Regional Perspectives on Impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


News of the approval for the mass production of several Covid-19 vaccines has buoyed up governments and people across the world. Even though much remains to done, regional observers and commentators are now turning their attention to lessons learned as well as the impact of the pandemic in specific countries and across the region. Of particular interest is the issue of societal attitudes, the instrumentalization of the health crisis to consolidate political control and quash dissent, as well as the discrimination against women faced with the constant threat of violence and declining health. The pandemic has also demonstrated the scale of global interdependence, a realization that some hope will lead governments around the world to rally together around other global concerns, including climate change.

The handling of the global pandemic has been treated very differently across the region. In the UAE, for example, one of the country’s main dailies—Khaleej Times—published earlier this week a glowing editorial regarding the government’s handling of the crisis, considering it “a chance to spread wings and prosper. The leadership believes there is always a silver lining in the most critical times. The country has made great strides by connecting people from various regions of the world and has made distances shorter. It is a vibrant hub of business and throbs with life. The leadership understands that this is a passing bad phase and plans have to be drawn afresh to make the most of a new global order after Covid-19. It is this positive approach that sets the country apart and makes it stand out among the community of nations. The UAE hopes to burnish its soft-power credentials after this pandemic and is already scouting for solutions while others sulk and apportion blame on systems and institutions.”

In Israel, meanwhile, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Sever Plocker considers the government’s handling of the pandemic inadequate, singling out for criticism members of the coronavirus cabinet, an ad-hoc working group within the Israeli government, who according to Plocker “seem to believe they have become experts in public health simply by virtue of their membership in the deciding body…. Most vexing is the about-turns that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to make as he chairs the coronavirus cabinet…. The coronavirus cabinet is a waste of time. The full government, which ultimately holds the authority to implement policies, should take over. But even the full government lacks the power to push policy through. All decisions must be approved by the Knesset committee on the coronavirus and are reliant on the legal opinion of the attorney general’s office.”

Mr. Plocker’s criticism is not an isolated case, as this Jerusalem Post editorial demonstrates, when it comes to assessing how the Israeli government has handled the health crisis: “The government could do a better job at transmitting clearer guidelines and instructions to the public, and the flip-flop this week on the night curfew is a perfect example…. As has been stated before – the public needs a steady, stable government to explain what it is doing with clarity and common sense. Unfortunately, that has never really been the case over the last nine months. Politics, populism and the private interests of different politicians or social groups have prevented the government from outlining a clear plan for how people can effectively combat the spread of the virus.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has taken quite a toll on Iran, continuing to struggle under the weight of crippling US sanctions. According to Press TV, the country’s central-bank governor pointed out Iran will likely struggle to procure the necessary amount of vaccine to offset the mounting number of Iranians affected by the virus: “The governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) says inhumane sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran prevent the country from purchasing coronavirus vaccine as the deadly virus takes its toll on the Iranian nation…. Hemmati added that Iran is pursuing ‘other paths’ to transfer money for the purchase of the coronavirus vaccine, expressing hope that such efforts would bear fruit with timely cooperation of all responsible bodies. Iran, one of the countries hit hard by the outbreak, reported its first cases of the fast-spreading disease in late February, about one month after the virus first showed up in China.”

Moving beyond country-specific analysis, some have looked at broader global trends and their implications for the region. For example, in an op-ed written for Asharq Alawsat, Akram Bunni concludes that, upon closer inspection, it is evident “the coronavirus pandemic has provided regimes with an opportunity to bully and intimidate. But the degree to which this opportunity has been exploited varies from one country and another. The discrepancies stem from countries’ divergent political systems and also the extent of the spread of contagion with them. While most democratic governments were keen on transparency and clarity, laying out the reasons for the measures they implement and explaining their urgency, and also cooperated and engaged with all segments of society, enhancing trust and encouraging them to take part in the effort to overcome this ordeal, dictatorial regimes did not deviate from their history of inflicting pain and continuously violating human rights.”

The National’s Kareem Shaheen noted recently that in some countries, like Syria, where violence and insecurity are ongoing, women have been among the most severely victimized by the pandemic: “The human toll of the crisis in Syria is well known to everyone who has followed it, even casually, since 2011. Over half a million are dead and half of the country’s pre-war population of 20 million are displaced, some internally and others in neighboring countries, Europe and farther afield. It is worth highlighting the impact that the war has had on women, and considering how these challenges have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, both in Syria and across the region…. Covid-19 will also further restrict women’s access to various health services including during pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum, as well as services for victims of domestic abuse, who will find themselves increasingly forced to live with the abusers.”

Omar Al-Ubaydli, writing for Al Arabiya, tackles the disparities in the way people process the death toll resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, which, according to him, is a good predictor of how seriously and competently a country’s government will deal with the health crisis: “Multiple outlets have reported that the coronavirus pandemic has failed to produce a comparable emotional response to tragedies on a smaller scale. In an apparent inconsistency, it seems that people are less emotionally affected by reports of COVID-19 deaths than those of war or other incidents…. Policymakers who have been successful in tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, such as New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, regularly emphasize how every life matters and personally interact with recovering individuals. Those who have fared less well – through indifference or incompetence – also seem to have generally depersonalized the deaths.”

Finally, with the vaccine in sight, there is a danger that we may soon forget the lessons learned. Anticipating the tendency to become complacent about lessons learned in the past, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an environmental activist, asserts in an Al Jazeera op-ed that the lessons learned over the last year may prove valuable when it comes to tackling other global crises, including climate change: “The economic and social devastation caused by this catastrophic global public health emergency not only underlined the importance of multilateral international collaboration, but also forced us to acknowledge the glaring social and economic inequalities that exist both in wealthy and poor countries. The pandemic showed us what happens when political leaders dismiss science and refuse to take the necessary steps to protect all their citizens, and the rest of humanity, from public health crises and other natural disasters. Hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods unnecessarily lost to this disease should serve as a warning to not repeat the mistakes of the recent past, and be prepared for similar threats that undoubtedly await us in the future. While we do not know what disease outbreaks we may face in the coming years, there is one threat that we know is already at our doorstep: climate change.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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