It is self-evident that the nomination of an Egyptian to a leading position in a prominent international institution is for Egypt a source of pride like no other, only outdone by the nominee winning appointment to that post and assuming responsibility. The nomination in itself is a great honour to the nominee since it recognises his or her capability, and to Egypt too whose children make their way to and qualifying for the international arena. Countless Egyptians have over the years filled prominent positions at the head of international institutions; I will not list here any of their names or the posts they assumed lest I forget any. Sufficient to say that they have all been of incalculable worth and stature, and have been for Egypt sources of inestimable pride.
For the first time, however, I feel wary of the possibility of nominating an Egyptian figure to an international position. For the first time I ask myself: is Egypt prepared, at this point in time, to give up the effort, intellect, vision and leadership of this figure, let alone the national responsibility he currently shoulders? Some may argue that the very fundamentals of leadership, development and reform imply that the leader should set in place a comprehensive system of standards and plans, high-calibre staff and relevant experts to ensure the development and reform plans are adequately executed. But let me point out that the melee I am speaking of is of utmost importance, and cannot afford any turbulence or setback in case the person behind the vision of its development shifts his gaze before its aspired fruit blossoms.
The daily State-owned al-Ahram on 15 December 2020 printed a column by Anwar Abdel-Latif under the title “Dr Tarek Shawki to head UNESCO”. True, the article does not allude to any official declaration in that regard, yet it offers a serious and convincing analysis of the attributes that qualify Egypt’s Education Minister Tarek Shawki to run for the topmost position in UNESCO in succession to its current director the French Audrey Azoulay whose term ends in a few months. I will mention here the most prominent features and attributes of Dr Shawki, as highlighted by Mr Abdel-Latif in al-Ahram.
Mr Abdel-Latif wrote that Dr Shawki possesses impressive scientific credentials; he holds a doctoral degree from the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and was Professor of theoretical and applied Mechanics at Illinois University for more than 10 years. Dr Shawki also has hands on experience in the field of education, culture and science; he oversaw and carried out several projects around the world in the field of applying communication and information technology to education, science and culture. In addition, he was Director of UNESCO’s Regional Bureau for Science at Arab States in 1999 – 2012.
Mr Abdel-Latif’s main point, however, is that Dr Shawki’s institutional expertise stems in the major part from his work as Minister of Education and Technical Education in Egypt. In this capacity, he succeeded “to a great extent” in purging school curricula of content that promoted extremism. He was able to bend the Ministry’s notorious bureaucracy to end the stagnant rigidity of the education sector in Egypt, which had for decades depended on rote learning, private lessons and readymade exams. According to Mr Abdel-Latif, this man, Dr Shawki, was able to remove these chains of backwardness that held back our education system, and equip it with the necessary tools to keep pace with modern times.
I absolutely second Mr Abdel-Latif’s take on Dr Shawki’s expertise, achievements and attributes that qualify him to run for UNESCO’s topmost position, bringing great honour to Egypt. But I stop at his words that Dr Shawki contributed to a great extent to pulling Egypt’s education system out of the doldrums. I would rather say that Dr Shawki’s visionary outlook not only helped develop the education sector, but has worked a real, promising revolution of awakening the mind of the Egyptian pupil and student in all stages of education. Dr Shawki has succeeded in connecting education to modern day technology with the aim of producing generations upon generations eager to learn, think critically, research and innovate. This is why I am worried that Egypt would give up Dr Tarek Shawki, even if for the great honour of an international position. This man has great resilience and persistence to see his plan through and his vision materialise. Egypt is not yet done with him, she still direly needs his efforts.
25 December 2020