By Prof. Efraim Inbar, Israel Hayom—
The coronavirus pandemic does not respect borders. Middle Eastern countries have reacted differently and at different times. Eventually, however, they adopted plans of action similar to those of other countries. They restricted international air travel and movement within each country tightened border controls and adopted social distancing.
As reliable data are scarce, the dimensions of the coronavirus crisis in the Middle East are yet unclear. Countries do not know the true statistics because of deficiencies in data collection and difficulties in identifying patients with mild symptoms. Furthermore, some states in the region have sought to conceal the severity of the spread of the virus, which they see as liable to damage the legitimacy of their regimes.
The decisions taken by Middle Eastern governments in their fight against the coronavirus reflect differences in administrative capacities, medical infrastructures, and specific national political preferences.
In the short term, all governments are focusing on the survival of their regimes and existing societal systems. They have the ability to handle great pain and dislocation, since most of the regimes are not democratic, and their sensitivity to the suffering of their citizens is limited. The experience gained in dealing with the pandemic will improve the organizational and medical mechanisms in many countries, depending on the ability of individual governments to adapt and learn.
Presumably, with the end of the COVID-19 crisis, immediate and short-term needs will continue to receive preference over investments for the long-term future (such as how to prepare for another pandemic). This is most likely true for Israel, too. In the end, the demand that a state invests in preparations for every possible disaster is unrealistic.
In some cases, a regime’s failure to deal effectively with the virus – alongside the harsh economic realities in some countries (such as Egypt, which is facing the collapse of its important tourism industry) – may encourage Islamists to return to the political arena and try to undermine stability.
On the other hand, the internal political ramifications of the coronavirus on Turkey and Iran, which adhere to (different) versions of Islamist ideology, and which were late in responding to the virus crisis, are still unclear. There are signs pointing to even greater centralization of power in the hands of rulers. This is true of Egypt as well. Continue Reading…