Egyptian police have attacked a group of high school students protesting against what they call a failing educational system following the recent leak of national final exam answers.
On Monday, hundreds of high schoolers staged a protest rally in front of the Ministry of Education in downtown Cairo, calling for the dismissal of Education Minister el-Helali el-Sherbini and educational reforms.
However, security forces intervened and fired tear gas to disperse the protesters a few hours later as the students started heading to Tahrir Square, the symbol of the 2011 revolution against former dictator Hosni Mubarak.
Police forces also fired rubber bullets at the demonstrators and arrested a group of them, according to witnesses.
The students, in return, chanted, “The police are thugs,” according to online videos of the dispersal, which also showed police chasing female protesters and students hurling rocks at police.
Similar rallies were also held in other cities, including Alexandria, Arish, Assiut and Port Said.
The protests were sparked by an Education Ministry decision to cancel a dynamics exam after confirmation that the paper was leaked online in the early hours of Sunday. The ministry also delayed three other exams.
Egypt’s high school students undergo Thanweya Amma (General Secondary) exams in their final year of secondary stage, which serve as entrance examination for public universities.
This year, the answers to some of the tests were leaked on a Facebook page administered by an anonymous user in protest at alleged corruption and mismanagement in the Education Ministry.
Mustafa al-Hawary, a student and one of the founders of a movement named “the initiative to reform the Egyptian educational system,” said the students want a comprehensive alteration of the Ministry of Education.
One of the protesters said “these leaks happen from inside [the ministry].”
“It’s not our responsibility that they can’t prevent cheating,” another protester said as many of the protesters noted that the “[educational] system is a failure.”
Many students seek private tutoring lessons to compensate the gap in the public schooling system.
“My father’s money is being wasted,” Ahmed Khateeb, a student, said. “Thanweya amma is destructive to households.”
Earlier in June, public prosecutors ordered the arrest of the anonymous administrator of the Facebook page that leaked the exams’ questions and answers. The page, however, continues to leak exams.
Later, the Interior Ministry said it had arrested three more people suspected of managing Facebook pages that leak the content of exams.
Hesham Fouad, a member of Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists organization, said struggles of the high school students is not isolated from the struggles of society at large.
“All are linked,” he said at a news conference at the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights on Monday, adding that it is about a larger phenomenon “of turning the country into a giant military camp.”
Egypt’s education system has long been plagued by overcrowded classrooms and poorly trained teachers, a situation which has forced millions of students to rely on private tutors.
The Egyptian government has come under fierce criticism for its widespread crackdown against government opponents since the first democratically-elected president of the country, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted in a military coup in July 2013.
Sisi, who was the head of the armed forces at the time of the coup, became president later.