Egypt, a key US ally and regional leader, has often been a reluctant reformer, bound by tradition and anti-democratic strains that were not in its own best interests. Educational opportunities were uneven, access to information and the internet was sometimes limited and the media frequently was muzzled. The Egyptian government pushed back against US calls for democratic reform, even as the Egyptian people demanded more basic freedoms and more rapid change.
International development companies from the United States, in partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID), have been working for years to help Egypt modernize and reform, encouraging its democratic evolution. Many projects involved improving access to education, technology and information.
- Planning and Learning Technologies, Inc. (Paltech), an Arlington, VA-based firm that specializes in training people in the use of advanced technologies, developed and published a quality manual for 10,500 primary and middle schools across Egypt. The company deployed a team of 1,500 volunteers to train more than 40,000 educators in better educational practices in the four-year School Team Excellence Awards Program (STEAP), which ended in 2009; the program awarded cash incentives to school teams that performed the best.
- In 2007, Paltech launched a five-year program (called Technology for Improved Learning Outcomes, or TILO) to improve education through integrating the use of computers and other technology at 322 schools in 11 of Egypt’s 27 governorates.
- Creative Associates International, a Washington, DC-based firm that works to strengthen education, governance and civil societies through sustainable projects, also worked in TILO by joining with the Discovery Channel Global Education Partnership to integrate 150 educational videos into the lessons of more than 70,000 Egyptian school children.
- Management Systems International (MSI), a Washington, DC-based company dedicated to improving public management around the world, trained more than 1,000 media professionals at state-owned Al-Ahram, Egypt’s largest print news company, in writing for the Web, page layout and design and objective reporting.
The programs helped deepen and satisfy Egyptian demands for democratic reform and greater access to educational opportunities, information and technology. The STEAP program was so successful that local businessmen, who contributed as much as $2.9 million to the incentive awards, pledged to continue the program after it was completed. Al-Ahram won kudos for its coverage of the pro-democracy uprising in 2011, which once would have been unthinkable. “The enlightened and conscientious people at Al-Ahram, just like the other elements [in Egypt] who advocated freedom, justice and democracy, understood that the will of the people would triumph,” the editor of the company’s flagship newspaper wrote in a front-page editorial. “Al-Ahram will remain the conscience of this nation.”