Saudi Deradicalization Faces the Future: Ilan Berman, Center for Global Policy, Mar. 11, 2020
______________________________________________________Coronavirus in the Middle East: Unlearned Lessons and Missed Opportunities
Dr. James M. Dorsey
BESA, Mar.18, 2020Iran has become the poster child of what happens when the public distrusts a government that has a track record of being nontransparent from the outset of a crisis, limits freedom of expression that often creates early warning systems that could have enabled authorities to take timely, preemptive measures to avert or limit the damage, and is perceived as corrupt.
Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei found himself forced last week to bring in the military to clear the streets after Iranians, already struggling under the impact of harsh US economic sanctions, refused to adhere to public health warnings regarding large gatherings, social distancing, and advice to stay at home.
Khamenei assigned the task to the regular armed forces after the Revolutionary Guards Corps failed to persuade Iranians to heed government advice regarding the epidemic, which, as of this writing, has infected some 14,000 people and caused 724 deaths and turned Iran into one of the world’s hardest-hit countries.
The distrust has fueled reports and rumors that casualties far exceed government figures and that mass graves are being prepared to cope with a death toll that is much higher than stated.
The Iranian regime was slow to acknowledge the severity of the crisis, which hit mere weeks after large numbers of citizens took to the streets of Iranian cities to denounce Khamenei and the Guards in protest against the government’s initial reluctance to live up to its responsibility for the mistaken downing of a Ukrainian airliner that killed 176 people.
Multiple Middle Eastern states, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Jordan, and Israel, have ordered closures of educational facilities, issued quarantine instructions, and taken steps to curtail or entirely halt travel to and from Asian and European nations badly affected by the virus. In some cases they are temporarily interrupting all travel to their shores, regardless of country of origin.
Nonetheless, an exponential spread of the virus could stress test the national health systems of both energy-rich countries that have invested in state-of-the-art medical facilities and war-ravaged nations like Syria, Yemen, and Libya, where hospitals have been prime targets of devastating air strikes.
Stress tests that fail could prove very hazardous.
Countries like Iraq, which is particularly exposed through its close ties to neighboring Iran, as well as Algeria and Lebanon, where many (as in Iran) defy advice to stay at home, have witnessed months of sustained mass anti-government protests demanding a complete overhaul of a political system perceived as corrupt and incapable of delivering public goods such as jobs, proper healthcare, and other services.
In countries where these protests have dwindled, governments have shown little inclination to capitalize on the pause to forge new social contracts. This could be done by using the need to confront the virus threat nationally as a wedge. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
The Risk of Fracture: Coronavirus in the Middle East
R. David Harden
The Hill, Mar. 17, 2020
The rate of coronavirus in the Middle East is growing rapidly and governments are acting to contain and mitigate its spread — including curtailing or limiting international travel, prohibiting mass gatherings, and invoking universal quarantines. Qatar has banned hookah cafes in public places to stem the outbreak, one day after closing schools and universities. Iranians are adapting to new greetings while it has also buried hundreds of its citizens. Even though these mitigation strategies are helpful, most of the Middle East will be unable to cope with the pandemic. Coronavirus in the Middle East likely will have two potentially catastrophic public health consequences.
First, the pandemic will likely overwhelm failed public health systems in Yemen and Syria. The international community cannot adequately contain the virus in these complex emergencies particularly in Idlib, Syria, Houthi-controlled territories of northern Yemen, and cross-border refugee camps in Jordan and Turkey. Incredibly, neither Yemen nor Syria has recorded a single coronavirus case, which almost certainly is not a function of its superior health care system but rather because of its governing dysfunctionality. Literally millions of the world’s most vulnerable could be at risk with mortality rates much higher than in sophisticated health systems in wealthier countries.
Second, coronavirus will stress fragile public health systems in densely populated urban centers such as Baghdad, Beirut, Cairo, and Gaza. With poor health institutions coupled with marginal water and sanitation systems, coronavirus could prove deadly to core population centers. Both failed and fragile health systems will likely accelerate the spread of the virus to the point where the Middle East could emerge as an unmitigated hotspot.
