Oct 112014
 

http://wikileaks.org/cable/2009/09/09JEDDAH366.html#
Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09JEDDAH366
2009-09-30 14:03
2011-08-30 01:44
CONFIDENTIAL
Consulate Jeddah

VZCZCXRO8024
PP RUEHROV
DE RUEHJI #0366/01 2731403
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 301403Z SEP 09
FM AMCONSUL JEDDAH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1538
INFO RUEHEG/AMEMBASSY CAIRO PRIORITY 0400
RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
RUEHRH/AMEMBASSY RIYADH 8524
RUEHDH/AMCONSUL DHAHRAN 0125
RUCNDTA/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0099
RUEAUSA/DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION WASHDC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 JEDDAH 000366

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR NEA/ARP (JHARRIS), NEA/PPD (JDICKMEYER,
PAGNEW, DBENZE), R (JMCHALE, WDOUGLAS), ECA/A/E (RSWENSON),
ECA/A/E/NEA (DIVES), DRL

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/30/2029
TAGS: ECON EDU EG KPAO PGOV RP SA SCUL
SUBJECT: EGYPTIAN MINISTER OF HIGHER EDUCATION IN JEDDAH: EXPANDING U.S.-EGYPTIAN PARTNERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

REF: RIYADH 1278

JEDDAH 00000366 001.2 OF 003

Classified By: Consul General Martin R. Quinn for
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)

¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Taking advantage of visits to Jeddah for the
opening of the King Abdullah University of Science and
Technology (KAUST), Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and
Public Affairs Judith McHale and Ambassador Smith met
September 24 with Egyptian Minister of Higher Education Dr.
Hany Helal. They discussed how the Egyptian government hopes
to expand educational programs with the United States,
particularly in the areas of science and technology (S&T) and
English language teaching (ELT). Dr. Helal also expressed
disappointment over the unsuccessful candidacy of Egyptian
Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni for the post of UNESCO
Director General and linked the loss to a Western campaign
against the Egyptian candidate. END SUMMARY.

EGYPT’S UNESCO BID: BROKEN DREAMS AND CONSPIRACY THEORIES
——————————————— ————-

¶2. (C) Immediately after pleasantries with Ambassador Smith
and U/S McHale, Dr. Helal broached Egypt’s recent
unsuccessful bid for the post of UNESCO Director General.
Without rancor, Helal nonetheless made clear his
disappointment over fellow minister Hosni’s loss, which he
attributed to U.S. and European pressure on the 58-member
UNESCO board to block the nomination.

S&T: LEADING THE WAY OUT OF “INNOVATION’S VALLEY OF DEATH”
——————————————— ————-

¶3. (C) Helal moved on to the Egyptian government’s efforts to
promote interest in S&T among the younger generation through
informal science education and online tools. Of these
efforts, he highlighted two: ongoing negotiations to air
Arabic language Discovery Channel programming in Egypt, and
launching “ScienceBook,” an Egyptian-managed and hosted
social-networking platform. U/S McHale responded positively
to the minister’s initiatives for using new-media tools for
S&T education, and further proposed using the same technology
to connect American and Egyptian students at the classroom
level to promote innovative collaboration. The Under
Secretary gave an example of a Pakistani software developer
who recently collaborated with MIT on an application that
delivers medical advice via mobile telephones from
Pakistani-American doctors in the United States to patients
in the Buner Valley. Minister Helal described a similar
telemedicine program through video conferencing between
Alexandria and Siwa Oasis. U/S McHale also explained how
children’s interest in science falls off precipitously after
elementary school, based on her experience (prior to joining
State) as a member of the Maryland Board of Education and as
head of Discovery Communications. She therefore began the
“Discovery Young Science Challenge” to promote interest in
science in middle school. Minister Helal was enthusiastic
about this approach, and U/S McHale said that she would
provide more information on it.

¶4. (C) Turning to Egypt’s current S&T programs with the U.S.,
Helal specifically mentioned the Fulbright Commission and the
S&T association agreement. The minister proposed that the
Fulbright Commission in Cairo shift its focus from social
sciences to S&T. Helal added that the Commission’s
traditional focus on the former was causing many
controversies in Egypt, particularly with Fulbright scholars
researching what he called “sensitive issues, such as
minorities in Egypt.” As for the S&T association agreement,
currently in its 14th cycle, the minister noted that most of
the projects funded through the agreement are focused on
theoretical sciences, while he hopes that the focus will
shift to practical applications.

