The world watched the Egyptian revolution on television day by day and witnessed the live streaming of the events happening in Tahrir Square. The world also marveled at the delayed responses of President Hosni Mubarak to the events happening on ground. While protesters called for bread, freedom and social justice, Mubarak was highlighting the importance of Egypt in the region and of maintaining security in the country. Mubarak seemed completely dissociated from his own people and their grievances, as if he lost being in touch with them a long time ago.
This seemed true also in the field of scientific research, which has been decaying for years. It is not surprising when only 0.2-0.3% of the GDP is spent on research. The number of publications increased only minimally between
2001-2008 (13,455 to 21,246), which paled in comparison to China, where the number of published studies soared from 189,277 to 750,579 during the same period of time. You can view more data on total number of published articles of in the region compared to USA and UK via the interactive graph posted on the Nature news website.
This neglect in the research arena has touched universities and research centers for years now. The ex- regime did not have a vision for Egypt that involved scientific advancement and research. This may be attributed to the heavy presence of military/police officers and corrupt businessmen in the ex government. Though the government had called for reforms in higher education, reality told a different story. According to Dr Hassan Azzazy, the associate dean for graduate studies and research the American University in Cairo:
“[university graduates] lack the basic and professional skills needed by the current job market. Curricula are outdated and disconnected to market needs, classes are overpopulated, laboratories are poorly equipped, departmental budgets for chemicals and supplies are minimal and professors’ salaries are low. University students essentially have no rights. Egyptian universities currently do not foster productivity or innovation”.
Read more about Dr Azzazy’s interview Egyptians hungry for reforms conducted by Nature team.
As a result, Egyptian academics and scientists joined protesters in Tahrir square. They were fed up with the stagnation and neglect. Mahmoud Saleh; a chemist at Cairo University, believed the old regime ‘killed the talents and capabilities of Egyptian people, whether they are scientific, social or political’. He spoke of the intensive brain drain that occurs in Egypt after scientists become frustrated with long hours of work and underpayment. The State Security interfered with employment of scientists in universities and their choice of research. This hampered innovation considerably. Scientists were calling for more research funding, better equipped laboratories and a pragmatic system that efficiently direct the research process. Read more about Mahmoud Saleh’s and other young Egyptian scientists who were in Tahrir.
Looking on the brighter side of things, most academics believe Egyptian scientist have a lot of potential. This is evidenced by how they excel when they travel abroad to pursue graduate studies such as PhDs. In addition, Egypt is still considered a ‘hub’ for scientific research in the region. In the last couple of years there has been increased collaboration between Egyptian researchers and investigators from other countries, particularly Saudi Arabia. You can examine more of the research collaboration between countries on the collaboration map. Such existing collaborative relationships may prove opportune in a future without Mubarak, because Egyptians scientists can hope for a better research with rich sponsors from their established colleagues in universities in oil rich countries.