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Beware the Egyptian School Teacher?

Egypt’s greatest export has always been its school teachers, at least in the Middle East. In the 1950s and 1960s, not only did President Gamal Abdul Nasser export Egyptian teachers, but many Arab states—especially in the Persian Gulf—used the Egyptian curriculum as well. It was not simply Nasser’s rhetoric which propelled Arab nationalism beyond Egypt’s borders, but also Egyptian expatriates.

I’m in the Persian Gulf region, interviewing a number of government and opposition officials. While American policymakers debate whether the Muslim Brotherhood has moderated (it hasn’t), or whether the new Islamist-dominated government in Egypt will void the Camp David Accords, thereby signaling to the world that treaties made with Arab countries are meaningless, the perspectives here differ.

Egyptian teachers still work throughout the region. While the Persian Gulf states no longer use Egyptian curricula, many still employ a disproportionate number of Egyptian teachers. If Egypt radicalizes religiously, will Egyptian teachers propel that radicalization through Arab states’ education systems, much as Saudi Imams and the oil wealth which fueled them spread religious radicalism through the mosques? Other Arab governments could always, of course, fire the Egyptian school teachers, assuming they could find others to replace them. This would be a further disaster for the Egyptian economy, but the cost of not doing so in such a case where Egyptian teachers become engines for radicalism could be a slow motion disaster for the entire region.