Egypt’s education minister has ordered students to respect the Egyptian flag or risk jail time.
Students who mock or desecrate the flag could be fined 30,000 LE (£1,260) and sentenced to up to a year in prison, said the education minister, Tarek Shawki.
The former president Adly Mansour criminalised desecrating the Egyptian flag with the same punishments in 2014, but Shawki’s order singles out younger Egyptians for the first time.
This month students at Egypt’s public universities began their academic year by saluting the flag, after a decree by the Higher Council of Universities aimed at “boosting patriotic sentiment”.
The ruling prompted a backlash on social media, where users tweeted under the hashtag “what do you think about saluting the flag” and made jokes about the new ceremony.
Primary and secondary students across the Arab world’s most populous country were already required to salute the flag each morning.
The push for nationalism in Egyptian schools follows a decision to remove teaching about the popular uprisings of 2011 and 2013 from the Egyptian curriculum prior to this academic year.
Egyptian universities were considered sites of protest after the 2011 revolution, which swept autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power.
Since Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi assumed power in 2013 there has been a rise in nationalistic sentiment. According to civil society groups, at least 40,000 people have been detained in a political crackdown, many of them young people.
Timothy E Kaldas, of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, a Washington-based thinktank, said the decision to remind younger students of the harsh rules around mocking the flag suggested the Egyptian state was concerned its messages of nationalism would be less effective in times of increasing hardship.
“There is a limit how much feelings of nationalism can offset the pain of poverty, which has grown since the country’s currency collapsed last fall and inflation has spiked,” he said.