How Middle East public attitudes have evolved, 1 year into COVID-19 pandemic

Worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan  around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque complex in Makkah on April 13, 2021. (AFP)
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Worshippers perform the evening Tarawih prayer during the fasting month of Ramadan around the Kaaba in the Grand Mosque complex in Makkah on April 13, 2021. (AFP)
How Middle East public attitudes have evolved, 1 year into COVID-19 pandemic
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An Emirati man gets vaccinated against COVID-19 at al-Barsha Health Centre in Dubai on December 24, 2020. (AFP file photo)
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An Emirati man gets vaccinated against COVID-19 at al-Barsha Health Centre in Dubai on December 24, 2020. (AFP file photo)
How Middle East public attitudes have evolved, 1 year into COVID-19 pandemic
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How Middle East public attitudes have evolved, 1 year into COVID-19 pandemic
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Health workers check worshippers entering the Grand Mosque in Makkah on April 18, 2021 as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (SPA)
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Health workers check worshippers entering the Grand Mosque in Makkah on April 18, 2021 as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (SPA)
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Updated 19 April 2021

How Middle East public attitudes have evolved, 1 year into COVID-19 pandemic

Health workers check worshippers entering the Grand Mosque in Makkah on April 18, 2021 as part of efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19. (SPA)
  • Data from polling agency YouGov suggests pandemic will have long-lasting impact on attitudes towards public health
  • Fear of catching COVID-19 has fallen among Saudi and UAE respondents, while willingness to accept vaccines has grown

DUBAI: On March 11, 2020, just a matter of months after it first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, outbreaks of the novel coronavirus were reported from multiple continents — marking the start of an unprecedented health emergency and an abrupt change in daily habits.

After the World Health Organization (WHO) decision to raise its alert from a scattering of localized epidemics to a full-blown pandemic, governments in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) area were quick to respond.

Mandatory nationwide closures were put in place, schools and workplaces emptied, front-line workers mobilized and households ordered to stay home. Few could remember a time of such disruption or ever seeing their streets so empty.

Data collected by British polling agency YouGov found that in April 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, some 75 percent of respondents across Saudi Arabia and the UAE felt “somewhat” or “very scared” of contracting the virus. This fear has generally fallen as the pandemic has worn on.

To curb the spread of COVID-19, governments placed much of the onus on the general public to abide by new personal hygiene and social distancing guidelines.

In the same YouGov poll, 78 percent of Saudi and UAE respondents said they had improved their personal hygiene (frequently washing their hands and using hand sanitizer), while 80 percent said they had avoided public places and 70 percent said they had started wearing face masks in public.

COVID-19 spreads primarily through contact with infected individuals when airborne particles are expelled through coughing and sneezing. It can also be spread by touching contaminated surfaces and transferring particles to the eyes, nose and mouth.




A Saudi police officer inspects a motorist's permit to travel during the lockdown in the Kingdom in April 2020 to fight the spread of COVID-19. (SPA file photo)

The combination of lockdown measures and ubiquitous public health messages has had a profound effect on people’s daily lives, running the gamut from how they work and study to how they travel and socialize.

It has also highlighted the significant role that widespread community uptake of hygiene and social distancing rules can play in successfully containing outbreaks.

During the first six months of the pandemic, YouGov data showed rates of mask wearing were high in the GCC. Some 80 percent of UAE respondents and 69 percent of Saudi respondents said they were consistently wearing face masks during this period.

Throughout the pandemic, at-risk groups, including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, have been urged to be extra vigilant. In August 2020, 80 percent of Saudi respondents over the age of 45 reported having avoided public places, whereas just 58 percent of 18-24-year-old Saudis said they took the same precautions.

In the same month in the UAE, 81 percent of people aged over 45 reported wearing a face mask in public, while just 66 percent of 18-24 year olds said they were complying with the mandatory mask rule.

Although men and women are equally susceptible to catching coronavirus, medical data suggests men are more likely to suffer from severe symptoms and ultimately die from the disease.




In August 2020, four out of every five Saudi respondents over the age of 45 reported having avoided public places. (Reuters file photo)

And yet, despite WHO advice to the contrary, YouGov data found that male Saudi and UAE residents were less likely to improve their personal hygiene, less likely to wear face masks, less likely to avoid crowded places and less likely to avoid touching potentially contaminated surfaces.

Since the pandemic began, nearly 142 million people have been infected worldwide and more than 3 million have died. The UAE has seen about 500,000 COVID-19 cases, while Saudi Arabia’s total is approaching the 405,000 mark.

Compared with many European states, where governments were slower to react to the pandemic, the outbreak in the GCC has been relatively mild, with a much lower death rate. But even here, as vaccines are rolled out and restrictions are gradually eased, things feel a long way from normal.


