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Cablegate: Egypt: Prime Minister Announces Center of Excellence

VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB

DE RUEHEG #0238/01 0351608
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 041546Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0144
INFO RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO

UNCLAS CAIRO 000238

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
DEPT FOR NEA/RA, NEA/ELA, OES/STAS, OES/STC (WILLIAM LAWRENCE)
WHITE HOUSE FOR OSTP (JASON RAO)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KPAO OVIP TSPL EG
SUBJECT: Egypt: Prime Minister Announces Center of Excellence

1. (SBU) Key Points:

--Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told the Ambassador and Science Envoy
Ahmed Zewail that the Egyptian government (GoE) plans to create a
center of excellence targeting entrepreneurship and innovation,
although he did not provide a detailed timeline for implementation.


--The Supreme Council on Science and Technology will serve as the
lead government agency in creating a blueprint for the center.

--According to Nazif, the GoE envisions the center as a joint
US-Egypt project and is seeking a "substantial commitment" of
financial and technical assistance outside current USAID
programming in Egypt.

2. (U) In a January 26 meeting, the Ambassador and Dr. Zewail met
with PM Nazif and four ministers (International Cooperation,
Finance, Higher Education, and Local Development) from the Supreme
Council on Science and Technology (SCST). This was Zewail's second
meeting with Nazif and the SCST, and followed his public statements
to support Egypt in identifying key national science and technology
priorities.

-------------------------------------

EGYPT'S PROPOSED CENTER OF EXCELLENCE

-------------------------------------

3. (SBU) After thanking Zewail for his continued focus on assisting
Egypt in building its science and education infrastructure, Nazif
launched into a discussion concerning a recently announced GoE plan
to build a center of excellence targeting entrepreneurship and
innovation initiatives. He said the Supreme Council for Science
and Technology had created a taskforce to develop a "blueprint" for
the new center. The Ministry of International Cooperation would
serve as the lead agency in these efforts. (Note: According to
January 14 press accounts, this Cairo-based center will open in
January 2011 and will collaborate with private companies,
universities, and government technology organizations. End Note.)

4. (SBU) Nazif stated that he envisioned this center as a joint
US-Egypt project. The GoE would provide the land and construction
of the center's buildings, he said, and the USG would "allocate
funds to run the center." He acknowledged that the center's
priorities are not fully sketched out, but would likely include a
mandate to support projects concerning agriculture (defined as food
safety), health, water security, energy, and information
technology. More importantly, the center would serve as a focal
point to provide financial and technical assistance to "young
entrepreneurs starting their own businesses."

5. (SBU) Nazif repeatedly referenced the US-Israel BIRD project as
a model for Egypt's proposed center. He said that BIRD succeeded in
building up Israel's science and technology base - providing
important loans and research opportunities for both countries - and
suggested that the center could play a similar role in supporting
Egypt's efforts to do the same.

-------------------------
How to Finance the Center

-------------------------

6. (SBU) In response to a question from Zewail about how the center
will cover science issues, Nazif said he hoped American and
Egyptian universities would participate but stressed his desire
that joint projects would focus on value-related research -
specifically leading to job creation in important national areas
such as agriculture and renewable energy plans. He then pivoted to
financing of the center, stating Egypt was seeking a substantial
commitment to ensure the center could carry out its mission. "$10
million is not enough," Nazif stated. For the center to succeed in
the manner of programs suggested by President Obama in his Cairo
speech in June 2009, Nazif explained the US needs to "think on a
grand scale." He did not offer a monetary figure but said that for
every dollar offered by the US, Egypt would match that donation
with one Egyptian pound. Speaking for the SCST, he said that the
center would enable Egypt to develop its technology infrastructure
as the US had done in the 1960s

---------------

"Go Beyond AID"

---------------

7. (SBU) The Ambassador noted that the Embassy and AID are working
to direct existing resources to Egyptian priorities but the PM
immediately interrupted by stating that the government must "go
beyond AID programming" and build something that currently does not
exist in country. The new center is crucial because the
"scientific community needs something to build around and aspire
to," Nazif explained. It would ultimately serve as a focal point
for Egypt's science and technology community. Noting that Egypt
remains committed to supporting President Obama's Cairo initiative,
he said that "now is the time for action and the ball is in your
court."

8. (SBU) Comment: During his initial envoy visit, Zewail spoke
repeatedly about his desire to build stronger collaborative
relationships in education, science and technology and move away
from building vaguely-defined and poorly staffed research
organizations. The GoE, however, is clearly seeking to capitalize
on a renewed US emphasis on science and technology issues by
requesting funding for a new center of excellence. It is doubtful
that a new physical center would advance any of the collaborative
projects - in health, science, education - the US is already
partnering with Egypt.
SCOBEY

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