Egypt’s Zewail science city hit by universities’ dispute

Ahmed Zewail proposed a science city for Egypt in 1999 Copyright: Flickr/pennstatelive

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Egypt’s first science city — the Zewail City of Science and Technology — is set to open in September, but a dispute is raging over ownership of some of the facility’s buildings.

The city was first proposed in 1999 by Nobel prize-winning chemist Ahmed Zewail , but work on the project became mired in delays due to political instability and bureaucracy, according Nature News.  In 2006, part of the site was allocated to Nile University, with a view to the site becoming Egypt’s first research university.

Nile University began construction and its staff had begun moving in, when last year’s revolution resulted in a change of government. The land allocation was reversed, and the Egyptian Foundation for Technology Education — which had established the university — signed its buildings and land over to the interim government in February 2011, and Nile University staff moved out.

"That was under pressure from the government, and it was illegal," Moustafa Ghanem, vice-president for research at Nile University, told Nature News.

In May 2011 the buildings and land were signed over to Zewail City. In the meantime, Nile University are having to rent labs and research is "going at a snail’s pace", according to Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb, director of the university’s nanotechnology programme.

"Nile University is now surviving hand to mouth. We’ll survive one more term," Ghanem said.

Zewail said that they had signed an agreement to merge Nile University with the science city, but the talks broke down. Ghanem told Nature News that the university reneged when it did not receive a guarantee that it would maintain an independent identity.

The government has heard Nile University’s case and hopes to find a compromise, but so far negotiations have failed.  

Ghanem is hopeful that some action will be taken when Egypt’s presidential elections are held later this month, and a new government is sworn in.  

Link to full article in Nature News