US-ISLAMIC WORLD: Obama's cooperation plan

US President Barack Obama has announced a plan for promoting cooperation between the US and Islamic States in higher education, science, technology and innovation in a bid to promote the development of knowledge-based society in the Muslim world.

Obama launched the plan during his historic address, A new beginning, at the University of Cairo last Thursday: "All of us must recognise that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century and in too many Muslim communities there remains under-investment in these areas", he said.

The US president called for "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims", declaring that Americans "were ready to join with citizens and governments, community organisations, religious leaders and businesses in Muslim communities to help our people pursue a better life".

In education, the cooperation plan includes expanding exchange programmes, increasing scholarships, encouraging more Americans to study in Muslim communities and to offer promising Muslim students with internships in America, as well as investing in online learning and creating a new online network.

In science and technology, the plan includes launching a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, helping transfer ideas to the marketplace for creating new jobs, opening centres of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appointing new science envoys to collaborate on programmes that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitise records, clean water, and grow new crops.

"All these things must be done in partnership." Obama said

Last month, Obama named the Nobel Laureate Egyptian-born scientist Ahmed Zewail as a member of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. This is an advisory group of leading scientists and engineers who assist the President and Vice-president in formulating policy in areas of science, technology and innovation that strengthen the U.S. economy.

Zewail is director of the school of physical biology center for ultrafast science and technology at the California Institute of Technology.

Hilmi Salem, a scientist and higher education consultant at a Palestine-based sustainable development research institute, cautiously welcomed Obama's cooperation plan.

"As a Palestinian, I am really close to the conflict," Salem said. "I see that we are just at the speaking stage [but] it remains to be seen how the implementation stage will translate these higher education and technological cooperation ideas into actions on the ground."