ZAWYA’s ECONOMY on 7 May 2020, elaborated on IMF reveals how COVID-19 could disrupt Arab economies. Here is how the COVID-19 pandemic by bringing unprecedented challenges, and strict lockdowns in some parts of the MENA region, could make it even worse for those petro-economies of the Gulf, the obvious object of this article.
Governments responded quickly to the pandemic and Arab youth will play a major role in economic recovery.
The Arab economies are facing a multi-level shock from COVID-19 despite the prompt responses by many governments in the region, the regional head of the International Monetary Fund has stated.
Low oil prices will not only further distress producers but will also impact non-oil Arab economies, said Dr Jihad Azour, Director of the Middle East and Central Asia Department at the IMF.
“Starting with long-term structural problems, Arab countries will have difficulties addressing the direct impact of the ongoing slowdown,” said Dr. Azour, adding that one thing that helps in the recovery in Arab countries is that they have young populations.
Two-thirds of the Arab population in the region is less than 30 years old, and this human capital advantage would play a key role in speeding up the regional economic recovery in the post-COVID19 market, he said.
Dr Azour expects Arab countries to continue their technology adoption programs as the economic recovery would depend on the efficiency of such initiatives.
What is needed, he noted, are dedicated efforts to implement what Arab governments and international organizations know are essential reforms to the structure and emphasis of Arab economies.
Oil producers in the Arab world should continue their economic diversification drive, he said, adding that ongoing COVID-19 pandemic should prompt countries in the Middle East and North Africa to focus on public health and social security. “The countries must work towards reducing trade barriers, decreasing financial vulnerability and avoiding high costs of armed conflicts.”
Dr Azour was answering questions in a webinar last night hosted by Khalil E. Jahshan, who is the executive director of Arab Center Washington DC.
In Tuesday’s IMF podcast on Arab economies, Dr. Azour said all countries in the region were affected by the COVID19-led economic crisis and most of them have introduced a certain number of measures to protect life and livelihoods and also to protect certain sectors in the economy.
“Most challenging moments”
“If we compare to the last hundred years, this is one of the most challenging moments in economic history for both Central Asia Caucuses as well as also for the Middle East and North African countries,” he said.
The IMF’s Middle East head believes the oil exporting countries in the Arab world will face the impact of the shock on their revenues and fiscal situation.
Countries with ample buffers could use them to mitigate some of the repercussions of the shock, but the economic management is going to be more complicated for the nations with less buffers. Oil importing countries will be impacted due the fluctuations in the levels of remittances, capital flows and investment coming from the oil producers, he said.
During the Arab Center webinar, Dr. Azour also provided some global perspective on the impact of COVID19 pandemic.
The current economic crisis caused by COVID19 is not like that of 2008-2009 since it has precipitated a deeper and wider shock to the economies of individual countries as well as to the international economy at large, he said.
What also specifically differentiates the current economic crisis is the degree and level of uncertainty associated with it. He said the international community and organizations knew what instigated the 2008 financial crisis; however, the severity and impact of the current one remains unknown, thus addressing its effects is still indeterminable.
He stressed that the IMF’s current policy, which includes loans and advisory services, is to give breathing space so that “emerging economies and low-income countries are not left behind” in this period.
He predicted that there will be a new globalization effort that may try to address the deficiencies of the former international economy. The international economy, he argued, will have to determine how to address challenges to growth and to make sure that this growth is equitable between low income and developed countries.
(Reporting by Atique Naqvi; editing by Seban Scaria)
. . . their authoritarian controls and surveillance as per Matthew Hedges, Durham University who elaborates on how the Gulf states use coronavirus threat to tighten authoritarian controls and surveillance. To help put things in their context and, before going into the author’s, here are in a few words, some details of recent happenings.
The Reporters Without Borders (RSF) treated the North African region as made of states accustomed to a lower ranking in its yearly World Press Freedom Index. Thus, in terms of press freedom, Saudi Arabia which still drags the story of Khashoggi, Iran, Egypt or Iraq did not reach their expected levels. Algeria’s ranking, which registers the largest decline in the North African region, responds to not only a conflicting political and social context but also to the recent prevailing lock-down. That situation has been characterised, through a yearlong peoples’ movement, by a campaign of intimidation and pressure on journalists, some of whom have been arrested for their coverage of popular demonstrations. These attacks on press freedom have also recently targeted online media that have been censored in disguise through a proper blockade by the authorities. This is the case of Maghreb Emergent made inaccessible for a few days to the Algerian public. These are “liberticide” procedures. In this regional picture, which is representative of the rest, Tunisia, which retains its 72nd position, is first in the MENA region.
