Teachers’ strike and soaring fees: Lebanon’s public school pupils miss class

Lebanon’s public education has been historically underfunded, with the government earmarking less than 2 percent of GDP to education in 2020, according to the World Bank. (Reuters)
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Updated 27 September 2022

Teachers’ strike and soaring fees: Lebanon’s public school pupils miss class

  • Lebanon’s three-year financial meltdown has left public schools shuttered so far this academic year
  • Teachers wage an open-ended strike over their severely devalued salaries

DEIR QUBEL: School teacher Claude Koteich, her teenager daughter and 10-year-old son should have all been back in class weeks ago – but a crisis in Lebanon’s education sector has left them lounging at home on a Monday afternoon.
Lebanon’s three-year financial meltdown has severely devalued the country’s pound and drained state coffers, pushing 80 percent of the population into poverty and gutting public services including water and electricity.
It has also left public schools shuttered so far this academic year, with teachers waging an open-ended strike over their severely devalued salaries and administrations worried they won’t be able to secure fuel to keep the lights and heating on during the winter.
Koteich, 44, has taught French literature at Lebanese public schools for exactly half her lifetime.
“We used to get a salary high enough that I could afford to put my kids in private school,” she told Reuters in her living room in the mountain town of Deir Qubel, overlooking the Lebanese capital.
But since 2019, Lebanon’s pound has lost more than 95 percent of its value as other costs skyrocket following the government’s lifting of fuel subsidies and global price jumps.
From a monthly salary that was once about $3,000, Koteich now earns the equivalent of $100 – forcing her to make a tough choice last summer over whether to put her children back in costly private schools or transfer them to a public education system paralyzed by the pay dispute.
“I was stuck between yes and no – waiting for our salaries to change, or if the education minister wanted to fulfill our demands,” Koteich said.
By September, there had been little progress on securing higher salaries given Lebanon’s depleted state coffers. At the same time, her children’s private school was asking for tuition to be paid mostly in cash dollars to guarantee they could afford to pay for expensive fuel and other imported needs.
That would amount to a yearly fee of $500 per student, plus 15 million Lebanese pounds, or about $400.
“I found the number was very high and out of this world for me,” she said.
So as their former classmates don their private school uniforms, Koteich and her two children still have no clear idea when they will return to class.
Lebanon’s education system has long been heavily reliant on private schools, which hosted almost 60 percent of the country’s 1.25 million students, according to the Ministry of Higher Education.
However, the strain on households from Lebanon’s financial collapse has forced a shift: around 55,000 students transitioned from private to public schools in the 2020-2021 school year alone, the World Bank has said.
But public education has been historically underfunded, with the government earmarking less than 2 percent of GDP to education in 2020, according to the World Bank — one of the lowest rates in the Middle East and North Africa.
And the combined stresses of recent years – from an influx of Syrian refugees starting in 2011 to the COVID-19 pandemic and the port blast which damaged Beirut – has beleaguered schools.
“My students’ worries are beyond educational – they started to think about how they can make a living. This age is supposed to be thinking of their homework,” Koteich said.
The head of the United Nations’ children agency UNICEF in Lebanon told Reuters that about one third of children in Lebanon – including Syrian children – are not attending school.
“We have worrying numbers of an increase in children being employed in Lebanon, and girls getting into early child marriage,” said Edouard Beigbeder.
A UNICEF study this year found that 38 percent of households had reduced their education expenses compared with just 26 percent in April 2021. This trend makes a return to class ever more important.
Some hope schools will re-open in October, although there has been no such indication from the government.
“There’s a kind of race against the clock to ensure the first week of October, we will have the right kind of opening,” Beigbeder said.


Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

Updated 04 December 2022

Iran scraps morality police after months of deadly protests

  • Women-led protests swept Iran after a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin died in the custody of the morality police in September
  • The morality police were established under hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to 'spread the culture of modesty and hijab'

TEHRAN: Iran has scrapped its morality police after more than two months of protests triggered by the arrest of Mahsa Amini for allegedly violating the country’s strict female dress code, local media said Sunday.
Women-led protests, labelled “riots” by the authorities, have swept Iran since the 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin died on September 16, three days after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran.
“Morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary” and have been abolished, Attorney General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
His comment came at a religious conference where he responded to a participant who asked “why the morality police were being shut down,” the report said.
The morality police — known formally as the Gasht-e Ershad or “Guidance Patrol” — were established under hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to “spread the culture of modesty and hijab,” the mandatory female head covering.
The units began patrols in 2006.
The announcement of their abolition came a day after Montazeri said that “both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue)” of whether the law requiring women to cover their heads needs to be changed.
President Ebrahim Raisi said in televised comments Saturday that Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched “but there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible.”
The hijab became mandatory four years after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy and established the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Morality police officers initially issued warnings before starting to crack down and arrest women 15 years ago.
The vice squads were usually made up of men in green uniforms and women clad in black chadors, garments that cover their heads and upper bodies.
The role of the units evolved, but has always been controversial even among candidates running for the presidency.
Clothing norms gradually changed, especially under former moderate president Hassan Rouhani, when it became commonplace to see women in tight jeans with loose, colorful headscarves.
But in July this year his successor, the ultra-conservative Raisi, called for the mobilization of “all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law.”
Raisi at the time charged that “the enemies of Iran and Islam have targeted the cultural and religious values of society by spreading corruption.”
In spite of this, many women continued to bend the rules, letting their headscarves slip onto their shoulders or wearing tight-fitting pants, especially in major cities and towns.
Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia also employed morality police to enforce female dress codes and other rules of behavior. Since 2016 the force there has been sidelined in a push by the Sunni Muslim kingdom to shake off its austere image.


State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel

Updated 04 December 2022

State news: Iran executes 4 people it says spied for Israel

  • Executed prisoners identified as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi

TEHRAN: Iranian authorities executed four people Sunday accused of working for Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, the state-run IRNA news agency said.
IRNA said the country’s powerful Revolutionary Guard announced the arrests of a network of people linked to the Israeli agency. It said members stole and destroyed private and public property and kidnapped individuals and interrogated them.
The report said the alleged spies had weapons and received wages from Mossad in the form of cryptocurrency.
Israel and Iran are regional arch-enemies.
IRNA identified the executed prisoners as Hossein Ordoukhanzadeh, Shahin Imani Mahmoudabadi, Milad Ashrafi and Manouchehr Shahbandi.


Delay in enacting law against underage marriage sparks concern in Egypt

Updated 03 December 2022

Delay in enacting law against underage marriage sparks concern in Egypt

  • Parliament’s legislative and constitutional affairs committee decided to postpone the final approval of the draft law until it received a response from Al-Azhar Al-Sharif

CAIRO: A delay to a new draft law, currently pending before the Parliament of Egypt, that criminalizes marriage under the age of 18 and increases the punishment for violators, has sparked controversy in the North African country.

The hold up is due to Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, the Islamic scientific body, which has yet to determine the extent of the proposal’s agreement with Shariah law.

Mohamed Sultan, a member of the parliament’s human rights committee, told Arab News: “The House of Representatives submitted a new draft law that increases the punishment for violators of the crime of underage marriage, whether it be parents, authorized persons or lawyers. The Cabinet approved the draft law in April.

“We aim to eliminate this negative phenomenon — as underage marriage is a crime against children — in addition to its negative impact on society. At this age, they are not capable (of taking) responsibility for forming a family and raising children, and this is a flagrant assault on the childhood stage.

“The draft law stipulates that it is not permissible to marry a person who has not reached the age of 18. Whoever marries or participates in the marriage of a male or female under the age of 18 will face a fine of between 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($814) to 50,000 pounds, and a prison sentence no shorter than six months.”

He added: “Anyone who incites the marriage of minors is also punished with the same penalty, and the child is not considered criminal or responsible for this crime.”

Parliament’s legislative and constitutional affairs committee decided to postpone the final approval of the draft law until it received a response from Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, which is the largest religious institution in Egypt.

Ahmed Al-Sawy, editor-in-chief of Sawt Al-Azhar newspaper, told Arab News: “Al-Azhar and its Grand Imam Sheikh Al-Tayyib resolved the issue of child marriage years ago by defining a legal age for marriage, and the scholars supported all efforts to criminalize child marriage.”

