Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

“A technological revolution”

Egyptian Revolution Facebook.jpg"The only thing that will carry Egypt forward in the coming period is scientific thinking," said Ahmed Zewail, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1999 on Egyptian State TV. “If you install this core value in young people in a proper manner, you will have a whole generation of Egyptians with nearly unlimited potential.”

After the resignation of President Mubarak, in power since 1981, Egyptians went out celebrating all over Egypt. Everyone is aware, however, that this is only the first step of rebuilding their country.

Zewail, interviewed on State TV, talked about the role of scientists in the upcoming period.

He compared the future of Egypt to India’s investment in science, and how it had paid off, propelling the country ahead. He stressed that Egypt will need to encourage critical thinking in the new young generation in order to tap into their dormant potential. “Around 35% of the Egyptian population are 14 years old or younger. If you invest in these then you will create a powerful workforce that can truly change Egypt.”

“You can never enter the 21st century with 30% of the population illiterate. The world has moved ahead from that and there are many plans worldwide on how to counter that.”

After winning the Nobel prize, Zewail put together a proposal for a complete overhaul of science research and education in Egypt. He presented it to the Egyptian government for discussion, but the plans were halted for unknown reasons over and over again. Zewail said he had talked with five different governments, but the result was always the same.

He told a caller that he would work on a new plan to present to the upcoming government to solve some of the country’s most glaring problems. “I would give this all my time, but what would be different about it is that I’m completely convinced that any vision for Egypt in the coming years will not be complete unless the young people of Egypt are part of this.”

Zewail praised the young people who carried the first sparks of the revolution, calling it “a technological revolution” for the role that technology, the internet and social media has played in it.

Taking a question from a well-known Islamic preacher about the relation between science and religion, Zewail said that there was an unfortunate misunderstanding in Egypt that is often exaggerated by what he called “an ignorance of religion.”

“I don’t see there is any contradiction between science and religion whatsoever. Science looks into facts. I notice that a lot of people who talk about science, especially on satellite channels, are not up to the standard of knowledge to talk about it in an analytical manner.

Several callers asked Zewail to return to Egypt and play a role in the rebuilding of Egypt. One caller even asked him to run for presidency in the upcoming elections in September 2011. Zewail did not elaborate his futre plans, but he promised that he will announce “several good initiatives soon.”

Comments

  1. Report this comment

    Alberto Sicilia said:

    Dear Mohammed,

    My name is Alberto Sicilia, and I’m a postdoctoral researcher in Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. (and a great fan of your blog!).

    I’m personally very interested in international scientific collaboration, and I’d like to explore the possibilities of academic collaboration between scientist in Europe and Egypt, specially at the level of postgrad students and young researchers.

    I’m planning to visit Cairo next week (18th-23th February). I’d like to have a first-hand experience on how is the life of postgrad students and young researchers in Egypt. I hope it will allow me to understand better which are the main challenges and give me some ideas on how to create links between young scientists.

    So, I’d be very grateful if you know any student association, research association, or even people I could talk to, during my visit to Cairo.

    My email is: as2050@cam.ac.uk

    Thank you very much,

    Alberto.

  2. Report this comment

    Liz Martin said:

    I, much like Mr. Zewail believe there is not an inherent contradiction between science and religion. I wish the best for the nation of Egypt and a peaceful and enlightened transition that does not punish scientific thinking.