Indeed, even in Egypt, the media has a long way to go, particularly to improve its coverage of science and the environment. “Egyptian coverage of issues like climate change and biodiversity is very poor,” says Hazem Zohny, a local journalist for Al-Masry Al-Youm. “In the Arab press, they just produce press releases and statements. The English press is better, but we can say there are only a handful of trained science journalists in the country. The rest just dabble.

“The problem is few journalists actually understand scientific issues. We get ‘science journalists’ who don’t actually believe in evolution. Their religious beliefs don’t allow it. What’s the solution? We need to completely change the education system. The idea of critical thinking doesn’t exist in the public schools. We also need more independent media.”

Indeed, while the decline of Islamic science resulted mainly from a broader economic decline and the closing off of trade, it also resulted from the failure of certain technological and educational reforms. Following Johanes Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press in 1450, for instance, it took forty-three years for the Ottoman Empire to allow the construction of one in Constantinople, due to the opposition of guilds which decried it as “the Devil’s Invention.”

Few in the Middle East would say the same thing today, but if science is to grow again the desert, it must be watered with more than just money. It will also require a truly free and open-minded society.

James Fahn is the executive director of Internews's Earth Journalism Network and the author of A Land on Fire.