Al-Sawy cited statements by Al-Tayyib in which he said: “When talking about this issue, we must differentiate between minors in two senses — the first is the girl has not yet reached the age of puberty, and the second is the girl has just reached puberty but is yet to be psychologically and mentally ready for marriage.”

He added: “I do not think that marriage with minors who are yet to reach puberty was something that existed, occurred, or was a phenomenon that attracted attention. Rather, what used to happen was the girl’s marriage right after reaching puberty.”

Al-Tayyib previously stated: “The issue of determining the age of marriage for girls is subject to the circumstances of the era and changes … and the fact that the law now sets the age of marriage at 18 years is welcome, and there is no objection to this.”

Islam Amer, an Islamic scholar and marriage expert, told Arab News: “I demanded more than once to criminalize the customary marriage for those under 18, and I am now calling on parliament to issue a law that criminalizes marriage under the legal age because early marriage is a violation of children’s rights.”
 


Over 200 killed in Iran protests: top security body

Updated 03 December 2022

Over 200 killed in Iran protests: top security body

  • The country's Supreme National Security Council said the number of people killed during unrest sparked by her death "exceeds 200"
  • A general in Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps this week, for the first time, said hundreds of people had lost their lives in the unrest

TEHRAN: More than 200 people have been killed in Iran since nationwide protests erupted over the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, the country’s top security body said Saturday.
Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died on September 16 after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic republic’s dress code for women.
Quoted by the official IRNA news agency, the country’s Supreme National Security Council said the number of people killed during unrest sparked by her death “exceeds 200.”
It said the figure included security officers, civilians and “separatists” as well as “rioters” — a term used by Iranian officials to describe protesters.
A general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps this week, for the first time, said more than 300 people had lost their lives in the unrest.
The security council said that in addition to the human toll, the violence had caused millions of dollars in damage.
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights on Tuesday said at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”
UN rights chief Volker Turk said last week that 14,000 people, including children, had been arrested in the protest crackdown.


Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general

Updated 03 December 2022

Iran’s hijab law under review: attorney general

  • Protesters have burned their head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans
  • "Both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue)", of whether the law needs any changes, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said

TEHRAN: Iran’s parliament and the judiciary are reviewing a law which requires women to cover their heads, and which triggered more than two months of deadly protests, the attorney general said.
The demonstrations began after Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died in custody on September 16 after her arrest by Iran’s morality police for an alleged breach of the dress code.
Protesters have burned their head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans. Since Amini’s death a growing number of women are not observing hijab, particularly in Tehran’s fashionable north.
The hijab headscarf became obligatory for all women in Iran in April 1983, four years after the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed monarchy.
“Both parliament and the judiciary are working (on the issue),” of whether the law needs any changes, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri said in the holy city of Qom.
Quoted on Friday by the ISNA news agency, he did not specify what could be modified in the law.
The review team met on Wednesday with parliament’s cultural commission “and will see the results in a week or two,” the attorney general said.
President Ebrahim Raisi on Saturday said Iran’s republican and Islamic foundations were constitutionally entrenched.
“But there are methods of implementing the constitution that can be flexible,” he said in televised comments.
After the hijab law became mandatory, with changing clothing norms it became commonplace to see women in tight jeans and loose, colorful headscarves.
But in July this year Raisi, an ultra-conservative, called for mobilization of “all state institutions to enforce the headscarf law.”
Many women continued to bend the rules, however.
Iran accuses its sworn enemy the United States and its allies, including Britain, Israel, and Kurdish groups based outside the country, of fomenting the street violence which the government calls “riots.”
A general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps this week, for the first time, said more than 300 people have lost their lives in the unrest since Amini’s death.
Iran’s top security body, the Supreme National Security Council, on Saturday said the number of people killed during the protests “exceeds 200.”
Cited by state news agency IRNA, it said the figure included security officers, civilians, armed separatists and “rioters.”
Oslo-based non-governmental organization Iran Human Rights on Tuesday said at least 448 people had been “killed by security forces in the ongoing nationwide protests.”
UN rights chief Volker Turk said last week that 14,000 people, including children, had been arrested in the protest crackdown.