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“What’s happening to us may seem to so many people to be alien and unnatural, but plagues are not new to our species — they’re just new to us,” writes social epidemiologist Dr. Nicholas Christakis in his book “Apollo’s arrow: The profound and enduring impact of coronavirus on the way we live.”

And just like the great epidemics of the past, writes Christakis, the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually pass, bringing with it a brighter period in which people seek out long-denied social interactions.

The Yale professor even predicts a second “roaring 20s” similar to the decade of prosperity and cultural resurgence that followed the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918.

But in order for this to happen, people must be safe — and feel safe. Annual vaccinations, improved treatments and vaccine passports are all possible tools to get societies and economies back on track.

Until then, the behavior of those least at risk will continue to impact those most at risk. Therefore, getting “back to normal” will depend not only on medical science, but on the actions of the community as a whole.

Without a widespread uptake of vaccines and containment measures, the virus will enjoy a stronger foothold and a greater chance of mutating, allowing it to become more transmissible and its symptoms more severe.

“When a virus is widely circulating in a population and causing many infections, the likelihood of the virus mutating increases,” according to the WHO’s “Vaccine Explained” series. “The more opportunities a virus has to spread, the more it replicates — and the more opportunities it has to undergo changes.”

INNUMBERS

83% Saudi respondents who believe the pandemic situation is improving.

14% UAE respondents who believe the pandemic situation is getting worse.

70% Saudi and UAE respondents who say they will continue avoiding crowded places.

Source: YouGov COVID-19 Public Monitor, March 2021

A major factor in uptake is the trustworthiness of the vaccines on offer.

In early December last year, the UAE became one of the first countries to approve the Chinese-made Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use. YouGov’s polling data at the end of that month found that just 56 percent of UAE respondents felt comfortable taking the vaccine or had already done so. In Saudi Arabia, that figure was only 42 percent.




An Emirati man gets vaccinated against COVID-19 at al-Barsha Health Centre in Dubai on December 24, 2020. (AFP file photo)

Since the national vaccination program was launched in Saudi Arabia, more than 2 million doses have been administered at 500 centers across the Kingdom. In the UAE, which has one of the highest vaccination rates per head of the population in the world, more than 10 million have been administered.

Since the December 2020 poll, confidence in the safety and efficacy of the new crop of COVID-19 vaccines has grown. Data from the YouGov COVID-19 Public Monitor in March 2021 showed an increase in willingness to take the vaccine by 20 percent of respondents in Saudi Arabia and 26 percent in the UAE.

Now the vast majority of respondents in the UAE (82 percent) and in Saudi Arabia (62 percent) say that they have either received a vaccine, or are willing to take one.

In other findings, 83 percent of Saudi respondents believe the pandemic situation is improving; only 14 percent UAE respondents believe the pandemic situation is getting worse, while but 70 percent of Saudi and UAE respondents intend to continue avoiding crowded places.

None of this is surprising given that scientists still have a lot to learn about COVID-19, its mutations, spread patterns, long-term symptoms and its ability to outmaneuver the vaccines and treatments doctors throw at it.

Mask wearing, hand sanitizing and social distancing might therefore be requisite behaviors for some time yet to come.

 


Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern
Updated 37 min 26 sec ago

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern

Arab League, Muslim World League condemn Israeli attacks against Palestinians, US expresses concern
  • Aboul Gheit called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence
  • The Muslim World League has strongly condemned the attacks at Al-Aqsa Mosque

CAIRO: The head of the Arab League condemned on Tuesday deadly Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip as “indiscriminate and irresponsible” and said Israel had provoked an earlier escalation in violence by its actions in Jerusalem.
“Israeli violations in Jerusalem, and the government’s tolerance of Jewish extremists hostile to Palestinians and Arabs, is what led to the ignition of the situation in this dangerous way,” Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement.
The attacks in Gaza were a “miserable show of force at the expense of children’s blood,” he said.
Aboul Gheit called on the international community to act immediately to stop the violence, saying continuing “Israeli provocations” were an affront to Muslims on the eve of the Eid holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Arab League foreign ministers are holding a virtual meeting on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, the Muslim World League has strongly condemned the attacks at Al-Aqsa Mosque, it said in a statement.
The organization, issued Tuesday went on to say that it rejected the escalations against worshippers.
Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, secretary-general of the Muslim World League further denounced all acts of violence that undermined the dignity and rights of the Palestinian people, as well as provoking the feelings of Muslims around the world.
Al-Issa called on the International community to put an end to the violence, preserve the right of the Palestinian people, provide the necessary protection of civilians, guarantee their right to practice their religion, and stop all violations and attacks.
He also reiterated the affirmation of standing by the Palestinian people. He said he supports all peace efforts to reach a just and comprehensive solution to the Palestinian issue.
He also said the solution should allow Palestinians to establish their independent state on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as their capital, in accordance with international legitimacy decisions and the Arab Peace Initiative.
Health officials in Gaza said at least 20 people, including nine children, were killed.


