France to the rescue of private French-speaking schools in Lebanon 

France to the rescue of private French-speaking schools in Lebanon 
An empty classroom in Our Lady of Lourdes school in the Lebanese city of Zahle, central Bekaa region, June 30, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 22 July 2020

France to the rescue of private French-speaking schools in Lebanon 

France to the rescue of private French-speaking schools in Lebanon 
  • ‘The emergency plan is a glimmer of hope and a living embodiment of the Francophone spirit,’ says MP Antoine Habchi
  • Antoine Habchi: The majority of Lebanese families are struggling and making unthinkable sacrifices to give their children the best possible education

BEIRUT: The French Embassy in Beirut has announced an emergency plan to provide financial support for the education of students enrolled in private French and French-speaking schools for the 2020/2021 academic year. French ambassador to Lebanon Bruno Foucher communicated this decision to the heads of schools accredited by the French Education Ministry and AEFE partners.

The announcement comes amid an unprecedented economic and political crisis in Lebanon that saw a massive decline in the value of the national currency against the US dollar.

France will channel several millions of euros to non-French families in 45 accredited schools, with a ceiling of 7,500,000 Lebanese pounds ($5,000) set for each student. 

“Today, in these troubled times, France embraces Lebanon with a sister’s love, with a parent’s affection, and comes to the aid of Lebanese families who are committed to offering their children a quality French-language education,” the director of the Collège Central in Jounieh, Father Elie Saadé, told Arab News en Français.

The Agency for French Education Abroad (AEFE) has shown a strong commitment to the staff of accredited schools in terms of continuing education.

In an interview with Arab News en Français, MP Antoine Habchi, a member of the “Strong Republic” parliamentary bloc who is on the parliamentary committee for education, higher education and culture, noted that “the majority of Lebanese families are struggling and making unthinkable sacrifices to give their children the best possible education.”

“Parents can no longer afford school fees. This shows the extent of poverty and the level of destitution that Lebanon has reached in just few months. The emergency plan announced by the French Embassy provides assistance and support to accredited schools threatened with closing their doors due to the various economic and political crises. It will also prevent the entire Lebanese education system, as well as Lebanon, from collapsing as it cannot provide proper education to many of its children,” explained Habchi.

He said that “the emergency plan creates a glimmer of hope. It is a living embodiment of the Francophone spirit. In Lebanese schools, where the main language is French, the legacy of Molière's language has allowed generations of Lebanese students to open their eyes to the world and develop a critical thinking. They are used to a culture and a teaching method based on reflexivity, analysis, and the development of cross-cutting skills ... Uprooting them from these schools would have had a negative impact on their learning process.”

Habchi said that “the emergency plan came as a response to a crisis, following our communication of the need for immediate action. However, the problem should be solved structurally through the fight against corruption and law enforcement. There is also a need for the application of the reforms advocated by the Cedar Conference and the World Bank.”

Asked about the economic and health challenges in the 2020-2021 academic year, Habchi said: “The vote on the Digital Education Act will be a very important step for higher education in Lebanon; a step that would reassure students that their degree is valid. Similarly, in the short term, distance learning and online evaluations took place during the coronavirus crisis. A bill would legislate what has been done in the academic context. As far as schools are concerned, the committee should prepare for the start of the school year and have proposals for blended learning. Training teachers in state schools is also a priority,” he says.

“40,000 students are expected to join state schools next year as their parents can no longer afford sending them to private ones,” Habchi said. “Lebanon’s economic crisis has seen many Lebanese lose their jobs or take pay cuts, forcing many families to remove their children from private schools during the 2019/2020 academic year, way before the COVID-19 outbreak.

“In a sign of the financial distress of Lebanese families, 39,189 students transferred during the school year from private to state schools, according to data provided by the Ministry of Education on January 20. This represents an increase of more than 15 percent compared to the 260,000 Lebanese children registered at the beginning of September. It is estimated that 30 percent of students will leave the private schools to join state schools for the 2020/2021 academic year.”

“Already under-equipped and over-crowded, state schools are not prepared for such an added burden. These schools have welcomed hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugee children who fled the war in the country next door in 2011, increasing the number of non-Lebanese students from 3,000 to 210,000, almost as many as Lebanese students. To cope with this unprecedented influx, state schools opened their doors in the afternoon to receive new foreign students,” said Habchi.

