- Draft legislation for Egypt's space agency was approved last week, heralding the latest step for the country's extraterrestrial ambitions
- The agency is set to focus on launching satellites to study weather patterns and scan the country's vast desert for valuable minerals
- The news comes at a time when many Egyptians on earth are struggling to survive in the wake of harsh government cuts
- Experts within the field have suggested that the government should invest more in education while building the agency
Egypt’s government is set to pour millions creating a national space agency after draft legislation was given the go-ahead last week.
A statement released on Wednesday said that the proposed department would launch satellites and serve "development objectives."
The draft legislation will now be referred to parliament for approval.
The proposed space agency has been a talking point in Egypt since the 1960s and comes after the country previously commissioned a satellite, Misr Sat 1, to be launched outside of Egypt.
The government believes that it will boost Egypt’s image in the space industry while critics believe it is a waste of money at a time when around 30% of the country’s population lives below the poverty line.
Officials believe that the program will benefit the country's economy following the launch of satellites designed to comb the country's vast desert for natural resources.
In fact, Essam Heggy, then scientific consultant to former President Adly Mansour, said in 2014 that the agency's main purpose would be to help Egypt manage and study its natural resources, a task which would almost certainly boost the country's ailing economy.
Mohammed Sallam is currently training to take part in theinternational Mars One mission and hopes to be the first Egyptian astronaut to set foot on Mars.
He is conflicted about whether now is the right time for Egypt to join the space race.
“We’ve been wanting this for so long but I’m kind of confused personally because we need a space program if we want to move forward to be a more educated country and catch the wave of the space industry over the next 20-30 years. From an objective point of view it is great,” he told Al Bawaba News.
“But on the other hand, I’m not sure if we are really ready to be a successful space agency right now because education in our country is not even on the map. I don’t know how they will guarantee that it will be successful. There's no point in having a space agency if you can’t guarantee that it is going to work if it doesn’t then it is a waste of money,” he added.
Sallam's concerns about the country's education system are not unfounded.
Public spending on education made up only three percent ($7.36bn) of the country's total budget for 2016 / 17.
Meanwhile, that amount was increased to $10.19bn in the 2017 / 18 budget although any positive effects are likely to be offset given the devaluation of the Egyptian Pound.
The end result is that the many of the country's public schools are massively underfunded, teachers are paid low wages, classrooms are crowded and the overall pupil experience is poor.
“From a financial point of view, I think we should focus 90% of our income on education. If you don’t do that then you aren’t focusing on the main issue," Sallam said.
"It's like buying the best car in the world without knowing how to drive,” he added.
The difference between Egypt and the United Arab Emirates is stark when it comes to their space amibitions and the education systems with which they plan to fuel them.
In 2017, the UAE devoted around 20 percent of country's budget to funding the country's education system.
Meanwhile, the country's space program plans to not only land on Mars, but build a city on the Red Planet within 100 years.
Speaking in February, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed expressed his hopes that UAE nationals would lead the ambitious program.
“The Mars 2117 Project is a long-term project, Our first objective is to develop our educational system so our sons will be able to lead scientific research across the various sectors,” he said at World Government Summit in Dubai.
Speaking about the UAE program, Sallam admits that he admires the work of the UAE program and hopes that the Egyptian project will be similarly impressive."Right now in the UAE they have a space agency and they are doing fantastic work. When I researched it I found that they have over 200 engineers and all of them are from the UAE. That's amazing. I'm jealous of something like that," he said.
The exact cost of the Egyptian program has yet to be released by the government and numerous requests from Al Bawaba News for an interview went unanswered by the body currently in charge of Egypt’s space ambitions - The National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences.
Life in Egypt has worsened for many since the collapse of the national currency last year.
Even before this, 30 percent lived below the poverty line and many relied on government subsidized goods to make ends meet.
Earlier this year, the government scrapped fuel subsidies after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi approved a draft state budget that reduces the budget deficit to 9.8 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) from 11.5 percent.
Alongside fuel, electricity and water prices have also been hiked by the government in recent months.
Meanwhile, the government’s decision to float the country’s currency last year - a move which saw the value of the EGP drop by half against the USD - had a knock-on effect and sent the price of many everyday goods and services on the streets of Egypt soaring.
Despite this, the government has found the cash to invest in the fledgling space agency, which will initially be used to launch satellites and study weather patterns rather than training astronauts and launching spacecraft like the United Arab Emirates.
The country's first Egyptian launched satellite, Misr Sat 2, could be launched as early as 2021.
“We need it and we’re eventually going to need to take the step at some time, Sallam said.
“But speaking in the long run, our education system is struggling because it has so many problems. We as a country need to focus on only education to focus solely on education for the next 5 years in order to have our own space agency that works correctly and to produce generations of scientists and engineers,” he added.
Sallam believes that if the successful then it will need to put home grown talent firmly at the helm of the operation.
“If I have a space program I want to be the employer and the employee so that is why we need education and grow a new generation of scientists and engineers so that we can have a successful space program," he said.
We have so many great people who’ve worked in the space field, we have so many to rely on but we definitely will because we don’t know much about space,” he added.
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