CAIRO: Shortly after taking on his new position as director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies (ACPSS), Gamal Abdel Gawad already identified his main challenge – reaching out to the public.
“We [at Al-Ahram Center] have been producing quality research, but the political and intellectual elite in Egypt haven’t been able to capitalize on it and definitely that is due to our own shortcomings not theirs, he told Daily News Egypt.
Heading one of the most influential think-tanks in the Middle East with an annual budget of LE 3-4 million, Abdel Gawad said he will develop a fresh strategy to lead around 40 researchers, who he admits are “underpaid, receiving around LE 1,000 a month.
Before taking over the ACPSS, Abdel Gawad was the director of its polling center, a position he assumed after receiving a PhD in international relations in 1998.
He explains that surveys don’t only depend on calculations, but rather on the surveyor’s knowledge of public opinion and attitudes. “You need the intellectual capacity to be able to raise the right questions, he said.
During his years heading the polling center, Abdel Gawad said that most survey results were condemned by the ruling political party and high profile intellectuals, who rejected the idea of digging deep into people’s minds.
“It was an uphill battle, we didn’t have much support, but 11 years later the scene is different, he said, “now the question of credibility is raised, rather than the question of [loyalty].
Abdel Gawad deemed Egypt’s political life as “immature, for which he blames the government and the way it marginalizes political parties.
“We are at a point in history where [political] parties are much needed, because in a society where you are liberalizing economically you have to liberalize politically, and you need those parties to help develop public policy, he said.
He added, however, that political parties “have been weakened over the last [few] decades, which makes it hard for them to offer alternative policies.
“There is a gap between the so-called political elite and the masses in general, he explained.
Abdel Gawad says that most research centers in Egypt are credible and that “things are improving.
Although the number of think-tanks in Egypt is on the rise, especially those specialized in economic research, Abdel Gawad says they are far from sufficient, since there are several areas that remain uncovered in Egypt.
He explained that because public debate is not thriving in our society, the demand for good quality research is not high.
“This environment is not conducive for quality research. Here at Al-Ahram we struggle to maintain the quality by broadening the exposure to debates in other countries and participating in global conferences and events, he said.
“This is the case for many developing countries.
Abdel Gawad draws parallels between research centers and the media, saying the former is more academic and the latter is about addressing the public as a whole.
“The great thing about the media is its ability to reach out to millions of people, which is every intellectual’s dream, he said, “the challenge is how to do so without compromising the quality of research you are doing.
Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies saw new appointments this year with Abdel-Moneim Saeed appointed as its chairman of the board last July, followed by Taha Abdel-Alim as general manager and Mohamed Abdel-Salam as deputy chairman of the board.