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Saturday, July 20, 2024

Muslim school in France faces closure amid controversial state contract termination

The advisory commission voted on Nov. 27 to terminate the funding contract that has linked the high school branch of Averroès.

Nestled in the vibrant city of Lille, the Averroès school group, once hailed as the best high school in France in 2013, is now confronting an uncertain future. Established two decades ago, this private Muslim secondary school has consistently achieved remarkable baccalaureate success rates between 97% and 100% each year. However, recent developments have cast a shadow over its legacy, as a decision by an advisory commission threatens to terminate its financing contract with the state.

Controversial Decision Sparks Outrage

The advisory commission, led by Georges-François Leclerc, prefect of the Hauts-de-France region, voted on Nov. 27 to terminate the funding contract that has linked the high school branch of Averroès to the state since 2008. This abrupt decision has left 473 high school and 352 middle school students, along with 110 employees, grappling with an uncertain future. The president of the school’s parents’ association, Mohamed Daoudi, criticised the decision, calling it “grotesque,” as the prefect acted as both “judge and jury.”

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Allegations of Political Motivation

The controversial decision has drawn attention to allegations raised in the book “Qatar Papers,” penned by French journalists Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot. In 2019, concerns about the school’s funding were brought to the attention of the Hauts-de-France regional council. The book claimed that Qatar Charity, a non-governmental organisation, provided $3.2 million in funding to the school, raising questions about potential ties to political Islam. Former regional council president Xavier Bertrand, alleging a link to the Muslim Brotherhood, suspended the annual regional subsidy, a decision later challenged and won by the school.

Financial Challenges 

In its report released in June 2023, France’s supreme audit institution pointed out Qatar Charity as the primary foreign financier for Averroès School from 2011 to 2015. The funding, totaling approximately $1 million, was intended to support the association’s various activities and the expansion of additional premises. The report highlighted a sustained and abrupt decline in the school’s financial condition, indicating an annual requirement of about 2 million euros for its operational needs. Contrary to these findings, the school refutes the allegations, maintaining that its sources of funding are transparent and entirely legitimate.

Averroès’ Fight for Survival

Averroès faces an uphill battle to secure its future. The prefect, citing concerns about funding sources and the content of an optional Muslim ethics course, supported the termination of the state contract in a 12-page document dated Oct. 27. The school’s headmaster, Eric Dufour, denies the claims about the funding and the controversial course material, expressing confidence that their case and arguments are solid and will prevail in appeal.

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The choice to shutter Averroès has garnered considerable backing from the community, with more than 31,000 individuals endorsing an online petition. Both local and national figures, among them the Human Rights League, have vocally supported the school. Lingering apprehensions centre around the potential repercussions on students and the closure’s perceived role in fostering sentiments of exclusion within the Muslim community. Detractors contend that the school is subject to unfair targeting, expressing concerns that its closure may establish a discriminatory precedent, particularly as one of only two Muslim high schools in the nation.