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Bani Adam: the 13th-century Persian poem

Bani Adam: the 13th-century Persian poem

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, SOAS, University of London comes up with ‘Bani Adam: the 13th-century Persian poem that shows why humanity needs a global response to coronavirus’ to tell us that this novel pandemic per this poem is not locally that much of a novelty, not different from its predecessors and it is all about human connectivity.


Bani Adam: the 13th-century Persian poem
A 19th drawing of the tomb of the Iranian poet Saadi in Shiraz. Pascal Coste via Wikimedia Commons.

Coronavirus is all about human connectivity. From a philosophical perspective, I’ve been thinking about how this virus is forcing us to confront our common fate, highlighting our connections in the process. The novel coronavirus defies geography and national borders. There is no escaping it – exactly because humanity is inevitably interdependent.

In a beautifully emotive poem called Bani Adam (human kind), drafted in the 13th century, the Persian-Muslim polymath Sa’adi used what can be employed as an analogy to our current challenge in order to visualise this common constitution of humanity. It reads:

Human beings are members of a whole,
in creation of one essence and soul.
If one member is afflicted with pain,
other members uneasy will remain.
If you have no sympathy for human pain,
the name of human you cannot retain.

These verses from Sa’adi’s Bani Adam decorate the walls of the United Nations building in New York and the poem was quoted by US president Barack Obama in his videotaped New Year (Nowrouz) message to Iran in March 2009 to open up a new chapter in Iranian relations with the US. More recently, the British band Coldplay used the poem as the title of a song in their album Everyday Life. It’s a poem that speaks to the inevitability of a common fate of humanity, that unites us into an intimately shared space.

A common fate

This effort of conjoining what has been artificially divided through nationalisms, religious doctrines and other forms of ideology, was equally central to a poem by the German genius Johann Wolfgang Goethe. He was very much influenced by Persian/Muslim philosophy and poetry, in particular by the 14th-century poet Hafez-e Shirazi.

In his magnificent work West-Eastern Divan, a very early manifesto against cultural essentialism – viewing one’s own culture in complete separation of others – Goethe wrote:

When people keep themselves apart in mutual disdain.
A truth is hidden from the heart.
Their goals are much the same.

As a communicable disease, the coronavirus compounds our inevitable common fate. Our existence cannot be safeguarded in isolation, we can only survive together: my fate is yours, ours is theirs. Social media, for instance, has adopted terms such as “viral” to describe particularly successful Tweets or Facebook posts, which demonstrate the dialogues between our bodies and minds that are ongoing at every second of the day on this global canvass. This interconnected reality of ours merges (rather than divides) categories such as “us” and “them”, “self” and “other” which are at the heart of problematic ideas about today’s eternal cultural wars.


Read more: Philosopher in Italian coronavirus lockdown on how to think positively about isolation


Our leaders continue to speak about the coronavirus in distinctly martial and psycho-nationalist terms. Even in a staunchly secular liberal-democracy such as France, president Emmanuel Macron described the crisis in war-like terms. US president Donald Trump used similar words when he likened himself to a “wartime president” in order to describe his fight against the virus.

And yet at the height of the pandemic, Trump’s administration pushed through more unilateral sanctions against Iran, which has been badly hit by coronavirus, and Venezuelan officials . At the time when countries such as China and Cuba are sending specialists to the epicentres of the crisis, Trump has punished the most vulnerable members of Iranian society for the sake of nationalistic power politics.

In search of a global response

In the meantime, many of us are concerned because we are finding out, tragedy by tragedy, that there is a lack of multilateral cooperation. Our elected leaders are incompetent or helpless and rampant capitalism has focused much of our resources on profit, rather than on institutions that serve the people.

The coronavirus transmuted into such an all-encompassing pandemic for two simple reasons. First, our common biology does not respect any of the mental and physical borders that were created to keep us apart. Second, coronavirus revealed how globalised our contemporary world is. Our lives are so closely interlinked and networked that this outbreak travelled all around the world within weeks.

The speed at which the virus spread demonstrates quite clearly the contracted space that we are all living in on Earth. Yet our politicians speak about national remedies and continue as if nothing has happened, as if we can insulate ourselves forever. It should be the World Health Organization and other UN bodies which take the lead to coordinate global policies for global problems.


