Critic: agreement only publicity – Egypt not yet qualified for partnership
CAIRO: China and Egypt have signed a science and technology cooperation agreement whereby Egypt will receive assistance in developing its IT, health, agriculture and energy sectors and conduct joint research projects with China to be financed by a joint fund, representatives of both countries announced at the end of last week s Africa-China summit.
Alongside Egypt, Algeria was the only other conference participant to sign a similar deal. The size of the Egypt-China fund has yet to be announced.
Under the agreement, signed by President Hosni Mubarak and President Hu Jintao, China will become more involved in implementing alternative energy projects in Egypt, including nuclear energy, as well as expanding already established joint-ventures, including a fish-farming facility in Ismailia.
We are looking to provide applied technologies to small and medium businesses through exchange with Chinese firms, says Su Ping, director of the science and technology division at the Chinese Embassy in Cairo. We re not just looking to provide advisory services . China is prepared to offer assistance in clean energy including solar, wind and nuclear power.
Ping s comments came in confirmation of those made by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu on Nov. 7.
China is willing to conduct cooperation with Egypt in peaceful use of nuclear energy for civilian use on the basis of equality and mutual benefit, Yu said after Mubarak and Jintao signed a nuclear-cooperation agreement. Details of the agreement have not yet been released.
Although it carries high start-up costs, the development of nuclear energy could alleviate the pressure on Egypt s dwindling supply of oil and natural gas, and prevent possible conflicts over its Nile water quota, a portion of which is used to operate the High and Aswan Dams.
Other possible energy sources include burning hay with minimal environmental effects, says Ping. As an agricultural country, Egypt possesses large amounts of hay and we have the technology to turn that hay into energy, he adds.
China is now preparing to send a scientific delegation to Egypt as early as December to begin implementation of the agreement, though no definite date has been announced yet, says Ping.
Egypt faces a 7 percent increase in annual demand for electricity. Earlier this month, the government raised electricity prices by 5 to 8 percent for residential use, depending on consumption, and just over 7 percent across the board for industrial consumption as part of a five year plan begun in 2004 to lower its LE 40 billion energy subsidy budget.
Despite the enthusiasm shown by the government, critics point out that Egypt is not yet qualified to partner with a giant such as China in the science and technology fields. Bahaa Bakry, environmental planning and urban ecology professor at the faculty of engineering in Cairo University, says research and development (R&D) spending reached less than 0.5 percent of GDP in 2005, while R&D spending in China reached 3.7 percent.
There needs to be a correction in the state s view toward education as a means for development, says Bakry. I don t think Egypt is qualified yet. I don t think the educational infrastructure is there and I don t think the Egyptian citizen is prepared to pursue science and technology because he s looking for his next meal.
Bakry says the recent agreement is set to benefit China by allowing it even more access to the Egyptian market in exchange for its expertise in science and technology. Egypt, on the other hand, lacks the means to take advantage of China s experience in those fields because of its historic lack of emphasis on them.
Unfortunately, I think it s all a big publicity stunt, says Bakry. Our government likes to show off with big announcements that often yield very little in terms of results.