Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

State of science in non-Arab Spring states

Egyptian revolution 01

Mohammed Yahia

The Arab Spring brought much hope for a science renaissance that would drive development across a region that has been rather stagnant for too long. However, for countries that overthrew their regimes, this has not yet fully materialized due to ongoing instability and turmoil.

Yet the ripples from these countries have spread far and wide to neighbouring countries that did not topple their leaders or monarchs. In a long feature published this week, SciDev.Net explores the effect of the Arab Spring on four of these countries: Algeria, Jordan, Morocco, and Sudan.

In Morocco, waves of protests spread across the country in February 2011 after the Egyptians protests toppled Mubarak in Egypt. They continued on four some four months, with angry young people protesting the increasing unemployment among younger people. This led the monarch to accelerate reform that focused on science research and linked it to industry to spur development. The money put up a US$65 million fund aimed to boost research projects up to 2014. However, Aziz Bensalah, the director of public engagement in Morocco’s National Centre for Scientific and Technical Research, told SciDev.Net that the rel problem was not about money, but about coordination between the different institutes in the country and the need to invest in good researchers to start with.

In Algeria, small protests that erupted after the success of the Tunisians and Egyptians in removing their presidents spurred the government to act quickly, which is wary of the country’s recent history of conflict between government forces and Islamists. In the 1990’s, this led to a mass exodus of researchers from the country, which has so far been unsuccessful in attracting them back.

Officials quickly moved to address the demands of the people. This led to an increase in science spending in the country’s budget, according to SciDev.Net, which rose from about US$250 million in 2012 to US$340 million in 2013 – bringing the country close to its target of spending 1% of GDP on science research. The lack of good scientists remains, however, the main hurdle – along with bureaucracy and lack of academic freedom. This may be what prompted Algeria to try to foster relations with American universities, since its researchers in the diaspora have not been very keen to return home.

In Jordan, the government’s answer to regular protests following the Egyptian revolution was to invest more in research that would help the country solve its energy problem, which was affected due to the natural gas supply from Egypt being disrupted regularly during unrest there. By investing US$39 million over a five-year-period, the country is hoping to decrease its dependence on other countries for its energy supply. Researchers, however, say that little has changed on the ground when it comes to science and research. The government’s budget has not changed, remaining firmly at 0.34%. Issa E. Batarseh, president of the Princess Sumaya University for Technology told SciDev.Net that the challenges to science research are huge and the government has not shown a real commitment to solving them.

In Sudan, an austerity plan introduced by the government in 2011 further reduced the already low science research budget. Only 0.04$ of GDP is used for science spending, and a decision to form a separate science and technology university two years ago was scrapped in 2012, merging the it with the communication ministry. Mirghani Ibnoaf, professor of sciences at Khartoum University, told SciDev.Net the problem is two-pronged. While the government is hardly investing in science and the private sector’s contribution is almost non-existent, the researchers themselves are “idle” and not involved in research that will actually help solve Sudan’s core problems.

Based on these four countries, and the others that had overthrown their regimes, it would seem that the Arab Spring has, so far, failed to bear fruit for science research. In fact, the countries that seem to be faring best and actually have a rapidly growing science sector are the oil-rich Gulf states who were mostly unaffected by the Arab Spring. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have been performing very well, increasing their science budgets and recruiting world talents to conduct research in their home institutes.

You can read SciDev.Net’s full article here.


  1. Report this comment

    Suleman Ali said:

    I think creating a genuine science base in any country is a daunting prospect. However we live in an increasingly globalised world where it is much easier to learn from each other. I am sure that young people in each of the countries you mention will be in a position to learn and absorb all that the more developed nations have to offer in terms of how to do science.