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Africa

Algeria's Education Minister is target after supporting prayer ban in schools

media Algeria's Education Minister Nouria Benghebrit AFP / STR

Algeria’s Education minister is dealing with a vicious backlash after she supported the move by a teacher to reprimand a student for openly praying on school grounds.

It all began with a situation at the Ecole Algerienne de Paris, or the Algerian School of Paris.

The director of the school, Nadia Messaci, banned praying on the establishment's grounds.

In defiance of the new rule, one student decided to openly pray in the school courtyard.

This student was then faced with expulsion if her father refused to sign a document that acknowledged the new ban in the school.

During a press conference in Bordj Bou Arreridj on Monday, Nouria Benghebrit, the country’s Education Minister, was asked to weigh in on the issue.

“Children are at school to study. This is what happened at the school. It was a student who went out to the courtyard to pray in a very ostentatious manner. The school was doing its job. Praying is to be done at home.”

Secular and francophone

Since her public backing of Massaci, the education minister has been receiving quite a lot of reaction.

Benghebrit is known as a “somewhat controversial figure in Algeria” says Andrew Lebovitch, an Algerian specialist on the European Council on Foreign Relations.

She is seen as a secular and francophone figure in the country.

Her past efforts to encourage “instruction in DArija (Algerian dialect) in early schooling rather than just modern standard Arabic have drawn the ire of some religious leaders,” adds Lebovtich.

Which is why the negative reaction to her latest comment is not surprising.

In fact one school teacher, filmed himself and his students in a blatant act of defiance.

The teacher directs his comments to the Education Minister stating he would not contribute to anything that would create an estranged society: one that has no values or principles. He adds that his students do not need science because they say their prayers.

Secular versus Islamic Algeria

The posting by the teacher sparked a quick response, with many urging authorities to do something to stop the influence of “daech” (the Arabic term for the Islamic State terror organisation) in the country.

Many pointed to the fact that innocent six-year-olds in the video were blatantly being exposed without permission from their parents.

The well-known writer and journalist, Kamel Daoud also joined the public outcry on his Facebook page, complaining of the “talibanisation of the school, where young girls are veiled and stuck behind the boys”. He went on to say that prayer in school is used as an instrument by “terrorist apprentices" and that it "signifies to our children that if one day they do not pray, they will be beaten or chased, criminalized.”

One host on the private television station, Dzair One, accused the minister of failing to respect the law of the Republic. His guest on the show, the coordinator of the Green Algerian Alliance, accused the minister of acting on behalf of foreigners, and of being involved in a plot with the French that seeks to attack the values of the Algerian people, as reported by ObservAlgerie, an Algerian online newpaper.

Algeria was the theatre of a civil war from 1991 and 2002 between the government and various Islamic rebel groups.

Islamists targeted many thought to have rejected religion.

Estimates of fatalities range from 44,000 to 200,000.

Since the end of the civil war, the country has tried to distance itself from Islamists, but it hasn’t fully recovered and Algeria itself has become more isolated.

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