This article is part of a series on academic freedom where leading academics from around the world write on the state of free speech and inquiry in their region.
Last year I was imprisoned for nearly seven months in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I was held predominantly in solitary confinement, endured heavy interrogations, with my human rights violated on a daily basis.
During my imprisonment, I was force fed drugs, battled depression and thoughts of self-harm. Later, having endured nearly half a year of isolation and mistreatment, I wrestled with thoughts of suicide.
Eventually, in a trial lacking all due process and disregard for international legal standards, I was handed a life sentence. My crime? Undertaking academic research for my doctoral thesis.
My research examines the evolving national security strategy of the UAE, and my knowledge has evolved from years of professional work and research in the UAE and the wider Middle East and North Africa.
I had no reservations about conducting research in the UAE. And I underwent a rigorous ethical and fieldwork assessment and was sure to follow established protocols before and during my trip.
I complied with the university’s requirement to remove all Emirati research subjects as it was assessed that these nationals would not be safe nor trusted when engaging in security-related academic research. And I was happy to go along with the university and the third-party risk firm employed to assess any other risks for researchers travelling overseas. But unfortunately, as my experience proved, this was simply not enough to protect me or my integrity as an academic.
A vulnerable position
It became clear there was a lack of understanding by the Emirati authorities about what a legitimate academic is, and about how research is carried out. Standard actions needed to complete field research – such as interviewing sources, researching books, articles and maps along with taking notes – were very quickly taken out of context and distorted by the UAE security authorities. I routinely battled to explain how information cited in my thesis was referenced from publicly available academic books and not from “secret intelligence sources” as the interrogators would often claim.
Following my release, I have had the opportunity to reflect upon my experience. I have also been lucky to travel to academic institutions in the UK and US to discuss the ramifications of my experience upon academic research.
When discussing how academic fieldwork actually works, my main observation has been that beyond the academic community, there is a very limited understanding of what academic research actually consists of. As such, there is little understanding of the risks it entails.
This leaves academics engaging in fieldwork research in a particularly vulnerable position. It can even lead to a situation, like in my case, where their integrity and legitimacy as an academic is under question.
Indeed, I believe that this lack of information on academic practice exacerbated my situation. Trying to speak reason to the authorities holding me captive, and to those with the power to intervene diplomatically and politically on my behalf, went nowhere. And baseless accusations cast a shadow of doubt upon the legitimacy of my work.
Safety and security
For researchers and academics at all levels, the problem of misinformation has consequences extending to the very institutions to which they are affiliated. My experience demonstrates how bureaucracy-led universities are not equipping their students and staff with the appropriate skills and competencies needed to undertake their job in today’s world. Ultimately, effective instructions for fieldwork safety and security are lacking. Furthermore, as the technical capabilities of many states improve, there is an increased risk of deployed researchers falling victim to surveillance and unjust prosecution.
Another issue widely under-reported is that while researchers may be somewhat supported by their university, their human subjects are not. This leaves many academics, including myself, questioning whether it’s even possible or ethical to engage in fieldwork in the current age.
Having heard testimony from academics with diverse research backgrounds, it is abundantly clear that my experience was not isolated. Hundreds of scholars around the world are targeted and prosecuted for their research. Yet, while their cases are of great concern within the academic community, they continue to rest dormant in the public eye, the political arena and higher education boards.
If academics and universities are to continue to contribute to the generation of knowledge, then research practice and its risks must be acknowledged and respected. The freedom to research is paramount for knowledge creation. And if it is not protected, we risk being accomplices to those who wish to silence us.
As Yalies continue to push for greater Middle Eastern and North African representation on Yale campus, the student organization advocating for the creation of a MENA Cultural Center held a launch event Thursday.
While there are only four institutionalized cultural centers at Yale, the Middle Eastern and North African Students Association has advocated for MENA to become the fifth cultural center for the past two years. Spearheaded by members of the Arab Students Association and other cultural groups, the association is still in the midst of advocating for full-fledged cultural center status from the University. With support from the Yale College Council, the club plans to proceed in the meantime with programming similar to that of existing cultural centers.
