Disconnected politicians across the region are ll-equipped to deal with the virus crisis

By Claude Salhani

There is an international pandemic with the spread of the coronavirus and few countries have owned up to the severity of the problem and the challenges the outbreak creates. Yet, there were officials who engaged in useless polemics and political posturing that dented the public’s trust in the ability of some politicians to cope with the crisis.

From the inane phrases uttered by the president of the United States, who stated in front of television cameras that he knew more about this virus than some expert doctors after declaring to supporters at one of his campaign rallies, that the coronavirus was “a hoax.”

A few days later the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States surpassed the 1,000 mark.

Halfway around the world, there is the Iranian regime, shaken by lack of trust from the people for how it made things worse because of lack of transparency and blatant ineptitude. Shaken but obviously not stirred enough to snap out of the authoritarian dreamworld in which it thrives. Short-sighted reactions to the spread of the virus can be as infectious as the virus itself.

Syria, another authoritarian-governed country, is behaving in a manner not very different than Iran. The Syrian regime is, despite reports of scores of people contracting the virus and contagion being brought by Iranian militias fighting its war, stubbornly denied any coronavirus cases.

Not to be ignored is the risk posed for and by the tens of thousands of Syrian refugees transiting through Turkey on their way to Europe. Their movement could have been one thing that is pushing countries in Western Europe to try to keep their borders shut to refugees.

The leaders of Syria and Iran — and any other country that refuses to face the reality of the threat posed by this virus — should be well aware that such an attitude augments the threat of the disease. Such thinking builds on the ignorance of leaders who only make things worse.

At crucial times such as these, authorities around the world, be they medical, political, religious or otherwise, must suspend their differences for the sake of their peoples’ well-being. Sectarianism is not only outdated, it is blind to the reality of the cross-border threat.

This virus, like any other virus, does not differentiate between Iranians and Iraqis nor does it differentiate between Sunnis and Shias. Tehran’s inept management of the crisis harmed all people of the region.

Scientists studying the virus stress that people with underlying health conditions are most at risk. Yet, in the Middle East and North Africa, it is not only the elderly and the sick who are at risk. With few exceptions, inadequate systems make the region more vulnerable than others. In some Middle Eastern countries, the health-care infrastructure is very patchy at best.

More vulnerability is inflicted on the region by bellicose policies of neo-imperial powers. It is high time Iranians and Turks, for instance, curbed their expansionist ambitions and let their neighbours concentrate on much-needed development and rehabilitation of their socio-economic systems instead of having to cope with armed aggression and subversive politics.

The virus outbreak is another reminder that war has only compounded the region’s inadequacies and only prolonged its inability to meet its so many critical challenges.

Seeing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refrain from shaking the hands of European officials in Brussels gave one hope that the Turkish leader can perhaps be inspired to see other priorities besides war.

However, seeing his bodyguards struggle to check people standing beside him for virus symptoms was a sobering reality check. Then, the Russians’ humiliating video of him waiting for Russian President Vladimir Putin until the latter deigned to receive him should wake Erdogan up to the fact that war does not guarantee him greater stature or eternal rule.

Claude Salhani is a regular columnist for The Arab Weekly.

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