Egypt, Leadership, and Putting Men on the Moon: An Interview With Dr. Farouk El-Baz

Our 25th Anniversary Gala in Reston, Virginia is now just days away! 

140923_Photo Green El BazI was excited to have the opportunity to ask Dr. Farouk El-Baz, who will receive our Leading by Example Award at the Gala on Oct. 11, about the experiences and perspectives that have shaped his life.

Dr. El-Baz, a former NASA scientist who was born in Zagazig, is one of the most influential modern scientists to hail from Egypt. He has a long and distinguished record of service to Egypt and humanity.

Today, Dr. El-Baz plays a prominent role in the world’s scientific community. He continues to inspire students through his classes and research at Boston University, and has put forth a vision for a powerful and transformative Development Corridor in Egypt. In addition, Dr. El-Baz is currently serving on the Advisory Council of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.

Nermien Riad (NR): You’ve spent many years, in many countries, doing research and teaching. Yet clearly, you retain a strong love for Egypt. Why is that?

Dr. Farouk El-Baz (FB): Egypt is a country indeed, but it is also a notion  a thought that pulls you in. Once you feel belonging to Egypt, it remains in your heart and in your mind. It is said that “visitors who drink from Egypt’s Nile must return.” If that is true for foreign visitors, then it is much more to those born in Egypt.

NR: You played a key role in many of NASA’s Apollo lunar missions. What lessons in leadership did you gather from your work to put man’s first footprints on the Moon?

FB: The leadership of NASA in those days had one objective: to encourage each individual in the workforce to achieve “more than what they think they are capable of doing.” Each individual felt that his job was essential to achieving that momentous goal of reaching the Moon. I was neither educated nor trained in the things I did then. They were accomplished by self-learning, dedication, persistence, and very hard work.

NR: Like Coptic Orphans, you have a long-term commitment to a better Egypt. How is your research on arid climates, dersertification, and aquifers connected to that?

FB: Upon completion of the Apollo program, NASA enlisted my help in programs that applied what we learned to the study of the Earth. This was done through the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, Skylab, and Landsat programs. Through my inputs, these missions produced images of Egypt that explained things in a bird’s eye view. I began then to apply the new knowledge to help Egypt, especially upon my appointment as science adviser to the late President Anwar Sadat.

NR: You’ve put forth a plan for Egypt’s development that focuses strongly on innovative land use. Could you tell us a little about that?

FB: The “Development Corridor” was designed based on my geological knowledge of the landforms of Egypt and the potential of using them for the benefit of future generations. It opens over 10 million acres of land that is just west of the Nile for urban development, agriculture, industry, etc., close to the densely populated centers. Thus, it limits urban encroachment on the fertile land of the Nile and opens more vistas for innovation by younger generations.

The Development Corridor envisioned by Dr. El-Baz.
The Development Corridor envisioned by Dr. El-Baz.

NR: What do you miss most when you’re not in Egypt?

FB: When not in Egypt, I miss family members and my friends and colleagues. However, the “social media” ameliorates this somewhat, as communications are now much easier than in the past.

To learn more details about the Coptic Orphans 25th Anniversary Gala in Reston, Virginia on Oct. 11, and to obtain tickets, please visit our Gala web page. There, you can also view a video of His Holiness at our Gala in Canada, including his remark: “Bravo for your service. And I’m not sure who’s happier — you, or the children you serve.” Details about the Nov. 9 Australia Gala are also available there!

About Nermien Riad

Nermien Riad founded Coptic Orphans in 1988 after volunteering for an orphanage in Cairo. When she saw that most of the children had living widowed mothers who simply couldn’t afford to feed them, she gathered family and friends to sponsor children in Egypt. Today Coptic Orphans works through a network of 400+ church-based volunteers in Egypt, who visit fatherless families in their homes and make sure they get everything they need to unlock their full potential. That way, they don’t have to get married off as child brides, work as 10-year old family breadwinners, or go to live at an institutional orphanage.