¶5. (U) Helal identified the main challenges to S&T
development in Egypt as the lack of human resources and the
gap between scientific research and production. To close the
gap in the “innovation cycle’s valley of death,” as he put
it, the University of Texas at Austin identified 40 projects,

JEDDAH 00000366 002.2 OF 003

out of which Egypt selected the four most marketable for
implementation. Ambassador Smith pointed out that due to
profit motivation, private industry is better suited to
bridge the research-to-production gap. U/S McHale reiterated
her focus on using government as a catalyst to connect
scientific institutions and the private sector to address
this problem. To that end, the minister mentioned that IBM
is partnering with Cairo University to establish a
nanotechnology center on campus. Helal expressed enthusiasm
for the idea of partnering with U.S. universities to create
“centers of excellence” in Egypt.

¶6. (U) In 2006, Egypt started a 10-year S&T education program
called the ‘S&T Diplomacy Initiative.’ The program provides
full scholarships to Egyptian science graduate students to
earn an advanced degree from the partnering country. The
initiative started with Germany in 2006, Japan in 2007, Italy
in 2008, and France in 2009. Currently, there are 500
Egyptian PhD students studying in Japan, and the number of
Egyptian graduate students in Germany increased by 350 over
the past year as a result of the initiative. The Ministry
proposed partnering with the United States; however, it faced
some coordination difficulties due to the fact that S&T
education is not federally managed in the United States.

LANGUAGE EXCHANGES TO REMOVE CULTURAL BARRIERS
——————————————— –

¶7. (U) Dr. Helal attributed the current cultural
misunderstanding between Egypt and the United States to the
language barrier. He stressed the need for self-learning
English language kits and online learning tools due to the
lack of qualified English teachers in Egypt. He also
mentioned that Alexandria University currently runs a program
for American students to learn Arabic for one year, after
which the university employs them as teaching assistants in
social science departments for an additional year.

EGYPTIAN PERCEPTIONS OF THE U.S.
——————————–

¶8. (C) U/S McHale asked Helal about perceptions of the United
States in Egypt. Minister Helal qualified his answer by
saying that it was a difficult question to address due to
“the region’s long history.” (Note: While not stated as
such, we believe Helal was referring to the Arab-Israeli
conflict. End note.) He mentioned Ambassador Scobey’s
frequent meetings with Egyptian students at Cairo University,
where she is often asked whether U.S. foreign policy in the
region is fair. Ambassador Smith responded by highlighting
the USG’s recognition of the importance of global public
opinion as exemplified by President Obama’s June 4 Cairo
speech, in which he posited respect, trust, and listening to
the people of the region as the basis of the Administration’s
dialogue with the Muslim world. Ambassador Smith added that
changing public opinion in the region will take time, to
which the minister reiterated the importance of the bilateral
relationship and added that the current cabinet comprises “a
group of reformers, not politicians,” but said they are
confronting growing resistance to reform in Egypt.

¶9. (C) Helal, echoed by two of his aides, opined that the
U.S. Congress and American media are not well informed about
the region, and are one-sided in gathering information.
Concerning the debate over health-care reform in the U.S.,
Helal’s view was that President Obama is promoting a cultural
change in the country, and that it is not clear if he is —
or will be — successful in his efforts. U/S McHale
commented that the ongoing debate on health-care reform is
more a sign of a healthy democracy than of resistance to the
President’s efforts, adding, “Democracy is a messy business.”

KAUST: AMBITIOUS, BUT IS IT TRULY SAUDI?
—————————————–

¶10. (C) Minister Helal headed the Egyptian delegation for the
official inauguration of King Abdullah University of Science
and Technology (KAUST) on September 23.Qen asked to share
his impressions of the new university, he expressed concern

JEDDAH 00000366 003 OF 003

about the lack of human resources in Saudi Arabia. He
mentioned that most of the faculty and staff who work at
Saudi universities are foreigners, “the majority of whom are
Egyptian nationals.” He compared KAUST to King Fahd
University of Petroleum and Minerals, which opened in Dhahran
in 45 years ago (as the College of Petroleum and Minerals)
with similarly ambitious goals. Despite his concerns, Helal
said that with 70,000 Saudi students holding U.S. university
degrees (the same figure that Saudi Minister of Oil and
Chairman of the Board of Trustees of KAUST Ali al-Naimi used
during the inauguration ceremony), KAUST might be able to add
(more) U.S.-educated Saudis to its faculty and staff.

¶11. (C) COMMENT: Throughout the meeting, Minister Helal
appeared genuinely interested in partnering with the United
States on an array of S&T and English language teaching and
teacher-training programs. While he also raised the issue of
Egypt’s failed UNESCO bid several times — the results of the
final round of voting for the UNESCO chair were made public
just prior to the meeting with Ambassador Smith and U/S
McHale, the three principals used most of the 70-minute
meeting to discuss broad ideas as well as some specifics on
expanding bilateral cooperation in key educational and other
public diplomacy fields. END COMMENT.

¶12. (U) U/S McHale has approved this message.
QUINN

   

 

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