Read more: Why defeating coronavirus in one country isn’t enough – there needs to be a coordinated global strategy


Yet, in clear contradiction to what is needed, politicians continue to speak of coronavirus in terms of mere national emergencies. This approach compartmentalises what is conjoined, and contributes to the current crisis which can only be faced properly with global coordination and within multilateral organisations. But the UN and its auxiliary network is despised by the new breed of hyper-nationalist leaders all around the world. It is these leaders who have stunted our ability to resolve borderless challenges such as this current pandemic.

There is a common fate inscribed in our lives which demands global answers to global challenges. “No man is an island,” wrote the poet John Donne in 1624. It’s time that we act upon the science, with the empathy of a poet, and institute a new form of internationalism that acknowledges and celebrates our common humanity.

Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, Professor in Global Thought and Comparative Philosophies, SOAS, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Conversation

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Iran’s army sets up hospital in capital as virus toll climbs

Iran’s army sets up hospital in capital as virus toll climbs

The recent pandemic is sparing no country around the world. It is confronted in a variety of ways that are fundamentally tied to each country’s specificities. Iran’s army sets up hospital in capital as virus toll climbs by Amir Vahdat and Joseph Krauss could be a solution that if generalised throughout could not only bring results. It could shorten the hardships of all current healthcare facilities efforts of the neighbouring countries.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran announced another 144 deaths from the coronavirus on Friday and said thousands more were in critical condition as the military completed work on a 2,000-bed field hospital in an exhibition center in the capital.

Iran has reported nearly 2,400 deaths among more than 32,000 cases. Iranian officials have repeatedly insisted they have the outbreak under control despite concerns it could overwhelm the country’s health facilities.

Iran’s army sets up hospital in capital as virus toll climbs
People in protective clothing walk past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the Iranian army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran, on Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

In Yemen, meanwhile, the U.S. Agency for International Development began scaling back aid efforts in areas controlled by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels over their resistance to allowing measures that ensure aid goes to those who most need it. Yemen has yet to record any coronavirus cases, but an outbreak in the war-torn country could be catastrophic.

Iran’s military said the new facility, which includes three units and several isolation wards, was set up in just 48 hours. It will be used for patients who are recovering from the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus.

State TV on Thursday quoted Gen. Ali Jahanshahi as saying the hospital has been handed over to medical staff and will begin receiving patients next week.

Most people infected by the virus only experience mild symptoms, such as fever and cough, and recover within a few weeks. But the virus can cause severe illness and death, particularly in older patients or those with underlying health problems. It is highly contagious and can be spread by otherwise healthy people showing no visible symptoms.

The virus has infected more than half a million people worldwide and killed more than 24,000. More than 120,000 people have recovered, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Iran is battling the worst outbreak in the region. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced the latest deaths on Friday, bringing the total number of fatalities to 2,378 amid 32,332 confirmed cases.

He said nearly all of the approximately 2,900 newly confirmed cases are in critical condition. More than 11,000 people have been released from hospitals, according to the ministry.

Authorities have urged people to stay home but have not imposed the sweeping lockdowns seen elsewhere in the region.

Iran has been under severe U.S. sanctions since President Donald Trump withdrew his country from Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers. The U.S. has offered humanitarian aid to Iran but authorities have refused.

Earlier this week, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, refused American aid and seized on a conspiracy theory that the United States created the virus, something for which there is no scientific evidence.

Hundreds of Iranians have meanwhile been sickened or died from drinking methanol in the mistaken belief that it offers protection from the virus. Word of fake remedies has spread across social media in Iran, where many are deeply suspicious of the government after it initially downplayed the crisis.

Lebanon, which has reported 391 infections and seven deaths, will impose a nighttime curfew starting Friday. The country of nearly 5 million has been under lockdown for two weeks, with only essential businesses allowed to remain open, a measure that will remain in place for at least another two weeks.

Israel, meanwhile, has seen a surge in infections in recent days. It has reported 3,035 cases and 10 fatalities, mainly older patients with pre-existing conditions. The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has reported 84 cases.

Authorities in the Gaza Strip, which has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since the Hamas militant group seized power there in 2007, have reported nine cases.

Gaza’s health care infrastructure has been severely eroded by years of conflict and isolation. A major outbreak in the territory, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, could be extremely difficult to contain.

Another major areas of concern is Yemen, where the Houthis have been at war with a Saudi-led coalition for five years. The war has killed more than 100,000 people, displaced millions more and driven the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine.

A USAID spokesperson said it was suspending nearly $73 million in aid “in the face of long-standing Houthi interference in humanitarian operations.” The Houthis control the capital, Sanaa, and much of northern Yemen, areas home to 70% of the country’s population.

