“The 21stcentury will be led by societies that are knowledge-based,” said Alaa Ibrahim, director of the recently launched Cairo Science Festival. “This festival is a step in that direction.”
Ibrahim was speaking at the festival’s opening at AUC’s new campus, where a talk by expatriate scientist Farouk el-Baz on the Apollo space legacy and his work with NASA was scheduled to follow.
As the first citywide science festival in Egypt, the event aims to take issues related to science and technology outside the realm of the laboratory and classroom, and present them to society through public lectures and dialogues, exhibitions and arts galleries, and the visual and performing arts.
“The [festival] is an initiative to bridge the gap between the sciences and the arts,” said Mohammed Dabbour, AUC’s director of student development, during the opening speeches.
Nobel laureates and internationally renowned scientists and luminaries will be taking part in the various activities, which will continue until 30 May.
For its first event, el-Baz, research professor and director of the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University, gave a lecture entitled, “The Apollo Legacy and Destination Mars.”
El-Baz worked with NASA in the selection of landing sites for the Apollo space missions and also trained astronauts in lunar photography and observation.
First talking about humanity’s primeval fascination with the moon, el-Baz went on to discuss his work with NASA and the moon landings, as well as the similarities between the terrain on Mars and Egypt’s southwestern desert.
He said that Mars was the Apollo of the new generation.
El-Baz also displayed a satellite picture of the Marsian landscape called Al-Qahira Vallis, which is a valley on the red planet that has been named after Egypt’s capital due to el-Baz’s recommendation to the International Astronomical Union.
“When Cairo was founded just over 1000 years ago,” el-Baz explained, “Arab astronomers saw the planet Mars rising while trying to find a fitting name for the new town near Fustat. So they decided to call the city after the planet, which in Arabic is also Al-Qahira.” The word literally means “the victorious.”
Later taking questions from the audience, el-Baz said that all civilizations go through cycles of “ups and downs,” and that, currently, Egypt’s “continued state of ’down’ over the past fifty years was due to placing faith in institutions rather than individuals.” He said that all that was needed to create renowned Egyptian scientists and individuals was to give young boys and girls enough self-confidence and respect.
Asked about his knowledge and experience with the moon and the various references to the celestial body in the Koran, el-Baz dismissed the idea of making links between science and verses in the Koran.
“It is very dangerous to try to explain the Koran with what we know today,” he said, arguing that such attempts tend to backfire with the acquisition of new scientific knowledge.
The discussion later broached religion again, with el-Baz saying that education needed to be a number-one priority for any successful society.
“God said, ‘read,’” el-Baz said in reference to what’s believed to be the first Koranic command to the Prophet Mohammed, “not eat, or pray, or put your veil on this way or that, or enter the bathroom with your right or left foot, and all that talk … that has nothing to do with religion.”
The lecture, which was conducted in English, was also presented yesterday at Cairo University in Arabic.
Other events taking place at the festival, which is organized by AUC, are listed on the festival’s website.