Egypt's education minister on Tuesday decided to investigate an incident last week in which ministry officials burnt 73 books from a school library in a Greater Cairo schoolyard, the Ahram Arabic news website has reported.
Mohab El-Rafai ordered an urgent investigation into the incident at the Fadl School in the Giza governorate’s Haram district, he told Ahram Arabic.
"I totally refuse for books to be disposed of in this way -- even if the books had incited towards violence and radicalism," he said.
The minister also announced that legal measures would be taken against participants in the incident, and that the contents of the 73 books in question would be reviewed.
Last week, photos emerged online of ministry officials, led by head of the Giza educational directorate Bothaina Kishk, holding Egyptian flags and burning books in the schoolyard.
The Fadl School is one of 147 schools formerly owned or managed by Muslim Brotherhood members to have been taken over by Egypt’s education ministry in early 2014, following Egypt’s government designating the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation in December 2013, and a decree to freeze the group's assets and activities.
Kishk defended her decision to burn the books, telling Ahram Arabic that "security authorities gave her instruction to do so".
The education ministry had formed a committee to inspect books in the libraries of schools previously run by the Brotherhood, she said, and the Fadl School was the first in Egypt to be inspected. The committee found the 73 books, after the school’s former Muslim Brotherhood owners had added them to its library, she claimed.
"We informed the security authorities, and they told us to burn the books," she said.
She added that the books had a "Rabaa sign" on their cover, referring to the four-finger symbol used by Brotherhood supporters in memory of the violent dispersal in August 2013 of a sit-in in support of ousted Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo's Rabaa El-Adawiya Square.
Egypt’s security forces consider the symbol to be inciting against the army and the police.
"The books had covers and titles of other books that were unrelated to their actual content,” Kishk said. “The actual books promoted violence, radicalism and Muslim Brotherhood thoughts."
School publishes list of burnt books
The Fadl School's administration apologised to students and their parents for the incident in a statement published on its official Facebook page, insisting that the school had never promoted any political agenda or tried to spread violence.
The school also published a list of the titles of the 73 burnt books.
Among them was a translated version of J. Christopher Herold’s Bonaparte in Egypt, and Abd El-Razzak El-Sanhuri’s book The Foundation of Governance in Islam. Sanhuri is known as the "father of the Egyptian constitution", and was among the earliest lawmakers in the Arab world to attempt to modernise Islamic Sharia.
Also burned were the late Sheikh Ali Abdel Raziq's book titled Islam and the Foundations of Governance, which argues that the idea of a caliphate is not supported by Islamic Sharia, the Prophet Mohammed's Sunna, and former Grand Imam of Al Azhar Sheikh Abdel Halim Mahmoud's book The Reform Discourse in Islam, about the modernisation of Islamic discourse.
The titles of books covering politics, the war in Bosnia, the dangers of drugs published by the Egypt’s National Council for Combating Drug Addiction were also on the list of incinerated books.
Many social media users have condemned the incident online.
Award-winning Egyptian novelist and author Ibrahim Abdel Magid slammed the education ministry for burning the books on his official Twitter account.
"Bonaparte in Egypt is the best European books about the French expedition to Egypt, as it takes Egypt and the Egyptians' side,” Abdel Magid tweeted on Monday, “but who at the education ministry would understand that?"