Spanish flu: How the deadly pandemic affected the Arab world

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A market in Riyadh, two years before the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic. (Supplied)
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A Hospital in the United States in 1918. (Supplied)
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The Capital Riyadh, 2 years before the 1919 Spainsh influenza pandemic. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 March 2020

Spanish flu: How the deadly pandemic affected the Arab world

  • The influenza of 1918 emerged as the world was recovering from the WWI, leaving extensive, unexpected effects

RIYADH: Throughout history, the Arabian Peninsula has suffered from several pandemics due to its strategic location, bringing traders and pilgrims from around the world.
The Spanish influenza of 1918 emerged as the world was recovering from the First World War, leaving extensive, unexpected effects.
According to recent studies on the devastating pandemic, nearly 500 million people around the world were infected. Between 50 and 100 million people perished.
1918 was known in the Arabian Peninsula as the “Year of Mercy” and “Year of Fever” — a reference to the disease’s high fever, according to Guido Steinberg, a German Arabist, who has written two articles on the impact and collective memory of the flu in Syria and the peninsula.
It took the flu a few months to wipe out towns and villages and dramatically decrease the populations in the Arabian Peninsula. People checked homes only to find the entire household dead.

Running out of coffins, people started to take out their doors and use blankets to transfer dead bodies to the mosque for burial.
With infected people not lasting more than two days, many volunteered to wash the dead, dig graves and bury them as gravediggers were exhausted. Some people dug all day except during prayer times, which was considered their break.
In Abdul Rahman Al-Suwayda’s book “Najd in the Recent Past,” he said that the fight against the pandemic was mainly based on isolating patients in homes and places outside the town or the walls of the city.




Prince Turki, the first son of King Abdul Aziz.

He said that healthy people may have been given emergency vaccinations.
“They take pus from patients and vaccinate the rest of the people in primitive ways, thereby limiting the spread of the disease. Herbs and medicinal formulations were some of the methods used by the grandparents in fighting diseases,” Al-Suwayda said.
“In the patient’s 40-day recovery from an epidemic disease, and with the beginning of recovery, women collect parts of all the food available in the town and cook it in one pot called ‘Al-Qiru,’ where the patient eats and drinks the cooked broth as a kind of precaution.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• Nearly 500 million people around the world were infected. Between 50 and 100 million people perished.

• 1918 was known in the Arabian Peninsula as the ‘Year of Mercy’ and ‘Year of Fever’ — a reference to the disease’s high fever, according to Guido Steinberg, a German Arabist.

• It took the flu a few months to wipe out towns and villages and dramatically decrease the populations in the Arabian Peninsula. People checked homes only to find the entire household dead.

According to Al-Suwayda, people believed that if the patient ate food not cooked in Al-Qiru, they would experience complications and relapse. The pot contained a collection of camel, lamb and goat meat.
In Paul L. Armerding’s book “Doctors for the Kingdom: The Work of the American Mission Hospitals in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the founding King Abdul Aziz had a prominent role in the fight against this pa ndemic, where he called doctors to treat the infected.




Quarantine in the US in 1918.

“Dr. Paul Harrison’s second invitation to visit Riyadh arrived with urgency. In the winter of 1919, the influenza epidemic spread around the world, claiming many lives, and the vast expanse of the Arabian desert did not stop the epidemic from reaching Riyadh,” said Armerding.
When Dr. Harrison arrived in the capital, King Abdul Aziz had lost his eldest son Turki and his wife Jawhara bint Musaad. Despite this, Harrison was able to bring comfort and assistance to many infected people, most of whom were cured.
“Ibn Saud was standing in a small, modest room, and he met Paul with a warm handshake,” said Armerding.
“When King Abdul Aziz greeted him, Ibn Saud … explained that he had requested a doctor not to take care of his health or that of his family, but for the need of his people, and that he had allocated a house nearby to be a hospital, and he wanted his people to be treated for free.”
The epidemic spread from Makkah to the south of Najd, then reached the north and east of the Arabian Peninsula.

 


Saudi TikTok users weigh in on potential app ban

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Updated 12 July 2020

Saudi TikTok users weigh in on potential app ban

  • Due to pandemic, interest in the app skyrocketed as many users watch videos and try to recreate them while in quarantine

RIYADH: Chinese video platform TikTok is under fire once again, as rumors of the app being a tool used by the Chinese government to spy on users resurface online.

