The developed countries have long recognized the social and economic potentials of nanotechnology and quickly reacted to the rise of this technology by employing considerable resources to advance it and, subsequently, benefit from it. The developing countries, on the other hand, especially the Arab countries, were slow to react to the rise of nanotechnology until recently. The interest in nanotechnology among the other promising technologies is related to the new phase of political reform and economic development in these countries. With emphasis on science and technology (S&T) for promoting sustainable development, a growing number of nanotechnology research, education, and industry initiatives have been recently launched by several Arab countries to quickly build scientific capacity and track the worldwide developments in nanotechnology. This study assesses the current status of nanotechnology in the Arab countries. The countries examined are the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Kingdom of Morocco, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Republic of Tunisia, the State of Kuwait, the State of Qatar, the Sultanate of Oman, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The study documents the approach of the different countries along three parameters: national commitment, funding, and infrastructure. The descriptive top-level overview covers the status of the existing, underdevelopment, and planed educational and research programs relevant to nanotechnology. This study drew information from the publically available official documents and reports as well as the material collected from the official websites of institutions discussed.
The Arab world, shown in Figure 1, consists of 22 countries covering about 10% of the world’s land and is home to about 300 million representing 4.5% of the world’s population. The UNESCO Science Report  groups the Arab countries into three groups in terms of per capita income. The first group is characterized by an almost total economic dependence on oil (Bahrain, the Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi), with the gross domestic product (GDP) per capita income being the highest in Qatar and the lowest in Oman. Approximately 11% of the Arab population belongs to this group of countries. The higher education system and science, technology, and innovation (STI) in these countries are new but developing rapidly. The second group consists of Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, and Tunisia. Here, the GDP per capita is the highest in Libya and the lowest in Egypt. Although the countries in this category have modest oil reserves, with the notable exception of Iraq and Libya, they possess a relatively mature higher education infrastructure, which includes some of the oldest universities in the Arab world. The population of this group amounts to approximately 70% of the population in the Arab world. The third group is characterized by limited or underdeveloped natural resources and an equally small supply of trained human resources. The countries in this group also possess some of the lowest GDP per capita in the world, which classifies them as the least developed countries. They are Comoros, Djibouti, Mauritania, Sudan, and Yemen. This group of countries represents approximately 19% of the total population of the Arab world.
According to Sawahel , on average, the Arab countries allocate <0.2% of their GDP on research compared to 1.6% in the East Asia countries and 2.6% in the developed countries. The budget allocated for purchasing armament in these countries surpasses the health, education, and research budgets combined. However, in recent years, the Arab society and their leaders recognized the importance of education and STI. For example, the share of the engineering and science students in the total number of higher education students increased in the past few years by 51% in Bahrain, 29% in Kuwait, 21% in the Emirates, and 19% in Oman . Moreover, in the annual Arab summit, for the past five consecutive years (Sudan 2006, Saudi 2007, Syria 2008, Qatar 2009, and Libya 2010 summits), the Arab leaders adopted several decisions to establish a science-based economy and knowledge society. One of the decisions was to increase the expenditure on research and development (R&D) to about 2.5% of the GDP . They also agreed to make education and scientific research permanent items at all the future Arab summits. The Arab countries do not only share common language and culture but also R&D priorities, which include water and energy. The traditional sector of agriculture and the relatively new fields of information and communication technologies (ICTs), nanotechnology, and biotechnology are also viewed as the priority research areas as stated in the 20th Arab League summit held in Syria in 2008.
Nevertheless, there have been a number of challenges that face the development of science and technology (S&T) in the Arab countries: (1) lack of supportive governmental policies; (2) limited and inconsistent R&D funding; (3) a small scientific research community; (4) limited connection and interrelation to the local industry, if at all existent; and (5) limited venture capital. In particular, there has been no national commitment to establish organizations dedicated to devising the strategies that address S&T. There is a need for a policy-making body, which formulates national policies, links R&D with the national development priorities, and executes the technological development programs that fit the national economic and social objectives. Improving innovation requires a political decision and must be supported by a clear vision. Moreover, in the past years, the Arab countries lacked the foundation for advanced science and modern technology base. The constrains on R&D in the Arab countries are not only limited to the weak institutional structure and infrastructure but also to inefficient administrative arrangement. This stresses the need to develop the human capacity. Additionally, there is a small number of Arab scientists. Their contribution accounts for only 1% of the world’s scientific production . For the case of nanotechnology development, the Arab countries lack the critical mass of researchers and scientists specializing in nanotechnology to effectively enhance their innovation capability . Although this is gradually changing, the desire for scientific enquiry and activity in the Arab society is yet to be strengthened.
3 Current status
Egypt does not have a formally enacted national science policy . However, the number of well-established scientific institutions indicates the existence of an implicit national policy . The S&T development started in Egypt in the late 1940s. By the 1950s, Egypt had the Higher Council for Science, a National Research Center, and an intellectual property law. In 1963, the ministry of scientific research was established, and in 1972, the Academy of Scientific Research and Technology (ASRT) was instituted. ASRT’s role is to devise a comprehensive plan for developing S&T to support the relevant national ministries and research institutions. ASRT mission is to create an integrated system of scientific research to increase the number of trained scientists in Egypt and give science a leading role in the country’s development and knowledge-based economy. In 2008, the Higher Council for Science and Technology (HCST) was established. The council is chaired by the Prime Minister and includes the minster of higher education and scientific research and a group of prominent Egyptian scientists. HCST was created to promote R&D in the country and identify the priority research areas, which include health, water resources, renewable energy, food and agriculture, and space technology . Nanotechnology was selected by HCST as one of the priority research areas in the coming years. As a result, the Science and Technology Development Fund (STDF) and the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA), which are the two main funding agencies in Egypt, supported several initiatives to introduce nanotechnology to the Egyptian scientific community in the past few years. In particular, STDF has given priority to funding grants targeting nanotechnology and its applications.
The efforts to establish micro/nano research and fabrication facility started as early as 2003. This is marked by the establishment of the Yousef Jameel Science and Technology Research Center (YJ-STRC) at the American University in Cairo (AUC). YJ-STRC was the fruit of the generous support ($8 million over 5 years) of a Saudi businessman and AUC alumnus Yousef Jameel. His vision was to create a nanotechnology center of excellence at AUC. The center houses class-100 clean room and state-of-the-art fabrication and characterization equipment. It should be noted that AUC offers Masters of Science degree in Nanotechnology and Doctor of Philosophy degree in the Applied Sciences with specializations in Nanotechnology. To date, YJ-STRC has secured $13 million in funding and recruited 17 high-profile faculty members with diverse backgrounds. YJ-STRC conducts its work through six research groups: micro- and nano-systems, nanostructured materials, surface chemistry, biotechnology, environmental science and engineering, and novel diagnostics and therapeutics. The research groups are serviced by well-equipped research facilities that include micro- and nano-systems fabrication, materials synthesis, biotechnology, and surface chemistry.
In 2006, the Nile University (NU) was established, through the support of the international and national companies represented by the Egyptian Foundation for Technological Education Development (EFTED), as a not-for-profit, privately owned, and autonomously managed university. The NU is the first academic institution in Egypt to be founded by a partnership between the private sector (EFTED), government, business, and industry. NU was allocated approximately 0.5 km2 of land and two buildings by the government. NU offers a Master of Science in Nanoscience and Technology degree. NU also houses two nanotechnology centers. The Center for Nanotechnology (CNT) was established based on the collaboration efforts with the Northwestern University in the United States. CNT researchers work on printed electronics, membrane technology, and renewable energy. The other center is the Nanoelectronics Integrated Systems Center (NISC), which was funded by Intel, Mentor Graphics, British Petroleum, European Union, Cypress Semiconductor Corp., ITIDA, STDF, and the National Telecom Regulatory Authority. NISC is pursuing research in areas that include high-performance integrated circuits (ICs), computer-aided design ICs, low-power circuit design, hardware for wireless sensor network, microelectromechanical systems (MEMs), and sensor and actuator design.
