[CAIRO] In the latest in a series of grand science initiatives, Egypt will establish a US$2 billion 'science city' to link its science with industry and provide practical experience for its scientists.
The Egyptian cabinet unanimously approved setting up the Zewail City of Science and Technology, the brainchild of Egyptian-born Nobel laureate Ahmed Zewail, professor at the California Institute of Technology, United States.
The prime minister, Essam Sharaf, announced at a press conference last week (1 June) that the cabinet will draft a law for establishment of the city which will be submitted for approval to the new parliament soon after September's elections.
"Countries do not move forward except with scientific research," said Sharaf, adding that the government sees science and technology as one of its top priorities. Egypt's government increased science funding by almost a third last week and promised to create up to 50,000 new research jobs.
Zewail, who gave a lecture about the city at the American University in Cairo last week (2 June), said: "The city is a non-profit, independent national project that aims to arm young Egyptian students with the modern sciences they need to compete internationally".
It will include a university for talented undergraduate and postgraduate students, a graduate research institution, a technology park for students' innovations and an industrial institution to link science with industry.
Zewail, who is also one of the three US science envoys, tasked with improving science collaborations between the United States and the Muslim world, said the preliminary budget for the project was US$2 billion and donors are invited to give money to help reach this.
The city will start with 1,000 students and grow to a maximum capacity of 5,000. The timetable for the project has not been announced yet, but the government has provided 110 hectares of land in Sheikh Zayed City, a suburb of Cairo.
Ali Hebeish, president of the scientists' organisation the Egyptian Syndicate of Scientific Professions, told SciDev.Net that the city would help to encourage Egyptian scientists to perform at an international level, as well as having a gradual impact on the entire educational system.
Egypt has good researchers who lack training in practical work, and the city may "play a pivotal role in changing this situation", added Hebeish, who is also the former president of Egypt's Academy of Scientific Research and Technology.
Mohamed Ghoneim, member of the board of consultants for the city's plans and head of the Urology & Nephrology Center at the country's Mansoura University, said the prime minister's declaration in Uganda last month (11-13 May) that Ugandan students will be supported to do research at the city will help put Egypt back on the map as a regional leader and an important link between the Middle East and North Africa region and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Zewail chose an executive board of consultants for the city and a board of trustees that includes six Nobel Prize winners, including Susan Hockfield, the president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Gregorio L. Escario, the president of the Cebu Institute of Technology in the Philippines.
The science city project was first proposed to the Egyptian government when Zewail received his Nobel Prize in 1999 but plans ground to a halt in 2000. The project was revived after the pro-democracy uprising earlier this year (25 January) and Egypt's governing body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, approved the establishment of Zewail City last month (31 May).