MESA - Middle East Studies Association

MESA Academic Freedom Award

At its 70th board meeting on Friday, November 16, 2001, MESA’s Board of Directors established the MESA Academic Freedom Award. The award is presented on appropriate occasions in recognition of sustained contributions in support of academic freedom in the Middle East and North Africa, and/or in North America.

The award is made by nomination from MESA's Committee on Academic Freedom to MESA's Board of Directors.

Questions about the award and the nomination procedures may be directed to Sara Palmer at 520-333-2577 ext. 103 or


2017 Award Recipient

Palestine Legal

MESA awarded its 2017 Academic Freedom Award to Palestine Legal, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of people in the US who engage in advocacy for and academic inquiry about Palestinian rights.

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Previous Recipients


Signatories of Academic for Peace Petition in Turkey

MESA awarded the over 2,000 signatories of the Academics for Peace petition in Turkey its 2016 Academic Freedom Award on November 18, 2016.

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In 2001, through our committee on Academic Freedom, MESA began to recognize outstanding contributions to academic freedom – whether in the MENA region or beyond – with an annual award.  

The awards initially cited individuals, both those who had defended academic freedom and/or had been victims of state harassment or persecution in – Egypt, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the US.

Then in 2005, with our award to a group of scholars who had organized and participated in a controversial workshop on

Armenian-Turkish scholarship, and again in 2010, when we selected the Israeli human rights organization Gisha, CAF began to move beyond the recognition of individuals to institutions or larger groups of educators and activists.
While the state of academic freedom in the region in general remains deplorable, since 2011 we have continued to use this award to highlight countries where there has been significant deterioration.  In 2010 we cited the Iranian Advocacy for the Right to Education, in 2011, the efforts of faculty, students and staff of Bahraini institutions of higher education, in 2012 the Turkish Initiative for Solidarity with Detained Students (TÖDİ), and last year selected the Egyptian Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.

Our 2013 selection of the Scholar Rescue Fund and Scholars at Risk owed in part to their important work with Syrian academics.  Given the ongoing war in Syria, we felt it imperative this year to focus full attention there, where the widespread devastation and massive population displacement have severely compromised, and in many instances obstructed completely, even the most basic access to education—at all levels.  The dreadful implications of the ongoing carnage and destruction for the country’s present are dwarfed only by their implications for future possibilities of rebuilding.  

For those of you interested in the state of education among Syria refugees, I commend to you a series of reports produced by a joint International Institute for Education, UC Davis and Carnegie Corporation project which in 2013 and 2014 researched conditions in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. 

Today there are many groups involved in myriad forms of support to Syrian refugees, whose numbers have now exceeded 4 million officially registered with UNHCR, more than half of whom are under the age of 18.   We are very happy to announce that our consultations and research on the educational sector have led us to choose Jusoor for this year’s Academic Freedom award.  Jusoor is an NGO created and run by Syrian expatriates, with offices in the US and Lebanon. It does not take a political position; rather it is focused on bringing educational and professional development to all young Syrians displaced by the conflict.   
Jusoor has been working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon since June 2013. It seeks to reach as many Syrian refugee children in Lebanon as possible, to ensure that they are enrolled in formal education wherever possible; it supports solid educational outcomes and quality instruction, and  engages volunteers in the program. 

In addition, through six different scholarship programs, Jusoor helps Syrian students looking to complete their studies abroad at top universities across the US, Canada, Europe and Middle East. It partners with the IIE (International Institute of Education), the Said Foundation, the Illinois Institute of Technology (which has accepted more Syrian students than any other US institution), among others. 

In support of these programs, Jusoor also offers academic advice through its  Study Abroad Mentorship Program. The initiative is focused on connecting expatriate Syrians and volunteers with students both in Syria and among those recently displaced outside the country to provide coaching and mentoring regarding academic study abroad.   Students receive guidance from their mentors on such varied topics as college admissions procedures and the application process, fields of study and campus life, anticipated living expenses, as well as how to write a personal statement or apply for a visa.

Colleagues of ours who are familiar with Jusoor uniformly characterized it as the most professional and effective of the NGOs assisting Syrian refugees with pursuing their education.