Thursday’s MENA “Welcome Mixer” was intended to connect students and faculty who identify as Middle Eastern, as North African or who are interested in the region. The event was the club’s second official event since becoming a formally registered student organization last semester.
“[Last year], I started thinking about why a MENA house did not exist on campus to act as a [homey] umbrella for various students on campus who did not identify with the existing four institutionalized cultural centers,” MENA Co-Presidents Shady Qubaty ’20 and Yasmin Alamdeen ’21 said in a joint email to the News on Monday. “After all, breaking up the MENA region into an ‘Asian’ identifying region in the [Asian-American Cultural Center] and an ‘African’ identifying region in the [Afro-American] House disregards the social and cultural realities of Middle Eastern and North African identifying persons.”
Approximately 40 people attended the welcome mixer, including undergraduate Yale students, a student from Gateway Community College in New Haven and Jackson Institute World Fellows. They served a wide array of food, including treats from the MENA region such as baklava and grape leaves. The desserts came from Havenly, a startup bakery created by Yale students that employs refugee women in New Haven.
Qubaty and Alamdeen explained that the cultural house project first started to gain attention at the YCC Elections Debate in 2018, where Qubaty introduced the idea of a fifth cultural center to each of the candidates. They added that each candidate then incorporated the initiative into their platform, starting the YCC’s involvement in advocating for the MENA club.
According Qubaty and Alamdeen’s email, three questions related to the MENA club received a “nearly [unanimously]” positive reaction on the 2018-2019 YCC survey, motivating Qutaby and Alamdeen’s team to move forward with the project. Since then, they explained, the club has secured a base room at 305 Crown St., which is also next to the AACC and La Casa Cultural.
Qubaty and Alamdeen also emphasized that the momentum gained since receiving the official endorsement of the YCC signals that a MENA cultural center is “no longer just the demand of [their] association, but one concerning Yale’s official undergraduate student government.”
They added that this “huge step forward” has provided a YCC-based task force that has helped facilitate contact and advocacy on the prospective cultural center’s behalf.
“In addition, we have managed to garner the support of countless faculty members and are now in the process of forming an advisory board for the club consisting of Yale Alumni who are very passionate about this proposal,” the email said. “In that respect, we will have students, faculty and alumni all heading in the same direction.”
YCC President Kahlil Greene ’21 said that while MENA is “still in the process of advocacy that started last year,” the first step in establishing an official cultural center has already been achieved.
According to the email, Qubaty and Alamdeen characterized the process of achieving formal recognition as “very sticky” and one that “involves a lot of bureaucracy that is not just related to funding.”
They noted that the establishment of the other cultural houses took decades and that Yale administration has to be convinced that demand for a new cultural center is “real.” The email also explained that from there, the Administration will have to form a committee devoted to discussing its need and its feasibility “which takes time.”
Still, Qubaty and Alamdeen emphasized that formal recognition is “definitely possible” and that they “will not stop pushing” for a MENA house to be established.
Zakaria Gedi ’22, communications chair for the MENA Students Association, told the News that there is a large group of students who could be served by a MENA house and that this need applies “especially for a first-year who is trying to find their identity and make friends of similar heritage.”
Onur Burcak Belli, a Turkey-based journalist and Jackson Institute World Fellow at Yale, attended Thursday’s event and told the News that she was “really disappointed when [she] learned you don’t have a particular place to represent an area that has a lot to do with U.S. politics.”
She is proud of the students who have pushed for the establishment of the MENA Cultural Center and hopes to send a message that people living in the MENA region “are much more than victims.”
As the MENA Students Association does not currently have their own space, the Welcome Mixer took place on the first floor of the Asian-American Cultural Center.
So vital is education to the future of society, billionaire Jack Ma has just stepped down from Alibaba to focus on it. But does it matter where you go to be educated?
The former teacher, who studied for a BA in English at Hangzhou Normal University, told the World Economic Forum he was rejected from Harvard Business School 10 times, but it didn’t deter him from building a world-beating company.
