The whole world is listening to the news from Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Tunisia, Lebanon etc. Political turmoil. The leap toward democracy. So much news. But what about the science in these countries? Isn't it important to get an idea about the scientific (and technological) background of Egypt and Tunesia and other Middle East/North African countries? How free are scientists in their research? What cultural or legislative hurdles do they face, when they try to do their research?
The question is, how sustainable can a democracy be without a thriving research community, without a societal consensus of acceptance of scientific thoughts? Democracies need independent scientists, because a rational, scientific view is needed for political discussions - especially in hot (emotionally hot) countries like the Middle East.
Actually, I don't know much about the life of scientists in Tunisia or Egypt, about the funding system, about evaluation of the quality of science, about publication rules and censorship of scientific reports, about the influence of scientists in the political systems etc. But late 2009, I visited a conference about Darwin and evolution in Alexandria. (Perhaps my first biology conference ever, where I saw people praying in the lobby between speeches!). It was interesting and kind of puzzling (for a German) to observe. that biologists from Egypt and other Middle East countries may face harsh reactions if they speak or even teach about Darwin and evolution. I learned, though evolution may not be literally in conflict to the written word of the Koran, evolution theory is seldom taught in high school and sometimes not even in universities in Egypt and other Middle East countries. This is just a glimpse, but I would like to read much more about the reactions of Egyptian scientists to the revolution and what role science will or will not play for the society and economy in a new Egypt.
Here are some articles from the science sections of German language newspapers dealing with the topic, at least a little bit.
Most science section just dealt with how the turmoils threatened the artefacts within the Egyptian Museum in Cairo: Süddeutsche Zeitung (here) writes very cautiously about the lootings, because different reports about what actually happened hint, that the regime tried to use the incident to discredit the protesters. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung had a short piece. And the Austrian Standard had an early article and one, two follow-ups. With a third one, stating, that some stolen artefacts have been found and brought back to the museum.
Die Zeit took a different path writing about German archaeologists in Egypt and how the revolt influenced their work on site (also: an interview here). Nevertheless, they also had the news about the looting (first, second). Digging a bit deeper than others, Die Zeit also had an article about the historic role of the military in Egypt.
The Tagesspiegel had an article about the fate of Zahi Hawass, the popular Minister of State for Antiquities Affairs in Egypt, his amount of companionship with the Mubarak-regime and his unclear role in the looting of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The Süddeutsche Zeitung had a piece about the fallen hero Hawass, too.
- Sascha Karberg