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The prime minister of the United Arab Emirates has announced the creation of a US$10 billion foundation to narrow the gap in scientific knowledge between Arab states and the developed world.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation will be based in the United Arab Emirates.

Starting later this year, the foundation will establish scientific research centres in Arab universities, offer research grants to Arab researchers and from 2008 will provide scholarships to students.

"It gives me great pleasure to announce a personal initiative aimed at building a knowledge-based society throughout the region," said prime minister Al-Maktoum in a keynote address at the World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan last week (19 May).

Al-Maktoum highlighted that the Arab world spends only 0.02 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on scientific research and has 3.3 academic scholars for every 10,000 people in the workforce.

Developed countries spend 2.5–5 per cent of GDP on science and have 110 academic scholars for every 10,000 people.

Al-Maktoum said unemployment in the region is 14 per cent and 15 million jobs are currently needed in the Arab world, with a further 74–85 million needed over the next 20 years.

He said the foundation will undertake concrete initiatives to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the region, thus creating significant new employment opportunities and providing hope for the region's youth.

Malik Alasmar, an Iraqi researcher based at Belgium's University of Ghent, says the foundation could help facilitate technology transfer between Arab states and the West by promoting collaborative research programmes between local researchers and Arab researchers living abroad.

Alasmar also said the foundation could provide much-needed support to Iraqi scientists in the current security crisis. 

He hoped the foundation would also play a role in establishing research and development units in companies, so scientists could translate their ideas into products.

Hassan Moawad Abdel Al, former president of Alexandria's Mubarak City for Scientific Research and Technology Applications and professor of microbial biotechnology at Egypt's National Research Center, told SciDev.Net that the time was ripe in the region for translating scientific knowledge into development in Arab nations.

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