Egypt's high-school final examinations were hit by an attempt at online cheating on Sunday, just 90 minutes into the first examination, with a version of the Arabic exam paper leaked on social media, Ahram's Arabic news website reported.
The paper was published on so-called "cheating pages" online, a scenario similar to last year’s leaks during the same Thanweya Amma finals.
Although the paper leaked on Sunday did not contain any answers, it hinted at a possible repeat of last year's scenario, whereby questions were leaked first, closely followed by answers.
For the past two years, test questions for several courses were leaked on a Facebook page titled "Chao Ming Cheats", with the education ministry mandating that students retake exams, a decision that sparked student protests in several governorates.
The general director of the Thanweya Amma exams, Reda Hegazy, told Al-Ahram that Sunday's leak was genuine, and that the operations committee at the education ministry would identify those responsible "within minutes".
Secondary school exams started across Egypt on Sunday morning, with 592,000 students taking exams in Arabic language and religion in various governorates, including Cairo, Alexandria, Assiut and Mansoura. Al-Ahram said that 109 students would be taking their examinations while in detention.
Around 91,000 students are sitting exams in greater Cairo, with schools and exam committees protected by personnel from the interior ministry, the governorate and civil defence bodies, Al-Ahram reported.
Another version of the Arabic exam paper was leaked on Saturday, said the report, but a source at the examination operations committee said it was a fake.
Hegazy said that any student found with a mobile phone in an examination could be banned from exams for a year, while exam supervisors and heads of the exam committees would also face legal action.
Earlier on Sunday, Hegazy said he was confident that there would be no repeat of the widespread leaks of last year, since various measures taken by the ministry enable them to identify those responsible within five minutes. In such cases, he said, exam papers can be replaced within three hours.
Hegazy warned those behind the Chao Ming page that they will not be able to leak exams. Addressing those resonsible, he said, "Don't lie to the students to take their money."
In June 2016, Egyptian police arrested an 18-year-old student allegedly responsible for administering three Facebook pages bearing the slogan "Chao Ming helps Thanaweya Amma cheat", all of which had leaked questions and answers for the exams.
Prosecutors ordered the detention of 12 education ministry personnel in connection with the leaks, and their trial is ongoing. The accused were employed in the ministry's examinations centre and the printing house responsible for printing the exam papers.
The largest Chao Ming Facebook page has over 750,000 followers and was created in 2012. It has leaked question papers from many exams, often striking a few minutes after the official examination starting times, with answers usually posted online shortly thereafter.
Some students are believed to use their smart phones inside the exam rooms to view the answers.
The page had been blocked by authorities, but it later came back into operation.
The government has taken several steps to avoid a repeat of last year's exam disruption, following assurances last year from Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi that the problem would be solved.
Along with stricter security surrounding examination papers, the ministry has altered the exam procedure, with students now required to submit their answers on the question sheet, as opposed to the previous system, in which answers were submitted on a separate sheet.
The new system is intended to prevent students sneaking test papers out of examination halls during toilet breaks, for example.
In December, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said that Thanaweya Amma exam-paper printing would now be overseen by "a sovereign body", indicating the possible involvement of a high-level security body. He added that the government has earmarked EGP 100,000 for new equipment to test security and anti-cheating measures at high schools.
The premier stressed that there would be "no complacency in dealing with all the negative phenomena that occur during exams."
The results of the Thanaweya Amma exams dictate which colleges, if any, students are eligible to attend. Nearly 500,000 students sit the high-school examinations in Egypt each year.