In Tunisia, in part to allay such concerns, the moderate Ennahda refrained from pursing the education minister's position. (The seat went to an independent nominated by a left-leaning party.) The party knew "there would have been a lot of opposition and accusations that we want to re-engineer education and instill our vision on the country," Kheriji explains. Ennahda supports Arabic-language instruction and believes Islam is a fundamental part of Tunisian identity, but, he says, "We don't want education to be a polarizing field. We want there to be a consensus."
Nonetheless, the country has already witnessed clashes on university campuses, with fundamentalist students and their supporters demonstrating for the right of female students to wear the niqab, disrupting classes, and reportedly intimidating professors and administrators for un-Islamic behavior or teachings. Secular-leaning Tunisians have organized counterprotests.
In Egypt, Islamist parties -- considerably more conservative than those in Tunisia -- have shown much less reticence. Aleem, the head of the education committee in the Egyptian parliament, is a member of the Nour Party, a new and very conservative Islamist party that won about a quarter of parliament's seats and that -- along with the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party -- forms an Islamist supermajority. The Nour Party has already voiced its interest in running the Education Ministry. But some liberals are concerned by the suggestion, in the party's platform, that Egyptian authorities should "revise the curriculum so that it suits and supports the morals and values of Egyptian society, and remove all that contradicts true Islam." The platform calls for establishing separate, extra classes for girls -- what it calls an "additional high-quality educational program that is appropriate for her nature and role and the duty that God has set her" -- as well as for keeping "women's special nature in mind when devising curricula and teaching methods, and acknowledg[ing] that what suits men does not always suit women."
Liberal Egyptian newspapers allege that Islamists intend to mandate the headscarf for schoolgirls and segregate classes -- a charge Aleem denies. "We haven't talked about any of these things," he says. The committee, he notes, is holding hearings with educational experts and planning trips to Turkey and Malaysia -- two often invoked models of Islamist success -- to study their education systems. And when a Nour member recently criticized early English-language classes in Egyptian schools -- calling them a plan to make "our children … culturally Westernized" -- the party condemned his remarks. "English is a necessary skill," Aleem says. "We want to teach many languages."
He insists that the Nour Party's top priority, shared by Islamists and more secular Egyptians alike, is to move Egypt's ailing education system forward -- not to get caught up in fights along the way, whether about foreign languages or Mubarak's legacy. "We're concerned with the big issues," he promises.