Lies my teacher told me

Ziad A. Akl
4 Min Read
Ziad A. Akl
Ziad Akl
Ziad Akl

The title is originally sociologist James Loewen’s. In 1995, Loewen published his book Lies My Teacher Told Me, closely and carefully chasing historical inaccuracies that the high school educational system is so full of.

Issues like slavery, the relationship with the natives and how national heroes are sort of custom tailored.  To make a long story short, Loewen’s book criticised how the state fabricated its own version of history and embedded it within public school curricula.

As I was skimming through that book the other day, the very same ideas came to me but on the scale of Egypt. In other words, how will this period of Egypt’s political struggles go down in history?

It is fairly tough to find out the truth in Egypt’s current political process, even if you are a member of that very process. That is why it’s plausible to doubt how accurate would this politically confusing, ridiculous yet sensitive phase be represented.

The polarisation present today is already extremely worrying. What the media is doing so far is just too much. And by media I actually mean both teams Al-Jazeera and CNN on one side and every other private or public channel in Egypt on another. The media does not give you truth anymore, neither does it show any objectivity in its work; rather the media gives you a ready-made image or a stereotype.

Al-Jazeera is trying to export one of two images: the angry Egyptian nation protesting against how democracy and legitimacy were raped by the army; or the victimised image of Islamic activists stripped of their democratic rights due to the tyranny of the army.

The Egyptian media on the other hand gives you a completely different image of pretty much the very same people and events. There is always that image or stereotype of the demonic Muslim Brotherhood politician who conspired with the whole world to fulfill his lust for power and on the other hand, there is the image of the misguided young men who are tempted by the Brotherhood’s empty promises.

On the other side of the coin; Al-Jazeera wants to promote an image of a violent, unpopular and anti-Islamist Egyptian army. Egyptian media only sees the army within this perfectly heroic framework where it does no wrong and even when it does it is always in defense of national security. This is how we stereotyped things now, less than 90 days later. In 10 years from now, only these ridiculous, inaccurate images will remain in Egypt’s school curricula.

If we don’t start paying attention to how the media is pulling us further from the truth, we risk getting dragged down a lane of fabricated extremes that are equally remote from reality. What the media sells us now and both the state and the regime politically support will suddenly turn into a historical fact that your children are taught in schools. This is always the way things have happened here in Egypt since the 1952 coup, regimes have all invested in engineering generational awareness.

Very soon, a generation will be left with a fabricated image of two ridiculous extremes. The lies that teachers will tell our kids are simply the ones we are choosing to passively tolerate today.

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Ziad A. Akl is a political analyst and sociologist. He is a senior researcher at the Egyptian Studies Unit in Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.