More broadly, the widespread transmission could have political, economic, and national security implications that may trigger further destabilization in an already volatile region.
Politically, the coronavirus is spreading in areas of Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. Any discrepancy in public health service or outcomes along sectarian lines may trigger political grievances against central governments and ruling authorities exacerbating religious/ethnic tensions.
The pandemic — along with increased political risk — will likely drive an economic downturn. The price war over oil between Saudi Arabia and Russia has severe economic consequences for the Middle East. Iraq, for example, will be stretched financially in its public health response. The continuing spread of coronavirus in Iran will continue to transmit to the Gulf, causing economic retrenchment in its wealthiest markets. Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia are experiencing a near zeroing out of tourism and pilgrimage travel during its peak season. Widespread job losses and firm bankruptcies would undermine the weak economies in the Levant region.
A pandemic, heightened political risk, and economic collapse would seed increased opportunities for adversaries including ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, or Iranian-backed militia groups to seek advantage or direct attacks against American interests as experienced in Camp Taji in Iraq last week. A perception of a weakened, chaotic America will green light further attacks.
From a national security, foreign policy, and humanitarian perspective, the U.S. has dual challenges. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
The Corona Crisis and Israel’s National Security
Itai Brun, Yael Gat
INSS Insight No. 1274, Mar. 17, 2020
The global outbreak of the coronavirus, defined as a pandemic, began to sweep through the world in recent weeks, including in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East (where the outbreak has not yet reached its peak). On Thursday, March 12, 2020, the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) broadcast a seminar (without any audience present) on the subject of “Corona, National Security and Democracy.” Participants included Prof. Gili Regev-Yochay, Head of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit at the Sheba Medical Center (Tel HaShomer), the economist Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, former Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. (ret.) Gadi Eisenkot, and INSS researchers.
Most prominent in the discussion was the high level of uncertainty so far among decision makers and the general public alike in what pertains to the crisis. Past experience is only partly relevant, and there are huge gaps in knowledge and information about this virus and how it spreads, making it hard to analyze the situation and choose the optimal ways to handle it. All this is compounded by the need to deal with the ease of spreading fake news – lies, distortions, spin, errors, and conspiracy theories. The following summary of the discussion outlines possible scenarios and points to issues for follow-up and further discussion as the crisis unfolds.
The International System
Participants analyzed two main global scenarios. The first is more optimistic (“like a severe flu”), where the measures taken are effective and perhaps the warmer weather in April-May will significantly slow the spread of the virus, and the epidemic will be successfully contained in China, most European countries, and the United States. Once trade links and the economy return to normal in the second and third quarters of the year, and the tourism and aviation sectors recover, there will be only a minor decrease in annual GDP.
The second scenario is more pessimistic (“a lengthy pandemic”), whereby most countries will be unable to control the rate of infection and contain the disease at least in the next six months (and apparently until the end of the year). In this situation, there will be very serious damage to trade and economic relations, and to the movement of people and goods between countries. All economies will suffer a severe recession, with heavy damage to global production, and there will be millions of fatalities worldwide.
The crisis will not lead to a decision in the superpower competition, and it appears that no global actors will emerge unscathed. At least in the short term, international actors will likely withdraw into themselves, isolationist policies will become stronger, and the willingness of the powers to help countries suffering from the virus will be very limited. Radical elements (such as extreme right wing movements, terror organizations, and autocratic regimes) can exploit such a situation to take action under cover of panic. Perhaps, as one participant posited, the corona crisis has exposed the weaknesses of globalization and could eventually, in the longer term, lead to a rethinking of some of its most prominent features (such as widespread aviation, urban density, dependence on an international supply chain, and the uncontrolled spread of false information). … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
Saudi Deradicalization Faces the Future
Center for Global Policy, Mar. 11, 2020
Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a monumental transition. This shift, set in motion by Vision 2030,” the signature initiative of de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has expanded since the Vision’s formal launch in 2016 to touch upon virtually every aspect of life within the Kingdom. It entails dramatic shifts in the national economy as the country reorients away from its traditional dependence on oil revenue. It is also visible at the societal level, with extensive reforms enabling greater economic opportunities for women, a loosening of restrictions on social interactions between the sexes, and a more relaxed attitude toward popular culture. Nowhere, however, is change more pronounced – and more potentially significant – than in the realm of religious affairs. By addressing religious extremism, this shift has become important to Saudi counterterrorism measures.
