Egyptian lawmakers on Monday approved a long-awaited law formally establishing the nation’s space agency, while announcing a planned research satellite launch with partners Japan and China.
Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar, Egypt’s Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, showed MPs a model of the satellite and said its components will be built by Egyptians at the new space center to the east of Cairo. Egypt has been developing the site, with some 100 acres set aside for work on the Misr Sat 2 satellite project and another 23 acres planned for other projects.
In September, China and Egypt – meeting on the sidelines of the BRICS summit in Xiamen – signed a memorandum of understanding covering China’s USD$45 million commitment to building the satellite with a timeline for launch in 2019. China previously committed $23 million toward Egypt’s space program. In addition to China and Japan, Egypt’s space program also has research partnerships with the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency, the European Union and the United States.
The law establishing the Egyptian Space Agency was approved by the State Council after passing through parliament, where it was welcomed by at least one MP who stressed the need to keep Egyptian talent at home. More than 100 scientists have left the country in recent years to pursue opportunities in their field elsewhere, said Mohamed El-Sewedi. They include Akram Amin Abdellatif, an aerospace design doctoral student studying in Germany who is the first Egyptian astronaut accepted into a NASA training program in the U.S.
Yet for all the international cooperation and science diplomacy in space-related disciplines, the debate turned political as one MP said Egypt’s alignment with China and Japan should serve as a rebuke to the U.S.
Ahmed Khalil of the Nour Party said the space agency decision should be seen as a counterweight to American President Donald Trump’s threats to nations who fail to support the U.S. on the Jerusalem issue. “I think the best response to these arrogant threats is to step up technological cooperation with countries like Japan and China to build locally-based industries and technologies,” Khalil told news outlet Al Ahram.