Egyptian science community celebrates a free Egypt

Published online 12 February 2011

Egyptian scientists look to the future, discussing how they can join in rebuilding their country after Mubarak, in power for 30 years, resigns.

Mohammed Yahia

Egyptians celebrated into the early hours of dawn at news of President Mubarak stepping down.
Egyptians celebrated into the early hours of dawn at news of President Mubarak stepping down.
Nature Middle East

At around 6:00 pm local time in Egypt, the vice-president announced in a televised speech that Hosni Mubarak had finally stepped down after 30 years in power.

Jubilant scenes exploded throughout the streets of every city in Egypt as people celebrated ousting the president after 18 days of popular protests.

Nature Middle East talked to members of the science community, who voice their grievances with the past, hopes for the future and concerns about the current period.

Farouk El-Baz, research professor and director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University.

As a scientist who has been concerned about the state of education and scientific research in Egypt, I am elated. The popular uprising in Egypt is a revolt against backwardness. The young generation has observed the country slip into poverty for too long.

I foresee a real change in the status quo that will include a revamping of the educational system and more emphasis on scientific research in support of a more productive society.

Alaa Ibrahim, assistant professor of space astrophysics at the American University of Cairo (AUC)

Science and technology will play a pivotal role in rebuilding a new Egypt. We have a competent workforce within Egypt and outside Egypt which has not been fully tapped into. This is one of the greatest assets of the country.

This Egyptian scientific workforce will have a very important role to play in the upcoming era. Their potential was not fully realized due to poor working conditions and poor funding. I'm talking about all of the past three decades. There was some little improvement in the last five years or so but when you look overall at the whole period of President Mubarak's rule, it was mediocre at best. Once this improves, this workforce will be the driving force for a better Egypt.

They need to build a knowledge society. We are in the 21st century and this is the age of knowledge. We will thrive in this era only through building such a society.

The common thread that stretches through the history of Egypt, since the time of the Pharaohs and all the way to Islamic Egypt, is that the country has been a focal point for science and technology throughout the eras. That was always the case when it was a democracy. We are hopeful that the upcoming period will be democratic and science and technology will thrive here once again.

Abdelhady Mesbah, a microbiology and immunology consultant in Egypt.

I cannot stress this enough, the solution must start with education. That is our true first line of defense

We have so much hope in the future. The past periods of war, followed by a dictatorship rule for so many years, were some of the worst periods ever for Egypt. The government did not respect or trust people of knowledge, nor was their advice valued.

The deeply rooted problems with education frustrated young people to no end. The better ones left the country to pursue a better future elsewhere, and those who stayed were angry and had to settle for mediocre conditions that hardly fulfilled their dreams.

We need to have a complete overhaul of science, education and media in the coming period.

These young people who led the revolution are obviously smart and educated, and they won this victory through their own capabilities. I think the upcoming period will be enlightened, and we will have a focus on science and science research. The funding for science research should increase exponentially and there should be further collaborations with the international community. We also need to reevaluate all the research centers we have and to determine which ones we do need to keep and which ones should be scrapped so we can have better focused research.

This is my personal opinion. However, those young people who led this revolution are from the internet age with a strong, clear vision, and are very aware of how important this revolution is. They managed to achieve what we could not do out of fear.

If I'm not mistaken, if these young people manage to utilize all their energy into the right direction, which starts with education, science research, culture and media, they can create a completely new, enlightened Egypt in the coming period.

Mohamed El Raey, professor of environmental physics and ex-dean of the Institute of Graduate Studies and Research, University of Alexandria.

Science and technology have always played a very important role throughout the ages. Sadly, this was not the case in Egypt, at least for the past 30 or 40 years – and especially so in the past 10 or 15 years. This is because science all over the world was moving ahead at an incredible speed and we were not part of this.

Now we need to think how we can catch up quickly. In my opinion, the first line of defense for the country is education and science and technology. We must have a plan with clear sources of funding and a realistic timetable, so we can catch up to the rest of the world. There must be proper funding that is equal to what developed countries and other democratic countries spend on science and the management of science.

The problem is we have some really good scientists here, but the bureaucracy hinders science. We have many respectable scientists in Egypt that were badly utilized. They have spent their lives to improve the country and we should make use of them now.

Science research and the application of science is also sometimes held ransom at the decisions of the interior ministry, who often accused our international collaborations of being security threats. Scientists must be the ones who determine the security of the country. Science and technology must take their full role and we must be open to the whole world to collaborate in science and technology for the better of the people.

We must reevaluate education so we have researchers and specialists of international calibre. And these are the ones that should get the scholarships to travel outside away from any favouritism. I cannot stress this enough, the solution must start with education. That is our true first line of defense.