He concluded that “the unequal distribution of state schools on Lebanese territory is also a big problem. This whole context jeopardizes the school life of students who are at risk of dropping out of school, either due to their inability to pay for schooling in the private sector, or their inability to be accommodated in the public sector.”


Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses
Updated 29 min 14 sec ago

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses

Egypt receives 2.2 mln AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccine doses
  • The country received its first COVAX delivery of 854,000 AstraZeneca doses at the start of April
  • Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine

CAIRO: Egypt has received a batch of over 1.7 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses through the COVAX initiative and a separate shipment of 500,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses from China, the health ministry said on Thursday.
The country received its first COVAX delivery of 854,000 AstraZeneca doses at the start of April. It has also received several shipments of the Sinopharm vaccine, bringing the total number of vaccine doses delivered to 5 million, the health ministry said.
Egypt has an agreement for the supply of 20 million Sinopharm doses, and has been allocated 4.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through COVAX.
It is preparing to produce the Sinovac and Sputnik vaccines locally.
Egypt, with a population of just over 100 million, is trying to contain a third wave of COVID-19 infections and the government has put in place some restrictive measures until May 21, shortening opening hours and banning large gatherings.
Some 2.7 million people have registered online with the health ministry to receive a vaccine. Authorities opened a mass vaccination center in Cairo this month capable of vaccinating 10,000 people per day.
Egypt had officially confirmed 240,927 coronavirus cases including 14,091 deaths as of Wednesday.
Officials and experts say the real number of infections is far higher, but is not reflected in government figures because of low testing rates and the exclusion of private test results.


Macron holds talks with Mahmoud Abbas, will discuss Gaza situation with Netanyahu

French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Reuters)
French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Reuters)
Updated 30 min 17 sec ago

Macron holds talks with Mahmoud Abbas, will discuss Gaza situation with Netanyahu

French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris. (Reuters)

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron is concerned by the escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians and called for a “definite reset” of negotiations between the two sides, the French presidency said on Thursday.

Palestinian militants fired more rockets into Israel’s commercial heartland on Thursday as Israel kept up a punishing bombing campaign in Gaza and massed tanks and troops on the enclave’s border. 

More to follow...


UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds
Updated 13 May 2021

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

UAE allows Pfizer COVID-19 dose for emergency use in 12-15 year olds

The UAE has approved the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use in children aged 12-15, the government said on Thursday, having already permitted its use for 16 years and above.
The UAE's health ministry approved its use, the government's Twitter account said. The US Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday approved the use of the vaccine in children as young as 12.


Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan
Updated 13 May 2021

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan

Holy city of Jerusalem marks sad end to Ramadan
  • Violence lay heavy on hearts of parents of children dressed in new clothes and clutching balloons reveling to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Jerusalem’s Old City
  • As sun began to break over al-Aqsa mosque crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark Ramadan’s end

