CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian education official under investigation for burning library books from a school suspected of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood defended her decision Wednesday, saying she herself is under fire for trying to weed out extremist ideas that "corrupt" children.
Bothaina Kishk, an Education Ministry official from Cairo's Giza district, and a number of government officials burned the books in the courtyard of one of the Fadl Schools earlier this month. Photos showed them standing in a circle, some waving the Egyptian flags, as the books burned. When the pictures first appeared in a local newspaper, it unleashed a torrent of angry comments from parents, government officials, media personalities and even members of the committee that helped select the books.
The outcry prompted the Minister of Education to refer Kishk to investigators.
"Fighting terrorism will never be by burning books," Education Minister Moheb el-Rafie said in a statement to journalists.
But the incident highlights the challenges Egypt faces in fighting the rising tide of Islamic extremism amid a government-sanctioned crackdown on Islamist groups, and a media and public frenzy against the Brotherhood after the military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
Kishk said she had no fear of the investigation.
The backlash "is a conspiracy from the Brotherhood to scare us so we can leave their schools as they are, corrupting the brains of the children," Kishk told The Associated Press. "My pedagogical and religious conscious will not accept that."
The school has been under government control along with more than 100 others as part of a crackdown on associations linked to the Brotherhood. The 86-year-old group, which relied on a wide network of social services, was declared a terrorist organization following Morsi's ouster amid popular protest against his divisive rule.
The government since has jailed most of the group's leaders, confiscated their properties and put much of its associations under government control— accusing it of financing violence and fueling extremism. The group denies the allegations.
The crackdown meanwhile has fuelled militant attacks against the police and military — only feeding the public perception that the Brotherhood is directly linked to the violence.
Mamdouh el-Sayed, a teacher in the school for more than 20 years, said the new government-appointed administration asked a 12-member committee earlier this month to remove books from the library that didn't comply with a new list from the ministry. This included political or religious books, he said.
He said he and others on the committee picked 82 titles, including a number of government books about combatting drugs, a book on Napoleon Bonaparte and one on a historic marriage in Egypt. The books also included those written by a late cleric of Egypt's Al-Azhar institute and other prominent Islamists.
"May my hand be cut if I were to ever burn a book," said el-Sayed, who thought the books only would be removed in compliance with the new policy.
Kishk said the books titles were deceiving and included "falsified" history and notions of Islam. When a culture ministry official called out Kishk on a late night TV show, saying the burning mimicked extremists like as the Islamic State group, Kishk lashed back.
"This way, in my opinion, we are burning the ideas of Daesh," she said, using an Arabic acronym for the group.
Amr Fadl, the school's owner, said he already won a court ruling last month to end government oversight of the school, exonerating him of charges of belonging to the Brotherhood. The government is challenging the ruling.
"This is just bad publicity for the school," he said.