Manama: They are both women ministers. One is from Algeria and the other is from Lebanon. This week, both made headlines. For vastly different reasons.
In Algiers, Nouria Benghabrit the education minister who is no stranger to polemics, has once again waded into a controversy after she supported a decision by the principal of an Algerian school in France to ban a student from performing prayers.
"Prayers should be performed at home and not in school," Benghabrit who was appointed in 2014 said in comments on the incident in Paris.
"The student went out to the open school yard on the neighborhood to pray in an ostensible act. The school principal did her job. When students go to schools, it is for education and learning. Prayers are performed at home, and role of schools is to provide teaching and learning," said Benghabrit, a sociologist and researcher by formation, said.
Her comments about banning prayers at schools sparked outrage and angry reactions as well as appreciation and happy cheers from supporters.
Religious scholars said they were shocked by the reports questioning the core components of the Algerian nation.
"There are red lines that should never be crossed and nobody has the right to get near them," they said.
The minister of religious affairs refused to comment, saying there was nothing from the education ministry that barred students from praying on school grounds.
"I cannot comment on reports by the media due to my respect for them and in order to ensure the objectivity required in such instances," Mohammad Isa was quoted as saying. "There is no text that bars students from performing prayers at schools, and it is unfortunate that the deep beliefs of Algerians are coming under a ferocious and malicious attack."
Several social media users reacted to the minister's comments by posting pictures of students performing prayers at schools, insisting that prayers were in the core of their lives.
Some users accused the minister of catering to the whims of parties obsessed with Islamophobia and stressed that prayers were a right guaranteed by the constitution.
However, some users applauded her and said that she was on the right track in reforming education in the North African country.
"Our deep gratitude to the education minister for banning prayers in Algerian schools," an account, Rotary Algeria, posted.
Since her appointment, Benghabrit has had to face controversial issues.
In 2014, she caused a stir in Algeria when she suggested teaching the local dialect in schools and replacing gradually the classical Arabic. Following huge resistance, she shelved her proposal.
In 2016, a book for students in the first grade of the middle school place Israel on the map of Palestine. The issue caused uproar in a country known for its unconditional support for Palestine and the ministry withdrew the book, explaining that it was a misprint.
In 2017, Benghabrit called for deleting "In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most merciful" from all school books, save those of religious education. The decision was portrayed as an attack on the religion of the country.
In September 2018, Benghabrit banned all female teachers from wearing the niqab, the face veil, saying that it was unacceptable in classrooms and students had to see the face of their teachers and know who they were.
In Beirut, Raya Al Hassan, the first Arab woman to head an interior ministry, made a remarkable entry by telling everyone, especially relatives and friends, to avoid embarrassment if they attempt to curry any favour with her because she would not tolerate it.
She made headlines this week with her toughness, and punctuality at the ministry. During the day she would be seen roaming the ministry and checking on employees, something very rare to be seen in a highly corrupted country.
One joke was circulating around "No one has the guts to go for a cigarette break at the ministry now, scared that Al Hassan will be doing her rounds."
In her handover ceromony she vowed to crackdown on family bullying and violence.
"I have begun work on an action plan based on my concerns as a citizen and responsible, which are the concerns of every Lebanese citizen," she told the media at the handover ceremony.
Al Hassan added she would be tougher in punishing and prosecuting crimes, especially those related to family bullying and violence.
"I would like to ask every woman who is abused to remember that every outpost in each village has a duty to protect her and I will be strict with the security forces in this matter," she said.
Another issue she showed toughness on is owning arms anf firing ammunition in celebrations.
"I would like you to hear my words well. I will be very strict, and I do say very strict, with the issue of firing bullets and weapons. This matter needs great cooperation from the cabinet, specifically from the defence ministry, and from the political parties and forces."
The minister added that she wanted everyone, those who are close to her and the others, to forget about favours and special treatments.
"Do not embarrass me and do not embarrass yourselves with requests under Clientelism that has become a tradition among many people in the country," she said.