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How much Quran belongs in the classroom?

Under an Islamist government, many expect far more religion in the Egyptian curriculum. But the reality of governing has tempered that push.

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In the cool morning shadows that stretch across Al Redwan Islamic School's courtyard, dozens of youngsters chant, "The prophet is the only messenger."

"We try to teach honesty and justice … and this good behavior will lead to a better country," explains the principal, Mostafa Mohamed Selim, advocating the merging of religion and education.

Awards from the British Council testify to the K-12 school's reputation, which draws not only Islamist families but also parents simply seeking a high-quality education. Only 80 of 600 applicants are accepted each year, and classes have a maximum of 40 students.

But the idea of infusing more Islam into schools is not universally popular.

Already, Quranic verses are peppered into even physics and chemistry lessons, and compulsory classes on Islam offer views that contradict those offered in courses promoting tolerance and religious freedom. Secular activists, liberals, and the 10 percent Christian minority have raised concerns that Islamists could use their new dominance to reshape education in their own image.

Seif-Eddeen Fateen, a Cairo University professor who has advised the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) on education reform, acknowledges that they have publicly espoused such goals in the past.

Now that they are in power, however, the central battle they are waging is less ideological and more existential. "They are thinking as statesmen instead of people of a [divine] calling," he says. "Now you're talking about concrete plans for advancing education and improving quality.... Religion is on the back burner."

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