A frequently heard song at this time of year has the line, “It is spring time and the weather is lovely, let’s not discuss serious issues.” It was written by the Egyptian poet Salah Jaheen, who was well-known for his enthusiastic nationalistic poems during Gamal Abdel Nasser’s presidency. The Arab world waited eagerly for his songs on the anniversary of the revolution every year until the catastrophe of the 1967 Six Day War, when he was defeated psychologically and felt that he had deceived the masses. His music then took a different turn and “It is spring” was one result.
Spring 2020 is different, though: it is coronavirus time; the weather is depressing; and all serious matters have been locked away with the Covid-19 key. Issues across the Arab and Muslim world have taken a back seat in mainstream news bulletins and are generally absent on social media. The microscopic virus has taken its place as the world’s main focus and concern. Other disasters around the world are unseen, unheard and unreported.
Coronavirus has thus given the tyrants of the world the opportunity to continue their oppression under the pretext of countering the spread of the pandemic from which nobody is safe. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and heir to the throne Prince Charles are both infected. The virus does not defer to status or position: king and peasant, rich and poor; everyone is equal; only the people at the top of the pile promote inequality.
The result is that the mainstream media does not cover events in Idlib and the brutal massacres and violations committed by the regime of Bashar Al-Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies. The same is true of the battle for Tripoli waged by the Khalifa Haftar against the residents of the Libyan capital. The world appears to have forgotten the anti-Muslim pogrom in India and the ongoing discrimination by the Hindu nationalists against minorities in the “world’s biggest democracy”, as well as its undemocratic oppression in occupied Kashmir.
The genocidal “re-education” of the Uyghur Muslims in China and the massacres committed by the Chinese authorities against them are no longer on the front or any other pages. The same is true of the Rohingya Muslims in Burma. All of these major Muslim issues have been overlooked in the battle against the coronavirus.
Furthermore, did anyone on this planet care that the dirty war waged by Saudi Arabia’s Mohammad Bin Salman and his ally Mohammed Bin Zayed of the UAE against the people of Yemen entered its sixth year a few days ago? It is a war that has destroyed the country and killed, wounded and displaced hundreds of thousands of Yemenis. The conditions created by the Saudi-led coalition have caused an outbreak of cholera, affecting 2 million people and killing 4,000 of them. The UN has called it the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. What will this devastated country do if Covid-19 reaches it, a disease that not even the global superpowers, despite all of their power, wealth and resources, are able to cope with?What will the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip do now that the pandemic has reached the territory which has been besieged by Israel, with Egyptian and international assistance, for thirteen years? It is largely ignored by international considerations, and the health sector was already in meltdown long before the first coronavirus cases were reported last week. Israel’s blockade and frequent military offensives against the Palestinians have shattered Gaza’s infrastructure, not least its hospitals and medical facilities. The West Bank is also facing another catastrophe under the stranglehold of Israel’s military occupation. What has happened to the “deal of the century” and its disastrous plans for the people of Palestine?
Few are thinking about such matters in a world where values and morals depend on political flavours of the month, and human beings have become more deadly thanks to a virus that has turned the world upside down. As I wrote last week, the world after coronavirus will definitely not be the same as it was before. China, where the virus was first identified, is on the rise, sharing its Covid-19 experience with other countries and gaining economically and diplomatically as it does so.
The inevitable new post-coronavirus world order could, therefore, be led by Beijing, and it could go one of two ways: either more pragmatic and humane than the disastrous neoliberal free market capitalism that has been foisted on the world since 1980, or more of the same, with extra brutality and oppression thrown into the mix. Will we find ourselves thanking coronavirus Covid-19 for the global changes that it has wrought, albeit at a deadly price; or bemoaning the day that it appeared? That is a major question with very serious implications for the issues that have been locked away by the pandemic key.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.