School children in Egypt

School children in Egypt

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace-Middle East Center recently conducted a series of studies on citizenship and education in eleven Arab nations: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates. Muhammed Faour summarized the findings in a policy paper that argues that civic education in the Arab world does not meet its intended goals of effectively ingraining concepts such as citizenship and democratic participation. He argues national governments should engage in more strategic planning to ensure that their youngest citizens are valuable contributing members to their increasingly democratic political societies. The full text of the paper is available in both English and Arabic.


The need to prepare Arab citizens to become contributing members of open and pluralistic systems is increasingly urgent. And that preparation begins with education. But studies commissioned by the Carnegie Middle East Center on citizenship education programs in eleven key Arab nations reveal that a wide gap exists between the stated goals of national education programs and their actual implementation.

General Themes

  • Many factors shape the skills and values necessary to build and sustain democratic societies, including formal classroom instruction, extracurricular activities, and school climate.
  • The Arab nations studied have nominally set goals for education reform and citizenship education and are making efforts to introduce concepts such as democracy and human rights into civic textbooks and curricula.
  • In most nations, plans for education reform are divorced from political realities and do not include political commitments to educate free, democratic, and creative citizens.

National Plans in Practice

  • Overall, Arab nations have taken very few steps to make these goals a reality and to prepare young people for the transitions ahead.
  • Civic principles, such as human rights, which are included in citizenship education, are frequently contradicted by other classes.
  • Learning methods and practices are failing to encourage the skills and engagement needed for modern citizenship. Citizenship education is largely limited to rote instruction. Lessons tend to be didactic and teacher directed, and they promote official political and religious views.
  • Teachers, the key factors in the learning process, often lack the requisite training, support, and social status necessary to tackle the significant task of educating youth for citizenship.
  • The absence of opportunities to put lessons into practice and extracurricular activities inside and outside schools deprives students of actual citizenship experiences, thus hindering the development of their citizenship skills and dispositions.
  • In most Arab nations, the school climate is generally authoritarian and repressive, which is not conducive to the development of civic competency.

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