Bertrand Hauger

See more by Bertrand Hauger

Paris on Oct. 17
Sources

Crisis After Crisis, Freedom Is Disappearing Drip By Drip

Concurrent emergencies have given rise to 'exceptional' measures that then have a tendency of being institutionalized.

-OpEd-

PARIS — We are running from crisis to crisis, from the public safety crisis that began with terrorist attacks and led to a permanent state of emergency, to a health crisis that restricts our freedoms in the name of preventing illness. Then comes the economic crisis and its conjoined twin sister, the social crisis. And of course, brewing in the background of all this is another, massive-scale crisis that will leave many other crises in its wake: the climate crisis.

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Disinfecting hands in an Egyptian private school
Egypt

The Pandemic's Lose-Lose Impact On Egypt's Private Schools

Egyptian students won't attend in-person classes again until September. In the case of most private schools, there won't be any refunds either to the mostly middle-class families.

CAIRO — The COVID-19 pandemic officially arrived during the spring term, and from there it was just a matter of weeks before schools were suspended and, not long afterwards closed until the end of the year. The situation has been disruptive, obviously, for all students, teachers and parents. But because of the economics involved, people connected to private schools face particular complications.

Many parents who had already paid tuition fees are now asking for at least a portion of their money back. But the schools, most of which are run as for-profit businesses, have had mixed responses. Most have refused to refund any tuition, and some have stood their ground even as they have reduced their costs by laying off staff or forcing them to take unpaid leave.

The government, meanwhile, has stayed out of the conflict. "Now is not the time," Education Minister Tarek Shawky said on television earlier this month. Schools are not legally bound to pay back the fees, he said, adding that the ministry would not look into the issue before the end of August because it requires detailed study.

There are three kinds of schools in Egypt: government schools, national private schools and international private schools. Government schools are generally free. National private schools teach the state's curricula but also offer foreign language instruction. International schools, among which the American, French and British schools are the most popular, teach foreign curricula.

Two million students attend a total of 7,500 private national and international schools, according to 2019 government data. Government schools, of which there are nearly 46,000, enroll about 19 million students.

We don't save a dime.

National private schools collect tuition at the beginning of each semester, although some allow this payment to be made over two installments. International schools follow a similar payment pattern, although they also tend to fold in a percentage of the tuition for the following year into the current year's payment. They also charge late fees and can withhold a student's academic records in the case of missed payments, according to parents who spoke with Mada Masr.

Most schools have already collected tuition fees in full for the current year, and some have even asked for next year's payments, says Rania Badran, administrator of one of the most popular Facebook groups for parents of children in international schools. Badran says the page has been flooded with posts from parents demanding repayment of at least part of the fees.

Most parents who send their children to private schools are salaried employees who take out loans from banks or informal savings groups to pay tuition fees, according to Nany Fekry, a mother of two students in a national private school in Cairo. Education in Egypt is "dreadful" she says, and national private schools are "the only chance the children of the middle class have to get a half-decent education."

"We don't save a dime," she adds. "We're only investing in our children."

Hoda* works as a medical doctor and describes her income as decent, but she had to take out a loan to pay for her children's private school. She told Mada Masr about a friend of hers who pays about LE100,000 ($6,350) annually in tuition and school supplies. The friend paid the school in full in December after participating in an informal saving group to which she contributes LE10,000 ($635) monthly. Hoda's friend makes her money through an online store that's been battered by the pandemic.

Computer lab at a school in eastern Cairo — Photo: Ahmed Gomaaa/Xinhua/ZUMA

Now the school is refusing to return the money, saying it has to pay wages for teachers, while Hoda's friend is jobless, and still obligated to pay her savings group monthly.

Other schools have threatened to expel students to force parents to pay the fees in full. Fouad International School in the Sharqiya governorate is insisting on collecting the last LE30,000 ($1,900) installment of its LE135,000 ($8,600) tuition fees, despite forcing its physical education teachers and other staff on unpaid leave, according to several parents in the school. One parent said the school denied her a one-month grace period, despite the overwhelming circumstances. The school did not respond to Mada Masr"s request for comment.

Because the Education Ministry replaced final examinations with research papers, allowing students to matriculate from one year to the next, schools feel they have provided the service they were paid for and are entitled to collect full fees, says Adel Bakhit, a public school teacher.