Therefore, in recognition of the critically important work it is engaged in to promote education among the next generation of Syrians, the members of MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom ask you to join us in saluting   this year’s recipient of our Academic Freedom award:  Jusoor (


Accepting the award was Director of Jusoor, Ms. Maya AlKateb-Chami.



Egyptian Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)

It has now become my wont to begin this introduction to our presentation of the annual Academic Freedom Award by noting the terrible state of academic freedom in the region and the fact that there is no dearth of potential candidates for such recognition.

This year, after much reflection but also after having written 6 letters since summer 2013, we felt it was critical to underline the terrible deterioration in academic freedom in Egypt. 

Since 30 June 2013, 16 students have been killed during campus protests. Between July 2013 and July 2014, over 468 students were suspended or expelled from at least ten universities, in at least 275 of these cases, the students have been permanently expelled.

Also chilling has been the deterioration of academic freedom in Egypt as a result of changed university regulations. In January 2014, the Supreme Council of Universities approved the addition of an article to the University Regulations Law which allows university presidents to expel students who participate in “destructive activities which obstruct the educational process.”
Boards of two public universities, the University of Beni Suef and Ain Shams University announced that they would expel any student who insults or defames the president of the republic.

A June 2014 decree gave the President of the republic the power to appoint the presidents and deans of Egyptian public universities, thereby reversing one of the most important measures of university independence obtained after the January 25 revolution. 
While we note with relief the mid-October rejection by Maglis al Dawla of a new bill that would have allowed university presidents to fire faculty for participating in demonstrations as well as the lifting of the travel ban on Prof. Amr Hamzawy, the picture remains bleak. 
Therefore, this year we have selected the Egyptian Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)  to receive our 2014 Academic Freedom Award.  

Established in 2006, AFTE is an independent law firm whose members seek to foster and protect freedom of thought and expression. Much of their recent work has focused on the critical task of defending academic freedom in Egyptian universities -- in particular in defending the rights of university students and professors and in documenting abuses in the face of increasing intimidation, harassment and violence against members of the academic community who have criticized the laws, policies and practices of the Egyptian government since 30 June 2013. 
Its Academic Freedom and Student's Rights Program supports the academic freedom of both faculty members and students:  freedom of association, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to participate in managing their own affairs, and the right to fair and just disciplinary board hearings in the case of violations.  It offers direct and indirect support to student initiatives aimed securing the principles of a free student movement, as well as legal support to victims of violations in the academic community.  

It is our hope that in choosing ATFE to receive the academic freedom award this year we not only make clear our strong support for the courageous work in which  ATFE’s members are engaged, but also underline our ongoing concern about the serious deterioration of conditions surrounding learning, teaching and academic inquiry in Egypt’s universities.


Scholar Rescue Fund and Scholars at Risk

There is no way in a short statement to capture the extent of death, destruction, and displacement to which Syrians have been exposed since spring 2011. In the educational sector alone, universities and classrooms have been bombed, students and professors have been killed, kidnapped and imprisoned, others have
been forced to flee, either displaced internally or driven to refugee
camps or other exile in neighboring countries.

As we meet here this evening, the fighting and destruction continue. As a result the potential of Syria’s academic community is being lost or wasted, while the young, who offer the hope for any chance of future rebuilding find their access to education limited or obstructed.

In these circumstances, MESA bestows its 2013 Academic Freedom Award in recognition of two organizations--the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund (SRF) and the Scholars at Risk (SAR) program--for their efforts in support of Syrian higher education institutions and faculty.

In 2002 the Institute of International Education created the Scholar Rescue Fund to respond to the humanitarian and academic needs of scholars whose lives and academic work are under threat for their research, identity, or beliefs or due to events in their home countries. The yearlong fellowships offered by IIE-SRF permit professors, researchers and public intellectuals to find temporary refuge at universities, colleges and research centers anywhere in the world, enabling them to pursue their academic work in safety until conditions improve in their countries so that they can return to help rebuild higher education and civil societies. Through September of 2013, IIE-SRF has awarded nearly 40 fellowships to Syrian scholars whose fields range from neuroscience to gender studies and whose scholarship has been threatened as a result of factors ranging from political involvement to membership of a minority community. The program has arranged temporary academic positions for these scholars at over 20 institutions in 5 countries.

Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of over 320 higher education institutions in 35 countries dedicated to protecting scholars, preventing attacks on higher education and promoting academic freedom. Scholars at Risk (SAR) protects scholars suffering grave threats to their lives, liberty and well-being, primarily by arranging positions of sanctuary at network-member institutions for those forced to flee. SAR’s Scholars-in-Prison project campaigns for intellectuals facing unjust prosecution or imprisonment, and SAR’s new Academic Freedom MONITOR project works to combat impunity for violent attacks on higher education communities worldwide. Scholars at Risk is currently working
with 28 pending candidates from Syria seeking host campuses and other assistance, including many still in Syria and others displaced in Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. SAR has been able to successfully place Syrian scholars at universities in the US and in Europe, with specialties ranging from computer engineering to theater studies.

In recognition of their efforts in support of Syrian scholars, MESA is pleased to make this year’s Academic Freedom Award to the Scholar Rescue Fund and Scholars at Risk.


Tutuklu Öğrencilerle Dayanışma İnisiyatifi (TÖDİ)

To highlight the deteriorating situation in the country, CAFMENA would like to recognize The Initiative for Solidarity with Detained Students Tutuklu Öğrencilerle Dayanışma İnisiyatifi (TÖDİ). TÖDİ is an organization that was created for the purpose of offering support, legal assistance and advocacy on behalf of the hundreds of students (both undergraduate and graduate) who have been arrested by the Turkish government on the basis of their academic research or exercise of their rights of free speech and association.  TÖDİ is composed of volunteer lawyers, members of students’ families and other professionals who are working together to demand that the government respect rights of academic freedom and the panoply of other human rights under threat as a result of the widespread and arbitrary detention of students.

TÖDİ ’s work has also helped document the ways in which rights of expression and association are under attack in Turkey’s academic institutions.  It recently prepared a long report detailing the circumstances of the undergraduate and graduate students in detention.    The report also shows that beyond the rights violations associated with arrest, detention and even prison sentences, students’ basic right to education is being undermined with the government resorting to expulsions from university, disciplinary investigations for political activities, lengthy suspensions, and denial of access to end-of-semester final examinations. TÖDİ 's work also helps unravel open discrimination in admissions practices, particularly against Kurdish students.

We consider this an important moment to draw attention to the attacks on academic freedom in Turkey because they have gone largely unreported but also because they are inconsistent with the wider narrative that describes Turkey as a “model” for democratization initiatives in the region. To highlight its hard and important work in the context of the very difficult conditions that advocates of academic freedom are being forced to confront in Turkey today, CAFMENA is honored to recognize TÖDİ with its academic freedom award for 2012.  


Faculty, students, and staff of Bahraini institutions of higher education

The 2011 Acadmic Freedom Award goes to all faculty, students, and staff of Bahraini institutions of higher education who, by speakingout, documenting abuses, and engaging in myriad other forms of resistance, have struggled against a range of brutal assaults by the Bahraini government upon academic freedom and upon the autonomy and integrity of the country's educational institutions.

The award was accepted by Nabil Rajab, head of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights.


Advocacy Council for the Right to Education

The 2010 MESA Academic Freedom Award is presented to the Iranian organization Advocacy Council for the Right to Education, also known as the Council for Defending the Right to Education. ACRE has been at the forefront of the perilous struggle for academic rights in Iran. Founded in 2008 by university students who were “starred” by Iranian authorities and barred from continuing their higher education in the Islamic Republic of Iran, the organization broadly advocates the right to higher education based on qualification and the right to non-violent student activism and freedom of thought and peaceful expression on Iranian university campuses. Since the June 12, 2009, presidential election in Iran ACRE, alongside other student rights and academic and teachers’ rights organizations, such as the Office for Fostering [Student] Solidarity (daftar-e tahkim-e vahdat), has been subjected to more intensified ideologically-motivated intimidation and persecution by Iranian authorities. Currently many members of ACRE are in prison, awaiting trial and/or sentencing, or are in hiding and exile. MESA is pleased to award this year’s Academic Freedom award to ACRE in recognition of the group’s commitment to the promotion of academic rights and basic rights to freedom of thought and expression and applauds the courage and resolve of its members.


