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Arabic School in Italy Sparks Debate


An Arabic school in Milan, which has sparked debate about religious versus secular education in Italy, has reopened, just weeks after it was closed because it did not have proper authorization. Children entering the school were met by protesters.

After weeks of controversy, the Nagib Mahfuz School in Milan re-opened Monday. One hundred thirty Egyptian children arrived for class, despite a protest organized by the Northern League party outside the school.

The school, sponsored by the Egyptian consulate, was ordered closed three days after opening in mid-October. Authorities said that the school did not have the needed authorization from local education authorities and that the building lacked required security standards to guarantee the safety of children and teachers.

Protests against the opening of a private Arabic school had been going on for months, as Italians debated whether Muslims in the country should have the right to give their children an education that teaches them about Islam. That reflects a wider debate in Europe about the integration of the growing Muslim immigrant population on the continent.

At the time the school was closed, Milan Mayor Letizia Moratti condemned the opening of the school, calling it a lack of respect for the local administration.

The green light to reopen the school came from the Lombardy region's director for education, after changes were made to the school building.

The school's director, Lidia Cerboni, expressed satisfaction, and said she never had any doubts that the school would open in the end.

But some city officials still feel the school should not be permitted. Tiziana Maiolo is the Milan councilor for productive activities.

She sarcastically says, "I want to see this plague in a civilized city like Milan. It's scandalous." She says, "I think the whole of Europe is watching this because nothing similar exists."

The school aims to offer a bilingual syllabus, including two hours' study of the Koran a week.

The school's directors say they are inspired by the desire to promote integration. But opponents say there is no need for Muslim children to have a separate school, and insist there will be greater integration, if they attend Italian state schools.

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