Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

A scientist president?

Zewail talking to young scientists.jpgThough almost all Egyptians rejoiced at the news that Hosni Mubarak was stepping down as president, it quickly dawned on them that 30 years under his autocratic regime have wiped out any serious contenders to the presidency.

As people settle down after the excitement of the revolution, they are slowly studying the options on the table. While no one has announced his or her intention to run for the presidency just yet, there are several names already floating around.

Ahmed Zewail, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1999, is one of the names that quickly rose as a favourite among many Egyptians. The public see him as someone they can trust, untainted by corruption in Egypt. Educated young people view him as a cultured and intelligent individual who can tackle Egypt’s most pressing problems of education reform.

Zewail has previously denied he was interested in running for the presidency, insisting he has come back “to serve Egypt as a scientist.” However, yesterday he sent out his strongest message yet that he may be changing his mind soon.

“My national responsibility towards our country in these dire times and thousands of letters from Egyptians from within the country and abroad made me reconsider and think about running for the presidency,” said Zewail during a meeting he held with young Egyptian researchers arranged by the science-focused NGO Age of Science .

Zewail went on to stress that the next Egyptian president must be solicitous about science since. “Overhauling science research will have a direct effect on developing the economy and solving all the major problems that Egypt faces within the next few years.”

The next president cannot only be concerned with politics as was the case in the past, he added. “Let us try science for a change.”

Several of the young researchers, curious about the future of science in their country, eagerly asked Zewail how scientific research could be fixed. Smiling, he told them that we can’t go on “patching” scientific research and education, but need a new, modern vision for a completely new system to develop universities and to support professors and researchers through their work.

While this piece of news got many people excited, others were hesitant about Zewail becoming president.

“You need very strong political skills to be a president, especially at these dangerous times in Egypt. He’s a scientist, not a politician,” told me Ahmed Fathy, a journalist working in the daily Al-Shorouk in Egypt. “I would love to see him as a minister of scientific research, but I’m not sure he has what it takes to be a president.”

Zewail became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1982. It is important to note that, according to the constitution, he cannot run for presidency since he has a dual nationality.

What do you think? Do you think it would help Egypt to have someone like Zewail be president at this stage? Have your say in the comments below.


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    Robert M said:

    Even if this individual is not specifically what Egypt needs, I think they are leaning the right direction by using Scientific Process to understand what needs to be done, as opposed to the current model of most all political systems.

    I think the entire model most countries use needs to be re-evaluated to keep up with the educational evolution that is taking place in the world.

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    Steven T. Corneliussen said:

    From a fascinated onlooker across the Atlantic: thanks for these intriguing thoughts.

    In this week’s “Science and the Media” column at Physics Today online, I’ve included a report (—-25.html#nme) about them.

    I hope the report draws online comments, in particular from people in the Middle East who know first-hand what we Americans can only glimpse — and cheer about — from afar.

    Thanks for the chance to comment.

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    Mohammed Yahia said:

    Thanks a lot for the very interesting and insightful post over at Physics Today. Quite an interesting analysis of my blog, thank you!

    The parallels you draw between the future of the Middle East following the ongoings revolutions and those early years after the American Revolution are quite interesting.

    I think there is little doubt that science and technology will play a role in the formation of this new age for the Arab world.

    How far that role is, however, will definitely be something worth keeping an eye on.