The spokesperson said USAID will continue to provide life-saving assistance in areas at risk of famine. It will also support U.N. flights, water and sanitation programs which are essential to preventing the spread of the virus. It will also continue providing aid in southern Yemen.

The spokesperson spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in keeping with regulations.

The Houthis have long sought to divert aid to their fighters and supporters. Last year, the rebels blocked half of the U.N.’s aid programs and resisted efforts to expand biometric registration and other measures to ensure aid was delivered to civilians.

But Samah Hadid, director of advocacy for Oxfam Yemen, expressed concern that USAID’s pullback could leave the country even more vulnerable to the pandemic.

“With the start of the rainy season, we are projecting that Yemen could face over one million cases of cholera this year,” she said. “Coupled with coronavirus, this would spell a catastrophe for Yemen.”

___

Krauss reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Isaac Scharf in Jerusalem, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed to this report.

Read more on the above-linked APNews original document and all the following related topics.

Coronavirus brings a disinformation surge about Qatar

Coronavirus brings a disinformation surge about Qatar

An article on disinformation titled Coronavirus brings a disinformation surge about Qatar, originally published by Coda Story is republished here as an eye-opener on how the world pandemic is currently made, as it were, good use of in the MENA’s Gulf region.

  • Text by Burhan Wazir
  • Photo by bphoto/AFP via Getty Images
  •  

A weaponized hashtag and fake Twitter accounts seek to blame the small Gulf nation for the spread of COVID-19

The ongoing blockade of Qatar by its neighbors is being further intensified by a new round of disinformation blaming the Gulf country for the spread of COVID-19.

Last week, Noura Almoteari — a Saudi Arabia-based journalist — posted on Twitter, saying that Qatar has known about the existence of COVID-19 since 2015. Earlier this month, she accused Doha of paying billions to China “to grow the virus.” She also coined the Twitter hashtag “Qatar is corona,” which has now been used hundreds of times on the platform. Almoteari stated that the country was spreading the virus in order to damage both the UAE’s upcoming Expo 2020 and Saudi Arabia’s future plans to diversify into a post-oil economy.

In addition to this, Qatar has come under attack from Twitter bot accounts that blame the country for the coronavirus outbreak. In January and February, numerous fake Twitter profiles advanced the theory that Qatar was responsible for spreading the virus to Argentina. The accounts have since been suspended.

The land, sea and air blockade of Qatar began in June 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain severed diplomatic links with the gas-rich country, after years of rancor over Doha’s foreign policy.

The blockading quartet issued a list of demands, which seemed designed to turn Qatar into a client state. The orders included that Doha cut all ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist movements, and that it shutterits media operations, including the broadcaster Al Jazeera. 

In the years since the blockade was launched, Qatar has faced repeated accusations from Saudi Arabia and the UAE of supporting terrorism. Armies of Twitter accounts and carefully orchestrated disinformation campaigns have become a prominent and ongoing feature of this diplomatic quarrel.

“The coronavirus campaign against Qatar began online as early as January, long before the current corona outbreak,” said Marc Owen Jones, assistant professor of Middle East Studies and Digital Humanities at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Doha, in a phone interview with Coda Story. 

“There were definitely some early disinformation campaigns on Twitter, which were basically saying that Qatar was responsible for the coronavirus, and that it had played a role in spreading it. People are trying to preempt the crisis and exploit it politically.” Subscribe to Coda’s Coronavirus Crisis newsletter

The disinformation campaign has also targeted Qatar’s labor camps — institutions common in Gulf nations, which house thousands of low-paid migrant workers. One Saudi newspaper has published a number of stories about the outbreak of COVID-19 affecting “hundreds” of people in the industrial areas outside Doha, where many of Qatar’s 1.9 million migrant workers live.

Qatar’s Ministry of Public Health says the total number of reported coronavirus cases in the country currently stands at 481. 

“I would say this is a continuation of the verbal barrage of misinformation and disinformation that is part of the Qatar blockade,” said Dr Sanam Vakil, a senior research fellow with the Middle East & North Africa Programme at Chatham House in London. “In this current iteration, it accuses the Qataris of spreading the virus. This will continue for quite a degree of time, and these sorts of campaigns are a reflection of how deep seated the tensions are.”

Vakil said the disinformation about Qatar echoed how other countries are trying to internationalize the cause of COVID-19. In recent days, China has sought to blame the U.S.; earlier this month, Bahrain accused Iran of “biological aggression” by covering up the spread of the coronavirus.

