Three New Science Envoys to the Muslim World

Senator Richard Lugar (R–IN) has announced three new science envoys to the Muslim world: former NSF director Rita Colwell, currently at University of Maryland, College Park, and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; Gebisa Ejeta of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana; and Alice Gast, president of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

They will join Bruce Alberts, former president of the National Academy of Sciences and editor-in-chief of Science (publisher of ScienceInsider); former NIH director Elias Zerhouni, and Nobel Prize winner Ahmed Zewail of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The envoys program was announced last fall by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton following a June speech in Cairo in which President Barack Obama called for a “new beginning” in relations with the Muslim world. The White House quoted the envoys as saying their travels have been fruitful thus far:

We were welcomed everywhere," said science envoy Zewail, who traveled to Turkey, Egypt, Qatar, and Dubai.

Zewail spoke of the importance of improving educational opportunities in Muslim-majority countries and emphasized that there is a great hunger for better education in these nations. The heritage and culture of the Muslim world strongly promote education and intellectual development, he said, "despite what you read sometimes in the media."

The message of the President in his Cairo speech ... resonated very forcefully" with people in every country we visited, said science envoy Elias Zerhouni. Of course, Zerhouni said, there is still mistrust in some quarters. "We welcome the new beginning," people told him on his travels. "The problem is follow-through." In the past, people told him, Memoranda of Understanding have been signed but not always implemented, leading to what Zerhouni called "MOU fatigue." The good news, Zerhouni said, is that he got a strong sense in his travels that President Obama is seen as taking such commitments seriously. "I think the President has moved the needle," Zerhouni said.