Governments across the Middle East have moved to upgrade their surveillance capabilities under the banner of combatting COVID-19, the disease linked to the new coronavirus.
Overtly repressive policies have been commonplace across the Middle East for years, notably in Egypt, Iraq and Syria, where violent measures have been taken to control populations.
As a result of technological advances, an increase in political engagement and changes of leadership, the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – have also upgraded their form of authoritarianism in recent years. This has seen policies of partial economic liberalisation and market-based reforms used to obscure an increase in repression and surveillance, for example by containing the work of civil society groups.
Following the pattern in which authoritarian states tend to exploit common threats, some of the GCC states are now manipulating the current pandemic to enhance their social power and control – as I’ve explored in a recent article as part of a contribution for the Project on Middle East Political Science at George Washington University.
In Dubai, nationwide curfews have been put in place and enforced by the security services and surveillance. Authorities in the UAE have also introduced criminal penalties for the dissemination of information about the virus deemed to be false. Meanwhile, Bahrain introduced electronic tags for patients who had tested positive for COVID-19. In Saudi Arabia, people have been arrested for violating strict curfew laws.
Beijing’s recent admission that more people had died than originally reported in Wuhan, the original epicentre of the pandemic, shows the fragile nature of information and truth within authoritarian states. Likewise, it’s difficult to assess the scale of who has been affected so far across the GCC. According to official government statistics as of April 21, there were 10,484 reported cases in Saudi Arabia and 103 deaths from COVID-19. The UAE had reported 7,265 cases and 43 deaths, Qatar 6,105 ases and nine deaths and Kuwait 2,080 cases and 11 deaths.
China’s handling of its own early COVID-19 whistleblowers showed how authoritarian states often react promptly to the dissemination of news which could undermine their authority. Of course, the curtailing of “fake news” during this time is important to prevent hysteria and panic.
But from my own experience of being forcibly detained for six months and falsely accused of spying charges in the UAE, I know full well how these laws can be abused and twisted for ulterior purposes. The real test will be to see if all of these preventative laws are relaxed once the pandemic is under control.
The inherent weaknesses of GCC states are also being further exposed through this pandemic. GCC citizens only inadvertently hold the power of accountability over their monarchies, due to the lack of formal political mechanisms that generate and provide legitimacy in democracies. In essence, the monarchs hold power until they don’t.
In response, Middle Eastern states have introduced programmes in recent years that emphasise cultural traditions in an attempt to further centralise power using key figures within their regime. A recent anti-corruption drive in Saudi Arabia, which climaxed with the Ritz-Carlton incident in which more than 30 elite figures were detained in a luxury hotel, highlighted the ascendancy of Mohammed Bin Salman, the crown prince.
In the UAE, the security state has been intensified through the creation of conscription programmes which emphasise national identity under the patronage of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed.
Central to the current messaging around COVID-19 is the heightened value of “purity” within the nation. This notion has been promoted through the prism of the family, with the region’s rulers extending the meaning to include the nation in an attempt to retain cohesiveness. In the current context, for example, only one member of a family is allowed to pick up food during the lockdown in some Gulf states, and there have been greater protections imposed for nationals than non-nationals, many of whom have been deported.
But this comes at a moment when the so-called purity of the family unit is under threat as dowry costs, marriages to foreigners and divorce rates are all increasing across the GCC. This has helped maintain a heightened significance of the family within GCC politics. As a result, issues such as homosexuality, marriage to foreigners and now even COVID-19 are seen as a threat which has the potential to dilute the national gene pool.
The GCC states are also capitalising on a new vein of conservative nationalism across the region that is highly personalised and driven by security concerns. An era of assertive foreign policy from Riyadh, Abu Dhabi and Doha is now playing out as a matter of principle and survival. As a result, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have fortified their political and military engagements. Their closer ties with regional players such as Libya’s General Khalifa Haftar and pro-government Yemeni forces have helped keep these conflicts alive within a reduced footprint.
