Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Ahmed Zewail appeals for help to fund Egypt's reforms

Egypt's most distinguished scientist who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1999, Ahmed Zewail, has appealed for help to fund Egypt's reforms. In an article in the UK's Financial Times, he said that Egypt needed to change not just its leadership but its entire system. Echoing the successive UN-sponsored Human Development reports, he says that what Egypt needs above all is a decent education system.

“The so-called 'Children of Facebook' who fomented the revolution know Egypt was once ahead of South Korea in scientific research and development. They know that in the 30 years Mubarak sat in his palace and Egypt deteriorated, China has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty, sent astronauts into space, built mega cities and high-speed trains, and brought its students up to world standards. They ask why Egypt cannot do the same thing.”

He says this will all take time but it is imperative to start now. “Of Egypt's many problems, the three most urgent to address are governance, economy and education. The army's Supreme Council, now the ruling political entity, has to ensure swift political changes. Egypt badly needs national unity and reconciliation. But to take the critical long-term steps to transform society it needs financial support. While Egyptians themselves must fashion the new nation, they need help in rebuilding sustainable institutions. The place to start is with the pivotal project, 'renaissance in education and development', whose acronym is the first command of the Koran: read.”

He is now calling for a global partnership of private and government organisations to establish a fund to finance a revolution in education. This should be directed by a board of trustees from renowned Egyptians and world leaders in cooperation with the Egyptian government.

Such an effort, he believes, would need an initial US$1 billion from private and government sources. “Further funds could then come from other nations and be deployed by the World Bank, the Arab Bank and the Islamic Development Fund. Repudiation of debt will redirect national resources to this and other vital projects.”

The money he asks for does not seem very much. But, he is making his appeal to the donor community at a time when it feels stretched by financial pressures at home.

For more news and expert analysis about Egypt, please see Egypt Politics & Security.

© 2011 Menas Associates

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