Special needs students are the most affected by the suspension of schools, both financially and psychologically, because their tuition fees are generally higher than other students and they can't do online classes, said Badran, the Facebook group admin.

A 2017 law stipulates that 10% of classes must include special needs students, such as those with attention-deficit or autism spectrum disorders. Each school must have special units to care for these students.

I'm still going to work and putting myself at risk just to pay for a service I'm not getting.

Heba, a mother of a four-year-old child with autism, put in her son's school application at the end of 2019 in order for him to begin in September 2020. The school offered to enroll him in private sessions from February to June, to help him prepare for full-time enrollment in September. When school was suspended in March, the administration offered to continue the sessions online, despite the fact that her son can't be exposed to screens because of his condition. They also threatened not to admit her son in September as planned if she didn't pay her fees in full.

She has already paid the school LE26,000 ($1,650) this term. "I'm still going to work and putting myself at risk just to pay for a service I'm not getting," Heba says. Her salary was cut by 20% this month.

Heba said private schools usually refuse to admit special needs students, and when they do, tuition fees are doubled to cover the cost of the special care unit. In reality, these units are often non-existent and the school just provides a "shadow teacher," whose salary is paid for out of the parents' doubled fees.

A handful of schools have agreed to share the burden with parents. Windrose Academy reduced its third semester's tuition installment by 20%. Greenland International School has offered financial aid to struggling parents, and is accepting post-dated checks for next year's fees. Others have cut next year's bus fees.

Schools aren't legally obligated to return the fees as long as classes continue online, lawyer Ahmed Ragheb said. But authorities should mediate between schools and parents for the public good, he said, giving the example of the central bank's decision to postpone loan payments for six months, or the stipend offered to informal workers.

There is no easy way out of this problem.

Schools say they are still paying expenses, chiefly staff salaries. That's true for some institutions such as American City International School and Metropolitan International School. Many others, however, aren't doing so. New Vision School has collected full tuition but gave its teachers the option to give online classes while cutting their salaries by half, an employee at the school who asked to remain anonymous said. Meanwhile, the school's administrative staff was offered a choice between continuing normal work at half salary or going on open-ended unpaid leave, the employee said, adding that she chose the latter option.

Valley Language Schools in Giza is forcing teachers to be physically present in the school twice a week, even though study sessions for the end-of-year research projects are almost finished, according to a teacher at the school. Teachers who asked to work from home have been threatened with salary freezes, and those whose children attend the school and haven't paid the last tuition installment had their salaries cut.

Meanwhile, Stanford Integrated Schools forced teachers, supervisors and drivers to take unpaid leave after finishing online review with students at the end of March, according to a teacher at the school.

"There is no easy way out of this problem," Ragheb said. If parents are paid back in full, school staff will suffer, including janitors and bus drivers. He suggests we find a way for schools and parents to share the losses, though how that would work in real terms is easier said than done.

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A rare anti-government protest in Downtown Cairo, Sep. 2019
Egypt

In Egypt, Signs Of Hope And Reasons To Despair

Changes are afoot, and yet writer Mohamed Naeem struggles to see light at the end of the dark tunnel into which Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has led the Egyptian people.

-Analysis-

CAIRO — Can we venture to declare that Egypt has arrived at a new and dangerous turning point? Yes and no. For although nothing significant has materialized recently, the specter of a major shift looms.

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Refugees taking part in a yoga class in Amman
Jordan

In Jordan, A Safe Space For Refugee Fathers

A group in East Amman gives men from Syria and other conflict zones an opportunity to open up and talk through the many ways they struggle.

AMMAN — Each week, a group of 15 or so refugee men meet at a community center in East Amman and sit in a circle. They laugh and cry together while sharing stories they always divide into two phases: before and after the war began.

War and protracted exile have stripped them of their traditional roles and identities as protectors and financial providers for their families. This group is a safe space in which they get to be vulnerable. They realize they're not alone — but most importantly, it's a chance to be heard.

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A Rohingya refugee looking over Cox's Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh
Migrant Lives

Rohingya Refugees Lost Between Languages In Bangladesh

Caught between a host country trying to hinder their integration and a home country holding back their return, Rohingya children find themselves in linguistic limbo.

COX'S BAZAR — When Mohammed Reyas works on his math classwork, his mind splits among multiple languages.

