by Eitan Divinsky
With the Arab world enveloped in a struggle for survivual, local regimes' biggest fears are coming to fruition.
30/5000 Disinfection of mosque in Iran from the coronavirus ReutersAccording to a report that appeared in Israel Hayom today, The Arab world has seen its fair share of the international scourge known as coronavirus. It's enough to take a look at the catastrophe taking place in Iran, where the virus, according to stats published by the regime, has already infected over 35,000 individuals with the death toll currently at 2,500 and climbing, to comprehend the scope of the calamity.
Experts have estimated, however, that actual numbers of infected and diseased in the Islamic Republic are significantly higher and that the regime has claimed thus far, intentionally covering up the full scope of the tragedy out of fear that chaos and anarchy will ensue if the general public learns of the extent of the disaster. With most Arab states just a few years removed from the traumatic events of the Arab Spring, alarm over regime stability remains the common thread across the Middle East when it comes to facing the pandemic.
It is not without reason that the regional director of the World Health Organization in the Middle East, Ahmed Al-Mandhari, declared that much of virus-related data in the Arab world has been poorly communicated in the best case scenarios, and intentionally covered up at worst. The latest reports, he said, point to contradictory data that doesn't add up. Additionally, Arab nations have demonstrated a lack of responsibility in their efforts to curtail the spread of the deadly virus.
Fear of regime change has led to a delayed response in the coronavirus fight. In Lebanon, for example, flights from China, Iran and Italy were suspended only as of March 11, provoking social unrest and accusations against Hezbollah for taking orders from Tehran. Neighboring Syria, still mired in a nine-year civil war, finally ordered a partial lockdown in recent days, along with a curfew in only some provinces after the local health system reported the first virus infection in the country. Jordan seems to be the only Arab nation that took necessary steps for avoiding catastrophe on par with those ravaging Italy and Iran, closing borders, declaring a general lockdown, imposing curfew, and placing soldiers at entrances and exit points to the capital and other major cities in the kingdom.
Throughout the Arab world, healthcare systems are shaky at best, suffering from severe medical shortages when it comes to critical equipment such as: respirators, test kits, and essential drugs for providing life-saving functions. Collapse of health systems and local economic in wake of the pandemic would likely amount to angry crowds taking to the streets demanding immediate ouster of their leaders. In some Arab states, senior government officials have already begun making attempts to deflect blame for their inability to cope with the virus. Government-organized protests have been staged in Egypt, Jordan and other countries raging against the "American-Zionist corona conspiracy".
As the pandemic spreads throughout the region and the number of infected and dead continues to climb, a marked difference can be noted between the wealthy Gulf kingdoms that can afford large-scale acquisitions of respirators, test kits and life-saving medicines, and Arab states failing due to a virtual void in public health. On top of that, Gulf states have begun pointing the finger at Iran for flaming the outbreak as a result of the regime's poor approach to handling the virus while concealing crucial information.
Then, there are those who believe the global pandemic will put an end to the long-standing conflicts in the region, especially the Arab-Israeli conflict, thanks in part to close cooperation between Israel and the PA, as well as the one between Jordan and Egypt, as efforts to curtail the virus lead to closed borders and increased internal security.
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