It is not that Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution are unknown in Alexandria, Egypt. But even among those who profess to know something about the subject, the common understanding is that Darwin said man came from monkeys. Darwin, of course, did not say man came from monkeys. He said the two share a common ancestor. But to discuss Darwin anywhere is not just to explore the origin of man. It is inevitably to engage in a debate between religion and science. That is wh y, 150 years after Darwin published On the origin of species,” the British Council, the cultural arm of the British government, decided to hold an international conference on Darwin in this conservative, Sunni Muslim nation. It was a first.
“A lot of people say his theories are wrong, or go against religion,” said Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council. “His ideas provoke, but if we are going to understand each other, we have to discuss things that divide us.”
Darwin may be misunderstood here, but in many ways that is but one symptom of a more fundamental problem with education in Egypt and around the region. In a culture that prizes and nurtures conformity, challenging conventions and beliefs is anathema, said writers, political scientists, social workers, students and educators inside and outside the conference.
Education here is based on rote memorisation, with virtually no emphasis on creative thinking. Few schools here even teach the theory of evolution.