Radwan Ziadeh

CAF's 2009 Academic Freedom Award is presented to Radwan Ziadeh, Founder and Director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies. A prominent advocate for human rights and reform in Syria, Ziadeh has frequently given talks in and outside Syria on the status of human rights and democratic reform in Syria, Ziadeh was editor of Tayarat magazine in 2001–2002 and served as secretary of the Syrian Organization for Transparency.  In 2004, he was named the best political science researcher in the Arab world by Jordan’s Abdulhameed Shoman Foundation.  He was also a principal figure and activist in the Damascus Spring, a period of intense debate about politics and social issues and calls for reform in Syria after the death of President Hafez al-Assad in 2000. Following an extended period of intensive surveillance by Syrian security agencies, and based on indications that he was about to be detained, Ziadeh fled Syria in mid-2007. He received a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellowship from the U.S. Institute of Peace for the 2007-2008 academic year, and was then selected as a “Scholar at Risk,” by Harvard University where he spent the 2008-2009 academic year in residence at the Kennedy School.  Having left Syria without government permission, Ziadeh is not able to return to his home country. MESA is pleased to honor Dr. Radwan Ziadeh with its 2009 Academic Freedom Award.



CAFMENA's 2008 Academic Freedom Award is presented to Gisha.  Gisha is an Israeli not-for-profit human rights organization that was established to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians. By protecting Palestinian students' freedom of movement Gisha has also upheld their right of access to higher education, whether in West Bank, Israeli, or foreign, including American, universities. Perhaps the most high profile case in which Gisha has been involved was that of the US Department of State's cancelation of Fulbright grants to students prevented by Israel from travelling.  Gisha is continuing to pursue a legal and public campaign on behalf of the some 400 students from Gaza who are still prevented by Israeli authorities from exercising their right to pursue higher education.

The protection of the right of Palestinian students by an Israeli human rights NGO demonstrates Gisha's conviction that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a zero-sum game, and all that sides to the conflict benefit from the protection of human rights, including the right to education.

For its courageous representation of Palestinian students in Israeli administrative proceedings and courts, Gisha is hereby awarded CAF's Academic Freedom award for 2008.


Dr. Sa’ad Eskander

CAFMENA's 2007 Academic Freedom Award is presented to Dr. Sa’ad Eskander. Dr. Eskander is the Director-General, Iraq National Library and Archive, where he has carried on a four-year struggle to defend and preserve the cultural heritage of all Iraq for all Iraqis.  In the aftermath of the March 2003 invasion, some 60% of the archival collections were lost forever to looting and arson, along with 95% of the rare books and 25% of all the book collections.  When Dr. Eskander visited the library for the first time, the building had no furnishings, equipment or windows. What did remain was covered in soot. Since then he has worked tirelessly to restore the Archive's physical plant, including reopening the main reading room, creating the first conservation lab in Iraq, and a modern IT department and computer systems, and opening the library to all students and scholars.

Under the most difficult of circumstances and against opposition from his own ministry, he has built a new 300 [correction: 425]-person staff, of both men and women, which crosses ethnic and sectarian lines, and has promoted transparency and staff participation in decision-making.  While 5 of his employees have been murdered, he has supported and defended many others, facing down gunmen in the chaos of Iraq under a government and an American occupation that has done little to ensure the safety of academics. In a statement of 5 July 2006, the MESA Board of Directors registered its profound alarm as a community of scholars at this state of affairs.

With it, the Board pledged its determination to take steps to promote programs and policies in Iraq and on behalf of the international community of scholars and researchers that would positively address this disturbing situation. As part of that effort to attempt to better publicize the plight of Iraqi academics and in recognition of his extraordinary personal valor in working to preserve the remains of the archives of Iraq and to create a model institution inspired by progressive, non-sectarian values, which represent not only the basis for future scholarship on the country, but also its hope for cultural reconstruction and reconciliation, we make this award this year to Dr. Sa’ad Eskandar.


Joan Scott

to recognize her work as head of the AAUP's Committe A from 1993 until 2005. She has been an extraordinarily articulate and vigilant defender of academic freedom in North America and put the AAUP on the front lines of defending and promoting academic freedom in the United States.

