The Arab Society for Academic Freedom is an impressive collection of academics from around the Arab world which work together to enforce the norms and freedoms of academia throughout their home countries. Academic freedom in the Middle East has traditionally been contested and hotly debated, as many authoritarian regimes in the area have showed degrees of opposition to typical freedoms. The freedom for academics to inquire, research and teach have often come with threats of persecution, censorship and general repression. Other factors contributing to diminished academic freedom in the Middle East include interstate and civil wars which damage educational structures and institutions.
Many organizations deal with academic freedom in the Middle East, but arguably none as extensive as the Arab Society for Academic Freedom. This group is a voluntary congregation of academics from across the Middle East, and according to their website:
The Arab Society for Academic Freedom (ASAF) was established by Amman Center for Human Rights in April 2008 as an outcome of the second conference on The Academic Freedom in Arab Universities, where participants approved the mandate and related rules allowing the Board of Directors and Executive Committee to be selected. The General Assembly consists of 60 academics from 13 Arab countries, while the Executive Committee is made up of 11 Board Members.
In addition, the ASAF publishes various articles and recommendations for the upkeep of academic freedom on the Middle East. One such publication includes final statements and recommendations from their annual conference on academic freedom. Most recently, they published the following statement regarding their Sixth Conference and the Independence of Universities Conference using the country Tunisia as a model:
- Work on consolidating the culture of academic freedom as a distinctive part of public freedoms, needed by the academic community (Professor, students, and administrators).
- The pursuit to achieve independence of universities as a cornerstone of academic freedom and a key indicator of the “scale of the Amman Center for academic freedom in Arab universities,” adopted at the Fifth Conference of Academic Freedom held in December/January, 2013.
- Invite university elites to formulate concepts of academic freedom and independence of universities as a procedural formulation to enable converting them into behaviors.
- Bridging the gap between academic freedom and civil and social responsibilities of Arab Universities.
- Ensure the harmonization of the principle of the independence of universities, the concept of wise governance, and the quality of higher education by establishing a culture of internal and external evaluation of quality through independent bodies for accreditation and quality assurance.
- Achieve a balance between the concept of university independence and freedom from excessive central political and religious guardianship, and between the moral and scientific commitment in the university work to conduct its affairs and the performance of its duties.
- Seek to develop internal laws and regulations in Arab universities, whether they were public or private, in accordance with the academic freedoms and independence of universities concepts.
- Work on including the concept of academic freedom in the constitutions of Arab countries as of a legislative guarantee of the independence of the university following the example of the Tunisian model and invite constitutional courts, and their corresponding institutions, to consider academic freedoms set forth in international and regional covenants as originally invoked reference to address the rights of university actors.
- Include the concepts academic freedoms and independence of universities in school and university curricula.
- Work on activating the independence of universities measure contained in the Amman Center indicators scale of academic freedom in Arab universities.
- Communicate with regional and international institutions concerned with academic freedom and independence of universities to take advantage of their experience in this area.
- Strengthen the administrative and financial independence of the Arab universities and respect the right of faculty members to choose academics officials in ways they agree upon with the university in respecting the principles of university democracy, including elections and interchangeable responsibility.
- Strengthen the position of representative bodies for teachers, researchers, and various university actors in the university in participatory democratic governance based on the foundations of transparency, efficiency, and accountability while seeking to develop legislation to broaden the powers of these bodies to ensure quality output.