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Egypt's prime minister has appointed an earth sciences expert as the country's new minister for higher education and scientific research.

The decision follows Ahmed Nazif's re-appointment as prime minister and a wide cabinet reshuffle, which president Hosni Mubarak demanded last week (27 December).

In his mandate letter to Nazif, president Mubarak wrote that education and health systems "are the mainstay of human development" and that their development would therefore be "a hardcore goal for the coming phase".

Hany Mahfouz Helal, a 54-old year professor of mineralogy from Cairo University, will take the lead of the ministry of higher education and scientific research.

He replaces Amr Ezzat Salama who served for 18 months.

According to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram, Helal said he will focus on promoting science and technology by creating a higher education fund, which will be partly used to create university-industry-society partnerships, promote both multimedia and distance education.

He added that a special focus would be given to the fields of nanotechnology, biotechnology and information technology.

Helal, a published researcher, was educated in Egypt and France, has been awarded prestigious honours by the French government and has held several positions for UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

He is currently the secretary-general to Egypt's higher education development fund and president of Senghor University in Alexandria.