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|EGYPT: A court rules in favor of 12-year-old Azza|
|04/01/01 at 23:24:39|
|A court rules in favor of 12-year-old Azza|
The administration of the private French Champollion School in Alexandria
probably never expected that the choice of a 12-year-old to cover her hair
could cause them so many problems. And its certain that those same school
officials now feel at least a little regret over their decision to expel
Azza Mohammed Zaki and her three brothers last October after an Alexandria
court awarded the family LE600,000 on 20 March and ordered the school to
open the doors to the children.
The school, which is subsidiary to a non-governmental organization,
prevented Azza from attending classes at the beginning of the school year
last September because she had taken to wearing a headscarf. The school
said that the French secular education system prohibited showing any
religious or political symbols inside school, although Frances council of
state has said that wearing a headscarf does not count unless it disrupts
the schools functioning. After Azza refused to take off her veil or to
alternatively take private lessons after school, the affair leaked to the
press, leading the schools parents association to expel Azza and her three
brothers Mohammed (10), Youssef (8), and Yassin (4).
The suit raised by Azza and her parents named as defendants the head of
the school association (Association des Parents dElves de lEcole
FranaiseAPEEF), Jean Cador; school director Alain Barnaud; Minister of
Education Hussein Kamal Bahaeddin; and Alexandria governor Abdel Salam
Mahgoub. The court found the last two parties innocent and split the
damages between the first two parties.
The French Consulate in Alexandria surprised everyone when it submitted a
plea to intervene with the court on behalf of the school and APEEF, after
it had denied throughout the crisis that it had any relation with the
schools administration or anything to do with its curriculum. Although the
court allowed the consulate to intervene, it did not accept any of its
requests. The consulate had asked the court to consider Barnaud and Cador
as diplomats who could not be tried under Egyptian law. Head Judge Hussein
Al Gabri said that international law does not grant diplomatic immunity to
bureaucrats. The court also refused to drop the case against Cador on the
grounds that he had left Egypt for good.
In its ruling, the court referred to articles 18, 46 and 57 of the
Egyptian constitution which guarantee the right of education, freedom of
religion and prohibit assaults on personal freedom. It also made use of
the UN International Child Rights convention of 1989 and the 1960 UNESCO
convention against discrimination in education.
During the trial, the family came forth with medical testimony from
psychologists showing that the children had been afflicted with
psychological damage after having been expelled from the school. Both Azza
and Mohammed failed their mid-term exams at their new school due to the
difference in curriculum and education.
Despite the damages awarded to the court, it looks like the family is not
going to stop there. "The courts verdict proves that the school is
Egyptian and is subject to Egyptian law," said Nadida Al Daqaq, the
familys lawyer. "But despite that, it doesnt teach Arabic and it has no
files at the Ministry of Education." Al Daqaq has filed another case with
the Administrative Court calling into question the legal basis of the
school, which was formed following a cultural agreement between Egypt and
France in 1968.
Although the school and the French Embassy refused to comment on the
remark, they have already submitted an injunction to stop the
implementation of the ruling while they file an appeal. Al Daqaq responded
by raising a countersuit demanding more damagesthe original sum was LE10
million for the four childrenand she is further considering filing a
personal suit against Bernaud for impinging on Azzas personal freedom as
allowed by the constitution. She stated that she was concerned that the
French Embassy would try to get him out of Egypt before the case came to
While the case was still in court, both Azza and her family said that they
had no desire to go back to the school, no matter what the final verdict
might be; now, however, new considerations have changed their mind.
"Although theyre happy at their new schools, theyve found difficulty
adjusting to the different curriculum," said Nagla, Azzas mother. "Its
really affected their level, so theyll be forced to return to Champollion,
even if they have to repeat the school year."
The four children went to the school with their parents and lawyer after
the verdict was handed down and attended the morning classes as an
expression of their victory, but they have returned to their new schools
until the appeals process is completed.
In the meantime, the French cultural attach contacted the family and asked
to meet them. A meeting was set for 28 March, and the family expects the
embassy to ask for an amicable settlement to the matter. "We have no
objections to an amicable settlement," said Nagla. "But without giving up
our basic rights: the return of the children to their classes and Azza
being able to wear the veil that she chose of her own free will."
|Re: EGYPT: A court rules in favor of 12-year-old Azza|
|04/02/01 at 16:15:02|
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