Cheaters Prosper

Corruption on the Nile


Egyptian secondary school students have it rough. Socializing with the opposite sex is discouraged, political and religious dissent is banned, and at the end of their school years they sit for the most intimidating and life-altering final exam in the region. A high score can set a poor student on the path to the upper class, and failing grades are perennially followed by suicides. As if the stresses of the test weren't bad enough, it now seems you can get arrested for speaking up about the rampant bribery and cheating it attracts.

Security forces detained and interrogated Safwat Hassan, 17, after the proctor for his math final exam discovered that Hassan, who resides in the southern city of Luxor, had written on his test, "Those in charge are [like a] tyrant who rules over cowards." Hassan, who comes from a poor household, said the message referred to his proctors, who he believed were accepting bribes from wealthy students in exchange for help on the exam. Education officials believe the message referred to President Hosni Mubarak, which would have made the comment a crime under Egypt's defamation laws.

One unnamed official told reporters for the Middle East Times and the Arab Times that Hassan's story has merit: Poorer families in Luxor are unable to pay for teachers' meals during exam times-a prerequisite for doing well on exams in a country where 94 percent of secondary school classrooms are public and teachers earn very little money.

For speaking out against cheating, Hassan's school banned him from sitting for his finals. He will be required to retake all his exams next spring.