EGYPT: Ministers approve creation of 'science city'

Egypt will create a 'science city' that will include a university and an institute for science and technology as part of its post-revolution efforts to promote higher education and innovation in the country and the Arab and African regions.

On 9 May, the ministerial legislature group agreed to a law approving the creation of the 'City of Science' proposed a decade ago by Egyptian scientist and Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail, who is the Linus Pauling professor of chemistry and a professor of physics at the US-based California Institute of Technology.

Zewail was awarded the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1999 for his pioneering work in femtoscience. In 2009 he was appointed to US President Barack Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and he is one of three envoys for the US Science Envoys programme created to foster partnerships between the US and countries in North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The City of Science, to be located on 110 hectares of land in Sheikh Zayed City northwest of Cairo, includes the establishment of a university and an institute for science and technology.

It aims to educate the younger generation in world-class science and technology, develop new technologies and allow Egypt to participate in the technology-based global economy.

The focus will be on 21st century knowledge frontiers including genetic medicine, energy and water resources, information technology, and femto- and nanotechnology. The city will also be used to promote regional and international collaborations that produce scientific, social and political benefits.

The Egyptian cabinet will issue a decree assigning a board of trustees to draft the general policies of the new 'city'. The governor of the city and the president of the university will also be appointed by a decree from the cabinet.

During his 11-13 May African tour to Uganda and Ethiopia to settle the long-standing dispute over sharing the waters of the Nile River, Egypt's first post-revolution Prime Minister Essam Sharaf announced that the country would provide scholarships to Ugandan students to study in Egyptian universities and to "do research in Zewail Scientific City, which will be launched soon".

Egypt's new government, said Sharaf, "declared very clearly that we believe we are Africans, and African-African relations are very important for our future and the future of the continent".

Hassan Moawad Abdel Al, former president of Alexandria's City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications, welcomed the science city news as "a good step on the road to reforming higher education and scientific and technological policies, which weakened Egypt's universities and research centres".

He also mentioned the potential of "using science diplomacy for putting an end to Egypt's troubled relations with Sub-Saharan Africa, which characterised the [former president Hosni] Mubarak era".

"This city could also make use of Egyptian scientists abroad who have international repute, to facilitate technology and knowledge transfer from industrial countries to Egypt," Abdel Al told University World News. "The city could also enhance the record of Egypt's scientific productivity as well as improving its position on the world technological map."

The February country feature based on Essential Science Indicators from Thomson Reuters, showed that among the 148 top-performing countries in all scientific fields, Egypt ranked 41 for papers (34,029), 44 for citations (170,830) and 123 (5.02) for citations per paper.

A study by the Thomson Reuters research performance analysis and interpretation group Evidence, published last year, showed that Egypt produced only around 30,000 scientific papers between 1999 and 2008 - on average 3,000 a year - which is extremely small for a country of 85 million people.

Several recent studies have pointed out that the Mubarak regime left Egyptian science lagging by decades and indicated that democratic change could revitalise education and innovation.

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