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[CAIRO] Ahmed Nazif, a 52-year-old information technology and software engineering expert — he holds a masters degree in electrical engineering from Cairo University and a doctorate in computer engineering from McGill University in Canada — has been named as Egypt's new prime minister.

His appointment last week by president Hosni Mubarak follows the resignation of the previous government on 9 July, and makes Nazif the country's youngest prime minister. He is also the first Egyptian prime minister with no background in economics to be appointed since 1987.

According to the state newspaper al-Ahram, the new prime minister is expected to bring "youthful, fresh blood and scientific thinking" to the administration, and thus to help Egypt to become a modern knowledge-based society. 

Nazif has already taken a step in this direction by appointing Amr Ezzat Salama, formerly president of Helwan University, as the country's new minister for higher education and scientific research. Salama, 53, is a professor of civil engineering, and chaired the university's centre for technology development.

Speaking to SciDev.Net, Salama stressed Egypt's need to boost the science and technology sector, especially in fields such as biotechnology and information technology.

He is keen to encourage the private sector to invest in science and technology projects, to promote closer research ties between universities and the industry, and to promote a greater public understanding of science.

He adds that he also intends to focus on issues such as biosafety and intellectual property rights. Another top priority, he says, is to enhance the country's scientific infrastructure in a way that makes it a more attractive place to carry out research, and thus reduce the nation's brain drain. 

Previously a professor of computer engineering at Cairo University, Nazif spent ten years running the Cabinet Information and Decision Support Centre, which collects economic statistics for ministers. He subsequently joined the previous government in 1999 as minister of communications and information technology.

Nazif's achievements include leading the implementation of one of the largest information systems projects in the region, the 'national number project', which allocates each Egyptian citizen a unique number that identifies their name, job, date of birth and address. Prior to joining the government, he also supervised the introduction of a national computerised identity card system.

The appointment of the new government comes hard on the heels of a report, released last month by the Egyptian Council of Economic Competitiveness, calling for measures to improve the competitive position of Egypt's economy through science and technology.

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