Back home, the GCC states have exploited the underlying threats of the virus to bolster their own survival strategies. In the past, authoritarian states such as the former Soviet Union often relied on crude illustrations of force alongside state propaganda. But the modern authoritarians in the GCC take a more co-optive route to manage their populations. They have been able to enact policies which undermine civil liberties, perpetuating their current political designs and generating no protest from their populations. So it’s crucial to understand how these practices are maintained, why they have the population’s consent, and upon what basis they will continue to be applied.
Well before the sudden irruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, we entered a phase unknown before, that of a slowdown in the world economy. The economies north of the MENA region were first to feel the pinch of the Dollar. The MENA petro-economies know this since the advent of oil. What they did not perhaps know is that it is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
A small story before going into the latest IMF blog of April 14, 2020. In Europe, the German machine seemed running out of steam, with a few small cracks appeared by the questioning the German miracle. The locomotive of Europe tired by putting up so much effort trying to pull and strengthen the stragglers of the union that are Greece, Portugal, Spain, and other Eastern countries.
These countries however were integrated into the European Union for geopolitical reasons aimed at creating a strong Europe in the face of the communist challenge on the one hand and US exuberance on the other. Without going into the technical details of the financial mechanisms and destabilization processes devised by the US, the thinly veiled objectives of the dominant states are first security imperatives and eventually the long-term control over global wealth.
Moreover, the countries lagging above have brought nothing useful to the EU if not ever more unemployed and care to manage. After Brexit, all that remains is Germany and France to pull the EU train. Germany, knowing that these countries were plagued by chronic corruption and mismanagement, did not want to sacrifice itself to fish them, and this is understandable because prestige politics is never good in bad weather. Indeed, the €500 billion injected by the state into the banks was the lifeline to avoid the crash of the entire German financial system and thus the collapse of the European Union.
The world has changed dramatically in the three months since our last update of the World Economic Outlook in January. A rare disaster, a coronavirus pandemic, has resulted in a tragically large number of human lives being lost. As countries implement necessary quarantines and social distancing practices to contain the pandemic, the world has been put in a Great Lockdown. The magnitude and speed of collapse in activity that has followed is unlike anything experienced in our lifetimes.
April World Economic Outlook projects global growth in 2020 to fall to -3 percent.
This is a crisis like no other, and there is substantial uncertainty about its impact on people’s lives and livelihoods. A lot depends on the epidemiology of the virus, the effectiveness of containment measures, and the development of therapeutics and vaccines, all of which are hard to predict. In addition, many countries now face multiple crises—a health crisis, a financial crisis, and a collapse in commodity prices, which interact in complex ways. Policymakers are providing unprecedented support to households, firms, and financial markets, and, while this is crucial for a strong recovery, there is considerable uncertainty about what the economic landscape will look like when we emerge from this lockdown.
Under the assumption that the pandemic and required containment peaks in the second quarter for most countries in the world, and recedes in the second half of this year, in the April World Economic Outlook we project global growth in 2020 to fall to -3 percent. This is a downgrade of 6.3 percentage points from January 2020, a major revision over a very short period. This makes the Great Lockdown the worst recession since the Great Depression, and far worse than the Global Financial Crisis.
A 165-strong international group including 92 former presidents and prime ministers, along with current economic and health leaders in the developed and developing world, have come together to demand the creation of a G20 executive task force and an immediate global pledging conference which would approve and co-ordinate a multi-billion dollar coronavirus fighting fund.
In an open letter addressed to G20 leaders, the group – which wants both to speed up the search for a vaccine, cure and treatments and revive the global economy – urges global collaboration and commitment to funding ‘far beyond the current capacity of our existing international institutions’.
“The economic emergency will not be resolved until the health emergency is addressed: the health emergency will not end simply by conquering the disease in one country alone but by ensuring recovery from COVID-19 in all countries,” the statement says.
The plea is for agreement within days for:
$8 billion to rapidly hasten the global effort for vaccines, cure and treatment;
$35 billion to support health systems — from ventilators to test kits and protective equipment for health workers; and
$150 billion for developing countries to fight the medical and economic crisis, prevent a second wave of the disease flowing back into countries as they come out of the first wave. This means waiving debt interest payments for the poorest countries, including $44 billion due this year from Africa.
$500-$600billion issue of additional resources by the IMF in the form of special drawing rights.
The letter also urges the co-ordination of fiscal stimuli to avoid a recession becoming a depression.
While welcoming the G20’s first communique on the COVID-19 crisis, the group is pressing the G20 to speed up an action plan.