“While it is interesting these bots are blaming Qataris, I think it is part of a nationalist impulse that is not just unique to the Gulf in using an external crisis to whip up support,” Vakil added.

Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, author of “Qatar and the Gulf Crisis,” believes that the outpouring of digital disinformation about Qatar on Twitter must at least have the tacit approval of authorities in countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where social media is closely monitored. 

“The fact that such comments have been made by high-profile individuals in Saudi Arabia and the UAE without facing any official censure suggests that their messaging carries the implicit approval of authorities, who are in other circumstances extremely quick to police and respond harshly to commentaries that they do not agree with,” he said.

Burhan Wazir is the Managing Editor of Coda Story’s Authoritarian Tech and Disinformation channels. He’s an award-winning journalist and editor, based in London, who previously worked at The Observer, The Times and Al Jazeera. He lived in the Middle East from 2008-2016.

Get in touch via burhan@codastory.com

The Arab World’s Perfect COVID-19 Storm

The Arab World’s Perfect COVID-19 Storm

Nasser Saidi describes in a Project Syndicate article The Arab World’s Perfect COVID-19 Storm. The author holds that this recent pandemic analysed here impacts will be significant. It is perhaps the first time that these are equally shared not only throughout the MENA region but the world at large. Any differences will, however, be in the manner with which this pandemic is specifically confronted locally. Read on for a better perspective view of the GCC region’s future.

March 24, 2020 

In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, policymakers in the Gulf Cooperation Council states are rolling out stimulus measures to support businesses and the economy. But the camel in the room remains oil, especially the immediate impact on demand of the Chinese and global economic slowdown.

BEIRUT – Middle Eastern and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) economies are heading toward a recession in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, collapsing oil prices, and the unfolding global financial crisis.

The fast-spreading global pandemic – with Europe its new epicenter – is generating both supply and demand shocks. The supply shock results from output cuts, factory closures, disruptions to supply chains, trade, and transport, and higher prices for material supplies, along with a tightening of credit. And the aggregate-demand shock stems from lower consumer spending – owing to quarantines, “social distancing,” and the reduction in incomes caused by workplace disruptions and closures – and delayed investment spending.

The two largest Arab economies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are proactively fighting the spread of COVID-19, for example by closing schools and universities and postponing large events such as the Art Dubai fair and the Dubai World Cup horse race. Likewise, Bahrain has postponed its Formula One Grand Prix.

Saudi Arabia has even announced a temporary ban on non-compulsory umrah pilgrimages to Mecca, and has closed mosques. Because religious tourism is one of the Kingdom’s main sources of non-oil revenue, the umrah ban and likely severe restrictions on the obligatory (for all Muslims) hajj pilgrimage will have a large negative impact on economic growth.

True, policymakers across the GCC are rolling out stimulus measures to support businesses and the economy. Central banks have focused on assisting small and medium-size enterprises by deferring loan repayments, extending concessional loans, and reducing point-of-sale and e-commerce fees. And GCC authorities have unveiled stimulus packages to support companies in the hard-hit tourism, retail, and trade sectors. The UAE has a consolidated package valued at AED126 billion ($34.3 billion), while Saudi Arabia’s is worth $32 billion and Qatar’s totals $23.3 billion. Moreover, policymakers are supporting money markets: Bahrain, for example, recently slashed its overnight lending rate from 4% to 2.45%.

But the camel in the room remains oil, especially the immediate impact on demand of the Chinese and global economic slowdown. The International Energy Agency optimistically estimates that global oil demand will fall to 99.9 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2020, about 90,000 bpd lower than in 2019 (in the IEA’s pessimistic scenario, demand could plunge by 730,000 bpd). Indeed, successive production cuts had already led to OPEC’s global market share falling from 40% in 2014 to about 34% in January 2020, to the benefit of US shale producers.

The weakening outlook for oil demand has been exacerbated by the Saudi Arabia-Russia oil-price war, with the Saudis not only deciding to ramp up production, but also announcing discounts of up to $8 per barrel for Northwest Europe and other large consumers of Russian oil. Although the Kingdom’s strategic aim is to weaken shale-oil producers and regain market share, the price war will also hit weaker oil-dependent economies (such as Algeria, Angola, Bahrain, Iraq, Nigeria, and Oman), and put other major oil producers and companies under severe pressure. Indeed, in the two years after oil prices’ last sharp fall, in 2014, OPEC member states lost a collective $450 billion in revenues.