The Zewail City of Science and Technology, which was inaugurated in 2011, placed nanotechnology as a priority research area. One of the seven starting centers in the city is the Center of Nanoelectronics and Devices (CND), which is currently building its research team from among the world-renowned Egyptian scientists returning to postrevolution Egypt. CND will focus on high-performance integrated circuits, MEMS, and Lab-on-chip research. Furthermore, Zewail University, an integrated part of Zewail City, offers majors in Nanotechnology Engineering and Nanosciences to the undergraduate students.
In an attempt to capture the currently underutilized human potentials in Egypt, IBM teamed up with ITIDA and STDF to create Egypt’s first nanotechnology national research laboratory in 2008, the Egypt-IBM Nanotechnology Research Center (EGNC). The center is planned to be operational by 2014. The idea was to have IBM experts work with the local scientists and engineers on advanced nanoscience and nanotechnology projects. With a $60 million investment, EGNC will include a 600-m2 clean room and 28 laboratories specializing in nanotechnology. The startup work force of the EGNC was about 100 research and administrative staff but expected to grow up to 1000 within the next few years. Current research areas at EGNC include thin-film silicon photovoltaics, spin-on carbon-based electrodes for thin-film photovoltaics, energy recovery from concentrator photovoltaics for desalination, and computational modeling and simulation.
Although the Emirates does not have a formally enacted national science policy, recently, it took several measures to promote R&D within the country. In 2010, the government released “UAE Vision 2021,” a document that outlined the vision for the UAE in all fields until 2021 when the country will celebrate its 50th anniversary . The document lists the promotion of innovation and R&D as one of the country’s priorities. There is no specific mention of nanotechnology as a national priority. Nevertheless, it states that the Emirates will continue to attract the best talent from around the world and offer a fulfilling employment and an attractive place to live to retain the finest and most productive workers and entrepreneurs. The plan also calls for knowledge-based, highly productive, and competitive economy that will rival the best in the world by investing in S&T and R&D. According to the document, this goal will be achieved by supporting practical programs such as startup incubators and cultivating a culture of risk-taking where hard work, boldness, and innovation are rewarded.
In 2007, the ruler of the Emirate of Dubai established a foundation that bears his name, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation (MBRF), with a $10 billion endowment toward the development of a knowledge-based society. Earlier, in 2000, the ruler of the Emirate of Sharjah established the Arab Science and Technology Foundation (ASTF) with a $6 million donation. ASTF mission is to identify and support the scientific research activities in the Arab world. A foundation dedicated solely to the Emirates, the Emirates Foundation (EF), was established by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi in 2005. EF supports five core programs: education, S&T, environment, arts and culture, and social development. A foundation specifically dedicated to R&D, the National Research Foundation (NRF), was established in 2008 with a $30 million budget. The vision of the NRF is to support the research activities and create a competitive research environment and innovation system in the Emirates. NRF is tasked with the introduction of research excellence centers, strategic initiatives, and competitive awards and grants.
The United Arab Emirates University (UAEU), established in 1976, announced in 2009 that the Emirates Centre for Nanosciences and Nanoengineering will be established within the College of Engineering at the UAEU by a $10 million grant from the NRF. At the time of the announcement, there were 18 scientists working on nanotechnology research projects. The center’s director stated that another 10 researchers will be recruited for the new center. The research at this center will be aimed toward cancer treatment, solar energy, and building materials.
The Center of Excellence for Applied Research and Training (CERT), established in 2006 with a $35 million investment, became the largest investor in the discovery and commercialization of technology in the Middle East. According to its website, CERT is the only supercomputing center in the Middle East region. CERT’s Blue Gene supercomputer offers 5.7 teraflops calculating speed for use in biotechnology, nanotechnology, and genetics research as well as oil and gas simulation.
The Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) is the world’s first graduate-level-only university. MIST was established in 2007 with a goal to become a world-class research-driven university, focusing on advanced energy and sustainable technologies. MIST has strong ties with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which has supported its development and aim to become a world-class institution. MIST is the first part of the wider Masdar City master plan to be realized a prototypical and sustainable city, one in which residents and commuters can enjoy the highest quality of life with the lowest environmental footprint. It should be noted that the $16 billion Masdar enterprise is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Mubadala Development Company.
MIST commenced teaching in 2009 with 92 students from 22 countries and is planning to reach a student population of about 800. The accepted students are offered a full tuition scholarship, monthly stipend, travel reimbursement, personal laptop, textbooks, and accommodation. Currently, MIST has nine faculty members working in the nanotechnology areas with diverse expertise. The faculty members are supported by 20 students and facilities that include a clean room (under construction) and work on the projects related to photovoltaic devices, nanostructured materials and their applications in emerging technologies, microfabrication and nanofabrication, nanoelectronics, and nanophotonics technologies.
The Ras Al Khaimah Center for Advanced Materials (RAK-CAM) was established in 2007 by the Ruler of the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. RAK-CAM aims to position the Ras Al Khaimah as a key contributor to the long-term technological development of the Emirates as a leader in advanced materials research. RAK-CAM research areas include nanomaterials for diverse applications, materials for water purification and conservation, materials for solar energy applications and energy storage systems, and advanced structural materials. Each research area is supported by four to five permanent scientists along with the technical and administrative staff as well as the short-term postdoctoral researchers. RAK-CAM’s research facilities include the integrated state-of-the-art systems for materials synthesis and preparation, analysis, testing and characterization, together with an advanced research computing capability. The materials characterization facility serves both the local and regional industry and will seek industrial collaborations in joint research projects.
Another initiative by the Abu Dhabi Government was the establishment of the Khalifa University of Science, Technology and Research (KUSTAR) in 2007. KUSTAR recently announced that it will set up a nanotechnology research center. The aim of the center is to play a leading role in the establishment of nanotechnology research, development, and industry in Abu Dhabi and the UAE. The center will be dedicated to research on theoretical and experimental nanotechnology with strong emphasis on the performance attributes and functional demonstration of the nanomaterials/systems. This will be done by assembling/integrating the sophisticated materials, composite materials, and structures that translate to the devices and systems at the macroscale. The research center is also intended to develop materials/solutions for the applications in power/optoelectronic, aerospace, and diagnostic monitoring.
In the early 1960s, Jordan realized the importance of S&T to the socioeconomic development of the country, and that led to the establishment of the Scientific Research Council in 1961. The council was responsible for planning, promoting, and financing research; identifying the national research priorities; promotion of scientific research culture; and enhancing the S&T cooperation with the other countries. In 1970, the late King Hussein Bin Talal and his brother Prince El Hassan (Crown Prince at that time) established the Royal Scientific Society (RSS), which later became the largest applied research institution, consultancy, and technical support service provider in Jordan. Seven years later, the Directorate of Science and Technology as a part of the National Planning Council was established to prepare the S&T policy, plans, and programs. In 1978, and under the patronage of the king and the crown prince, Jordan’s Science and Technology Policy Conference was held. This event was a turning point in reviewing the major issues facing the country in organizing and orienting its scientific and technological efforts. The conference recommended the institutionalization of S&T activities under a national umbrella. This event led to the birth of the Higher Council for Science and Technology (HCST) in 1987. HCST is chaired by Prince El Hassan Bin Talal and was established to build a national S&T base to contribute to the achievement of the national development objectives. HCST has developed Jordan’s first national S&T policy, which was adopted in 1995 and is responsible for its implementation in partnership with the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MOHE). HCST has listed nanotechnology as a priority in its scientific research priorities for the years 2011–2020 .