Asia’s top two universities – Tsinghua (23rd) and Peking (24th) – are both in mainland China. With 81 institutions, China is also the fourth most-represented nation in the list for the fourth year in a row.
The ‘THE’ says: “Overall, China’s universities have improved in the areas of citation impact, share of international staff and share of international co-authorship over the past year, driven by higher levels of funding.”
There are 11 more Iranian universities ranked this year, taking its total up to 40, and new regions whose institutions join the list for the first time this year include Brunei, Cuba, Malta, Montenegro, Puerto Rico and Vietnam.
These are the top five:
1. University of Oxford
Topping the rankings for the fourth year in a row, Oxford prides itself on having an ‘international character’. It’s first overseas student, Emo of Friesland, was enrolled in 1190. Today, 40% of its faculty are from overseas.
Among its famous alumni are 30 modern world leaders, including Bill Clinton, Indira Ghandi and the current British prime minister, Boris Johnson.
2. California Institute of Technology
Despite having an unusual anti-growth model, Caltech has risen three places to take the second spot this year, thanks to an improvement in its score for international staff.
“We try to get better, not bigger,” says its president, Thomas F. Rosenbaum.
Along with MIT, it’s one of just two institutions in the ranking to achieve a score of more than 80 out of 100 in all five areas: teaching, research, citation impact, knowledge transfer and international outlook.
3. University of Cambridge
Like Oxford, Cambridge is a ‘good all-rounder’, but this year it slips from second to third place. It’s called home by more than 18,000 students – including 4,000 international students from more than 120 countries.
It also boasts more than 100 libraries, which hold 15 million books.
4. Stanford University
Stanford has also dropped one place this year, to fourth.
Like the other two US institutions in the top 5, MIT and Caltech, is known for its technology focus.
THE says: “Companies founded by Stanford affiliates and alumni generate more than $2.7 trillion annual revenue – which would be the 10th largest economy in the world.”
Among them are Google, Nike, Netflix, Hewlett-Packard and Instagram.
5. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT rounds off the top five this year. Major scientific discoveries and advances accredited to the university include the development of radar, the first chemical synthesis of penicillin, the discovery of quarks, and the invention of magnetic core memory, which enabled the development of digital computers.
The MENA region according to a UNICEF report, without improved education and meaningful work opportunities will have to face the critical risk of an unprecedented increase of 5 million out-of-school children, and over a 10 per cent rise in youth unemployment by 2030. Xinhua came up with the following article edited by Mu Xuequan.
UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 8 (Xinhua) — Without improved education and meaningful work opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the region faces a critical risk of an unprecedented increase of 5 million out-of-school children by 2030, according to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) report: MENA Generation 2030, which was published Thursday.
MENA Generation 2030 is the first report to make a direct link between investment in children, economic growth and social development.
The report warns that over a 10 per cent rise in youth unemployment by 2030 is expected, if the situation remains unchanged.
According to the report, the region has the highest youth unemployment rates in the world; nearly 15 million children are out of school due to a combination of poverty, discrimination, poor quality learning, violence in schools and armed conflict.
“We are at a serious risk of not meeting the Sustainable Development Goals in the MENA region with devastating consequences on children and young people,” said Geert Cappelaere, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
“The only way out is through the implementation and budgeting of policies for children, ending violence and armed conflict, having a politically and socially stable environment, and promoting gender equality,” Cappelaere added.
The report urges governments to increase financing for early childhood development, improve basic education and simultaneously nurture the skills needed to match the rapidly changing economy.
Dr. Sohair Wastawy, Executive Director of Qatar National Library, has more than 40 years of international library and university management experience in the Middle East and the US, and has practiced and taught librarianship in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the US.
Prior to her new role, Dr. Wastawy worked as Dean of Libraries at Florida Institute of Technology. She held the position of Dean of University Libraries at Illinois State University, and was the first Chief Librarian for the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Egypt. Dr. Wastawy also served as Dean at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
As well as her work in library management, Dr. Wastawy has worked as a consultant to many not-for-profit organizations, corporations, and accreditation commissions, and has been the recipient of international awards, including a Peace Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship.
