Governor of Egypt's coastal province of Damietta Manal Awwad (left) with the schoolgirl Basmallah Ali, who accused her teacher of slurring her in the class over her colour. Image Credit:

Cairo: Egyptian prosecutors in Egypt’s coastal province of Damietta Tuesday night ordered a schoolteacher jailed for four days pending further questioning on charges of racial discrimination and bullying in a case that has riveted the nation’s media.

The Arabic-language teacher reportedly called a schoolgirl “black” in his class at a preparatory school in Damietta, about 190 kilometres north of the Egyptian capital.

The 14-year-old girl, named Basmallah Ali, burst out in tears and stopped going to school for several days in response to the slur, according to her classmates and family.

“The teacher warned her that if she did not stop crying he would expel her from the classroom, telling her mockingly: ‘Did the word hurt you that much?’” the girl’s mother said.

After the child’s parents filed a legal complaint, local education authorities suspended the 55-year-old teacher, who told a local television station that he did not mean to offend the girl.

“I was joking. I’m dark-skinned too. So how could I taunt her about her skin colour?” the teacher said.

The incident, which reportedly occurred this week, provoked an outcry on the social media and dominated most talk shows in Egypt, where more than 20 million attend schools.

Education Minister Tareq Shawqi on Tuesday invited the girl for a meeting with him in his office in Cairo.

Undersecretary of Education Ministry in Damietta Al Sayed Seweilam, meanwhile, said he had met Basmallah and offered a “sincere apology” to her.

The province’s Governor Manal Awwad on Monday visited the girl’s school and gave her a bunch of flowers in a gesture of support.

The girl refused to forgive the teacher. “I could not find a reason for him to treat me like this,” the child was quoted in the media as saying.

In recent weeks, Egyptian media reported several alleged incidents of bullying, which prompted the Education Ministry to investigate them.

In September, Egypt’s National Council for Childhood and Motherhood in conjunction with the Unicef launched a nationwide campaign against bullying with the participation of the country’s big-name actors. The campaigners have set up a hotline to receive reports about purported bullying cases.