Some Arab countries have taken exaggerated measures in order to confront the coronavirus pandemic. They may have resorted to intimidation and exaggeration deliberately in order to terrorise people and push them to accept whatever measures they take, and perhaps to achieve other political goals. This could, however, mean that disasters await us, not just the immediate and more obvious effects of the virus.
Stricter measures have been imposed in places like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for example, than in other places, including the United States, Europe, China, Japan and South Korea. Although most of these measures are justified and logical, some of them are anything but. Moreover, some Arab regimes have gone as far as imposing the iron grip of the security services and army under the pretext of protecting people from the virus, while it is clear that, in reality, the regimes want to recover their strength after the Arab Spring revolutions and they see the pandemic as an opportunity to do so. Their ban on public gatherings is a chance to stop protests rather than curb the spread of disease.
In imposing a total lockdown, the Arab regimes in question want us to believe that this did not occur to the US administration, which is facing its biggest disaster since World War II. They want us to believe that Arab governments are more concerned for the lives of their citizens than the United States and Europe; that they have imposed a complete lockdown in order to save the lives of their people, and that the Americans, Europeans and Koreans did not do this because they do not care about the lives of their people.
Parliaments have been suspended, as have the judiciary, political parties, public institutions, schools and universities, as well as public transport systems. The regimes have deployed soldiers on the streets, under curfews that prohibit people from moving or working to earn an income; all under the pretext of fighting coronavirus Covid-19.
Nowhere else have we seen such rigorous measures, not even in China, where the virus first appeared and is about to be eradicated. Ordinary life was not disrupted across China, not even for one day; the government isolated the affected region from the rest of the country. This did not require a full curfew affecting every Chinese citizen.
However, the problem does not lie in the fact that some Arab countries want to use the situation with the virus to their political benefit, but rather that there will be other repercussions when the crisis recedes. Economic disasters await the Arab countries, which face complete economic and financial collapse because no economy can operate properly when people are unable to leave their homes.
The risks of the Arab measures are greater than those of the coronavirus itself. Consider, for example, the situation in the US, where official figures reveal an increase in the number of people losing their jobs and filing for unemployment benefit; in March alone the figure rose by 3,000 per cent. Such a rise is unprecedented in US history. This is happening while half of the cases of infection are confined to one state, New York, and the US has not imposed a lockdown, has not closed its airports or borders, and has not closed public institutions. If the still limited measures that Washington has imposed have that sort of effect on the US economy, what will the even stricter measures do to the Arab world, where regimes are metaphorically tearing down burning homes over the heads of the residents in order to extinguish the flames?
This is not logical. We see people being saved from coronavirus while being left to starve. It is a catastrophe of a kind which we do not want to see happening in our region.
This article was translated from Alquds, 6 April 2020
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.