From the start of his ruling in the year 2000, King Abdullah II has paid special attention to the higher education and S&T. In 2001, The King Abdullah II Fund for Development (KAFD) was created to encourage innovation and growth in Jordan’s public and private sectors. KAFD, with the support of the King, organizes the Petra Conference of Nobel Laureates. This is a regular event trying to shed more attention related to science, technology, economy, and peace toward Jordan and the nearby region. In 2008, KAFD supported a nanotechnology workshop in Jordan, which attracted more than 70 participants from Jordan and the Arabic world who did research related to nanotechnology. The workshop was organized by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Jordan, and the Saudi King Abdullah Institute for Nanotechnology (KAIN). Additionally, in 2006, his majesty the King established the King Abdullah Design and Development Bureau (KADDB) industrial park, which is a specialized park providing high-level support, service, and high security to host the advanced defense and military industries. Applying nanotechnology applications in this industrial park is set as a priority research.
There is relatively limited capital available for science funding in Jordan. For example, the budget of HCST in 2006 was just $2.1 million . In 1994, the Industrial Scientific Research and Development Fund (IRDF) was established with the objective of increasing the competitiveness of the Jordanian industries through the utilization of S&T. Approximately 80% of IRDF budget comes from the government, and the rest comes from the private sector. Later on, the National Fund for Enterprises Support (NAFES) was established in 2001 as one of the components of the Jordan-Japan industrial development program, under the umbrella of the HCST. In 2005, HCST established the Scientific Research Support Fund (SRF) as the arm that distributes the government-allocated budget for research according to its priority research list. In 2011, the Applied Scientific Research Fund (ASRF) was established as a nongovernmental, not-for-profit organization by Mr. Samih Darwazah, founder of Hikma Pharmaceuticals, to promote the development of applied science and engineering ideas. ASRF issues three to six new grants annually of $15,000–$150,000 to fund the colleges and universities in the fields related to medicine, natural sciences, technology, and others. In 2012, ASRF hosted the Micro Flow Chemistry and Biology (MIFCAB) workshop. MIFCAB has attracted 70 participants from 17 countries and more than 20 renowned international speakers. MIFCAB aimed at educating the academic and industrial participants from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region on the topics related to microreactor, microfluidics, and nanotechnology.
Recently, Jordan created several centers that capitalize on the advanced technologies including nanotechnology. In 1999, the Hamdi Mango Center for Scientific Research (HMCSR) was established at the Jordan University (Est. 1962) as a result of the gracious grant by a Jordanian businessman, the late Mr. Ali Mango. The HMCSR conducts original research in the fields of material science, nanotechnology, biotechnology, pharmaceutical solution, and drug discovery. HMCSR houses the Material Science and Nanotechnology Laboratories, which conducts research in three areas: superconductor material, colloid and surface chemistry, and natural geomaterials for construction and industrial applications. These research areas are supported by more than ten researchers. Additionally, HCST established the National Nanotechnology Centre of Jordan (NANCEJ) by the end of 2009 as a response to the IBM plan to build a nanotechnology center in Jordan similar to that in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. In 2010, HCST approved the establishment of a nanotechnology center at the Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST). That center has more than 30 affiliated faculty members from JUST with various backgrounds in chemical, biomedical, mechanical, and electrical engineering, as well as in the applied science such as chemistry, biology and biotechnology, and physics. It is structured into three divisions: the integrated nano systems, modeling and simulation, and nano structured material and characterization. The research plan is to cover a wide range of applications such as industrial microbiology, defense/security, microelectronics fabrication, nanobio, and computational modeling. Currently, the nanotechnology center at the JUST is establishing its fabrication and characterization facilities.
Interest in S&T started in Kuwait soon after it gained its independence from Britain in 1961. This interest is demonstrated by the establishment of the Kuwait University (KU) in 1966, the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) in 1967, the Kuwait Science Club in 1974, the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS) in 1976 (chaired by the head of state, the Emir of Kuwait), the Ministry of Higher Education 1988, the Center for Research and Studies on Kuwait in 1992, the Scientific Center and the Kuwait Inventors Bureau in 2000, the Dasman Center for Research and Treatment of Diabetes in 2006, the annual Kuwait Science Fair since 2008, and the Sabah Al-Ahmad’s Center for Giftedness and Creativity in 2009. By the late 1970s, Kuwait had a renewable energy (solar and wind) research program and even initiated a nuclear energy program for seawater desalination and electricity production. Although lacking a formally enacted national science policy, such development made Kuwait a leading hub for S&T in the region in the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s. However, during the mid-1980s, the country suffered from terrorism, which was a byproduct of the nearby Iraq-Iran War. The acts of terrorism reached their climax in 1990 when Kuwait was invaded by its northern neighbor, the Republic of Iraq. Kuwait’s infrastructure was severely damaged during the Gulf War. Moreover, Kuwait has been recently rocked by a series of political crises. In the last 6 years, nine governments have resigned, and the parliament has been dissolved five times. This has taken a toll on the country’s development and delayed many vital projects.
KISR took the initiative of preparing a draft for the national science policy, including studying the national base and the needs of the different sectors in the field of S&T in Kuwait. The document entitled “National Policy for Science, Technology and Innovation of the State of Kuwait” was reviewed by the experts from Kuwait, Arab and foreign countries, and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA). The document was then finalized by KISR for submission to the competent authorities in Kuwait in 2007 . This made Kuwait one step ahead of most Arab countries toward a national science policy framework. The national policy draft acknowledged the importance of nanotechnology for Kuwait’s S&T development.
KU’s College of Science established an Electron Microscopy Unit (EMU) in 1976, which evolved over the years to be known now as the Nanoscopy Science Center (NSC) . The center is considered as the oldest and most experienced microscopy center in the gulf region. NSC offers many characterization services for biological and material science research. NSC is managed by five faculty members and seven fulltime staff members. NSC runs many workshops and training courses related to nanotechnology both for the local and international researchers. Examples of the previous workshops include Electron Microscopy and Nanotechnology in 2008, and Future of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology in the Region in 2008. Future plans for NSC include the expansion of the laboratory space and characterization capabilities within the next 5 years. The College of Engineering and Petroleum at the KU established in 2007 the Kuwait University Nanotechnology Research Facility (KUNRF) to service the nanotechnology R&D in the college . KUNRF is managed by four faculty members, employs four technicians, and three fulltime professional research assistants. The facility houses a clean room with several fabrication and characterization tools. Most of KU nanotechnology research fall in the fields of photovoltaic, nano-electronics, biotechnology, and advanced materials. KUNRF has recently signed a long-term collaboration agreement for research with one of the world-leading nanotechnology centers, the Interuniversity Microelectronics Centre (IMEC) in Belgium. The collaboration will focus on the innovative silicon solar cell technologies. Nearly 25% of the recent KU scientific publications are nanotechnology related. Some of the research areas include the novel synthesis of nanomaterials with the potential application to green chemistry and renewable energy, polymeric nanomaterials, photovoltaics, hydrogen storage, and nanocomposite films.
The recently announced (September 2012) priority research areas of KU open a great opportunity for nanotechnology research. Nanotechnologies can be employed toward research and development in the areas of (1) renewable and alternative energy resources, (2) water resources, management, and technology, (3) enhanced oil recovery and heavy oil exploration and production, (4) impact of environmental pollution in Kuwait (including health impacts), (5) diabetes and cancer, and (6) food and water security. KU also supports nanotechnology research by inviting high-profile international nanotechnology scientists to visit KU to give seminars and evaluate research and postgraduate programs. Moreover, KU is planning to establish a Science Park with the aim of transferring the innovated ideas into a project or company that would give benefit to the country’s economy and development.