That episode prompted GCC governments to pursue fiscal consolidation by phasing out fuel subsidies, implementing a 5% value-added tax (in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain), and rationalizing public spending. Nonetheless, GCC countries continue to rely on oil for government revenues, and their average fiscal break-even price of $64 per barrel is more than double the current Brent oil price of about $30 per barrel. The UAE and Saudi Arabia have estimated break-even prices of $70 and $83.60, respectively, while Oman ($88), Bahrain ($92), and Iran ($195) are even more vulnerable in this regard. More diversified Russia, by contrast, can balance its budget with oil at $42 per barrel.

The near-halving of oil prices since the start of 2020, the sharp fall in global growth, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will put severe strains on both oil and non-oil revenue. As a result, GCC governments’ budget deficits are likely to soar to 10-12% of GDP in 2020, more than double earlier forecasts, while lower oil prices will also result in substantial current-account deficits.

Governments will respond by cutting (mostly capital) spending, magnifying the negative effect on the non-oil sector. Some countries (Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE) can tap fiscal and international reserves, while others (Oman, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia) will have to turn to international financial markets.

But will GCC governments be able to borrow their way out of this phase of lower oil prices? Global equity and debt markets currently are close to meltdown; with investors fleeing to safe government bonds, liquidity is drying up.

The GCC countries will suffer a negative wealth effect, owing to losses on their sovereign wealth funds’ portfolios and net foreign assets. And, given bulging deficits and the prospect of continued low oil prices, sovereign and corporate borrowers will find it harder and more expensive to access markets. The ongoing financial crisis will therefore exacerbate the effects of the oil-price shock and the pandemic.

The pandemic itself is still unfolding, and its eventual global impact will depend on its geographical spread, duration, and intensity. But it is already clear that in the coming weeks, there will be heightened uncertainty about global growth prospects, oil prices, and financial-market volatility. And as the pandemic continues its deadly march, the GCC economies – like many others – will be unable to avoid recession.

A Misery Dividend for Leaders in the Maghreb?

A Misery Dividend for Leaders in the Maghreb?

Intissar Fakir wondering a misery dividend for Leaders in the Maghreb? elaborated the following Carnegie Middle East DIWAN article.


Covid-19 may have given North African governments a respite from protests, but this is unlikely to last long.

March 23, 2020

In the short term, the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to provide the governments of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia with a respite from political contestation and mobilization. They have all struggled to varying degrees recently with popular dissent and challenges to their legitimacy. But in the long run, as each grapple with the economic and political aftershocks of the virus, the same questions of credibility and efficiency are likely to come back with renewed vigor.

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases has been limited in North Africa, despite the region’s proximity to Europe. As of March 20, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, Morocco had 77 recorded cases, Algeria 90, and Tunisia 54. Recognizing the vulnerability of their strained healthcare systems, the governments in the three countries responded early and aggressively to the new situation. They sealed their borders, limited social movement, and urged citizens to practice social confinement. All have closed down public spaces, including educational institutions, places of worship, cafes, and public transport. They have also asked non-essential public-sector workers to stay home.

All three countries fear that a pandemic would overwhelm them, as they lack the infrastructure or resources, or both, to respond to an outbreak. In Algeria, there are only 1.9 hospital beds per 1,000 people, compared to a global average of 2.7. In Morocco the figure is 1.1. And in Tunisia, which is closest to the global average, the number is 2.3. In comparison, it is 2.9 in the United States and 13.4 in Japan. While North African countries boast younger populations potentially less affected by the disease, 6.7 percent of the population in Algeria is over 65. In Morocco it is 7.1 percent. And in Tunisia it is 8.8 percent.

With regard to mitigating the economic impacts of Covid-19, responses have varied. Looking at border closures alone, Morocco and Tunisia must grapple with the significant economic losses likely to result from a cratering tourism sector. In Morocco and Tunisia, tourism contributes 19 percent and 15.9 percent to GDP, respectively.

The Moroccan government has created a fund to address the crisis. The fund was initially 10 billion dirhams, or $1 billion, mostly to supplement the needs of the healthcare sector. Given its limited budget, the state encouraged donations from businesses and private citizens, which helped raise the sum to 27 billion dirhams, roughly $2.7 billion. Moroccans were heartened and incredulous at the speed and generosity of the donations. The state has indicated it would support exposed sectors and has begun putting in place mechanisms to compensate some of the most vulnerable and affected citizens.