The group states: “All health systems – even the most sophisticated and best funded – are buckling under the pressures of the virus. Yet if we do nothing as the disease spreads in poorer African, Asian and Latin American cities which have little testing equipment, hardly any ventilators, and few medical supplies; and where social distancing and even washing hands are difficult to achieve, COVID-19 will persist there – and re-emerge to hit the rest of the world with further rounds that will prolong the crisis.
“World leaders must immediately agree to commit $8 billion – as set out by the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board – to fill the most urgent gaps in the COVID-19 response. This includes $1 billion this year for WHO, $3 billion for vaccines and $2.25 billion for therapeutics.
“Instead of each country, or state or province within it, competing for a share of the existing capacity, with the risk of rapidly-increasing prices, we should also be vastly increasing capacity by supporting the WHO in coordinating the global production and procurement of medical supplies, such as testing kits, personal protection equipment, and ITU technology to meet fully the worldwide demand. We will also need to stockpile and distribute essential equipment.
“$35 billion will be required, as highlighted by WHO, to support countries with weaker health systems and especially vulnerable populations, including the provision of vital medical supplies, surge support to the national health workforce (70% of whom in many countries are underpaid women) and strengthening national resilience and preparedness.
“According to WHO, almost 30% of countries have no Covid\\\OVID-19 national preparedness response plans and only half have a national infection prevention and control program. Health systems in lower-income countries will struggle to cope; even the most optimistic estimates from Imperial College London suggest there will be 900,000 deaths in Asia and 300,000 in Africa.
“We propose convening a global pledging conference – its purpose supported by a G20 Executive Task Force – to commit resources to meeting these emergency global health needs.”
On the global economic outlook, the group proposes a range of measures and says:
“Much has been done by national governments to counter the downward slide of their economies. But a global economic problem requires a global economic response. Our aim should be to prevent a liquidity crisis turning into a solvency crisis, and a global recession becoming a global depression. To ensure this, better coordinated fiscal, monetary, central bank, and anti-protectionist initiatives are needed. The ambitious fiscal stimuli of some countries will be all-the-more effective if more strongly complemented by all countries in a position to do so.
“The long-term solution is a radical rethink of global public health and a refashioning – together with proper resourcing – of the entwined global health and financial architecture. “The UN, the G20 and interested partners should work together to co-ordinate further action.”
Bulent Gökay, Keele University elaborates on how Turkey tries to keep wheels of economy turning despite worsening coronavirus crisis. It, contrary to its neighbours, would not go down the same way. Read on to find out why.
Turkey confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus on March 11, but since then the speed of its infection rate has surpassed that of many other countries with cases doubling every two days. On April 2, Turkey had more than 15,000 confirmed cases and 277 deaths from complications related to the coronavirus, according to data collated by John Hopkins University.
The Turkish government has called for people to stay at home and self-isolate. Mass disinfection has been carried out in all public spaces in cities. To encourage residents to stay at home, all parks, picnic areas and shorelines are closed to pedestrians.
Some airports are closed and all international flights to and from Turkey were banned on March 27. All schools, universities, cafes, restaurants, and mass praying in mosques and other praying spaces has been suspended, and all sporting activities postponed indefinitely.
Manufacturing remains open
Many small businesses in the service sector are closed, and many companies in banking, insurance and R&D have switched to working from home. But in many industrial sectors, such as metal, textile, mining and construction, millions of workers are still forced to go to work or face losing their jobs. In Istanbul, where more than a quarter of Turkey’s GDP is produced, the public transport system still carries over a million people daily.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s president, has openly opposed a total lockdown, arguing a stay-at-home order would halt all economic activity. On March 30, he said continuing production and exports was the country’s top priority and that Turkey must keep its “wheels turning”.
But in the short term, many of Turkey’s export markets for minerals, textiles and food, such as Germany, China, Italy, Spain, Iran and Iraq, are already closed due to the virus. This has led to enormous surpluses piling up in warehouses. Even where there are overseas customers, getting the goods delivered has proven difficult. The process of sanitising and disinfecting the trucks and testing the drivers before they travel takes many extra hours, sometime days, after waiting in long lines.
Still, Erdogan’s statements give the impression that he sees this pandemic not only as a serious crisis, but also as an opportunity for Turkish manufacturers. The hope is that, after the Chinese shutdown, European producers which depend on Chinese companies for a range of semi-finished products may consider Turkey as an alternative supplier in the longer term. That’s why the government is still allowing millions of workers to go to factories, mines and construction sites despite the huge health risk.