In 2010, a $250 million initiative was launched by the Emir of Kuwait to support the R&D projects in renewable energy, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, food science, water resources, etc. KISR was able to secure approximately $50 million of the initiative budget to establish a nanotechnology center. KISR’s interest in nanotechnology dates back to 2006 when it held Kuwait’s first nanotechnology conference. The focus areas of KISR Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials Center (KNAMC) research focus areas include the renewable energy systems (photovoltaic, fuel cell, and hydrogen storage), construction materials (high-performance concrete), surface protection coating materials (corrosion and erosion resistant, self-cleaning, and antibacterial), catalyst materials (oil production and refining), water purification and desalination, and chemical and physical sensing technologies. KNAMC will house state-of-the-art 360-m2 clean room facility-equipped fabrication and characterization tools, materials synthesis laboratory, modeling and simulation laboratory, and chemical and physical properties characterization facilities.
Although Morocco’s oldest research institute was created in 1920 (the Sherif’s Scientific Institute, now known as the University Institute for Scientific Research), the country had to wait until the 1980s to experience a noticeable development in S&T. During this period, 15 government and semipublic R&D institutes were established, and in 1993, the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education, Professional Training and Scientific Research (MENESFCRS) was created. By the late 1990s, a permanent interministerial committee of scientific research and technological development was established. The purpose of this committee is to ensure the coordination among the various ministries and agencies involved in research policy. S&T development in Morocco accelerated after His Majesty King Mohammed VI took the throne in 1999. In 2000, a law came into effect to reorganize the higher education system. It includes several measures to encourage the teaching staff and establishments to conduct research and technology transfer activities. Also, the National Research Fund was created in 2001. In the following year, the entire national research system in the fields of exact sciences, life sciences, and engineering sciences was comprehensively evaluated. The Hassan II Academy of Science and Technology (HAST) and the Moroccan Science, Innovation and Research Foundation (MASCIR) were established in 2004 and 2007, respectively. Moreover, exceptional funding was authorized for research in the 5-year plans 2000–2004 and the action plan 2004–2007. In 2008, approximately 0.8% of the GDP was invested in R&D activities . The figure increased to approximately 1% in 2010, and the plan is to reach 1.5% by 2015. Such goal is achievable according to the current developments . While significant work has been done to build the national research system, Morocco does not have a formally enacted national S&T policy based on a long-term strategy and vision. However, in 2006, the government has assigned a scientific committee of Moroccan experts to develop a strategy and vision by the year 2025. Nanotechnology was not recognized as a national priority.
Despite nanotechnology not being recognized as a national priority, attention to nanotechnology began in 2006 when the National Initiative for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (I3N) was launched. This initiative aimed at networking the national research laboratories with the local companies with the goal of bringing the current R&D level to match the international standard in the field of nanosciences and their industrial implementation. Moreover, the state-owned investment and financial institution, Caisse de Depot et de Gestion (CDG) Development, has financed the establishment of a Technopolis area that covers 3 km2 with the first phase (1 km2) completed with a cost of $381 million. The Technopolis is based on the concept of a technology park consisting of four components: (1) Off-shoring companies, (2) Multimedia and Audiovisual, (3) Software Development, and (4) Nanotechnology. Furthermore, CDG, jointly with the United States-based Tessera Technologies, Inc., funded the establishment of a successful and commercially vital microelectronics company, Nemotek Technologies in 2007 with an investment of $119 million .
Another nanotechnology-related development took place in 2007 when the MASCIR was established. MASCIR is a nonprofit foundation for the development of a competitive and innovative pole-based and market-oriented research in the high added value and cutting-edge technological sectors such as microelectronics, nanotechnologies, and biotechnologies. A budget of $65 million was allocated to support the foundation over the period 2008–2013. MASCIR’s mission with regard to nanotechnology is to design, invent, and encourage research and development of the nanotechnology applications, thus, supporting technology transfer to the industry in order to meet the country’s demand. MASCIR nanotechnology research focus on the multifunctional magnetic and piezoelectric nanomaterials, development of sensors, materials for medical applications, energy, consumer electronics, nanocomposites for automotive and aerospace applications, and food packaging and high-tech textile. The research at MASCIR is support by comprehensive equipment and facilities that include rheology, morphology, mechanical analysis, thermal analysis, surface analysis, physiochemical characterization, permeability, magnetic characterization, nanofabrication thin films, polymer and nanocomposites processing, and optics and photonics.
Oman does not have a formally enacted national science policy. However, The Research Council of Oman (TRC), established in 2005, is the focal point that put the strategy, vision, and direction of the research in the country. TRC encourages the promotion and application of research, innovation, and science to create value that serves business, markets, and the wider needs of society. TRC identified several areas of research that have an important impact on the country. Nanotechnology was not identified as a priority area as such; however, TRC did financially support a number of nanotechnology-related projects. TRC takes the role of devising the S&T policies, implementing the S&T policies, and funding the S&T activities.
In addition to TRC, the head of state, His Majesty Sultan Qaboos, has established the Sultan Qaboos Trust Fund with a budget of $1.3 million per year. This funding source is only available to the national university in the country, the Sultan Qaboos University (SQU), which was established in 1985. SQU is the leading organization of the research in the sultanate, and most of the internationally recognized research publications are generated by this organization. SQU created an internal grant system to support research within SQU. The average value of the projects ranged from $11,000 in 2002 to $19,000 in 2009, and the total allocated budget is $1.3 million per year .
Recently, TRC and SQU have established “Chair in Nanotechnology and Water Desalination.” The aim of this initiative is to increase the outreach and quality of nanotechnology research in SQU and to develop economic opportunities resulting from this type of research. It should be noted that Oman is classified as semi-arid in the coastal areas to arid country in the interior regions with an average annual precipitation of 100 mm. This is due to the very limited renewable water resources per capita . The growing water shortage and limited rainfall has made the situation worse and resulted in lower water resources. Moreover, water pollution due to the presence of the various contaminants such as heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, dyes, and other emerging pollutants has contributed to water scarcity. Several efforts have been done by the Omani government to find alternative water resources for domestic, agriculture, and industrial use . Various wastewater and hospital water treatment methodology has been tested and implemented. The nanotechnology chair was established to study the possibility and feasibility of solving these challenging problems using this technology.
Future plans include another chair in the field of nanotechnology for biotechnology. The purpose of this chair is to establish a program of research in biotechnology using the nanotechnology techniques and to promote sustainable development of the living resources of Oman especially in marine science. Oman has rich and diverse marine resources and constitutes its main natural resource after oil and natural gas. Moreover, SQU is very keen to develop educational programs that include nanoscience and technology. At the postgraduate level, The College of Science at SQU is planning to design a M.Sc. in nanoscience. The college is also proposing undergraduate courses in nanoscience and technology .
In terms of infrastructure, SQU has some characterization facilities to support nanotechnology research, which include scanning electron microscopy, tunneling electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, and scanning tunneling microscopy. At present, the researchers at SQU are mainly carrying out material science-related research within nanotechnology. The general areas are surface and topographical analysis, biotechnology, 2-D materials (graphene), magnetism, and electronics. Additionally, a lot of attention is given to pollutants removal, water desalination, and the petroleum industry. Some examples include the removal of toxic organic pollutants and the by-products from water and wastewater using the advanced oxidation processes and nanotechnology, and the utilization of solar nano-photocatalysis in the reverse osmosis pretreatment process. This research effort is being done in collaboration with the Caledonian College of Engineering in Oman (affiliated with the Glasgow Caledonian University, UK) and the University of Hannover in Germany. There are also other active research areas such as the utilization of nanotechnology in oil recovery enhancement, and developing and characterizing new nano-materials. In addition to SQU, the University of Nizwa, established in 2002, has some nanotechnology research activities within its College of Engineering and Architecture and Department of Biological Sciences and Chemistry.
