The Arab World Flounders in the Face of the Coronavirus Crisis

By Ramzy Baroud, MintPress,
8 April 2020. While the Coronavirus continues to ravage almost every nation on
earth, Arab countries remain unable, or unwilling, to formulate a collective
strategy to help the poorest and most vulnerable Arabs survive the deadly virus
and its economic fallout. 

Worse, amid growing international solidarity, we are
yet to see a pan-Arab initiative that aims to provide material support to
countries and regions that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 disease. 
The lack of collective Arab responsiveness is not
unique as it mirrors Europe’s own systematic failure, exhibiting ‘solidarity’
when it is financially convenient, and turning its back, sometimes at its own
brethren, when there are no economic incentives. 
For example, when Greece defaulted on its
debt to international donors in 2015, Germany, and other European Union
countries, pounced on the
opportunity to dismantle the country’s major financial institutions and to
profit from Athens’ mounting miseries. 
All the talk of European solidarity, fraternity and
community floundered at the altar of greed and unhindered profits.
That was not the first – nor will it be the last –
occasion when the opportunistic EU showed its true colors. In truth, Europe is
united, not by common history or unbreakable social bonds, but rather by the
shared belief that a united Europe is a stronger economic unit.
The same sordid scenario was recently repeated. As
Italy began buckling down under the unbearable burdens of the deadly
Coronavirus, it immediately, and naturally, sought the help of its European
sister states. To no avail.
Despite its sizable debt, Italy is a major player in
the economic arena of Europe and, in fact, the world. Indeed, Italy is the
world’s 8th largest economy. But the country’s economy is now experiencing a
rare freefall, especially in the poorer regions of the South, where people are
literally going hungry.
The first country to come to Italy’s aid was neither
France, nor, unsurprisingly, Germany, but China, followed by Russia, then Cuba,
and others. 
This palpable lack of solidarity among European
countries has further empowered the ethnocentric view already prevailing in
Europe, and championed by far-right movements like Italy’s League Party of
Matteo Salvini. For years, the latter has advocated against
European integration.
It will take months, if not years, for the political
fallout of the Coronavirus to be fully assessed. But what is already clear is
that international and regional economic hubs are actively hedging their bets
to consolidate their geopolitical positions in the post-Coronavirus
Despite bashful American attempts to join the
politically-motivated international solidarity, US President Donald
Trump’s humble moves arrived
too little, too late. In fact, a sign of the times is that Chinese and Russian
aid is pouring in to help
the United States, which now has the world’s largest number of COVID-19
A compelling question, however, is where are the Arabs
in all of this?
Italy and Spain, in particular, share historical and
cultural bonds, and broad political interests, with many Arab countries,
interests that will remain long after the Coronavirus is eradicated. Failing to
register on the radar of international solidarity with Italy and Spain will
prove a strategic miscalculation.
Israel, on the other hand, is activating its aid
agency, IsraAID, which has
previously worked in Italy between 2016 and 2019, after a major earthquake
killed nearly 300 people and left behind massive infrastructural damage. 
Israel uses ‘humanitarian aid’ as a political and
propaganda tool. Israeli missions are often under-funded and short-lasting, but
their impact is greatly amplified by a powerful, official media machine that
tries to project Israel as a ‘peace-maker’, not a war-monger. 
The truth is, some Arab governments do, in fact,
provide badly needed funds and aid to countries that are devastated by wars or
natural disasters; alas, these efforts are often disorganized and self-centered
– and frankly, not at all motivated by true solidarity. 
That said, the absence of Arab initiatives in the
field of international humanitarian solidarity dwarf in comparison to the lack
of Arab solidarity within the Arab world itself. 
According to United Nation estimates, there are “101.4 million (people)
in the region who already live in poverty, according to official criteria, and
around 52 million undernourished.”
A new policy brief issued on April 1 by the United
Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), projects that
an additional 8.3 million people are set to join the poor and undernourished
masses throughout the Arab world.
Aside from empty rhetoric and useless press releases,
we are yet to witness a major collective Arab initiative, championed by, for
example, the Arab League, to provide an Arab equivalent to the many economic
stimulus plans that have been set into motion in many other countries and
regions around the world. 
Late March, United Nations Secretary-General, António
Guterres, issued a ‘global
ceasefire appeal’, pleading to the world, especially to warring Middle Eastern
nations, to cease fire and to unite all efforts in one single war against the
Sadly, that call has so far gone unheeded. The war in
Libya is escalating, not subsiding; Israeli killing of Palestinians in the
occupied West Bank continues unabated; the flood of refugees out of Syria,
Turkey, and other Middle Eastern countries is yet to slow down.
Times of crisis, especially the kind that targets all
of us regardless of race, religion, or geography, often constitute a wake-up
call, present an opportunity for a new beginning, a new social contract so that
we may resurrect from the ashes of our collective pain to build a better
Let COVID-19 be that opportunity that will allow all
nations, especially in the Middle East, to take a stance against war, hunger
and disease, to share their wealth and to extend the hand of solidarity to Africa
and our historic allies throughout the world.