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Italians Order Closure of Arabic School


Italian authorities have ordered the closure of an Arabic school in Milan, just three days after it opened. Authorities say the school did not acquire the proper authorization.

The school has been a magnet for controversy for months before it opened, sparking a debate about whether Muslims in Italy should be allowed to open a school that teaches children about Islam.

Despite the protests, the Nagib Mahfuz School opened Monday, without the needed authorization from the regional government. About 130 mainly Egyptian children enrolled.

Sponsored by the Egyptian consulate, the initiative aims to offer a bilingual education, including two hours study of the Koran a week. The school's directors say they want to promote integration.

The school's director, Lidia Cerboni, says the initiative was the idea of a mixed group of Italians and Egyptians, who wanted a different educational experience, but one that is completely integrated in the neighborhood.

When the school was closed, parents said they could not understand why there was so much controversy over the opening of the school.

Italian authorities say the school was ordered closed, because it lacked the required security standards to guarantee the safety of children and teachers.

Othman Mahmoud is an Egyptian businessman, who lives in Italy and has three children enrolled in the school.

He says they should have the right to a private school, just like Italians and other foreigners. He does not understand why Arabs and Egyptians cannot have a school, just like Italians have in Egypt or in America.

Mahmoud makes clear the school is not Islamic, or based on the Koran, but 100 percent secular.

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.

Authorities have not said when the school might be allowed to reopen.