According to its national development strategy 2011–2016 document , Qatar has recently invested considerable resources in R&D. An outstanding infrastructure is in place for scientific research, with programs to draw potential researchers and build partnerships between the universities and businesses. However, similar to most Arab countries, Qatar does not have a formally enacted national science policy. The country’s R&D took a sharp turn when Qatar’s current head of state (the Emir of Qatar) assumed power in 1995. In the same year, he established the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development (QF). The aim of this foundation is to unlock the human’s potential through its three pillars of education, science and research, and community development. Since its inception, Qatar’s First Lady acted as QF’s chairperson and has been its driving force. In 2006, the Emir of Qatar pledged to allocate 2.8% of Qatar’s GDP to science and research, which translates to approximately $1.5 billion per year. QF is tasked to manage this budget. Moreover, in the same year, he issued a decree to establish the general secretariat for development planning to coordinate plans, strategies, and policies in support of Qatar’s National Vision 2030 (QNV 2030). Approved in 2008, Qatar’s long-term development strategy defines broad future trends, sets goals, and provides the framework for Qatar’s National Development Strategy. QNV 2030 rests on four pillars: human development, social development, economic development, and environmental development. However, there is no explicit mention of nanotechnology in QNV 2030 or in the Qatar National Development Strategy 2011–2016.
Qatar has invested heavily in developing its capabilities for scientific innovation and research. Particularly, QF has established a broad range of research centers within the Qatar University and Education City, as well as research opportunities in the scientific and technical areas; policy, social, and business areas; and innovative design and culture and heritage. QF also paid attention to the education programs on scientific research at the university as well as the K–12 level. In addition to the graduate-level research programs, the undergraduate research experience program and specialized math and science tracks in the secondary schools were established.
The Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) was established in 2006 to accelerate quality R&D by providing research grants to a wide range of beneficiaries . The Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) was established in 2009 to attract investments from several international businesses for frontier R&D. The European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), ExxonMobil, General Electric (GE), Microsoft, Shell, Total, and others have already committed $225 million of R&D investment at the QSTP.
Education City is the QF’s flagship project. Located on the outskirts of Doha, the capital of Qatar, the city covers 14 km2 and houses educational and research facilities from the primary school to the graduate level . Education City aims to be the center of educational excellence in the region. It was conceived of as a forum where universities share research and forge relationships with the businesses and institutions in the public and private sectors. Education City is home to the branch campuses of six international universities, which include the Weill Cornell Medical College, the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts, the Carnegie Mellon University offering programs in business administration, biological sciences, computational biology, computer science, and information systems, the Texas A&M’s School of Engineering, the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, and the Northwestern University School of Communication and Medill School of Journalism.
QF is also planning to establish several applied research centers of excellence in Qatar including Center for Genomic and Proteomics Medicine, Center for Stem Cells Research, Center for Molecular Imaging Research, Center for Infectious Diseases, Center for Bioinformatics and Data Mining, Center for Applied Nanotechnology, and Center for Environmental Research.
The current nanotechnology R&D activities in Qatar are driven by faculty members with some research focused on the catalyst for natural gas liquefaction, nanoparticles for cancer treatment, and nanomaterials synthesis including functional nanofibers for protective textile applications, water filtration, and biomedical applications.
The Saudi leaders have recognized the importance of harnessing S&T for their developmental needs as early as 1985 when they established the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) as Saudi’s principal agency for promoting scientific and technological R&D. KACST was directed by its charter to propose a national policy for the development of S&T. However, the preparations for the national policy for S&T did not start until mid-1997. KACST, in cooperation with the Ministry of Economy and Planning (MOEP), developed a long-term national policy for S&T. In July 2002, the Council of Ministers approved the National Policy for Science and Technology (NPST) under the name of “The Comprehensive Long-Term National Policy for Science and Technology” making Saudi one of the few Arab countries to have such a policy. Saudi’s NPST included a timetable for gradually increasing sources of funding R&D, which is to reach 1.6% of the GDP in 2020. KACST was also put in charge of supervising the implementation of the policy. Moreover, KACST is responsible for 5 years of strategic and implementation plans for 11 research areas: water, oil and gas, petrochemicals, nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, electronics, communication and photonics, space and aeronautics, energy, environment, and advanced materials. Each plan establishes a mission and vision, identifies stakeholders and users, and determines the highest-priority technical areas for Saudi.
The mission of the National Nanotechnology Program (NNP) is to ensure that Saudi is a major player within the international community in the R&D of nanotechnologies. NNP will foster academic excellence and ensure that world-class R&D facilities are available to all the parts of the economy, from academic institutions to the industry. NNP is envisioned to create a multidisciplinary program leveraging all the branches of science in order to build competence and capability in nanotechnologies that will help to ensure the future competitiveness of Saudi .
Currently, much of the expertise and many of the facilities for conducting nanotechnology research are located at KACST and the following universities: the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) established in 1963, the King Abdul Aziz University (KAU) established in 1967, the Riyadh University established in 1957 but was renamed to the King Saud University (KSU), the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) established in 2009 with $10 billion endowment (sixth largest in the world), the King Khalid University (KKU) established in 1998, the King Faisal University (KFU) established in 1975, and the Taibah University (TaibahU) established in 2003. It is estimated that approximately 30 research projects in the field of nanotechnology have been launched at the above universities and research institutes. Industry is also taking advantage of nanotechnology research. Local companies, such as the Saudi National Oil Company (established as an Arabian American Oil Company, known now as Saudi ARAMCO) and the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), have devoted resources to conducting nanotechnology research. These two companies alone have launched more than 20 research projects in the field of nanotechnology. To support this research, they have employed more than 20 persons with Ph.D. with expertise applicable to nanotechnology research. Much of this research has been in materials synthesis for improving fossil fuel extraction and other applications such as structural materials, surface coatings, catalysis, and membranes.
Saudi has established several nanotechnology research centers even before the full realization of NNP. The Center of Excellence in Nanotechnology (CENT) at KFUPM was established in 2005 . CENT also has 22 affiliated faculty members from the physics, chemistry, and engineering departments within KFUPM. CENT’s main research focus is on catalysis and photocatalysis, nanostructured chemical sensors, and carbon nanotube production and applications. It also conducts activities in the field of anticorrosion processes, biotechnology, environment, and solar cells. CENT is equipped with various state-of-the-art instruments ranging from compositional analyses and physical properties measurements to sintering and synthesis of wide ranges of materials.
The Center of Nanotechnology (CNT) at KAU was established in 2006 . The multidisciplinary center work covers several science and engineering areas such as engineering, pharmacology, medical sciences, genetic engineering (artificial DNA), basic sciences, e.g., physics, chemistry and biology, material science, MEMS devices, computational nanotechnology, fabrication and assembly of the different nanomaterials, advanced materials including polymers and semiconductor nanomaterials, and safety and health effect of the nanoparticles. CNT carries out its research activities through ten research groups. Each group consists of affiliated researchers from the different departments and colleges at KAU. The group names and their sizes are nanomaterial (36 researchers), nanofabrication (30 researchers), nanocomposites (23 researchers), nanobiotechnology (55 researchers), nano drug delivery (49 researchers), nanomedicine (61 researchers), nanotechnology-based renewable energy (28 researchers), nanodevices and nanosystems (26 researchers), nanotechnology for desalination and water treatment (30 researchers), nano-computation and simulation (17 researchers). CNT supports its research with several facilities, which include nanomeasurements laboratory, nanomaterials synthesis laboratory, nanofabrication laboratory, and microscopy laboratory.
In 2009, the Center of Excellence of Nano-manufacturing Applications (CENA) was established at KACST . CENA is a research consortium between KACST, Intel, and selected universities in MENA region. The objectives of the consortium are to build up regional human capacity and reverse the brain drain in MENA region. The research in CENA is focused on three main themes: (1) fabrication of MEMS, sensors, and integration of CMOS-MEMS, (2) fabrication of the autonomous RF sensors and applications, and (3) nano-materials synthesis, processing, and characterization. CENA is planning to construct 3500 m2 center with state-of-the-art equipment to enable research in nanoprocessing, III–V materials and devices, and optoelectronics.
