MESA - Middle East Studies Association

Letters on Jordan

5 September 2013

Minister of Interior, Lt. General Hussein al-Majali
Head of the General Intelligence Directorate, General Faisal Al Shoubaki
Royal Court in Amman
Minister of Higher Education and Research, H.E. Dr. Amin Mahmoud
Minister of Foreign Affairs, H.E. Nasser Judeh
Ambassador of Jordan to the United States, H.E. Dr. Alia Hatoug Bouran

Dear Dignitaries:

I write to you on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our concern regarding the treatment of Albaraa Kefaya, a recent graduate in Engineering from Bir Zeit University whose detention and forced return to the West Bank by the Jordanian authorities has prevented him from taking up the internship he was offered at the University of California at Berkeley. 

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, MESA publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

Mr. Kefaya graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in engineering this past spring. He  prepared to  leave the country to pursue his studies abroad, first in California, where he had been awarded a 3-month internship (June-August) at Berkeley, and then in Turkey where he had received admission into a language program beginning in September. Unfortunately, his efforts have been repeatedly obstructed.  In his first attempt, in May 2013, to leave the West Bank and enter Jordan, from where he was to fly to the United States, the Israeli authorities detained him, claiming that he was a political activist who had worked against the Government of Israel.  After numerous meetings and the intervention of his lawyer and an Israeli Human Rights group, HaMoked, Mr.Kefaya was eventually allowed to leave the West Bank.  

However, as he attempted to enter Jordan, he was detained again, this time by the Jordanian authorities. Mr. Kefaya was ultimately allowed to enter the country, but was told to return for a meeting in Amman four days later.  He presented himself to the General Security Directorate for this appointment, which involved a lengthy interrogation during which he was told that the Jordanian government intended to send him back to the West Bank because he had been previously imprisoned by the Israelis. He was then escorted back to the border crossing and handed over to the Israeli authorities.  At an obligatory meeting on July 8 in the West Bank with the Israel Security Agency (‘Shin Bet’), the Israeli officer who met with Mr. Kefaya suggested that his Agency had asked the Jordanians to send him back.  Since then, the Israeli authorities have refused to allow him to leave the country.  

Mr. Kefaya was detained and held by the Israelis in 2007 and 2011, but he was not tried and was eventually released.  If your government’s decision to return him to the West Bank was the result of these two detentions, then you are cooperating with the Israeli occupation authorities in preventing him from pursuing his education abroad as punishment for activities he claims he has not engaged in nor has been found guilty of engaging in.  

We have written to the Israeli authorities expressing our concern regarding their treatment of Mr. Kefaya, urging them to allow him to leave the West Bank.  However, even if they do, if the Kingdom of Jordan refuses to allow him to travel, he will still be prevented from continuing his studies.    

His Majesty King Abdallah has repeatedly stressed the importance of education to the future of the youth of the Middle East region.  He has also continuously underlined Jordan’s commitment to the Palestinian people and their quest for an independent Palestinian state.  When such a state is ultimately established it will be in need of educated professionals to enable it to succeed.  Thus the decision to prevent Mr. Kefaya from travelling abroad to continue his education is a clear contradiction of the values and goals King Abdallah seeks to promote.

We therefore first ask for an explanation for your recent refusal to allow Mr. Kefaya to depart for the United States from Amman.  Further, in the event Mr. Kefaya should be permitted by the Israeli occupation authorities to leave the West Bank, we ask that you allow him to enter Jordan to continue his onward travel so that he may continue his education.  

We look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Peter Sluglett
MESA President
Visiting Research Professor, Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore 

26 October 2012

Dr. Ikhleif Tarawneh
President
University of Jordan
Amman 11942, Jordan

Dear President Tarawneh,

I write to you, on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA), to express our concern over the dismissal of Professor Rula Quawas from her position as Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at Jordan University.  The circumstances surrounding the termination of Prof. Quawas’ service as dean strongly suggest that this step represents a serious violation of academic freedom. 

MESA was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. It is the preeminent organization in the field. The Association publishes The International Journal of Middle East Studies and has nearly 3000 members worldwide.  MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere. 

According to her appointment letter issued by then-president Adil al-Tuwaysi, Professor Quawas was appointed Dean of the Faculty of Foreign Languages at Jordan University pursuant to a decision of the Board of Trustees of 7 September 2011, for a two-year term which began 11 September 2011. 

In the Fall 2011 semester, Dean Quawas assisted and advised a group of students in her Feminist Theory class in making a short video about sexual harassment experienced by female students on the University of Jordan campus.   This video was posted on YouTube six months later, in June 2012, and quickly generated a great deal of discussion and controversy, including in the local print and on-line media.   In response, the Vice President of the University of Jordan called Dean Quawas, reportedly furious, demanding an explanation regarding the students’ project. His concern was that the film harmed the university’s reputation.  No concern was expressed about the degradation of the learning environment at the university caused by widespread sexual harassment.  Dean Quawas’ response was to defend the students’ film as a legitimate product of academic expression and research. 

