Egyptian-American Ahmed Zewail, winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in chemistry, rebuffed widespread claims that he was intending to run for presidency, saying his main goal is to help Egypt embark on a technology-led, economic turnaround.
The prestigious scientist believes Egypt can follow in the footsteps of countries that were once financially crippled before leading industrial revolutions to improve their respective economies, such as Turkey and South Korea.
Zewail, in the same breath, stressed that many issues should be seriously addressed in order to attain such an objective, including: Egypt’s poor quality of education, lack of economic vision, improper appropriation of the country’s funds and insufficient working conditions.
“I am not here as [US President Barack] Obama’s advisor [on science and technology] or a delegate, I am here as an Egyptian citizen who wants to serve his country,” the 65-year-old said in a public meeting with a host of Ahram journalists hosted by the state-run newspaper.
“I also do not seek positions. I do have a position and it is fairly good. I am here because I believe Egypt deserves more prosperity. We are not inferior to South Korea or Malaysia and they used to be countries of fishermen.”
Zewail gave another reason to emulate successful industrial patterns when he referred to the impossibility of relying on agricultural productivity, like Egypt used to in the 19th century.
“The agricultural lands in Egypt comprise only 6 per cent of Egypt’s space if not less, thanks to stealing. We cannot revive [late Albanian commander] Mohamed Ali’s era when Egypt used to cultivate cotton and export it for instance.
“Technology and science are controlling the world. Turkey’s GDP was similar to Egypt’s ten years ago, now they are competing with the rest of the European countries after turning into an industrial one.”
Speaking of education, Zewail said: “Education is important but it’s not enough. What would happen if someone was properly educated in Egypt and then did not find an appropriate opportunity? He would probably leave the country and that would be a loss.
“We need to make the most of our sources of revenue, such as tourism and natural gas ... only Egyptians can build their country, we should not wait for some financial support from abroad and keep on begging. This will take us to where we were under the former regime.
“Egypt must be specialised in something; we cannot say we are producing everything. For example, Egypt is sunny, we could use this attribute to produce solar energy to revamp many industries.”
When asked whether he supports a certain political force or a particular presidential candidate, Zewail replied: “I do not wish to escape the question, but I will only concentrate on achieving a renaissance in Egypt.”