One of KAUST’s core facilities is the Advanced Nanofabrication, Imaging and Characterization (ANIC) facility . ANIC is dedicated to providing the instrumentation, technical expertise, and team-teaching environment to stimulate collaborative research in nanoscale technology. ANIC is a complex of multidisciplinary laboratories that supports research across the many different departments within KAUST. ANIC supports not only materials and device research in physics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and chemistry, but it also facilitates research interaction and collaboration between the physical, chemical, biological, and medical disciplines. ANIC laboratories are grouped into two subfacilities, advanced nanofabrication subfacility and imaging and characterization subfacility. The nanofabrication subfacility occupies 2000 m2 of Class-1000 clean room space with multiple bays at Class-100. It includes the capabilities for device fabrication and characterizations with a wide range of equipment. The subfacility is divided into five modules, namely: lithography and mask making, deposition and thermal diffusion, wet and dry etching, metrology, and package. The imaging and characterization subfacility has comprehensive capabilities for scanning, transmission, confocal, and Raman microscopy, magnetic and thermal measurements, and other instrumentation for materials characterization. It also houses a NMR laboratory, which comprises a suite of 10 NMR spectrometers for solution-based and solid-state samples, together with comprehensive sample preparation facilities for the study of macromolecular structures and spatial distributions, dynamics in solution, and chemical composition of small features in solid-state samples. The subfacility is divided into nine modules, namely, TEM, SEM, optical microscopy, surface science, XRD and X-ray fluorescence, thermal analysis, low-temperature physics laboratory, NMR spectroscopy, and microwave testing laboratory.
Most recently, the King Abdullah Institute for Nanotechnology (KAIN) was established in 2010 at KSU . KAIN’s conducts a wide range of activities such as R&D and applied activities in energy, water treatment and desalination, telecommunications, medicine and pharmaceutical, food and environment, and manufacturing and nanomaterials as well as modeling and simulation of nanomaterials, education and training, and economic and industrial studies. To support these research activities, KAIN is planning to employ 15 group leaders, 30 researchers, 30 assistant researchers, 15 technicians, and 60 graduate students. To KAIN, 13,000 m2 has been designated in which 8000 m2 will be used for building laboratories, administrative and researcher’s offices, warehouses, workstations, and service areas. A budget of $20 million has been allocated to establish a clean room equipped with state-of-the-art equipment for nanotechnology research activities.
Since gaining independence from France in 1956, Tunisians have been working to develop a S&T system that is responsive to the needs of a rapidly developing country. By incorporating several existing French-established centers and institutes, the first Tunisian University was established in 1958. Eleven years later, a higher-education law was passed to place all the government-recognized institutions of higher education and scientific research under the umbrella of the University of Tunisia (UTunis). In 1986, the faculties, schools, and institutes of the UTunis were separated into three distinct universities, which have, in turn, been reorganized over time to form new universities. Today, there are 43 public university-level institutions in Tunisia (13 universities, 24 higher institutes of technological studies, and six higher institutes of teacher training). The creation of the Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Technology (MESRST) in 1978 was the first step in the construction of a national S&T program. However, a major step was taken in 1991 when the government started the development of the Scientific Research and Technological Innovation System (SRTIS). In 1996, the first national S&T policy was formally enacted with the aim of providing a legal basis for R&D in Tunisia. In the following year, the Adviser Council of Scientific Research and Technology (CCNRST) was established. CCNRST is headed by the Prime Minister and composed of competent Ministers, heads of relevant public and private bodies, universities, and nongovernmental organizations. CCNRST is the highest-level official body, which determines, directs, and coordinates research and innovation policies. MESRST is in charge of formulating the national policy and strategy in the field of scientific research and technological development, as well as its execution in collaboration with the concerned ministries. The national research priorities of Tunisia include biotechnology, water management, energy, environment, desertification, microelectronics, nanotechnology, health, environment and social sciences, and information and communications technology. Nanotechnology became a priority in 2007, and in the following year, the first national workshop was organized. This workshop led to the establishment of the National Strategy for Nanotechnology Sciences in Tunisia (NST). This strategy takes into account the future needs of the nanotechnology R&D with respect to education, research, training, infrastructure, and funding. The 2nd and the 3rd Tunisian workshops of nanosciences and technologies were held in 2009 and 2010, respectively. They were organized in collaboration with the Tunisian Association of Nanotechnology for Environment with focus on the application of nanotechnology in industrial development [30, 31]. It should be noted that in 2002, Tunisia attempted to establish a master’s degree in nanoscience at the Preparatory Institute for Scientific and Technical Studies, La Marsa, known by its French name, Institut Préparatoire aux Etudes Scientifiques et Techniques de la Marsa (IPEST) in collaboration with the Ecole Normal Supérieur de Cachan in France through the joint Euro-Mediterranean Projects program (Tempus Meda program). This attempt was not successful in recruiting researchers and students. Thus, the master’s degree program did not sustain. However, over the past 10 years, Tunisia witnessed the formation of 60 research teams with almost 300 researchers working in the field of nanomaterials. These research teams are composed of teachers, associate professors, engineers, and Ph.D. students. This new development necessitates the establishment of programs in nanoscience and nanotechnology at the universities and engineering schools for the continuous training and competitiveness in technology and science.
MESRST is the main S&T funding agency in Tunisia and has supported several nanotechnology research projects. Foreign funding has been made available to the nanotechnology research through the joint projects with the European countries. On January 12, 2010, Tunisia launched the first applied nanotechnology project in northwest Africa (also known as Maghreb region). The project COPEAU (a French acronym that stands for "National Network of Water Pollution Control”) will be carried out by the unit of research in nanotechnology at the technopark of El Mourouj and aims to implement a national control of water pollution. The partners involved in this project are the National Agency of Environmental Protection in Tunisia (ANTE) and Aquapôle (Water Science Center at the University of Liege, Belgium). The budget estimate for COPEAU project is $1 million with a 55% contribution from the Tunisian government, 43% from the European Commission, and 2% from Aquapôle . Three mobile laboratories will monitor the river water, after which, data will be analyzed at a new research center. To do this, eight fixed stations based on the new generation nanosensors are installed along the river of Medjerda to measure in real time the parameters of quality water (i.e., depth, temperature, salinity, pH, and turbidity). The laboratories will then be mobilized to expand the project to the other areas of the country. The results obtained from analyzing 24,030 samples showed that some tributaries of the River of Madjerda, particularly the Rivers of Siliana and Beja are characterized, respectively, by a high salinity and a high chemical oxygen demand (COD). A stability of most parameters was recorded except that the salinity and phosphate level have exceeded slightly the standard limits. The second project is the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC) in MENA region initiated by the DESERTEC foundation (a nonprofit foundation that grew out of a network of scientists, politicians, and economists from around the Mediterranean region). Through this effort, the foundation has establish a university network of 26 universities from Germany, France, Italy, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia (three universities and the Center of Research in Technology of Energy), Libya, Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar. The project promotes the implementation of DESERTEC concept “Clean Power From Deserts” by the production of renewable and solar energy, energy security, climate protection, and desalination using the Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) technology. The objective allowed is the production of 100 GW of solar electricity in MENA regions for export to Europe in the horizon of 2050 . In this effort, the contribution of the photovoltaic laboratory (LPV) of the Center of Research in Technology of Energy (CRTEn) in the Technopark of Borj Cedria is related to developing new nanomaterials for the solar and photovoltaic cells. The first phase is expected to begin in 2014, and the first electricity exports are set to reach Europe by 2016 via a new low-loss transmission line to Italy. During the construction, maintenance, and operation phase of this project, 20,000 direct and indirect jobs will be created.