Akbar and Manuchehr Mohammadi

 of Iran; Iranians who have sacrified their freedom and even their lives in the struggle to exercise basic freedoms such as the freedom of expression and association.


1. Fatma Muge Gocek

University of Michigan and Ron Suny, University of Chicago and all of the scholars associated with the workshop for Armenian-Turkish Scholarship, in recognition of their successful collective effort, using the tools of history and the social sciences and relying on the language of collegial discourse, to initiate and implement a project that overcame political divisions in society and in the academy and has provided a model that others addressing other conflicted histories can use in the years ahead.

2. Akbar Ganji

MESA salutes the Iranian writer Akbar Ganji, a major figure in promoting intellectual and political debate in the Islamic Republic over much of the past ten years and a man who paid an enormous price for his efforts by spending the last five of those years in some of the country’s most notorious prisons and cell blocks. Although Akbar Ganji is not affiliated with an academic institutions, his resistance to repression of intellectual freedom in Iran has been crucial to sustaining intellectual debate there. CAFMENA recognizes Akbar Ganji, a public intellectual and writer of uncommon courage.


Matrouk Al-Faleh

Professor of Political Science at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

For his courageous advocacy of democratic rights and civil liberties in Saudi Arabia and his principled commitment to the exercise of free speech and the free exchange of information and ideas, and in recognition of the resistance he and others have displayed in the face of harassment and attempts at intimidation from the government of Saudi Arabia.

Professor Al-Faleh was arrested in his university office in March 2004, and has since that time not been allowed to resume his academic duties. He is currently on trial in Riyadh, charged with advocating changes in Saudi Arabia’s system of government. In fact, Professor Al-Faleh has spoken out responsibly in favor of political reform, and he has organized petitions that peacefully advocate parliamentary elections and the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in Saudi Arabia, and related reform measures.

Professor Al-Faleh is now unable to teach. He is on trial, along with two others among those arrested in March, because they refused to agree to a government demand that they cease exercising their right to peacefully criticize their government and to exercise their freedom of speech.

MESA salutes Professor Al-Faleh for his courageous and principled stance. He and his colleagues have made a brave stand in favor of freedom of speech and academic freedom, and they deserve our support and our admiration.


Saeed Razavi-Faqih

For his dedicated and spirited promotion in Iran of the rights of students, professors and intellectuals generally to freedom  of expression, belief, and opinion as a student leader, essayist, columnist, and teacher 

And his high-profile defense of professors Hashem Aghajari, Mohsen Kadivar, Abolkarim Soroush, and Hasan Yusefi Eshkevari and others who have been persecuted by the Iranian authorities solely for the peaceful expression of their views 

In further recognition of his work as a leader of the Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat (Office for Consolidation of Unity), a student group active in the defense of the integrity and autonomy of universities

And his endurance throughout 78 days of solitary confinement and relentless interrogation, from July 10 until October 3, 2003, for his public speeches protesting the Iranian government’s repressive measures against academics, intellectuals, and students

MESA dedicates its  Academic Freedom Award for 2003 to

Saeed Razavi-Faqih
Doctoral student and Lecturer in Philosophy,
Tarbiat Modaress University
Elected member of the Central Council of the Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat student organization


Dr. Arif Dalila

For his courageous advocacy of democratic rights and civil liberties as an academic and in his professional field of economics

And his commitment as a public intellectual in Syria to the principles of free expression and the free exchange of information and ideas

In further recognition of his endurance of persecution and harassment by the government of Syria on account of his advocacy of fundamental rights and liberties for all Syrians

MESA dedicates its Academic Freedom Award for 2002 to

Dr. Arif Dalila 
Professor of Economics, University of Damascus
Founding member of the Committees for the Revival of Civil Society 
Political Prisoner


Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim

In recognition of his dedication to the promotion of democratic rights and civil liberties through his teaching and scholarship, and his commitment as a public intellectual to the principles of free expression and free exchange of information and ideas

In further recognition of his endurance of persecution and harassment by the government of Egypt, and personal attack by state-affiliated media,

On account of his tireless advocacy of fundamental rights for all Egyptians MESA dedicates its first Academic Freedom Award to

Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Professor of Sociology
American University in Cairo
Founding Director
Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies

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