A bruised economy
The Turkish government announced a 100 billion lira (£12 billion) stimulus package on March 18. It included tax postponement and subsidies directed at domestic consumption, such as reducing VAT on certain items and suspension of national insurance payments in many sectors for six months. But this is an insignificant sum for an economy as big as Turkey’s.
Most of the support will go to medium and large companies that were forced to close, and only a very tiny amount to individual workers. In order to benefit from the scheme, a person must have worked at least 600 days in the past three years (450 days for those in Ankara). Those with most need get the lowest level of help or no help from the state.
The tourism sector, which accounts for about 12% of the economy, has already been decimated. Some 2.5 million workers will not be able to work as they had been expecting to in the peak tourist months between April and September.
Limited room for manoeuvre
Even before the virus hit Turkey the economy was already weak, still trying to recover from the impacts of a 2016 coup attempt and a 2018 currency crisis, both of which caused severe stress to Turkey’s economic and financial systems.
In March, Turkey’s Central Bank reduced its benchmark interest rate by 1%, and several of the country’s largest private banks announced measures to support the economy, such as suspending loan repayments. As a result, the Turkish lira initially held up reasonably well, compared with other emerging market economies, but it fell to an 18-month low on April 1 as the coronavirus death rates accelerated. Official interest rates have fallen below 10%, providing some protection to those holding Turkish lira versus some foreign currencies.
Turkey’s financial options to limit the impact of the crisis are limited. Credit rating agency Moody’s revised its prediction for the country GDP from 3% growth in 2020 to a 1.4% contraction. Still, it may get a reprieve from the low oil price. Turkey imports almost all its energy needs, and with the recent fall in the price of oil and gas, this means Turkey could save about US$12 billion (£9.6 billion) in energy imports.
It is hard to see very far ahead. During the next few months, it’s expected that Turkey, alongside South Africa and Argentina, could be sliding toward insolvency and debt default. After that, everything depends on how this crisis progresses and how long it will take to end.
Qatar has about2.6 million inhabitants as of early 2017, the majority of whom (about 92%) live in Doha, the capital. Foreign workers amount to around 88% of the population, with Indians being the largest community numbering around 1,230,000. It will host the Football World Cup of 2022.
Migrant workers in Qatar who are in quarantine or undergoing treatment will receive full salaries, the government has announced.
Qatar has announced 781 confirmed coronavirus cases – the highest in the Arab Gulf region – and two deaths.
In a news conference on Tuesday, the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs (MADLSA) also said it was mandatory for employers and companies to follow the policy.
He added that a hotline service (92727) was launched to receive workers’ grievances.
“The companies are responding fully because they know that the workers were put in quarantine as a precautionary measure to protect all of us,” Muhammed Hassan al-Obaidly, assistant under-secretary for labour affairs at MADLSA, said.
He also said three billion riyals ($824m) were set aside to support companies in paying their employees.
“We are working 24 hours through department concerned for wage protection system to monitor the companies on a daily basis, checking the transactions, sending messages directly to the companies who are found delaying the payments,” said al-Obaidly.
“We will communicate with the workers in their language and will take the statement to address the issue. They do not need to come to the services centre of the ministry.”READ MORE
Those outside Qatar will be able to renew their Qatar identity cards (QID) without any penalties, he added.
Those who are unable to return home after having their jobs terminated will “remain in Qatar with proper lodging and food”.
“Some countries have closed their airports and, in such cases, an appropriate mechanism will be set on how to repatriate these workers to ensure they do not remain stranded.”
Reiterating Qatar’s policy of providing free treatment to all individuals infected with coronavirus, al-Obaidly, said those who do not have valid working visas and are illegal in the country would also be treated free of charge.
Amid growing fears over the spread of the virus, Qatar has banned the entry of foreigners after suspending all incoming flights for the next two weeks.
Last week, Qatar announced the closure of all shops, except for food stores and pharmacies, and bank branches. Eighty percent of government employees were also ordered to work from home.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In today's disinformation weirdness: New accounts created in Feb 2020 and Jan 2020 featuring pictures of attractive women are saying Qatar has been negligent in spreading #coronavirus to Argentina. What's also weird is their overlap with BTS fandom. Seeing a lot of this. pic.twitter.com/XEsj7CdCyn
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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