Dr. Wastawy began her library career at Cairo University Library, Egypt, and taught librarianship in the first women’s library program in Saudi Arabia. She holds a Doctor of Arts in Library and Information Management from Simmons College, Boston, MA; and a Masters in Library and Information Science from The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.
Having an extensive international library experience in the US and the Middle East, we would like to know more about you, since the beginning of your distinguished career till now?And how did you come to leave Egypt and become an American citizen?
I hadn’t originally planned to study library science, and I later discovered that many who joined the profession had stumbled on it from different backgrounds.
Earlier, I majored in comparative linguistics, and I began with a BA degree in Semitic languages (Hebrew and Aramaic) from Cairo University then pursued an MA degree in African languages followed by a PhD in comparative linguistics at Cairo University. Before I could complete my PhD, however, my advisor Dr. Mourad Kamel, unfortunately, passed away. Because I was dealing with 6 languages as part of my thesis, it was difficult to work with any other advisor. At that time, I was working at the university library as a temporary job until I finished my PhD. Once I knew I wasn’t going to finish, I decided to stay on as a librarian and take up librarianship as a profession. However, I didn’t want to go into a profession without formally studying it.
After the Camp David Accords in 1978, the US was offering peace fellowships to a few Israeli and Egyptian students to pursue postgraduate studies in the US. I learned about this by walking past the AMIDEAST building in Cairo where I spot a big sign that read “Scholarships in the US”, so, I applied. Then, I didn’t know that in the US, unlike in Egypt, you could pursue a post graduate degree in a field other than your major. Knowing that I could choose any field of study, I shifted my career to library and information sciences.
After I completed my master degree, I was accepted in the second top program in the US: a private women school called Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts, where I completed my PhD studies in 1987. After my PhD, I came back to Egypt and stayed for eight months, during which I met my then-husband. I eventually moved back to the US with him I started my career in the US as a part-time research librarian at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and I have been practicing librarianship since then.
As a woman pursing her career and a working mother, what are/were the major obstacles and challenges that you had to face in your life and career?
Since 1988, my job has always been about building and managing libraries. I managed the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) main library with its 5 branches for 14 years, before I was appointed as chief librarian at the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, which also required building the library sector services and collections. After my tenure in Alexandria, I held the position of dean of university libraries at Illinois State University followed by similar position at Florida Institute of Technology.
Being a working mother is a difficult task; juggling between family and work is often relentless. It is also a delicate balancing act, especially when you are away from family and friends. I didn’t have the kind of support system that comes with living in your home country. You have to be extremely organized and very judicious with your time. In general, the responsibility of being a manager is challenging as you often don’t operate with fixed hours. It is all about getting the job done. If the job takes 10 hours or 15 hours, you owe that much time. Creating a balance between family and work requires super organizational skills. You have to organize activities for the kids and you have to share tasks with your partner.
Did you find any cultural gaps between women’s role in society in the Middle East and the US?
Gender discrimination exists in most societies. The US has given me opportunities and leadership skills, and I was for the most part, treated equally and was selected on the basis of merit. When I got my first position as a dean, I was 37 years old. I was also the first female dean IIT since it was established in 1890. I was a woman with an accent; different in completion and background which made some people regard me with suspicion. When I attended a meeting with a number of male deans, my proposed ideas fell on deaf ears. When the other male deans reiterated what I said, their ideas were met with “Oh, wow! That is quite wonderful”. I took issue with this and long before equal pay became a big thing in the US, I told my president that I was no less intelligent than these men, and I demanded to be paid as much as the other deans.
I must say that in Egypt, women have assumed leadership positions in governmental and national institutions, but we still have not seen many women judges or some other high-ranking professions. We still have quite a journey ahead of us.
Being an effective manager who has a broad repertoire of management styles, can you tell us more about the styles you used throughout your career with your employees all over the world? And how did you develop them?
There is no single management style that fits all. It is situational. You maintain certain values for equality, fairness, objectivity, and professionalism. You honor these core values, but remain flexible in how you execute them. In general, management techniques are not magic mantras but simply tools to be reached for at the right times.Some situations require the leader to hover closely; others require long, loose lines.
