A little foresight can save science from dying in the Middle-East

A report published in Science Magazine has revealed how the Arab blockade is harmfully affecting scientific developments in Qatar. But in the end, if the standoff continues, it will prove to be mutually destructive. Everyone loses when it comes to science.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain have ordered their citizens to leave Qatar. Students and visiting scientists have had to exit the country, along with Qataris in the blockade countries. It disrupted or ended the education of aspiring scientists in the entire Middle-East.

The blockade has disturbed shipments to Qatar of lab reagents and equipment, which came mostly from UAE. Qatari researchers can’t easily exchange materials with their gulf neighbors, and vice versa. The blockade has put on hold some grants with Egypt, UAE, and Saudi Arabia in fields from solid state physics to coral reefs. King Abdullah University of Science & Technology in Thuwal, Saudi Arabia, told faculty on five grants to end the projects. Scientists in the emirates could face jail time and fines if they show sympathy for Qatar. Another casualty of the tensions are eight projects in biomedicine and other areas, funded in 2016 by Qatar University and four Saudi and UAE universities.

Contingents from Qatar’s neighbors are disappearing from scientific meetings, and Qatari scientists are barred from entering UAE, Bahrain, or Saudi Arabia for conferences there. Truly a lose-lose situation. It is not just Qatar, but the Arab bloc will be bearing the consequences of its actions, too. Scientific developments in Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain will also suffer.

Burgeoning biomedical cooperation between the Gulf countries is critical since they share common disease challenges that can be best handled through collective R&D investments.

Perhaps, they fail to recognise the significance of knowledge economy. Reliance on oil and natural gas will not last. Science is the engine of future prosperity. Economists have said that a third to a half of U.S. economic growth has resulted from basic research since World War II.

Qatar, Saudi, UAE and Bahrain must remember that their collective future depends on the decisions they take today. There will be pressing issues to handle, from providing energy security to curing illnesses, to living sustainably in a world that’s not infinite. The ongoing crisis will one day end. What will remain is the challenge future poses. And only uninterrupted collaboration in research and innovation can help secure the Middle-East.

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