Tunisia has a developed research infrastructure for materials synthesis, characterization, and the analyses in the field of nanotechnologies . The materials characterization facilities are located in the Faculty of Sciences in Bizerte, the technopark of Borj Cedria, the National institute of Research and Physicochemical Analysis (INRAP), the faculty of Sciences of Tunis, Monastir, and Sfax. Since 2011, MESRST started the implementation of a new nanotechpark in Sousse. The nanotechnology research center in this nanotechpark will be a technological platform for the development of research on the field of nanotechnology and nanodevices from the design to the prototyping. The center is intended to develop the application for industrial needs. Two platforms in nanobiotechnology and one in nanotechnology will be implemented in next 2 years in Tunis, Sfax, and Borj Cedria, respectively. The platform of Sfax will be implemented in the Center of Biotechnology of Sfax (CBS) and will be dedicated to the laboratories of the universities of south Tunisia (Sfax, Gabès, and Gafsa). The Tunis platform will be dedicated to nanomedecine, nanobiotechnology, and bioengineering research. It will complement the infrastructure of the research unit of INRAP, the National Centre of Nuclear Sciences and Technology (CNSTN), the Institute Pasteur of Tunis (IPT), the National institute of Applied Sciences and Technologies (INSAT), the faculty of Medicine in Tunis, the Faculty of Sciences in Tunis, and the National Engineer Institute in Tunis (ENIT). The nanotechnology platform of Borj Cedria will be dedicated to the nanosciences research and the characterization of nanomaterials .
The Arab countries, though they share a common language, similar cultures, and even R&D priorities, vary in terms of wealth, political structure, and S&T development stage. It is clear that governance plays an important role in the advancement of S&T. Table 1 summarizes the status of the S&T governance in the countries investigated. In our nine country samples, five have parliamentary system (Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Kuwait, and Tunisia) and the other four have absolute monarchy (the Emirates, Qatar, Oman, and Saudi). Generally speaking, the S&T infrastructure development started earlier in the countries with parliamentary systems. Saudi and the Emirates had to wait for the executive decision but experienced exceptionally rapid growth and surpassed the others in many areas, especially in the nanotechnology infrastructure development. It is worth noting that heads of states personally foster S&T institutions in their countries. Many of the essential institutions were established by the heads of states and are chaired by either the heads of states, themselves, or one of their immediate family members. Some examples include MBRF and EF in the Emirates, RSS, HCST, and KAFD in Jordan, KFAS in Kuwait, the Sultan Qaboos Fund in Oman, and QF in Qatar. Also, leaps in development took place when new heads of states assumed power. Some examples include Qatar, Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi.
Nevertheless, even with such special attention from the heads of states, the nanotechnology development, like any other S&T development in the Arab countries, faces several challenges such as (1) lack of supportive governmental policies and legal framework; (2) limited and inconsistent R&D funding (except the wealthy countries); (3) a small nanotechnology community; and (4) limited connection and interrelation to the local industry, if any. The Saudi success, as indicated in Table 2, is attributed to having the essential ingredients for a successful nanotechnology program. They have a national S&T policy with a National Nanotechnology Program (NNP). They have an implementing agency in charge of supervising the implementation of the policy. They have the financial resources to fund the establishment of new programs and the needed infrastructure. They are also building their human capital by attracting international students and researchers through generous incentives and also by collaborating with the international universities and research institutions.
The abundance of the human resources in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, and Morocco allowed them to lead the scientific production in nanotechnology even with their limited infrastructure and financial resources. However, the size of the nanotechnology community, compared to the other disciplines, is small and, thus, limits the development of the field. The desire to pursue a nanotechnology research career in the Arab population continues to be weak. Generally speaking, S&T is mostly viewed in the Arab world as a luxury, not a necessity. The majority of the Arabic population suffers from a low quality of life and function in a survival mode. The wealthy nations do not appreciate indigenous S&T as they can afford to import technologies developed elsewhere. It should be noted that the number of publications is only intended as an indicator of the research activity, not quality. Table 2 indicates the increasing trends in the number of publications in the field of nanotechnology after launching the nanotechnology initiatives. For example, if we compared the period 2002–2007 with 2008–2013, the Emirates and Egypt showed more than fivefold and fourfold increase in the number of publications, respectively. For Saudi, the increase trend is much more pronounced (more than 30-fold increase).
It is the authors’ considered opinion that even with amount of information presented here, only general conclusions can be drawn. Care should be taken when attempting to make comparison among the different countries as every country has uniquely developed over time. The Arab countries vary in terms of wealth, population, literacy, political structure, and S&T development stage. For example, it is not fair to compare Qatar, which has the highest GDP per capita income and the smallest population to Egypt, which has very low GDP per capita and the largest population. That is, some countries have large amounts of financial resources but small human capital, and others have large human capital but small amounts of financial resources. Some countries started their S&T development in the 1950s and 1960s, while others did not start until the 1990s. There is a large gap in the S&T maturity among the countries which complicate any comparison about their nanotechnology development. Moreover, the country’s geographical location plays an important role in its S&T development. The North Africa countries have the advantage of close proximity to the advanced nations in Europe. Other countries have the disadvantage of being near conflict zones. Furthermore, some countries have suffered from political instabilities and devastating wars, which significantly affected their development progress.
The other reasons that make comprehensive assessment of nanotechnology development in the Arab world difficult include (1) modern S&T development is relatively new to the region. The majority of universities and research centers are less than 30 years old. Most universities are teaching universities, with little focus on the research activities. Only in the past 5 years did research-oriented universities start to appear. Therefore, S&T development, especially nanotechnology development, in the Arab world is still at its infancy, and it is too early to judge its impact. (2) Generally, the developments in the Arab countries are characterized by lack of transparency and unjustified executive decisions. This makes it difficult to determine the real motivations for funding these initiatives. It also makes it unclear if the visions and goals are realistic or not. The publicly available information is very general and vague. (3) There is a poor implementation of new programs due to bureaucracy and lack of experience in plan execution. It is typical that the implantation excessively falls behind schedule and/or goes over budget. That is, a 5-year-old program may effectively have the maturity of a 1-year-old program. Unfortunately, there is no specialized, independent, and empowered body in charge of monitoring and evaluating the progress of the research program and their activities. In fact, some countries lack the basic legal framework (national S&T policy) and/or implementing agencies to implement the research programs. This, of course, would result in an unsystematic and fragmented development.
However, one may make assessments of the individual countries. For example, looking at the different nanotechnology initiatives in Egypt and their outcome over the past decade, one can generally conclude that incremental and realistic initiatives have higher chances of success compared to the super-ambitious ones, which may stumble in the bureaucracy, volatile policies, and funding availability. For example, YJ-STRC, which is considerably smaller than EGNC in terms of budget, space, and facilities became operational quickly and proved productive, whereas EGNC is still in the early stages of its research cycle with far-from-complete infrastructure and most of its research staff still in the training phase outside Egypt.
Another lesson learned is that although the proper facilities are necessary for high-quality research in nanotechnology, investing heavily in infrastructure alone is not enough to achieve sustainable nanotechnology research programs. The existence of highly trained researchers at all the levels (faculty members, research associates, research assistants, and technicians) is as important, if not more important, than the facilities, themselves, to guarantee sustainable and fruitful research programs. Human capacity sustainability can be achieved by integrating nanotechnology research within a firm and stable graduate studies programs. The case of YJ-STRC is a good example. The research activities of the center were made an integral part of AUC’s school of science and engineering and its graduate studies system. The nanotechnology program at the Zewail City of Science and Technology and the Zewail University is set to follow a similar approach. Another effective approach, which many of the nanotechnology initiatives in Egypt have adopted, was the establishment of long-term research ties with the universities and research centers in Europe and North America. Such collaboration accelerates the development of the newly established programs as it allows them to capitalize on the experiences and resources of the well-established institutions especially in terms of the facilities’ utilization and staff training (researchers and students) through exchange programs and joint projects.
