Academic Freedom in the MENA Region


New University in Exile Consortium, Department of Anthropology and Cultural Research and the Institute for Political Sciences at Bremen University 
Wednesdays 12 pm (EST) / 6 pm (CET)
14 WEEKS (04.11.20 - 17.02.21)


Since the Arab Spring began in early 2010s, countless academics in the Middle East and North Africa (the MENA region) have been fired from their faculty positions in direct response to ideas expressed in their writing or teaching. In the most extreme cases, their lives have been threatened, and they have been forced to flee. This seminar will provide an introduction to the concept of “academic freedom,” put simply, the ability of faculty members and students to engage in intellectual debate without fear of censorship or retaliation.

Many countries in the MENA region have known autocratic regimes throughout their modern existence. Examining case studies from the region, participants of the seminar will reflect on how academic freedom has been conceptualized, and how it functions in post-transitional societies today. The co-leaders of the seminar will use an interdisciplinary approach to demonstrate how restrictions on academic freedom have been a symptom of, as well as a result of, political upheavals. Participants will develop an understanding of how and why governments have targeted the academy, putting restrictions on academic freedom as a means to manage political dissent. 


Learning Aims

• An understanding of what the concept of academic freedom entails conceptually and politically,

• The geopolitical issues related to education, religion and culture as it pertains to academic freedom,

• The situation of academia and academics in the MENA region and their struggles.

Upon the successful completion of the course students will be able to:

• Develop a comprehensive understanding of the concept of academic freedom as it relates to political transitions,

• Develop critical views of the concept of academic freedom and how it is both understood and manipulated, and

• Develop awareness of how governments have targeted the academy in their quest to manage political dissent.


A full outline of the course syllabus can be found here.



Mabruk Derbesh is currently a fellow at Columbia University. He got his higher static education in Canada and the US where he was awarded a PhD in Applied Management and Decision Science with a focus on social science. He has been a faculty member at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, University of Tripoli, where he taught management. He wrote extensively in the main Libyan magazines and newspapers for many years and was known for his unique Arabic writing style and harsh criticism of the static political discourse and religious extremism. He is also the founder of theLibyan Institution of Academic and Intellectual Freedom. In recent years, he focused his research on constructing a platform for Academic Freedom in the MENA region, and although he argues that it is still a novel concept to many in the Arab world, he sees a global threat to Academia and free thought even within the liberal apparatus in the West.

Teoman Aktan is a political scientist with a focus on social movements, human rights, and social justice in Middle East. He holds a PhD in Political Science and Public Administration from Istanbul University. His doctoral thesis focused on the genealogy of autonomy, with Iran and Azerbaijan as case studies. He has carried out research projects on organizational commitment (2010), ethnic nationalism (2011), and the intergenerational value conflicts (2012). Dr. Aktan collaborated as a social worker and interpreter with several non-governmental organizations on issues related to refugees in Turkey. He is currently a research fellow at Columbia Global Center/Amman.

Nahed Ghazzoul is an assistant professor in Linguistics. She holds a PhD in Linguistic from Lancaster University, UK. 2008; a Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, from Lancaster University, UK. 2006; an MA in Linguistics (TESOL), University of Surrey, UK. 2004. She taught at different academic institutions including Aleppo University/Syria, Lancaster University/UK, and Jerash and Alzaytoonah University/Jordan. Currently, she is a postdoctoral research fellow at Columbia University. She got a postdoctoral fellowship at East AngliaUniversity/UK by the end of 2019. Her specialised researches focus on linguistics, and pedagogical issues, and her field of interest is ‘Refugees Studies’. She published a couple of papers in high indexed Journals.

This Seminar is funded by the New University in Exile Consortium based at the New School and is hosted by the Department of Anthropology and Cultural Research and the Institute for Political Science at Bremen University.