The declaration of Egyptian scientist’s rights

December 21, 2010
Scientific research in Egypt continues to face challenges like budget constraints, the sidelining of researchers and a wide gap between theory and application. Amid such complications, the scientist has no option but to keep a low profile and appeal to investors. Dissatisfaction with such status has driven a group of young scientists to form ‘Biokmt’, perhaps the first society of its kind, that’s determined to push scientists’ rights and demands to the forefront.

Today, each country is aspiring to possess the scientific know-how, which simply translates into a fierce rivalry over world power. Nations that have gone miles in the application of science continue, therefore, to deny developing countries the intricacies of each field. This clash of interests coupled by other bureaucratic factors is seen by many as the blocking stone against the progress of Egyptian scientific research. We are lagging even behind many Third World nations.

Strongly believing in the ability and perseverance of the Egyptian scholar, a group of young Egyptian scientists, mostly specializing in biosciences, are taking up the challenge, stressing the need to improve the status of the Egyptian scientist and support Egyptian scientific research.

But why Bio-sciences? It is a new specialty that has made the application of science a more worthwhile target, for it dabbles in many areas relating to development, including medical vaccines, drug design, cancer research, agriculture, enzyme technology, just to name a few.

 It is a well-deserved cause, for why should Egypt accept to take a back seat when the Ancient Egyptian Civilization continues to stand out in history as the emissary of mind-boggling science?

Stressing such fact, the ambitious researchers have named their official group Biokmt (BioKMT on Facebook). ‘KMT’ is the ‘black land’ in hieroglyphics, the Ancient Egyptian language. But it also draws attention to the contributions of Ancient Egypt to bio-sciences before the dawn of history. Educational and scientific circles are not blind to the issue. Last month, the “First International Conference for Creativity in Biotechnology” has taken place at Cairo University to highlight topics relating to the field.

Meeting with Community Times at ‘Nady El Bahth El Elmi’, Cairo (The Scientific Research Club), the majority of the Biokmt members underlined one major demand: give science and scientists their due rights. Isn’t it about time, when investments are invading Egypt’s free market, that businessmen should consider the matter in a more serious fashion?

Reliance on the public sector continues to be an unpromising option. The budget allocated to scientific research is an insignificant fraction of 0.2 percent, according to news reports.

 US$4 million are given out to research, half of which is contributed by the US government. The margins of profits, accumulated as a result of the inflow of all types of investments, are sufficient to set up a private sector for scientific research, some argue. But investors and businessmen are reluctant to delve into that area!

“But why is that happening?” inquires Norhan Emad, a biotechnology specialist.  “Statistics indicate that we’re spending tremendous amounts of money on importing items that could be easily manufactured here with the support of the local expertise. In my opinion, this happens because there is a tendency to push Egyptian scientific research to the sidelines.”
As there are societies calling for human and women’s rights, calls should also be stressed to set up other human groups in support of Egyptian scientific research, the sound placement of Egyptian scientists and researchers, as well as the maximum utilization of Egyptian expertise in the local industry under a new policy that underlines science as the key to the nation’s true prosperity, stressed all the BioKMT members.

Following the example of the US, we demand a president’s consultant for scientific affairs as the case is in the White House, shouted out the zealous researchers.

After years of graduate and post-graduate studies, is there a real need for our work? some complained. Nahla Hussein, a pharmacist, pointed out, that whenever a new graduate applies for a job in one of the related industrial companies, more often his request is turned down. “They believe that we studied science only in books and our experience is of no use to their business,” explains Nahla. “Some are even incapable of assessing the kind of degrees we have. They still believe, even after post-graduate studies, we’re much below the established standards. So scientists are left in the lurch doing some minor researches,” adds Nahla. “Research usually targets office promotion rather than national development. The real manpower needed to sustain the local industry has to be brought from any foreign country with a reputation in the specialty in question,” she elaborates.

 But Sherif Abou Hadid, BioKMT’s founder and organizer, is of the opinion that although it is a worthwhile cause, we can’t force any businessman to invest in scientific research. “The problem isn’t about the superiority of the foreign scientist as much as it is the mistrust of the local know-how,” notes Sherif. “Unfortunately, there is no link connecting universities, as well as scientific research centers with the owners of factories in the manner, in which mass communication colleges, for example, interact with media organizations like radio stations, television satellites and communication companies.”

It is a real dilemma for the scientist who’s caught between a tight public budget and a private sector reluctant to use funds in long-term investments with uncertain returns. When businessmen refuse to venture into that kind of precarious enterprise, manufacturers are only interested in issues relating directly to their business. For them non-local expertise is the way out. Financing usually comes in the form of foreign funding which could be suspended if the research track is not to the interest of the fund-raisers.

But for Mohsen Hegab, a molecular science specialist, the problem of financing should pale in comparison to other concerns relating to organization. “Once we set the right base any type of funding will help push the research machinery,” stresses Mohsen. “How could that be done? We should spread the culture of scientific research and try to establish a focus for it in Egypt,” he says. “There are many research centers and universities in Egypt but each is working independently. First we need to pave the way for what we call ‘National Collaboration’, which is amassing the data resulting from all nationwide research. This ‘critical mass’ is a kind of networking considered the nucleus of the scientific institution’s growth. Institutional collaboration help establish the identity of the ‘critical mass’ with which we can further collaborate on the global level.”

For Ossama Mohamed, Hazem Hassan and Mohamed Adel it is essential the state should play a role in setting the foundations of scientific research in schools, encourage reliance on local expertise in industrial units and convince entrepreneurs to consider this area for long terms investments. “There is definitely a need for a marketing department in every research centre to achieve some of these targets,” notes Hazem.

Interestingly, the scientist could be held in high esteem. But many are not aware that researchers, like writers and journalists, have to also rough it in a country where people believe science and invention are only the foreigners’ domain. “Writers or journalists might eventually make it, but not scientists,” regrets Sherif. “Mockingly some of my friends ask if I will ever get anywhere. Sometimes I am overcome by desperation. But my love for science is what’s giving me fresh determination. So let’s keep it up. We might get somewhere.” n