Mikati holds meeting to save Lebanese education sector

Special Mikati holds meeting to save Lebanese education sector
Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati. (AP/File)
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Updated 07 February 2022

Mikati holds meeting to save Lebanese education sector

Mikati holds meeting to save Lebanese education sector
  • Government pledges to up teacher pay amid strikes, but is hindered by spending limits
  • Education minister warns whole system is in danger of failing

BEIRUT: Politicians, ambassadors, academics and representatives of international organizations took part in a “consultative meeting to save the education sector in Lebanon” on Monday, held by the Ministry of Education, against the backdrop of an ongoing teacher strike.

The strike has contributed to paralyzing public schools for over four months, majorly disrupting the academic year

“We do not have a magic wand to address all educational issues at once,” Prime Minister Najib Mikati said as he opened the meeting. “We hope the educational staff would understand the government’s situation and the limited capabilities we have.

“We hope they can be patient, along with the students’ families, in light of the stifling economic crisis that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We ask teachers to cooperate with us to overcome this difficult stage with minimal damage and not to throw demands at the government, students and families, as the state of the public treasury cannot handle any spending outside the most urgent issues.”

Education Minister Abbas Al-Halabi said that public school students “have barely attended 25 days of school this year, while students in the private sector are close to completing the curriculum.”

This, he said would lead to huge disparity in academic outcomes unless “we are able to compensate for the lost months in public schools and complete the curricula before we reach the point of no return.”

There are no accurate figures about the number of students in public schools for the year 2021-2022, but there were around 342,303 students in 2019-2020, with an increase in 2020-2021 of about 10,000 students, who switched from private schools due to an inability to pay fees amid the country’s soaring currency and economic crises.

According to a report by the Crisis Monitor at the American University of Beirut, 70 percent of Lebanese families depended on private schools, especially for elementary and middle school.

Before the crisis, the private education sector’s share was worth an estimated $1.3 billion.

There are 1,209 private schools in Lebanon employing about 51,215 teachers, while there are 1,235 public schools with about 40,796 teachers.

There are also 352 educational institutions which are semi-free private schools that receive support from the state, and employ 7,468 teachers.

Meanwhile, there are about 30,000 contract teachers in public and private schools.

The Contract Teachers Association is calling for raising the hourly wage from 20,000 Lebanese pounds ($13.22) to 70,000 Lebanese pounds and granting teachers a daily transportation allowance of 64,000 Lebanese pounds.

Hospital cards are also being sought for contract teachers because they are deprived of any health insurance.

Another proposal is that the academic year should be made up of 28 weeks and not 18 weeks as happened last year.

Last week, Al-Halabi said: “The circumstances that called for the teachers' strike no longer exist after the Cabinet approved a monthly social grant and raised transportation allowance.”

He said hourly wages for contract teachers had doubled, but a legislative decision was needed to improve the legal status of the teachers in terms of including them in the transportation allowance and the social grant. 

“This is the best the state treasury can do at the moment,” he explained.

During the consultative meeting, Al-Halabi warned that “public education is in danger, not just the academic year, which we strive with all our capabilities to save.”

The minister’s remarks came as contract teachers held a sit-in in downtown Beirut, and a delegation later met with the concerned authorities following the consultative meeting.

The teachers agreed to end their strike provided that a decree to increase their transportation allowance was approved.

The delay to launch the academic year in public schools also affected Syrian refugee students who receive their education in these schools after regular school hours.

According to the UNHCR, about 321,512 refugee students were registered in formal and non-formal education for the year 2020-2021.

Aid for vulnerable families, meanwhile, is dwindling, and on Monday Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar announced that his ministry will be able to “reach 75,000 eligible families within the program for the poorest families within a maximum of four months.”

Home visits to families registered on the social protection platform will start on Feb. 15, he added.


Usufruct rights granted for Egypt’s natural reserves to boost ecotourism

A tourist is seen jet skiing at Porto Marina in Alexandria, Egypt. (REUTERS)
A tourist is seen jet skiing at Porto Marina in Alexandria, Egypt. (REUTERS)
Updated 06 December 2022

Usufruct rights granted for Egypt’s natural reserves to boost ecotourism

A tourist is seen jet skiing at Porto Marina in Alexandria, Egypt. (REUTERS)
  • Highlighting “full transparency through the information and data that is published,” Fouad also talked about the government’s nationwide afforestation program, which will see the number of trees reach 2 million next year

CAIRO: In a significant move, Egypt’s government has granted usufruct rights to investors to expand ecotourism in nature reserves for up to 10 years, provided that the local population is employed in the projects involved.

Yasmine Fouad, minister of environment, announced that the program would begin with the Nabq and Ras Mohammed reserves in South Sinai, where restaurants and cafeterias have been set up.

She highlighted the ministry’s efforts to support the local community by enabling them to sell handicrafts and provide food services to visitors at the nature reserves.

