COVID-19: Dampening Middle Eastern Unrest
First published 21st March 2020
by Tom Warneke
Middle East| Understanding Your World | Resolving Incidents & Crisis
Across the Middle East, protests and messages that once filled streets have gone quiet due to the Coronavirus outbreak. While this is primarily out of a health concern for themselves, it’s likely that the coronavirus outbreak may in fact fuel their protest causes due to the political, economic and social damage that coronavirus is causing globally.
Following on from the string of uprising in 2019, protests across the Middle East and North Africa region are all feeling the impacts of COVID-19.
The fear of viral spread as well as local laws prohibiting gatherings and events has impacted the protest movements we’ve previously seen and it has had a far greater impact than the simple threat of national security forces.
Underlying reasons for protest remain and are unresolved in fact many of the underlying reasons are likely exacerbated by the economic crisis cohabiting the virus outbreak. This means that while protests may be limited in the short term, in the longer term unrest is likely to be sparked to a greater degree once the threat of COVID-19 has passed.
People are concerned about contracting the virus with the streets of Beirut relatively quiet. Protests in Baghdad as well as southern Iraq have also cleared the streets until the outbreak passes. Algerian protests have been called off for the first time in a year. Of course, the underlying reasons haven’t gone away but for the greater good and the medical imperatives — the streets have gone quiet.
Back Stronger than ever
Given that the underlying causes are still prevalent and with the economic and political impacts of COVID-19 being so enormous, it’s likely the damage could exacerbate the underlying reasons further.
With weakened political systems, gaps in state based resources and potentially damaged social resources and limited social programs, nation states may indeed have trouble just running the day to day let along meeting the demands of the protestors.
Whether it be the economic concerns of Lebanon where they see the worst economic conditions in over 30 years or the unemployment rate and mismanagement of funds seen in Iraq, these crises look set to worsen in the near term. These are further impacted by the oil price war currently underway between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
While the short term (3–6 months) are likely to see a continuation in people staying home and not taking to the streets, it’s likely as soon as we see a reprieve in the coronavirus outbreak, that populations will resume their places in the streets. We may even see more unrest in places previously unexperienced due to the strain that coronavirus will have put on politics, economics and social systems.
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