The 11-year-old, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, starts counting in Burmese: "Tit, hnit, thone." He then switches to Bangla: "Char, panch, chhoy." Then Rohingya: "Hant, anchtho, no." Finally, he finishes in English: "Ten, eleven, twelve."

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Still feeling the Bern?
eyes on the U.S.

Bernie's Ready For Another Run — Are Democrats Ready For Him?

The straight-talking senator from Vermont energized the 2016 presidential race. But he faces a very different playing field this time around.

-Analysis-

WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders just made it official, announcing that he'll be a candidate for president in 2020. His candidacy brings lots of questions along with it, but the one I'd like to focus on for the moment is this: How is he going to present himself in relation to the party he wants to lead? Because that could turn out to be the biggest challenge he faces in getting the Democratic nomination.

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Happy on the streets of Buenos Aires
EL ESPECTADOR

The Fundamental Right To Health, Happiness And Beauty

Beauty and happiness may be in the eye of the beholder. But they're also fundamental components of a healthy society, writes Colombian novelist William Ospina.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — It's been remarked that when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed, they forgot to include people's rights to beauty and happiness. Both were considered superfluous, no doubt. Too distant from humanity's basic needs.

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River Plate fans looking at an empty pitch
Argentina

Hard Times And Hooliganism In Soccer-Crazy Argentina

Rowdy fans added to the annals of soccer stupidity by forcing organizers to cancel the hugely anticipated Copa Libertadores final in Buenos Aires.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — In Argentina, people embrace soccer (and suffer because of it) as if it were a religion. Or some kind of escapist drug, perhaps. The sport one French academic and writer termed "intelligence in movement" is ubiquitous. It is fervor itself. A burning-hot fever. A passion that, in some cases, prompts people to do stupid things — or worse. Sometimes it makes fans want to simply obliterate anyone wearing a rival jersey.

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Detail of 'Migrant Mother'
Sources

Watch — OneShot: The Story Of Dorothea Lange's Migrant Mother

It may be the most iconic photograph of the Great Depression. Dorothea Lange's 1936 image has come to be known as Migrant Mother, though the Library of Congress references its full title as Destitute pea pickers in California. Mother of seven children. Age thirty-two. Nipomo, California.

OneShot gives life to the story behind this seminal photograph from recollections Lange offered in an interview years later.

Migrant Mother — (© Dorothea Lange | OneShot)

A selection of Dorothea Lange's works is currently on display at the Jeu de Paume musem in Paris. The exhibition, entitled The Politics of Seeing focuses on five series: the "Depression period" (1933-1934), the "Farm Security Administration" (1935-1939), the "Japanese American internment" (1942), the "Richmond shipyards' (1942-1944) and a "Public defender" (1955-1957).

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One of Krasnoe & Beloe's 6,700 outlets in Russia
Russia

How A Soviet-Era Bootlegger Became Russia's Newest Billionaire

Alcohol consumption may be down in Russia, but profits are soaring for Sergei Studennikov, whose Krasnoe & Beloe (Red & White) supermarket chain specializes in beer and booze.

MOSCOW — Russia's very sober president, Vladimir Putin, has spent 18 years erecting barriers to selling alcohol to a population that's still recovering from the decade-long bender that followed communism's collapse.

Crackdowns on kiosks and ads, electronic inventory tracking and higher taxes have all succeeded in suppressing consumption. They've also cleared the field for a Soviet-era bootlegger with a knack for navigating complex rules to make a fortune selling cheap booze.

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The Plastic Ruins Of Turkey
Turkey

The Plastic Ruins Of Turkey

One of my two granddaughters used to live in Özdere, a quiet village on the Turkish coast near Izmir. I went there a couple of times, taking the opportunity to visit the nearby ruins of the Ancient Greek site of Ephesus — and snapping this picture on the street, of a much more modern kind of decrepitude.

Drug bust in Buenos Aires
CLARIN

Drug Wars Or Defense, What Role For Military In Latin America?

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — The end of the Cold War ushered in a new phase in military relations between the United States and Latin America. As the region's dictatorships gave way to more democratic systems, and border disputes waned, the Pentagon, starting in the early 1990s, urged Latin American governments to restore civilian control over the armed forces, encourage military participation in peacekeeping missions, and keep military and police duties separate.

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