Algeria has taken similar steps, providing paid leave for mothers, preventing price gouging, and speeding up the importation of foodstuffs to avoid shortages. Algeria is something of an outlier in that its energy-dominated economy has never depended on tourism or manufacturing.

In Tunisia, the government put in place a fund through public donations to combat the virus. The fund has so far brought in around 4 million dinars, or $1.36 million. On March 21, Tunisian Prime Minister Elias Fakhfakh announced a number of economic measures and an aid package to struggling businesses and industries. But the country’s economic challenges, with limited economic growth, high unemployment, high public-sector expenditures, and low GDP growth, make the strain of Covid-19 even greater to bear. Tunisia is bracing for an unprecedented hit.

Painful economic fallout will once again taint confidence in these governments. Each of the three countries has faced sustained political contestation in recent years. This has largely been in the form of protests calling for a new political system in Algeria and more accountability in Morocco and Tunisia. All have been driven by the socioeconomic grievances that have shaped the region since, and even before, 2011. However, in a time of great uncertainty, as today, fear has pushed people to accept existing political structures as a source of certainty and strength, creating a sense of solidarity that has given governments a respite. It has deflated the opposition and limited the public’s desire to push for change.

As the aftereffects of the Covid-19 pandemic become clearer, they are likely to bring to the fore the policy failures that made the North African nations so fragile and susceptible to the virus in the first place. Economic mismanagement and underinvestment in infrastructure and human development have resulted in systems characterized by inequality and social precariousness. The governments of the three countries might be able to reinvent themselves in the short term, but beyond that the consequences of their errors are potentially destabilizing.

Jordan goes on virus lockdown as Iran’s death toll mounts

Jordan goes on virus lockdown as Iran’s death toll mounts

While Italy passed the 4,000-death mark yesterday Friday as part of the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. state of New York, after California, declared total containment of its population. At the same time, more than 800 million people instructed to stay at home in the world would include those of the MENA region as described by Omar Akour and Nasser Karimi. These inform that Jordan goes on virus lockdown as Iran’s death toll mounts.


AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Air raid sirens echoed across Jordan’s capital Saturday to mark the start of a three-day curfew, the latest mass lockdown in the Middle East aimed at containing the coronavirus, which has claimed another 123 lives in Iran, home to the region’s worst outbreak.

A man walks at Beirut’s seaside corniche, or waterfront promenade, along the Mediterranean Sea, which is almost empty of residents and tourists in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, March 21, 2020. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

The latest deaths bring Iran’s overall toll to 1,556 amid 20,610 confirmed cases, according to figures released by the Health Ministry. Iran has faced widespread criticism for its lagging response to the outbreak, which has even infected and killed some senior officials.

In one of the strictest measures yet, Jordan has ordered all shops to close and all people to stay off the streets until at least Tuesday, when it plans to announce specific times for shopping. Anyone caught violating the curfew faces up to one year in prison.

Several countries in the Middle East have closed schools, universities and nonessential businesses. Many are threatening fines or jail time to those caught violating the decrees.

Egypt announced that all museums and archaeological sites, including the famed pyramids at Giza, would be closed from Monday until the end of March. Mostafa Waziri, head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said authorities would sterilize all sites during the closure.

Egypt also announced the temporary suspension of Friday prayers and other congregations in all mosques. The Coptic Orthodox Church canceled all services and wedding parties, and said funeral processions would be limited to family members of the deceased.

Egypt has reported 285 cases and eight deaths, and there are increasing calls for a curfew. The most populous Arab nation is home to more than 100 million people. Cairo, the capital, is one of the most densely populated cities on earth, with more than 20 million residents.

Iran has been much slower to take action against the virus. It has urged people not to travel during the Persian New Year, a major national holiday, but many appear to be ignoring the guidance. Health Ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said the number of cases has increased in many popular tourist destinations.

Iran has not ordered businesses to close, though many have done so on their own. Authorities only began closing popular religious pilgrimage sites earlier this week, long after the first virus cases were detected. There are concerns the country’s health care infrastructure, weakened by severe U.S. sanctions, could be overwhelmed.

Most people only experience minor flu-like symptoms from the coronavirus and recover within a few weeks, but the virus is highly contagious and can be spread by those who appear well. It can cause severe illness, including pneumonia, in some patients, particularly the elderly and those with underlying health problems.

More than 275,000 people have been infected worldwide. The virus has killed more than 11,000 people, while more than 88,000 have recovered.

