Voices from the Arab press

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

People watch Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation amid concerns about the spread of corona, in Ahmedabad, India on March 19 (photo credit: AMIT DAVE)
People watch Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressing the nation amid concerns about the spread of corona, in Ahmedabad, India on March 19
(photo credit: AMIT DAVE)
WHEN MAN’S TRUE NATURE IS PUT TO THE TEST 
Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, March 29

One of the most interesting things about crises and natural disasters is that they reveal the true nature of man: his morals, his humanity, his patriotism, and above all, his sense of loyalty to others. The coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world from one extreme to the other, including in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has revealed our people’s love for their homeland. 

A group of real estate owners in the kingdom has taken the initiative to waive all rent payments for tenants while other owners have postponed them until further notice. Such generous initiatives demonstrate the loyalty and kinship that our countrymen feel for one another. These noble individuals understand that now is the time to return a favor to the country that gave us so many great opportunities. 

No matter how long it takes, the pandemic will eventually end. Once the storm clouds clear above us, we will finally be able to see how ordinary Saudis served their homeland in dire times, how they practiced selflessness and empathy at times of despair. Our country, my friends, is going through an unprecedented crisis and it needs you to stand up and make sacrifices! Those who fail to step up to the plate will be remembered. 

The kingdom has provided us with a sense of security and prosperity, and the time has come for us to return the favor to our beloved homeland. Just look around us and compare the fully-stocked shelves in all of our supermarkets, with the long queues outside grocery stores around the world. This is the ultimate manifestation of our solidarity and sense of obligation to each other. 

In this context, I call upon all of those in positions of power to help the state as much as possible. This is not only the moral thing to do, but also the egotistical thing: In the end, the survival of the country means the survival of our own wealth. This pandemic will not end unless we continue to share our resources, help each other and practice tolerance.– Muhammad Al-Sheikh
 
GOVERNMENTS BETWEEN THEIR IMAGE AND THE SAFETY OF THEIR POPULATIONS

Asharq Al-Awsat, London, March 29

The appalling COVID-19 epidemic has revealed a political crisis no less serious than the disease itself. It has reached a stage where some governments have falsified statistics about the number of morbidities and mortalities within their jurisdictions and have even filtered hospital information. All of this is done in order to maintain a positive image of these governments both internally and externally. 

The catastrophe is greater in countries that have not only kept silent, but refrained from taking decisions that might tarnish their image, instead choosing to issue statements of reassurance and denial. The danger of these practices has been limited not only to their own residents, but also to those of other countries. At a time when the world is seeking greater cooperation in an effort to curb the escalation of the disease, the Americans and the Chinese are engulfed in a major propaganda war against each other. 

The well-oiled Chinese media campaign celebrating Beijing’s medical achievements is matched by a deliberate China-smear campaign originating in the United States. This is despite the fact that US President Donald Trump spoke with his Chinese counterpart and agreed to battle the virus together. The call came after the G20 summit, chaired by King Salman bin Abdulaziz, which was held ahead of its planned date at the request of Saudi Arabia, given the grave international circumstances. 

Many governments are finally changing their positions after realizing that lying and obfuscating with epidemic data will come back to haunt them. Indeed, the virus has been most deadly in countries like Iran, which has refused to tackle the situation in an open and transparent manner. Governments that have neither the courage to announce the correct numbers nor the audacity to make difficult decisions will pay the price more than other countries, especially as we do not know the depth of the crisis. 

Honesty is not a virtue, but a necessity. The World Health Organization has already announced that it will support only those countries that declare they are more affected than others. This has prompted some nations to disclose their data and finally prioritize the protection of their citizens over the protection of their image. –Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed 
 
WILL THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS REVIVE REGIONAL COOPERATION?

Al-Etihad, UAE, March 28

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) is a group of countries in South Asia, similar in function to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). However, SAARC has never been an effective regional forum, especially in light of the growing rivalry between two of its members: India and Pakistan. Interestingly, the association – which also includes Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka – is now witnessing a reawakening in light of the coronavirus epidemic. 

Last week, during a joint video conference with SAARC leaders, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed a regional action plan to tackle the epidemic and announced the creation of an emergency fund, with an Indian contribution of $10 million. India committed to providing a rapid response team of doctors and health workers, as well as some test and examination kits. Other member-states also contributed funds, bringing the total amount at SAARC’s disposal to $18.3 million. This cooperation reflects a high level of shared determination to confront the coronavirus epidemic in the region. 

Indeed, the spread of the virus appears to be bringing to the fore previously unimaginable partnerships among South Asian countries, providing an unprecedented opportunity for more regional cooperation. In a separate effort to increase international cooperation, Modi held telephone consultations with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about the coronavirus situation in the kingdom, and about steps that could be taken to reduce the pandemic’s impact on health around the world. 

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia currently holds the chairmanship of the G20 and is working closely with the World Health Organization to monitor the spread of the disease, exchange relevant information on early detection and promote best practices in preventive measures. India and Saudi Arabia recognize the importance of their strategic partnership as members of the G20. The leaders of the two countries are making concerted efforts to mobilize global cooperation in dealing with the numerous challenges posed by the pandemic. Specifically, the kingdom is working to help nations reduce the economic impacts of shutdowns, with the hope of promoting the necessary measures to maintain the stability of the global economy. – Zikru Al-Rahman

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.