JERUSALEM: Dressed in sparkly new clothes and clutching balloons, excited children Thursday revelled in the Muslim Eid Al-Fitr celebrations in Jerusalem’s Old City.
But days of violence lay heavy on their parents’ hearts.
As the first rays of sun began to break over the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest site of Islam, crowds of Palestinians gathered for the first prayers to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
The three-day festival is traditionally celebrated with mosque prayers, family feasts and shopping for new clothes, gifts and sweets.
Stalls stacked high with colorful plastic toys, or tasty sesame-dipped snacks that are a Jerusalem specialty, tempted the crowds snaking along the Old City’s narrow stone streets.
At the centuries-old Damascus Gate, scene of violent clashes between Israeli Arabs and police at the start of Ramadan, two huge bundles of helium-filled balloons fluttered in the spring breeze. Mickey Mouse and Spiderman could be spotted bobbing among them.
Just three days ago, Israeli police deployed so-called skunk water there — a putrid mixture of sewage water — to disperse the crowds after a weekend of unrest in different parts of Israeli-occupied east Jerusalem.
Hundreds of Palestinians were injured as well as dozens of Israeli police in the clashes which also erupted on the Temple Mount, the most sacred site in Judaism, on which the Al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock shrine also stand.
The convulsion of violence has since spread, engulfing the Gaza Strip run by the Islamic militant Hamas movement, the Palestinian territory of the West Bank and Israeli cities which have seen unprecedented mob clashes between Jewish and Arab residents.
On Thursday the boom of rocket fire could be periodically heard in Jerusalem, where calm has mainly returned to the streets. But many believe it may just be the calm before a further storm.
“Do you see any problems, there, right now? No,” said Jabbar, who is in his 60s, pointing at crowds of Palestinians being carefully watched by heavily-armed Israeli police at Damascus gate.
“But it could flare up again at any minute,” he warned grimly.
“Everything will return to normal if God so wishes it,” said Fefka, who lives in the east Jerusalem quarter of Issawiya.
“The violence has to stop, but everything is only done for the settlers here,” she added angrily.
“Jerusalem is also ours,” she insisted, denouncing Israeli settlers who have moved into the east of the city since it was seized in the 1967 war.
According to the United Nations, east Jerusalem has been illegally occupied and annexed by Israel since then.
Hiba, 26, and Soujoud, 21, have been visiting the Al-Aqsa compound since Friday, the day the troubles erupted, triggered by the threat of evicting Palestinian families from their east Jerusalem homes to allow settlers to move in.
“Morning and evening, we stayed at Al-Aqsa,” said Soujoud, a secretarial student. “We don’t want any problems (with the police), but the mosque is ours and we have to defend it,” she added.
On the site, which overlooks the sprawling Old City below, children were entertained by a clown, while adults brandished Hamas flags and rolled out banners praising the Islamist movement.
“Jerusalem is a red line,” read one of the banners.
On Al-Wad Street which crosses the Old City, some passers-by were wearing shirts decorated with Palestinian flags, others had painted them on the cheeks.
Many were wearing the black-and-white chequered keffiyah scarf which has become a symbol of the Palestinian cause.
“We feel very sad for the Eid today, because of the situation and the violence,” said Hiba.
“We can’t be happy when we see what is happening in Gaza and elsewhere.”


Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
Updated 13 May 2021

Watchdog slams Iran’s treatment of Kurdish journalists

Security forces have detained at least eight Kurdish-Iranian journalists since mid-2020, including at least three who remain in detention. (Reuters via WANA/File Photo)
  • Committee to Protect Journalists: Tehran should ‘release all jailed journalists immediately’
  • Minority activists and journalists in Iran regularly face arbitrary detention and torture 

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has spoken out against Iran’s use of “vague, trumped-up” charges to crack down on Kurdish journalists, and urged authorities to release three who remain in detention.

Since May 2020, Tehran’s security forces have arrested dozens of activists and students in a crackdown on perceived pro-Kurdish movements in the country, according to reports cited by the CPJ.

They have arrested at least eight Kurdish journalists, three of whom remain behind bars.

“Iranian authorities’ targeting of Kurdish journalists adds a dimension of ethnic discrimination to the country’s already dire campaign to imprison members of the press,” said the CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa researcher Justin Shilad. 

“Authorities should drop all vague, trumped-up charges filed against Iranian-Kurdish journalists, and release all jailed journalists immediately,” he added.

On condition of anonymity, a lawyer representing several detained journalists told the CPJ that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are “very sensitive about Kurdish journalists and the topics they write about, especially if they write about the unity of Iranian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds, and other regional issues of Kurds.”

Iran’s ethnically diverse population — including Kurds, Arabs, Azerbaijanis and other minorities — has long been a source of insecurity for the regime, which at various times in its history has been confronted with secessionist movements.

For this reason, the lawyer explained, Tehran is “sensitive every time Kurdish journalists travel to Kurdish areas of Iraq such as Erbil. They closely monitor all movements across the border and any journalists’ assembly.”

Jafar Osafi, who is one of three journalists who remain in detention after the 2020 crackdown, ran a religious commentary and discussion channel on Telegram called “QandA with Sunnis.” He was arrested in his own home in June 2020, and has since been moved to Urmia prison, where the CPJ said he remains.

The committee said: “Iranian authorities must stop imprisoning and harassing Kurdish and other minority journalists, and should allow all members of the press to cover the news freely.”

According to Amnesty International, Iran’s ethnic minorities face “entrenched discrimination, curtailing their access to education, employment, adequate housing and political office.

“Members of minorities who spoke out against violations or demanded a degree of regional self-government were subjected to arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities criminalized peaceful advocacy of separatism or federalism and accused minority rights activists of threatening Iran’s territorial integrity.”