Fouad said that 70 percent of the employees at the Wadi El-Gemal Reserve were from the local population.

The number of stations to monitor air pollutants has been increased to 116 nationwide, she said, adding that the ministry publishes a report every three days on air quality and issues alerts if any concentration of pollutants is detetcted in an effort to protect people’s health, especially those with allergies and respiratory issues.

Highlighting “full transparency through the information and data that is published,” Fouad also talked about the government’s nationwide afforestation program, which will see the number of trees reach 2 million next year.

She revealed plans to rehabilitate Egyptian lakes and stop direct sewage flow into them.

The total number of nature reserves in Egypt currently is 31. Natural reserves are estimated to make up more than 15 percent of the country’s total area.

The idea to establish natural reserves stems from Law 102, passed in 1983.

 


Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts
Updated 06 December 2022

Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts

Turkish missiles used in Syria include Europe-produced parts
  • An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer
  • The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies

BEIRUT: Commercial brakes produced by a Dutch company to be used in ambulances in Turkiye instead ended up in missiles used by Turkiye in attacks in northeastern Syria, a report released Tuesday said.
Between September 2021 and June 2022, field investigators with London-based Conflict Armament Research analyzed the remnants of 17 air-to-surface missiles used in strikes in northeast Syria, the report said. An analysis of the components of the wreckage found that the missiles were manufactured by Roketsan, a Turkish defense manufacturer.
The missiles included components made by US, Chinese and European companies, among them electromagnetic brakes with “markings and characteristics consistent with production by (Netherlands-based company) Kendrion NV,” the report said.
Representatives of Kendrion told researchers that the company had agreed in 2018 to supply 20-25,000 brakes to a Turkish company called FEMSAN, with the stated purpose of using them on blood analysis machines fitted to ambulances, the report said. After being notified that the brakes were being used in military applications, Kendrion said it had cut off its business relationship with the Turkish company, the report noted.
FEMSAN did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while representatives of Roketsan could not be reached for comment.
The research was carried out before the most recent round of Turkish airstrikes in northeast Syria, launched last month in response to a deadly Nov. 13 bombing in Istanbul that Ankara blames on Kurdish groups based in Syria — an allegation that the groups deny. Turkiye’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also threatened a ground incursion.
The report did not allege that the sellers of the components used in the missiles had violated any laws, noting that “while the EU has had an arms embargo related to Syria itself since 2011, (Turkiye) has never been subject to sanctions at the multilateral level.”
It added that the case “highlights both the critical importance and the relative complexity of commercial due diligence for material of these types” which “may serve multiple purposes, some of which the manufacturer may not even be aware, and which may be extremely sensitive.”


Gaza conservatives win battle to cancel girls’ football match

Gaza conservatives win battle to cancel girls’ football match
Updated 06 December 2022

Gaza conservatives win battle to cancel girls’ football match

Gaza conservatives win battle to cancel girls’ football match
  • Hani Abu Kush, a board member of the Rafah Services Club, said it wanted to hold the match as part of a sporting project.
  • “The match was like a graduation ceremony at the end, but the media uproar made it a big event,” he told Arab News

GAZA CITY: Religious conservatives have forced the cancelation of a football match for young girls in the Gaza Strip, describing it as an attempt to “replace the hijab with shorts.”
The pressure led to the cancelation of the match for girls aged nine to 12 from the Rafah Services Club and the Rafah Youth Club, which was scheduled for Thursday. Scholars and clerics criticized the match, calling it a “moral disgrace.”
Hani Abu Kush, a board member of the Rafah Services Club, said it wanted to hold the match as part of a sporting project.
“This is a project that started several months ago and included training for girls aged nine to 12. The match was like a graduation ceremony at the end, but the media uproar made it a big event,” he told Arab News.
He said that the club currently did not have any girls’ teams and all that was being done for girls was with external funding.
Abu Kush said he understood that holding matches for girls would be objectionable as “we are a conservative society, but this was a match for young children who are not professional soccer players, and there was no reason for all this fuss.”
Majdi Al-Maghrabi, one of the hard-liners in Rafah, wrote on his Facebook page: “We were informed that this match was canceled at the request of the governor of Rafah.”
He added that “we all hope that these women’s teams will be dissolved”, and accused Fatah member Jibril Rajoub of running a “sabotage project for women’s sports in the Gaza Strip, which aspires to lead our girls to replace the hijab with shorts.”
While his comment drew support, others objected by saying “these are just children.”
Palestinian sports in general suffer from a lack of funding and interest, according to those in charge of the clubs in Gaza, and there is not enough funding for the existing men’s teams.
“The current lack of funding and the financial suffering of the clubs in the Gaza Strip prevent them from developing the capabilities of the existing teams, and prevent them from forming women’s teams in the Gaza Strip,” Abu Kush said.
There are no permanent women’s football teams in Gaza unlike in the West Bank, and women from Gaza are not part of the Palestinian national team.
Alaa Al-Amour, a female football coach, told Arab News: “There is a clear lack of interest (from officials) in Gaza for women’s sports. There is no funding, and clubs in the Gaza Strip are not interested in women’s teams. The federation also does not show sufficient interest in supporting women’s teams.
“All the activities that happen for women in Gaza are part of initiatives of civil institutions or projects that are funded by international and external parties only.”
Al-Amour was a coach with a girls’ football team that traveled to Norway recently, and after the end of the funding, training for that team was stopped.
Female players, whether in training or matches, wear modest kits that do not violate the customs and traditions of the Gaza Strip, and the age groups involved do not exceed 17 years, said Al-Amour.
“We face many obstacles, the most important of which is funding, as well as community pressures that sometimes do not allow girls to play football. In addition to that, Israeli obstacles prevent communication between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“The last time the team I trained participated in a West Bank match without my participation as a coach.”