A ‘Course Correction’
Western observers have long worried over the profound, and profoundly negative, effects of the Kingdom’s decades-long efforts to promote the austere Wahhabi creed that serves as the ideological foundation of the modern Saudi state beyond its borders. This drive was made possible by massive, long-term infusions of Saudi capital; it has been estimated that, between 1975 and 1987, the Saudis spent some $4 billion annually on “overseas development aid” in assorted foreign countries, including the printing of religious literature, the establishment of mosques and cultural centers, and other related activities. These investments, in turn, contributed greatly to the rise of conservative, exclusionary, and extreme interpretations of the Islamic faith among Sunni Muslims worldwide over the past half century.
Today, by contrast, the Saudi government appears to be making a major effort to strike a more moderate religious tone globally. This is visible in the Kingdom’s attempts at dialogue, with Saudi religious officials taking pains to engage other Muslim governments and movements that they had previously ignored or denigrated. It can also be seen in Saudi religious authorities’ official interfaith outreach, such as the recent delegation of imams headed by Muslim World League Secretary General Muhammad al-Issa that traveled to Auschwitz to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp by Allied forces at the end of World War II.
These overtures, however, do not constitute an outright repudiation of Wahhabism on part of the House of Saud. Indeed, in his now-famous April 2018 interview with Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic, the crown prince refused to even acknowledge the existence of this creed, let alone its role as a driver of the Kingdom’s foreign policy in decades past. Similarly, Saudi academics and officials are uniformly defensive when discussing the country’s role in the promotion of extreme Islam abroad, describing the Kingdom’s well-documented exportation of Wahhabism over the past several decades as a “misunderstanding” or a conspiracy theory cooked up by the country’s enemies, like Iran.
Given these circumstances, the Saudi government’s recent turn on religion falls short of a fundamental change of heart or ideological reorientation. It is, rather, best understood as what scholars have termed a “course correction” – one designed, above all, to show the world a kinder, more inclusive side of the regime. Yet, whatever its limitations, this shift is nonetheless exerting a pronounced influence on the country’s domestic counterterrorism efforts. … [To read the full article, click the following LINK – Ed.]
For Further Reference:
COVID-19: New Reality: Center for Strategic and International Studies, Podcast, March 2020 — In this episode, Andrew invites CSIS’s Steve Morrison, Jude Blanchette, and Stephanie Segal to discuss how the coronavirus outbreak, also known as COVID-19, is directly affecting the global economy, health security, and international politics.
Coronavirus in the Middle East and North Africa: What is the Latest?: MEE staff, Middle East Eye, Mar. 13, 2020 –– The coronavirus continues to spread across the Middle East and North Africa as the number of new cases in the region surpassed 11,000 people on Thursday.
Coronavirus Could Fuel Middle East Unrest: Amy Harder, Axios, Mar. 18, 2020 — Coronavirus isn’t just wreaking havoc on our health, livelihoods and economies, it’s now poised to feed Middle East unrest and, possibly, terrorism.
Concern Over Syria’s Claim of Zero Coronavirus Cases: Abby Sewell, US News, Mar. 18, 2020 — AS CORONAVIRUS spreads around the world, the government of war-torn Syria has maintained that the country has no cases. But with testing limited, and in some areas unavailable, cases may be going undetected. International organizations and local health workers have raised concerns that the spread of the virus in the country, whose health care infrastructure has suffered heavily from the nine-year civil war, would be disastrous.