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  • Islamic states under fire for 'empty promises' on science

[CAIRO] Member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have come under fire for lacking the political will and not allocating the funding to follow through on their many promises to improve science and technology.

The criticism comes from experts, including current and former officials at OIC's science body, the OIC Ministerial Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH).

The criticism follows the latest communiqué promising a boost for science, issued at the end of the 12th Islamic Summit of the OIC in Cairo, Egypt, this month (6-7 February).

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It called for a range of activities to improve science, including encouraging private sector participation in research and development, promoting emerging technologies, improving education, and setting up an Islamic Summit on Science and Technology.

"These are empty resolutions which are not followed up by any real action," says Atta-ur-Rahman, COMSTECH's former coordinator-general.

"The priority given to science and technology by OIC member states is reflected in the fact that each year they approve budgets for US$15 million to COMSTECH programmes, but what they actually contribute does not even reach US$1 million," he tells SciDev.Net. "The present wretched situation in OIC states deserves urgent action, not hollow slogans."

Mohammed Ali Mahesar, assistant coordinator-general of COMSTECH, says: "Words like calling upon, encouraging, advising etc. have always been the mainstay of OIC resolutions because they are not binding".

Behind closed doors, he says, "every member state fights to ensure that nothing is said that might oblige them to make resources available". Any attempt to back a resolution with resources is "killed in its earliest stage".

"The resolutions serve only to make government officials feel good about themselves," says Egyptian scientist Farouk El-Baz, director of the Center for Remote Sensing at US-based Boston University.

And Omani biomedical scientist Abdallah Daar, currently at the University of Toronto, Canada, and a fellow of the Jordan-based Islamic World Academy of Sciences, tells SciDev.Net: "History shows these resolutions produce no meaningful results. You wonder why they bother to pass them."

Mahesar says that for resolutions to change something in the real world, there should be agreed deadlines for action.

Atta-ur-Rahman adds: "There should be a budget of at least US$2 billion approved each year to establish world class centres of excellence in key fields of science and technology, particularly in agriculture, engineering, health sciences, biotechnology, energy and material sciences".

"The contributions must be made mandatory according to the GDP [gross domestic product] of member countries," he adds, and suggests that the OIC membership of countries which do not contribute should be suspended.

El-Baz, who was science advisor to the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, says: "Without timetables and corresponding budgets, the resolutions are not worth the paper they are printed on".

 

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