Witnesses question Israeli claims after killing of Palestinian

Witnesses question Israeli claims after killing of Palestinian
Updated 06 December 2022

Witnesses question Israeli claims after killing of Palestinian

Witnesses question Israeli claims after killing of Palestinian
  • Ammar Mefleh, 22, shot dead at point-blank range by officer following scuffle
  • Mefleh grabbed the rifle but then dropped it, at which point the officer drew his pistol and shot him at close range, killing him

LONDON: Witnesses to the killing of a Palestinian have questioned the accounts of Israeli authorities, who say an officer killed the 22-year-old in self-defense, the BBC reported on Tuesday.

Ammar Mefleh was shot dead by an officer at point-blank range in the West Bank on Friday. The killing has sparked widespread condemnation in Palestine, with the UN envoy to the region tweeting that he was “horrified” over Mefleh’s death.

The incident occurred when Mefleh allegedly stabbed the officer in the face following a scuffle.

However, witnesses told the BBC that the man only punched the officer and that there was no knife involved.

It is unclear based on witness testimony and video evidence what led to the incident, but the actions of the officer have been praised in Israel and condemned by Palestinians.

Footage of the incident shows the Israeli officer restraining Mefleh in a headlock, with the latter escaping and trying to seize the policeman’s gun.

Mefleh grabbed the rifle but then dropped it, at which point the officer drew his pistol and shot him at close range, killing him.

Witness Nader Allan told the BBC: “I was standing over there next to the butcher. A settler’s car stopped. I’m not sure if he hit the (Palestinian) guy’s car, or if the guy was walking in the street.

“They started yelling at each other and I heard a shot. The settler shot the guy (Mefleh) in the face. He was bleeding and he fell on the floor.”

Following that initial incident the Israeli officer arrived, eventually leading to Mefleh’s death, Allan said.

Mahmoud Abed, another witness, said he investigated the sound of gunshots after the Israeli driver opened fire.

He added: “We found a guy on the floor with his face covered in blood. A policeman came from far away. He looked at him and kicked him, then the policeman said something on the radio.”

Both witnesses said despite being wounded by the initial shooting, Mefleh confronted the officer who arrived at the scene. This is what led to the scuffle, they added.

Bahaa Odeh, a third witness, said: “Because of how upset I got from what I saw I started shouting at the soldier telling him ‘you’re despicable … there was no danger to your life, why did you kill him?’

“I told him ‘you are a coward … you killed him because he punched you. He has a right to defend himself’.”

As a result of Mefleh’s death, confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli authorities later descended into violence.

In the West Bank this year, more than 150 Palestinians have been killed, almost entirely by Israeli forces.


Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary
Updated 06 December 2022

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary

Iran sentences five to death over killing of Basij paramilitary
  • Another 11 people, including 3 children, were handed lengthy jail terms

TEHRAN: Iran has sentenced to death five people over the killing of a member of the Basij paramilitary force during nationwide protests, the judiciary said Tuesday.
Another 11 people, including three children, were handed lengthy jail terms over the death of Ruhollah Ajamian, judiciary spokesman Massoud Setayeshi told a news conference, adding the sentences could be appealed.
A group of 15 people had been charged with “corruption on earth” over the death of Ajamian on November 3 in Karaj, a city west of Tehran, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported last week.
Prosecutors said Ajamian, 27, was stripped naked and killed by a group of mourners who had been paying tribute to a slain protester, Hadis Najafi, during ceremonies marking 40 days since her death.
Najafi was killed during unrest that has gripped Iran since the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, after her arrest for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code for women.
Initially, on November 12, Mizan Online announced charges for 11 people over Ajamian’s killing, including a woman but as the trial opened, it said 15 defendants in the case had been charged.
An Iranian general said on Monday that more than 300 people have been killed in the unrest, including dozens of members of the security forces.
Hundreds of people have been killed and thousands have been arrested, including 40 foreigners and prominent actors, journalists and lawyers.
The latest court rulings bring to 11 the number of people sentenced to death in Iran over the violence sparked by Amini’s death.