourages British trade unions to make direct links with us and with our affiliated unions. We invite you contact us on the following email address:
However we wish to clarify one issue related to foreign funding. Unions affiliated to EFITU took a decision on 28 June of this year to rely solely for their funding on the contributions of their members and not to receive or seek funding from any other source inside or outside Egypt.
We also wish to inform you that the Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services has withdrawn from the founding process of EFITU. Our belief is that the best kind of international solidarity is the exchange of experiences with the aim of supporting our common goals and so we encourage you to get in contact with us in order to exchange information about workers’ struggles in our two countries.
We also urge you to continue to put pressure on the Egyptian civilian and military authorities over the abolition of the law criminalising strikes and protests, the end of military trials for civilians and to provide legal protection for trade union freedoms.
We emphasize once again our desire to deepen solidarity links between the trade union movement in Britain and the independent unions in Egypt in the context of our common struggle for social justice and freedom.
Long live the Egyptian revolution! Long live the struggle of workers in Britain and Egypt!
Kamal Abu Aita,
Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions
3 August 2011
The camp of martyrs’ families and their supporters in Tahrir Square has recently been attacked by thugs, using clubs and an armoured car, who are linked to the Egyptian army and police. Several protesters have been arrested.
NASUWT colleagues are asked to send messages of support for the protesters, condemning these attacks and demanding an end to repression, to the Egyptian embassy in London at firstname.lastname@example.org and the Egyptian Prime Minister at email@example.com.
Further details, including a model letter that can be used in the e-mail, can be found at the MENA Solidarity Network website.
- Letter from NASUWT to David Cameron on Egypt
- Letter from NASUWT to William Hague on Tunisia
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NASUWT Website Co-ordinator Tariq Arafa visits Tahrir Square, Egypt
The scenes of revolution in Egypt’s Tahrir Square broadcast all over the world marked not just the end of Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic rule but the start of a new era of hope and aspiration for the country’s ‘shabab’ or ‘ youth’. As we drive from Cairo airport just three weeks after the uprising, signs of the revolt – positive signs – are everywhere. Teenagers sweep the streets and paint the city’s iconic black and white kerbs while street-sellers push Egyptian flags as the notoriously chaotic traffic whizzes by. One or two enormous green tanks punctuate the route but their occupants look relaxed.
Our taxi driver, Ahmed, is a head-teacher and maths teacher at Abu Bakr El-Sidique School, a primary school in a deprived, inner city district of Cairo. This tells its own story about the state of education in Egypt. He holds down three jobs to support his three daughters, receiving the equivalent of 100 pounds sterling per month for his role as a teacher. His school has approximately 3600 pupils with average class sizes of seventy pupils. Illiteracy is rife among parents, let alone the children. As we drive through sewage-sodden roads and favela-style shacks to reach the school, this impoverished, neglected and forgotten section of Egyptian society left by Mubarak comes into sharp focus.
Across Egypt, the image of teaching is such that many families prefer their children to receive private tuition. Ahmed suggests that there is a reason for this. He says: “There are a large number of teachers on temporary contracts. Their contracts are terminated at the end of term and they don’t get paid for holidays. These teachers don’t have the same commitment and devotion as the few permanent ones.”
Yet typically, the teachers here are stoical, committed and eager to provide a better future for the next generation. The school has not escaped the adverse effects of the revolution as Ahmed shows me a computer room that had all five machines taken during the uprising. However, regime change brings new hope and staff here are hopeful about the new education minister. On the first day back since schools closed during the uprising, after thirty years of iron-fisted rule, social injustice and corruption, one teacher takes great delight in removing a picture of Mubarak from his classroom wall.
Pupils join the school at six years of age and start learning English straight away. For most youngsters, learning English is the only way out of poverty. School books in Egypt are subsidised by the government while pupils pay tuition fees of 45 egyptian pounds (LE) - around £4.50 per year. The life chances for Egyptian children are extremely limited. Years of under-investment in education by Mubarak have transformed the school system from one of the most enviable in the Arab world to one that falls woefully short of western standards.
With the curriculum having been dictated by the government, teachers feel that the syllabus fails to cater sufficiently for the various cultures and social backgrounds of children, particularly in deprived areas. Ahmed says: “Children come from villages where there are no sanitary facilities and need teaching how to use the toilet, even at the age of six. Teachers are the experts but are not being asked about changes to the curriculum.”
The revolution has heralded a new era for trade unionism in the land of the pharaohs where state control has dominated the 24 professional trade unions for decades. Ahmed’s colleague Mohamed also runs the school. Mohamed is keen to talk about what is wrong with state education in his country as well as his vision for education trade unionism in a new democratic Egypt.
He says: “Teachers are very poorly paid. Although they can boost their income with out-of-hours extra tuition, the cost of living remains high. We want unions to speak on behalf of teachers but because teaching is funded by the government, unions are poorly funded and cannot be open and democratic.”
Mohamed is paid LE800 (£80) per month, less than Ahmed’s LE1000 (£100) who has been in the same post but for longer. “The salary does not reflect our responsibility,” says Ahmed. “If anything goes wrong in the school, it is deducted from our salaries. Mohamed is an honest, religious man and puts all his efforts into the school performing well. Is it justifiable for 22 years to be paid LE800 (£80) per month? We hope that unions in the UK can come up with proposals to reward teachers for what we do and provide support. Improving working conditions will reward the school, pupils and society. Teachers will devote more time to teaching and will help produce a well-educated generation.”
Since the uprising, the main teacher union has become more proactive and has submitted demands to the interim government that include:
- Granting the promotion of all teachers who have fulfilled all the criteria for career progression according to rules approved during the last three years but never implemented by the previous government
- Honouring the appropriate remuneration for career progression
- Paying appropriate bonuses agreed by the government in 2008 but never paid.
- Changing part-time contracts to permanent contracts where necessary
- Increasing the remuneration for teachers working in remote areas from LE100 to LE300, increasing the bonuses for teachers involved in administering the various assessment and examination from 5% to 15%.
- Uplifting remuneration for the number of days allocated for exams from 200 days at 5% to 400 at 7%.
- Revising the constitution of the union and beginning the fair and transparent process of electing a new executive council
It is now hoped that after the demands for change, comes real change. With a new right to express themselves freely, Egyptians have a new, bold optimism. The young generation, inspired by their education and teachers such as Ahmed who deliver it, know that with necessary reform a better future beckons. Failure is not an option. Furthermore, they know that Tahrir Square is never far away should they need it once more.