She followed up by sending a letter to you, President Tarawneh, explaining that the production of the film was a class project, but received no response.   On 30 August 2012 you met with the Board of Trustees to discuss your proposed changes of Deans, about which the Board reportedly had reservations.  On 2 September 2012, Dean Quawas learned from the press that she had been removed from her post—after completing only one year of her two year-term as per her appointment letter.  The following day you met briefly with all the deans and informed them that it was your right as a new President, appointed the previous February, to make changes.  At no point prior to what can only be described as an extremely unprofessional and demeaning dismissal had Prof. Quawas been called in by you or any other upper level administrator to discuss her administrative performance as dean or to suggest that there were any problems.

In the absence of any documentation of poor performance of her administrative duties, and given the timing of Prof. Quawas’ unseemly dismissal, we can only conclude  that she was terminated as dean as a result of her work with the women in her class on the video on sexual harassment.  

The University of Jordan has recently touted its intention to enter the ranks of the top 500 universities in the world.  We respectfully submit that in order to do so, arbitrary dismissals such as that of Dean Quawas, as well as the systematic and unpunished sexual harassment of female students on the university campus must come to an end.   We, therefore, call upon you to ensure that, not only the norms of academic freedom, but also the basic human dignity of all students and faculty on the University of Jordan campus will henceforth be respected and protected.

We look forward to your response. 

Sincerely,

Fred M. Donner
MESA President
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago

cc:

Her Royal Highness Princess Basma Bint Talal, Head of the Jordanian National Commission for Women
His Excellency Professor Khalid Touqan, Chairperson of the Board of Trustees at the University of Jordan
Her Excellency Asma Khader, Secretary-General of the Jordanian National Commission for Women
His Excellency Professor Wajih Owais, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research

RESPONSE received November 4, 2012 (pdf)

May 30, 2007

Dr. Khaled Touqan
Minister of Education and Higher Education 
and Scientific Research 
C/O Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Washington, DC
Fax: 202-566-6019
Fax: 202-533-7616
Fax: 202-686-4491

Dear Dr. Touqan:

We are writing on behalf of the Committee on Academic Freedom (CAF) of the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) to express our deep concern about the dismissal of sixteen university professors from Al-Zarqa al-Ahliyyah University for political reasons unrelated to their academic performance.

The Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) was founded in 1966 to promote scholarship and teaching on the Middle East and North Africa. The preeminent organization in the field, the Association publishes the International Journal of Middle East Studies and has more than 2700 members worldwide. MESA is committed to ensuring academic freedom and freedom of expression, both within the region and in connection with the study of the region in North America and elsewhere.

According to press reports in Al-Sharq al-Awsat and Al-Jazirah of 12 May 2007, informed sources in the Al-Zarqa al-Ahliyyah University president’s office indicated that security instructions from outside the university–-not work-related concerns–-triggered the decision not to renew the contracts of the sixteen professors, ten of whom are members of the Islamic Action Front (IAF). Indeed, although Al-Zarqa al-Ahliyyah is a private institution, the decision, which amounts to the dismissal of these faculty members, appears to be part of a larger set of on-going confrontations between the government of the Hashemite Kingdom and members of the IAF.

We have learned that the National Center for Human Rights and the Arab World Center for Democracy and Human Rights have previously received complaints regarding obstacles to the employment or the non-renewal of contracts of IAF members based on directives from the General Intelligence Department. Many of these complaints were from Ph.D. holders who had applied to Jordanian universities.

Chapter 2 of the Jordanian Constitution ensures equality of opportunity through employment to all Jordanians, just as it protects freedom of opinion. Moreover, in 2006, the Government published five international Human Rights-related instruments in Al-Jaridah al-Rasmiyyah, rendering the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), part and parcel of the Jordanian legal system. In the ICCPR, article 19 guarantees freedom of expression, article 22 protects the right to freedom of association, and article 25 stipulates equality before the law in matters of political or other opinion. The ICESCR recognizes the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work.

Academic freedom, which is the foundation of a strong and vibrant educational environment, requires that faculty members be evaluated on the basis of their scholarship and teaching. Their membership in legal political bodies or organizations should play no role in decisions made about their hiring or dismissal. 

As a committee of MESA charged with monitoring infringements on academic freedom, the Committee on Academic Freedom is deeply concerned by these developments. We urge you to reverse the non-reappointment decision and ensure that no further actions are taken against faculty members who have fulfilled their academic contractual obligations and who violated no laws through membership in legal political parties. 

Sincerely,
Zachary Lockman
President

cc: Dr. Adnan Nayifeh
President, Jam´at Al-Zarqa Al-Ahliyyah University
Fax: +962-5-382-1120

His Royal Highness Prince Zeid Ra´ad Al-Hussein
Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to the United States
Fax: 202-966-3110

Dr. Marouf al-Bakhit 
Prime Minister and Minister of Defense 
Fax: 202-464-2520

Major General Muhammad Dahabi
Director of the General Intelligence Department
Fax: +962-6-586-4111



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