Egypt’s interim cabinet, which is in place until a new president is elected within six months, has seen its first major reshuffle. The interim prime minister has promised a renewed focus on education and science in his cabinet’s attempts to tackle Egypt’s most pressing problems and challenges.
Ahmed Gamal Moussa has become the new minister of education and higher education, thus replacing Ahmed Zaki Badr (who was strongly disliked by teachers, parents, and probably students as well). Amr Salama has become the new minister of scientific research instead of Hani Helal who had his fair share of unpopular decisions, especially in public universities.
Both Moussa and Salama were previously ministers of the same position in 2004, but were sacked a year later for unknown reasons. Many analysts have speculated that Moussa was removed because he had a relative who was a member of the banned but tolerated Muslim Brotherhood, while Salama wasn’t getting along very well with then prime minister Ahmed Nazef.
Both Moussa and Salama have strong reformist ideas to try to fix things in education and research, two sectors that have (to put it in kind words) performed with extreme mediocrity over the past 10 or 15 years, continuously going down in quality.
Salama, who was a consultant for the American University in Cairo, Egypt, has said that scientific research will focus on economic and social development, with his ministry working with the other ministers to offer science advice and solutions. He said he will seek help of the Egyptian expat science community (such as Nobel Laureate chemist Ahmed Zewail and director of the Remote Sensing Center in Boston University Farouk El-Baz) and find ways to ensure they can help develop Egypt and its science community.
His first call of order, however, will be to try to close the ‘knowledge gap’ between Egypt and the developed West, to increase academic freedom to pursue research and to involve universities more in research.
Moussa has an even bigger challenge, since the poor quality of education in Egypt has been blamed for practically every problem in the country (not without good reason too!)
He promised to start by increasing freedoms within universities and to ensure university independence, which was impeded on often under the previous regime. He will also improve the moral and social and economic conditions of teachers and university professors so they are able to perform better.
Both Moussa and Salama are respected amongst the science community, and were warmly welcomed to take part in the rebuilding of the country post-revolution. However, things may not be so simple.
First off, the interim government will be in place for a maximum of six months, which is hardly enough time for the two to start their ambitious reform plans. The damage done to these sectors in 30 years will not be easily wiped out in half a year, especially during these turbulent times for Egypt. Maybe they should take up smaller, more realistic goals in the near future, at least until things are clearer?
To complicate things further, most people do not want the current prime minister to stay in office, since he was appointed by ex-President Mubarak. There are large-scale protests across the country calling for the prime minister to step down. If he does, what happens to this government? Will it be disbanded as the new prime minister makes a new one? Or will they be kept in place with only the prime minister being replaced?
It would be unfortunate of Moussa and Salama are removed from office in less than a year (again). Things are actually looking positive with them in office. However, at the breakneck speed at which everything is moving, it is hard to predict what will happen tomorrow, let alone in six months.
W’ll just have to wait and see
Are you a part of the science community in Egypt? How do you feel about the appointment of Moussa and Salama to the ministry? Share your views with us below.