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Anti-Hijab school fined
By Hossam Bahgat, Cairo

Azzah Muhammad Zaki, LeftThe administration of the private Champollion School in the Egyptian city of Alexandria has learnt it the hard way that Egypt is not Turkey. An Alexandria court has awarded 600,000 Egyptian pounds (US$160,000) on 20 March to the family of 12-years-old Azzah Muhammad Zaki and her three brothers who were expelled last October by the school because she wore hijab to her school. Champollion has also been ordered to open the doors to the children.

The school, a subsidiary of a French NGO, 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 France’s 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, 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).

Azzah, her brothers and parents went to court to seek justice. The French Consulate in Alexandria surprised everyone when it submitted a plea to intervene with the court on behalf of the school and the parents association, despite the fact that it had denied throughout the crisis that it had any relation with the school’s 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 asked the court to consider two school officials (Barnaud and Cador) as ‘diplomats’ who could not be tried under Egyptian law. Chief Judge Husain Al-Gabri rejected this and said that the international law does not grant diplomatic immunity to bureaucrats.

Despite the damages awarded by 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 family’s lawyer. "But despite that, it doesn't 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.

While the case was still in court, both Azza and her family said that they had no desire to go back to the school but after the verdict the four children went to the school with their parents and lawyer 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.

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