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Evolution Skips Egypt

My colleague and Wall Street Journal Asia columnist Sadanand Dhume has one of the more valuable twitter feeds in Washington; it is a one-stop shop for anyone interested in South Asia, but he also on occasion includes references to interesting articles further afield. Today, Sadanand calls attention to this article from Egypt Independent regarding the dearth of acceptance in Egypt toward Charles Darwin and the concept of evolution:

A 2007 survey by sociologist Riaz Hassan found that only 8 percent of Egyptians accepted evolution as “true or probably true,” with more than 50 percent saying it could not possibly be true. Such antagonistic attitudes were reflected at a more regional level in October 2009, when Al Jazeera Arabic published an article on the discovery of “Ardi,” a 4.4 million-year-old hominid fossil. Rather than describing how the fossil brought scientists closer than ever to finding a common ancestor between humans and chimpanzees, the news item boasted that Ardi “proves Darwin’s theory is wrong.” The local press in Egypt enthusiastically picked up on the story, with several major papers running headlines that declared “the end of Darwin.”

While the state curriculum during Hosni Mubarak’s regime mandated the teaching of a unit on Darwin, the article quotes a teacher acknowledging that he tells his students to discount the theory.

Egypt is not alone. Under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamist government in Ankara, rejection of evolution has become state policy, with Turkish censors blocking discussion of Darwin on the internet. Saudi Arabia’s 12th grade textbook dismisses evolution by noting:

Nevertheless in the West appeared what is called “the theory of evolution” which was derived by the Englishman Charles Darwin, who denied Allah’s creation of humanity, saying that all living things and humans are from a single origin. We do not need to pursue such a theory because we have in the Book of Allah the final say regarding the origin of life, that all living things are Allah’s creation.

It is no surprise that the Middle East and the Islamic world contain the most anti-American countries on earth. In meeting with Mohammad Morsi, the new president of Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton defended America’s interaction with Hosni Mubarak and earlier Egyptian dictators by saying that necessity required working with whatever government was in power. Perhaps it’s time to abandon pouring billions of dollars of aid into Pakistan, Egyptian, and Arab state coffers. No matter how much assistance the United States gives, and no matter what the cost born by Americans to offer the chance of liberty, freedom, and a better life in the future, America gets pilloried at the polls. This should not surprise. While American diplomats focus on hard politics, Islamists focus on education.

Perhaps it’s time to learn from the Saudis, Qataris, and Turks. How many American schools abroad teaching hard science and Western liberal thinking could the billions wasted on Cairo and Islamabad purchase? Incitement matters, and so does the education which encourages retrograde interpretations of religion and enables the wild conspiracy theories to prosper.