Saturday is Mother’s Day in the Middle East, and many took to social media to lament the fact that they would not be able to visit family members. Others thanked mothers who spent the holiday working as doctors or nurses at hospitals. One popular online greeting card praised mothers as the original advocates of hand-washing.

Although shrines are closed due to the new coronavirus, Shiite pilgrims make their way to the shrine of Imam Moussa al-Kadhim, a key Shiite saint, during preparations for the annual commemoration of his death, in Baghdad, Iraq Friday, March 20, 2020. The government announced a weeklong curfew to help fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

In Iraq, Lt. Gen. Othman al-Ghanimi, the army chief of staff, ordered a 50% reduction in on-duty personnel. Officers already on leave were instructed not to return until March 31, and women were granted extended leave. The military said all officers returning to duty would undergo medical tests.

Iraq, which has reported 193 cases and 14 deaths from the coronavirus, is still battling remnants of the Islamic State group.

A man walks down an empty street in central Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, March 20, 2020. The government announced a weeklong curfew to help fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

In war-torn Syria, which has yet to report any cases, the military said it was distributing masks and gloves to soldiers and suspending group sports as a precautionary measure. It said it was also suspending all recruitment — as well as penalties for those avoiding mandatory conscription — until April 22.

In the United Arab Emirates, the country’s National Media Council announced a temporary ban on “the distribution of all print newspapers, magazines and marketing material” beginning Tuesday, saying it was a measure to stop the spread of the virus. It said subscribers and shopping center outlets would be exempt.

Dr. Farida al-Hosani, a spokeswoman at the Ministry of Health and Prevention, separately asked the public to stay away from malls and restaurants, which remain open in the UAE.

The tiny, energy-rich nation of Qatar meanwhile warned citizens and residents to honor home quarantine rules. The state-run Qatar News Agency said authorities “captured 10 people” who broke the rules. It said those who disobey the orders could face prosecution.

In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinian security forces arrested 20 Muslim preachers for allegedly violating a ban on holding Friday prayers, the Voice of Palestine reported. The Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, has closed mosques and barred all group prayers.

Abdallah Kmail, the governor of Salfit, said a village in the northern West Bank was locked down after a man who returned from Pakistan and tested positive for the virus participated in prayers held in violation of the ban. The man was an adherent of Salafism, an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam, Kmail told the Voice of Palestine.

The Palestinian Authority has reported 52 confirmed cases, including 17 who recovered. Jordan has reported 85 infections, including one who recovered. Qatar has reported 460 cases, including 10 who recovered.

Even the authorities in eastern Libya, who have yet to report any cases, suspended all public transportation and ordered the closure of nonessential businesses. The government there is allied with Khalifa Hifter, whose forces control much of the war-torn country.

Karimi reported from Tehran, Iran. Associated Press writers Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem, Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Sarah El Deeb in Beirut; Samya Kullab in Baghdad and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed.

The Associated Press receives support for health and science coverage from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

Reactions to the Coronavirus Outbreak in the Middle East

Reactions to the Coronavirus Outbreak in the Middle East

What Have the Reactions to the Coronavirus Outbreak in the Middle East Shown? Wondered Michael Young citing four members of the middle Eastern elites on yet another challenge that the region is confronting.


Souha S. Kanj | Professor of medicine, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases, chair of the Infection Control and Prevention Program at the American University of Beirut Medical Center

The events related to the coronavirus outbreak are evolving quickly around the world. The situation in the Middle East is probably more complex than elsewhere. The countries of the region are a mix of rich and poor states, with variable GDPs and health infrastructures, and are frequently characterized by political instability and tension. War and violent conflicts have weakened health infrastructure in many countries. The influx of migrants through borders has contributed to healthcare related challenges. The region also has geopolitical and economic ties to both China and Iran, which recently appeared as the epicenters for the COVID-19 outbreak in the region.

There is a striking variation in the number of reported cases by country in the Middle East. Underreporting is thought to be prevalent, whether due to an unwillingness, and sometimes a lack of preparedness, to perform accurate testing. Syria, for example, has not reported any cases, despite its close ties to Iran. Its fragile health system is likely incapable of detecting and responding to the epidemic. The same applies to Yemen.

Some countries in the Middle East have raised the alert level during the past week by imposing school closures and other measures of social distancing. The Saudi authorities have cancelled the Umrah pilgrimage and access to Mecca to nonresidents until further notice. Some Gulf countries are requiring visa applicants to produce a negative test for COVID-19. Other countries are still reporting few cases. In Iran, the response was slow, suggesting an unwillingness to report cases before the country’s elections. Mortality among infected patients in Iran seems to be among the highest after China.

