Education: A Stepping Stone to Peace in Egypt
Khaled Emam was born in a small village in the poorest area of Egypt, lived a modest life, without electricity or television. Brought up in a culture where violence and conflict were prominent, carrying arms was the norm and violent killings a common occurrence. An area where the police had no power and women and girls were unable to receive an education or even go outside their homes. The Assiut Governorate in Upper Egypt is a region where violence is pervasive and few escape a life of conflict and poverty. However, through his own personal drive, a fascination with international affairs and the support of a few people around him, Khaled was able to become the first person from his village to graduate from higher education. From there he achieved several scholarships and drove onwards to enter the high-risk world of peacebuilding in the Nile Delta. This is his story.
Revenge Killings in Upper Egypt
For many years in Upper Egypt, there has been an ongoing cultural practice known as ‘Revenge Killings’. In this region, guns are prevalent, with almost every household owning one and every young boy knowing how to shoot it. Here, if a man is killed, the family of the victim must avenge him by killing two members of the attackers family. This family will then kill four of the other in order to gain revenge upon them. The cycle will repeat until one family, whose turn it is to kill, is tired of the violence and decides they want peace. Doing this brings considerable shame upon themselves and their family. But for some in Upper Egypt, shame is worse than death.
In this downtrodden area, far from the events capturing the eyes of the world, Khaled discovered a passion for international affairs. Each day after school he would immediately rush off to the radio, tuning into events all around the globe.
Against All Odds
It is here where Khaled grew up. One of the poorest regions in the country. A place where work and survival come first and education is but only a dream. Citizens here have endured years of conflict, with violence and killings being commonplace and many choosing to carry arms. When Khaled came of school age, he was forced to walk seven kilometres each day, on dangerous and poorly constructed roads, just to get to school. Once there, the teachers often lacked supplies and training, new subjects were not given priority and punishments were severe. In a place where learning should be central, conversations such as the following would become common in Khaled's life:
“Why do you want to continue with your education?”
“I’m interested in political affairs. I want to study law and political science.”
“If you continue with your studies you will spend a lot of money and achieve nothing.”
When the deck is stacked against you like that, coming out the other side may seem like an insurmountable achievement. Despite these odds, Khaled was able to amass enough support to help him achieve his dreams. In this downtrodden area, far from the events capturing the eyes of the world, Khaled discovered a passion for international affairs. Each day after school he would immediately rush off to the radio, tuning into events all around the globe. He would then entertain the nearby farmers with these stories, they would listen as he passionately recounted events from Afghanistan to Iraq.
For the first time in years the Egyptian people, who for so long had been afraid to discuss politics for fear of repercussions, were able to talk about initiatives for how to improve education, the economy and the lives of all Egyptians.
Discussing politics in Egypt at this time, however, was not without risk. In 2003, just after the Iraq War had broken out, Khaled’s 10-year-old cousin was arrested for simply reading an article on Egypt's position on the conflict. He was detained for 7 days. For these reasons, Khaled’s father tried to inhibit his son’s desire to discuss and read into politics. It was at this same time that Khaled had to make a decision about whether to stay on in education or enter a life of farming to help provide for his family. Many young boys were expected to work the land when they reached a certain age. Fortunately, having noticed Khaled's talent and passion for learning, the school headmaster and several teachers came to his house and encouraged his parents to allow him to continue his education. Attending high school in the nearby city of Ismailia, Khaled’s world opened up to new cultures, experiences and better education.
That is until 2011... when, in the midst of the Arab Spring, the Egyptian Revolution broke out…
The Egyptian Revolution
On June 6, 2010, Khaled Mohamed Saeed was dragged out of an internet cafe and into a nearby building. There he was beaten to death by two plainclothes security officers acting on the orders of the repressive Egyptian government, headed by President Mubarak. This event sparked outrage across the country and led to widespread riots and protest in January 2011, during the height of the Arab Spring. 18 days later, on the 11th of February, the regime had been toppled and Egyptians saw a chance for peace and an end to the era of repression. This would last for 2 years, until the point the military staged a coup and took control of Egypt. This led to the return of violence and oppression. Thousands were tortured and killed in the streets and many more were arrested.
Education for Peace
Khaled learned from one of his teachers that this revolution was an opportunity for the people to wrestle control back from the government, to create space for work and to live without fear. Aware of the risks and dangers of being associated with the revolution, Khaled joined the protests. 18 days later the movement was successful. For the first time in years the Egyptian people, who for so long had been afraid to discuss politics for fear of repercussions, were able to talk about initiatives for how to improve education, the economy and the lives of all Egyptians.
As the Saharan dust settled on the Arab Spring, Khaled continued his studies by enrolling onto a course on Human Rights and Law at Cairo University. From here, thanks to his excellent academic record, he was granted scholarships at several global institutions. These included the American Universities of Cairo where he spent 16 months, respectively, advancing his knowledge of peacebuilding, civil society work and leadership skills. It was after these courses that he implemented one of his first community-based projects in a small town on the outskirts of Alexandria.
Khaled, with the support of his colleagues, organised events and activities for those in the town, where they would cook and eat alongside one another, no matter their religion.
It is an area populated by Christian and Muslim Egyptians, where your religion defined who you were and how you could act within your society. A city where there is widespread violence and the absence of a culture of peace, especially among Muslims and Christians. Khaled, with the support of his colleagues, organised events and activities for those in the town, where they would cook and eat alongside one another, no matter their religion. It was through these events that people began to recognise their similarities as opposed to their differences. Khaled and his colleagues were able to address issues by creating spaces for joint work, including workshops and interactive activities, among 20 children and their families to promote coexistence among the target groups and change the deep-set stereotypes these communities held for each other. The work of their efforts can still be seen today, as now, years later, the community is more intertwined than ever before, as now the locals have taken inspiration from these events and continued to improve the bonds between the different sections of their society.
As shown.. it takes but one young person's ambition to make a change to fabricate a lasting impact.
The Justice Call for Rights and Development
Khaled is now the Executive Director of The Justice Call for Rights and Development. An NGO that aims to foster cooperation between young activists from across the globe to ensure youth participation in the international, regional and local levels, with the ultimate objective of achieving the 16th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG16). To find out more about what GPPAC does on SDG16+, go here.