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Beryl Lieff Benderly

Freeing Tunisian Science

The images of vast popular uprisings in Arab capitals that have riveted the world’s attention in recent days appear to have little to do with science.  But, reports Nature‘s Declan Butler, the overthrow of Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and his replacement with a transitional government promises a new era of intellectual and scientific freedom.  Tunisian scientists he spoke with are jubilant at the prospect of new-found liberty and the end of stultifying, government-imposed nepotism in universities and research institutions. 

Thanks to the policies of Ben Ali’s predecessor, Tunisia has one of the Arab world’s stronger scientific establishments, Nature notes.  And the transitional government’s newly appointed secretary of state for higher education, Fouzia Charfi, foresees continued support for scientific research as well as university reforms to emphasize creativity and entrepreneurship and better prepare graduates for the job market.  “There is no point in having degrees that lead nowhere,” she told Nature.  Change will take time, she notes, but, given her own background as both a teacher of physics and the widow of an education minister who was also a leader of the Tunisian League for the Defense of Human Rights, she already seems to embody the vision of a promising future that animates many in Tunisia’s scientific scene.