Home inContext The Education-Democratization Connection

The Education-Democratization Connection

Samara Greenberg

Israel and Tunisia rank highest in education for tolerance and peace in the Middle East, according to a study released by the Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-SE) on Tuesday and reported by the Jerusalem Post. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria were toward the bottom of the scale, with Iran ranking lowest.

As the comparative report explains, while “the Egyptian people have not been taught the importance of democracy and accepting others,” Tunisian textbooks “preach the importance of negotiating, and of peace and respect for others.” As a result, Egypt is less likely to experience “the emergence of a liberal democratic government” than Tunisia.

Interestingly, the report’s findings are currently playing out. In Tunisia, weeks after relatively peaceful uprisings ousted former President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, a new government has already been formed with only two allies of the ousted dictator. Prime Minister Mohammed Ghannouchi has pledged that the new government will “take the country to democracy” with elections within six months, and U.S. diplomats are currently in Tunisia, helping the country lay the groundwork for democratic elections and structures.

On the other hand, in Egypt, rallies continued for the eighth straight day today as President Hosni Mubarak’s government shake-up failed to calm the masses. The U.S. and Israel rightly fear that the Muslim Brotherhood – a group that, while popular, is neither committed to American interests nor democracy – will take full advantage of the situation and try to fill the void left by the Mubarak regime when it steps down.

What does this mean for Washington? Moving forward, leverage should be used against Middle East regimes to reform their education systems, and funding for the region should be re-focused toward democratic education initiatives on the ground. Dictatorships never last forever, and the United States should be setting the stage for democratic – rather than autocratic or theocratic – forces to overcome them when they fall.