There is little to suggest that Middle Eastern countries have joined efforts to address this global viral threat. The Arab League has remained silent. No meetings have been announced to discuss the evolving situation. Arab countries in the Middle East have so far missed an opportunity to overcome political divisions and closely collaborate to contain the spread of the virus in the region. It might not be too late to engage in coordination, especially from the wealthier states, to provide technical, material, and financial assistance to their neighbors.

Amir A. Afkhami | Associate professor of psychiatry, global health, and history at George Washington University, author of A Modern Contagion: Imperialism and Public Health in Iran’s Age of Cholera.

Karl Marx once said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce. Nothing illustrates this more than the series of baffling policy decisions by Iran’s leadership that have resulted in the largest outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the region. Despite advances in the biomedical sciences and infectious disease control in the past century, the Iranian government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been hobbled by ideological, religious, and economic concerns.

Other countries in the Middle East have followed suit, often prioritizing their non-medical domestic and foreign policy interests in establishing travel bans, quarantines, and other forms of public health precautions. These religious, political, and economic determinants of infectious diseases hark back to the pre-World War I period in the region. Devotional visits to shrine cities and burials at holy sites played an important role in the dissemination of pandemic outbreaks in the Iranian and Ottoman Empires throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. Similarly, political, economic, and religious interests often took precedence over public welfare in the way quarantines, travel bans, and disinfection policies were established within the empires and on their frontiers. This shows us that historic social and political forces continue to shape the impact of contagions on the peoples of the Middle East.

Basem al-Shabb | Former Lebanese parliamentarian, American Board in general and cardiothoracic surgery

The response to the COVID-19 epidemic in the Middle East has followed the usual script in the region for dealing with calamity. Whereas human suffering invites cooperation in other places, in the Middle East it seams to accentuate cultural and sectarian tensions. As reports of cases were trickling out of Iran, the authorities engaged in denial. Only recently did the Syrian Health Ministry confidently state that there were no known cases in Syria. In Lebanon, flights from Iran, the epicenter of the epidemic, continued unabated and screening at the airport was instituted rather late in the game. Throughout the region, there is an undercurrent of sectarianism. While Iran wrestles with a massive epidemic, Egypt has reported only a few cases and, interestingly, Turkey has reported none. There is hardly any cooperation or exchange of information on COVID-19 among the countries of the Levant.

The epidemic has also touched on religious sensitivities, with some churches in Lebanon insisting on pursuing communion using a single utensil. There is no doubt the coronavirus has brought out the usual regional reactions of denial, delayed responses, myth-mongering, sectarianism, as well as conspiracy theories.

Bader al-Saif | Nonresident fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, where his research focuses on the Gulf and Arabian Peninsula

The coronavirus outbreak is a potent reminder that the Middle East is no different than the rest of the world. The outbreak has reinforced preexisting tendencies in the region, where it is no secret that systems are largely broken. It has further exposed governmental weakness, evidenced in ambiguous, inconsistent policies. Crisis management and transparency are largely lacking, and so is the faith of citizens in governments’ ability to protect them. Political considerations have triumphed over necessary health directives in various states, putting citizens at further risk, whether by allowing the continuation of flights from high risk areas, such as Iranians traveling to Lebanon, or deferring necessary testing, as in Egyptians traveling to Kuwait. There are notable exceptions, such as Saudi Arabia, where the state has managed the outbreak of the coronavirus and peoples’ reactions to it.

Responses have ranged from denial to fear. Some assume the virus is a conspiracy theory, while others are misinformed about its nature. The virus has also justified racist slurs. With most of the Middle East contracting the virus via Iran, the anti-Iran camp has condemned Iran’s irresponsibility and poor services (ignoring the impact of U.S. sanctions), with some even suggesting that the virus is a Shi‘a phenomenon aimed at infecting the Sunni-majority Middle East.

There has been a third, more measured response among less ideological people. These include business owners, who are concerned about the economic impact of the outbreak; expatriates barred from returning to their homes due to travel bans; families who do not want their children’s education affected by prolonged breaks; and sensible policymakers who have sought to jointly coordinate responses. The outbreak has reminded Middle Easterners of their shortcomings. They patiently are awaiting a breakthrough that would end the coronavirus outbreak, so they can redirect their efforts to addressing other problems long plaguing the region.