In the case of Morocco, the country has a well-established S&T organizational structure, which is manifested by the several implementing and funding agencies. Morocco also has no shortage of people as it ranked second to Egypt in terms of population size. The country’s geographical location near Spain and France gives it a competitive advantage over many other Arab countries. Yet, Morocco ranked poorly in terms of nanotechnology development. This can be attributed mainly to the locally weak awareness of the importance of nanotechnology and the lack of funds specifically allocated to nanotechnology research.
The Emirates is a rising star in nanotechnology due to their large investment in establishing state-of-the-art facilities. It is anticipated that the Emirates will produce significant R&D in nanotechnology once they build their human capacity.
The success of nanotechnology initiatives in the Arab countries is yet to be seen. The current status leaves several outstanding questions unanswered. Some of these questions include: Will these initiatives reach their target and make a significant impact locally and internationally? Will all the initiatives survive or will some collapse? Which approaches are more suitable for which country? Will these initiatives lead to technology commercialization and business creation? Will these initiatives improve the local quality of life and advance the nation?
One should be cautious not to anticipate a major progress in nanotechnology development in the Arab countries unless there is a parallel improvement in the current political situation. There should be improvements toward more democratic practices, transparent policies, and economic stability. Also, a more involvement of the nanotechnology experts and scientists in nanotechnology-related decision making is crucial to make well-informed decisions that would subsequently move the development forward.
The top-level overview presented here is at no place near a comprehensive assessment of the nanotechnology development in the Arab countries. It is rather a starting point for more in-depth studies of the approaches taken by the individual countries. It outlines the essential ingredients of the successful programs and points out the major players in each country. Of course, there could be other unforeseen factors that can affect the progress of these programs, especially the factors related to the volatile political situation of the region. Nevertheless, this review demonstrate that there are tremendous opportunities in nanotechnology R&D for the students, researchers, technology providers such as the materials suppliers and equipment manufacturers, as well as the startup companies in the nine countries investigated.
The authors thank Ms. Stephanie Shapiro for her editorial assistance.
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About the article
Bassam Alfeeli is an Associate Research Scientist at the Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials program, Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR). He is an electrical engineer by training with a PhD in Microelectronics from the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), USA. He also holds a MSc degree in Materials Science and Engineering from the same university. Alfeeli has more than 6 years of experience with silicon microfabrication and device testing for chemical sensing applications. He is currently assisting in the establishment of the Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials Center in the KISR.
Ma’moun Al-Rawashded obtained his PhD degree in Chemical Reactor Engineering at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands in 2013. His research focuses on the scale-up of the microstructured flow reactors for catalytic reactions and multiphase flow. He obtained a master degree in Chemical and Process Engineering with a Cum Laude degree in 2008 from the same university at the Eindhoven University of Technology. In 2007, he worked for nine months in the division of chemical process engineering at the Institut für Mikrotechnik Mainz GmbH in Germany. Before that and for a year and a half he worked as a chemical engineer in the Jordan Petroleum Refinery in Jordan. In November 2012, he organizes the Micro Flow Chemistry and Biology Workshop in Jordan which deals with the topics of nanotechnology, microfluidics, and flow chemistry.
Ali Bumajdad is an Associate Professor of the Chemistry Department at the Kuwait University. His specialty is in nanoparticles and nanotechnology with focus on the surfaces properties of the nanomaterials. He has special interests in synthesizing, characterizing, and testing the catalytic activity of the nanomaterials prepared using the wet chemistry methods with focus on the colloidal templates and sol/gel processes. In his research, he also targeted materials with environmental, renewable energy, sensors, and green chemistry applications (e.g., pure and doped CeO2, TiO2 and ZnO, Ag, graphene and carbon nanotube), magnetic and drug delivery applications (Fe2O3), and microbial and cancer applications (Au and Ag). Bumajdad is a reviewer of 27 international journals in the field of materials and nanotechnology. According to the ISI Web of Knowledge (search conducted on 3/1/2012), he is the number one person in terms of the publications related to nanoscience in the state of Kuwait (nearly 25% of the nanoscience published from Kuwait is from his group).
Haider Al Lawati
Haider A.J. Al Lawati obtained his PhD in Chemistry in 2007 from the University of Hull. After his PhD, Al Lawati worked as assistant professor at the department of chemistry – Sultan Qaboos University, where he established a new research group in the microfluidics area. In May 2009, the group successfully obtained his Majesty Grant for a project entitled “Developing microfluidic systems for routine analysis of pharmaceutical samples” and in June 2011, the group obtained second grant funded by The Research Council – Oman “Capillary HPLC systems for pharmaceutical and biological analysis using microfluidic chip chemiluminescence detector”. Al Lawati’s research interest includes lab on a chip, high through put analysis using microfluidics and lab on a paper. He has authored and coauthored 18 scientific journal papers and around 14 conference contributions.
Mohamed Abdelgawad obtained his PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 2009 from the University of Toronto under the supervision of Prof. Aaron Wheeler. After his PhD, Abdelgawad worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the department of Surgical Oncology at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada. In 2010, Abdelgawad joined the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Assiut University, where he established the Assiut Microfluidics Lab to be the first laboratory dedicated to Microfluidics research in Egypt. Abdelgawad’s research interests include digital microfluidics, rapid prototyping techniques, dielectrophoretic manipulation of particles, and mechanical characterization of the biological cells.
Zouhair M. Baccar
Zouhair M. Baccar was born in Tunis, Tunisia, in 1970. He received a PhD degree in Integrated Electronic devices from Ecole Centrale de Lyon, France, in 1996. From 1996 to 2008, he worked at many Tunisian universities as an Assistant Professor. From 2006 to 2008, he was an Associate Researcher in the National Institute of Research and Physicochemical Analysis (INRAP) at the Biotechpark of Sidi Thabet. Since 2008, he became a Senior Researcher in INRAP and has been leading the nanobioengineering group. Baccar has been working in the fabrication and surface functionalization of the microelectrodes and the development of biosensors for biomedical and safe food monitoring applications. He led several bilateral projects with Spain (AECI and AECID) and with Morocco. His current research activity is focused in nanotechnology, biofunctionalization, and nanobiotechnology.
Issam Ben Salem
Issam Ben Salem is a microbiologist and biochemist with extensive experience of research into the microbial interactions with the radionuclides, heavy metals, pesticides, etc. His research, so far, has covered a range of disciplines including microbiology, analytical and radiochemistry, and molecular biology. Salem is one of the very few people in Tunisia who is experienced in both microbiology and the chemistry of transuranic and fission product elements. In addition to his experience in the interactions of contaminants and microbes, he has significant expertise at the National Center of Nuclear Sciences (CNSTN) on the development of biosensors for contaminants in food and environment.
Faysal Benaskar was born in Berkane, Morocco, in 1984. He obtained his BSc and MSc degrees in Chemical Engineering and Chemistry at the Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands, in 2006 and 2008, respectively. In 2007, he also joined the Institut für Mikrotechnik Mainz (Mainz, Germany) for a research project aiming at the combination of microwave and microprocess technology to conduct organic reactions. This work contributed to motivate a follow-up PhD project. Since 2008, he works in the Laboratory of Chemical Reactor Engineering to obtain his PhD degree from the Eindhoven University of Technology in the field of microwave-enhanced microprocessing for fine-chemicals synthesis. His work mainly focuses on the development and optimization of the catalyzed organic reactions to suit the operational window of the microwaves and microprocessing. He has authored and coauthored 17 scientific journal papers and around 25 conference contributions and established a strong collaboration with several highly ranked international research groups.
Published Online: 2013-05-15
Published in Print: 2013-06-01