The United States has been urged to offer 'matching funds' to oil-rich Arab states that are prepared to increase their investment in building capacity in science and technology in the region. Such a move, it is being suggested, could form part of US efforts to regain public trust in the Middle East.
The proposal was made last week by Mostafa El-Sayed, a professor of chemistry and director of the Laser Dynamics Centre of the Georgia Institute of Technology who spoke at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
An Egyptian by birth who trained at the University of Cairo but has worked in the United States since 1954, El-Sayed said that advances in science and technology had the potential to act as stabilising factors in Arab economies. In turn, this could bring stability both to the streets and to the region.
Encouraging wealthier Arab nations to invest in research and development, particularly in the poorer countries in the region, and contributing matching US funds, "would be an inexpensive way to make our good intentions known to our Arab friends, recover our influence in the region and regain their trust", said El-Sayed.
Addressing a session of the AAAS meeting devoted to 'Science in the Arab World', he urged the National Science Foundation, for example, which currently provides about US$1 million a year to support research in the entire Arab world, to significantly increase this figure.
In particular, El-Sayed added, additional money should be allocated to countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon which have a large number of scientists, but are lacking in both equipment and facilities.
"There is a lot of misunderstanding between the United States and Arab countries, based on differences in religion and ideology, but science is a language that we all speak," El-Sayed told the meeting.
"The advances it brings can help fuel the economies of countries that don't have the tremendous oil wealth of some of the other Arab countries."
El-Sayed admitted that extra investment in science from the United States would be unlikely to single-handedly reduce anti-American sentiment on the streets of Arab cities.
But he suggested that working partnerships formed in this way could help promote an atmosphere of international trust and understanding throughout academia, which could have a trickle-down impact on other parts of society."The level of communication that is necessary for successful research partnerships is a step towards getting people in Egypt and other Arab countries to see Americans as partners," he said.