TikTok, owned by Chinese company ByteDance, is a video-sharing site similar to the now-defunct Vine, where users share short clips of themselves which can be altered using AI technology.
Lip-syncing along with a track, using filters, and adding special effects give users the chance to create short clips that can be shared and downloaded in several social media platforms.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, interest in the app skyrocketed as many users downloaded TikTok to watch videos and try to recreate them while in quarantine. The app has also gained significant popularity in the Middle East with influencers such as Saudi model Roz, UAE-based content creators Khalid and Salama, and Saudi top TikToker iimeeto, who recently celebrated reaching four million followers on the platform.
Rania Mohammed, a fourth year medical student at Dar AlUloom University in Riyadh, said that TikTok was “the only thing keeping her sane” as she struggled with the pressures of school and quarantine.
“As a med school student, my attention span and free time are both severely limited,” she told Arab News. “Taking a 15 minute break to watch silly TikToks has helped me keep motivated. The specific brand of humor on that app is the fastest way to make me laugh.”
Mai Alhumood, a government employee, said that she downloaded the app while she was bored and became “quickly addicted” to the platform’s fun short videos.
“People are so creative on TikTok, and the challenges that keep going viral are so interesting,” she told Arab News.
However, the app has long-suffered from accusations of spying and gathering users’ private information on behalf of the Chinese government, leading to both temporary and permanent bans in countries around the world.
Recently, it was reported that Amazon requested that employees remove the app from their smartphones in an email over “security risks.” The company later retracted its directive.
Saudi cybersecurity expert Abdullah Al-Jaber believed that concerns over the security of TikTok’s collected data stemmed from the app’s country of origin and its rules and regulations.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Following a provisional ban in April 2019, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology banned TikTok permanently in June this year, along with 58 other Chinese apps. The ministry claimed that the apps were a ‘threat to the sovereignty and security of the country’ following a Himalayan border clash with Chinese troops in the disputed territory of Ladakh.

• Indonesia temporarily blocked TikTok in July 2018, citing public concern regarding ‘illegal content’ such as pornography and blasphemy. However, the app was unblocked following various changes from TikTok such as the opening of a government liaison office and implementing security mechanisms.

• Recently, the US became the third country to seriously consider banning the app, according to information from President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump also weighed in on a potential TikTok ban. He said that banning the app would be ‘punishing China for its response to the coronavirus.’

“TikTok collects data in a very similar way to US applications,” he told Arab News. “However the main concern is that the US has regulations and compliance that must be met when collecting customer data, such as GDPR data privacy regulation. In the case of TikTok, we don’t know as much about how the data is being used or stored because we don’t know their regulations.”
Following a provisional ban in April 2019, India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology banned TikTok permanently in June this year, along with 58 other Chinese apps. The ministry claimed that the apps were a “threat to the sovereignty and security of the country” following a Himalayan border clash with Chinese troops in the disputed territory of Ladakh.
Indonesia temporarily blocked TikTok in July 2018, citing public concern regarding “illegal content” such as pornography and blasphemy. However, the app was unblocked following various changes from TikTok such as the opening of a government liaison office and implementing security mechanisms.
Recently, the US became the third country to seriously consider banning the app, according to information from President Donald Trump’s administration.
Trump also weighed in on a potential TikTok ban. In an interview with Gray Television, Trump said that banning the app would be “punishing China for its response to the coronavirus.”
“Look, what happened with China with this virus, what they’ve done to this country and to the entire world is disgraceful,” he said.
While Saudi Arabia has yet to announce a ban of any kind of TikTok, local users and followers are trying to practice caution while using the app anyway.
Alhumood considered making videos on the platform, but dismissed the idea and only uses it to follow other people’s videos.
“I have ideas for it, sure, but I’d rather not take the risk. I don’t even have a username or a registered account, and that’s one of the better things about TikTok. I only have the app, but I can still watch all the videos without giving them my private information.”
Mohammed also said that she had no interest in creating videos herself, though she did have a registered account in order to comment on videos and keep track of her favorites.
However Al-Jaber said that, in his opinion, registering an account on TikTok did not necessarily pose more of a risk than using other social media.
“If you use Facebook or Twitter, it’s not much different than using TikTok,” he said.