To be a manager does not merely entail giving orders. Being a leader is about understanding that strategy equals execution and that all the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can’t be implemented in an efficient manner at the right time. As a leader, you delegate and empower others, but you also pay attention to details, every day, never above operational details. In a service profession like librarianship, loyalty to the ethos of the profession of equality and democracy are crucial. On the personal level, you must have a high-energy drive, a balanced ego, and the drive to get things done.
5- As a working mother, how did you raise your son? Has he understood the role you played in the cultural arena? How has that affected his perspective on life?
The year my son was born, I was made dean for the first time. Meaning that my son has always seen me throughout his life in leadership roles. He has always been very proud of what I have achieved. He used to brag about me when he was little, telling his friends that I was the president of the university.
Because Kariem has always seen me in leadership positions, this has had both a positive and some unhelpful effect on him. As proud as he was, my son often thought that he has to do everything perfectly in order to get my approval.
Being an immigrant in the US, you are always judged. I didn’t want my son to acquire this trait: judging people or situations prematurely. I tried to instill in him empathy toward people, and I taught him to treat people equally and with respect. Kariem grew up in a post-9/11 America, which was a very hard time for all Arabs. He was bullied by kids at school who told him that all Arabs were terrorists. This was alienating to a child who cannot defend himself, had neither the vocabulary nor the understanding to be able to say that this wasn’t our fault or that these terrorists were different people.
The atmosphere was very difficult and Arab children, like my son, had to struggle through all that because of the name-calling. Some kids told him to go back home, and Kariem used to tell them that this was his home. I tried to help him understand that these children knew little, and to teach him empathy during this time of ignorance. I also taught him not to be defensive and help educate others. Those were some of the values I tried to instill in my son. I am proud to say that he has an amazing sense of empathy, kind, open and have friends of all backgrounds and religions.
Reflecting on how your parents raised you, what ideologies do you wish to instill in girls in Egypt to become future leaders in society?
Though my father was born in 1917, he was such a liberal man in his way of thinking. He supported me all the way, and I was the first girl in the family to study abroad. That was not very common then. For a man from a different era, I think it was all a matter of trust, which he tried to foster between him and his 5 children. He always wanted us to believe in what we did. He had such work ethics and was a real patriot. He wanted us to succeed not only for our own sake but also because we owed it to our country.
We were 4 girls and 1 boy, and he urged us to choose whatever we wanted to do with our lives. Two of my sisters are doctors, one is a pharmacist, and my brother is an engineer. His advice was to always be the best at whatever you choose.
Both my parents were teachers who believed in girls’ education and independence. They were like any good parents who give their children wings to fly. That’s why each and every one of us led the life they wanted without being hindered by any limitations. Those are values that I wish all parents instill in girls in Egypt. If they do not acquire them at a young age, they will become more difficult to acquire as adults.
Having contributed to promoting an excellent image of inspiring remarkable Egyptian women and change makers, what advices do you wish to pass on to women of Egypt all over the world?
To believe in what they do, have a purpose in life, and to try to make a difference. It doesn’t matter if it is going to be gardening, teaching, a factory worker, a doctor, or engineer. Just try to make a difference. Being a stay home mom, in my opinion, is a tough job. Raising future leaders and good citizens is not for the faint of hearts. Women, who have the ability to give, can volunteer at any institution and receive a sense of accomplishment for being able to give something back to their community—either their time or energy.
Your self-worth and self-esteem rise when you contribute to the welfare of others. It is not about making money or attaining a high position; it is about what you want to be remembered with. No matter what profession you belong to, what is really important is to ask yourself these questions: how can I make any difference in my brief time on earth? If you find answer to such a question, then you will be able to find your path.
What are your future plans on both the professional and personal levels?
On the personal level, I am very much looking forward to retirement. I want to pursue hobbies that didn’t have time for when younger. I like to write, and I have been writing a collection of short stories for over 25 years now that I would like to finish. I would also like to take digital photography, gardening, creative writing and ballroom dancing classes. I also plan to volunteer with Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian organizations that help in the relief of human suffering.
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