Gaza militants, children among 24 dead as Israel hits Hamas

Gaza militants, children among 24 dead as Israel hits Hamas
Updated 11 May 2021

Gaza militants, children among 24 dead as Israel hits Hamas

Gaza militants, children among 24 dead as Israel hits Hamas
  • Nine children were among those killed in the blockaded Gaza Strip
  • Gaza militants fired more than 200 rockets toward Israel, injuring six Israeli civilians

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Israel unleashed new airstrikes on Gaza early Tuesday, hitting the high-rise home of a Hamas field commander and two border tunnels dug by militants, as Hamas and other armed groups fired dozens of rockets toward Israel. The escalation in the conflict was sparked by weeks of tensions in contested Jerusalem.
Since sundown Monday when the cross-border attacks began, 24 Palestinians — including nine children — were killed in Gaza, most by airstrikes, Gaza health officials said. The Israeli military said 15 of the dead were militants. During the same period, Gaza militants fired more than 250 rockets toward Israel, injuring six Israeli civilians in a direct hit on an apartment building.
In a further sign of rising tensions, the Israeli army said in a statement that the chief of staff has called in troop reinforcements in the country’s south. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has ordered the mobilization of 5,000 reserve troops to expand the current campaign “and deepen home front defense.”
The exchange of fire Monday night was preceded by hours of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, including dramatic confrontations at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a sacred site to both Jews and Muslims. In fighting in the contested city and across the West Bank, more than 700 Palestinians were hurt, including nearly 500 who were treated at hospitals.
In a sign of widening unrest, hundreds of residents of Arab communities across Israel staged overnight demonstrations — denouncing the recent actions of Israeli security forces against Palestinians — in one of the largest protests by Palestinian citizens in Israel in recent years.
The current violence — like previous rounds, including the last intifada, or uprising — was fueled by conflicting claims over Jerusalem. The rival national and religious narratives of Israelis and Palestinians are rooted in the city, making it the emotional core of their long conflict.
In the past, cross-border fighting between Israel and Hamas, the group that rules Gaza, would typically end after a few days, often helped by behind-the-scenes mediation by Qatar, Egypt and others. It was not clear if such a resolution would come this time.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Monday that fighting could “continue for some time.” Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters Tuesday that the military was in “the early stages” of strikes against Gaza targets that it had planned well in advance.
The escalation comes at a time of political limbo in Israel.
Netanyahu has been acting as a caretaker prime minister since an inconclusive parliamentary election in March. He tried and failed to form a coalition government with his hard-line and ultra-Orthodox allies, and the task was handed to his political rivals last week. One of those rivals is Israel’s defense minister who is overseeing the Gaza campaign. It is not clear if and to what extent the toxic political atmosphere is spilling over into military decision-making, though the rival camps have unanimously expressed support for striking Hamas hard.
Israeli media have reported that the new round of violence is slowing efforts by Netanyahu’s rivals to form a ruling coalition among parties with a broad range of ideologies, but a shared goal of toppling Netanyahu. The support of an Arab-backed party with Islamist roots is key for the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s efforts. The party’s leader, Mansour Abbas, has essentially said he’ll work with whatever political camp offers the most improvements in Arab communities, but the current tensions might deter him from joining a coalition, at least for now.
The current round of violence in Jerusalem coincided with the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in mid-April. Critics say heavy-handed police measures helped stoke nightly unrest, including a decision to temporarily seal off a popular gathering spot where Palestinian residents would meet after evening prayers. Another flashpoint was the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where dozens of Palestinians are under treat of eviction by Jewish settlers.
Over the weekend, confrontations erupted at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is the third holiest site of Islam and the holiest site in Judaism.
For four successive days, Israel police fired tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at Palestinians in the compound who hurled stones and chairs. Hundreds of Palestinians were hurt, requiring treatment at hospitals. Two dozen officers were also injured. At times, police fired stun grenades into the carpeted mosque.
On Monday evening, Hamas began firing rockets from Gaza, setting off air raid sirens as far as Jerusalem, after giving Israel a deadline to withdraw Israeli security forces from the compound. From there on, the escalation was rapid.
Conricus, the army spokesman, said Gaza militants fired more than 250 rockets at Israel, with about one-third falling short and landing in Gaza.
The army said that a rocket landed a direct hit on a seven-story apartment block in the coastal Israeli city of Ashkelon. Photos and videos from the scene showed a large hole in the side of the building. Israeli paramedic service Magen David Adom said it treated six people injured in the rocket strike. Two were hospitalized in moderate condition.
Conricus said the military hit 130 targets in Gaza, including the high-rise home of a Hamas field commander and two tunnels militants were digging under the border with Israel. In all, Israel killed 15 militants, Conricus said. He said Israel’s new system of concrete barriers and electronic sensors, intended to thwart tunnel digging, has proven effective.
He did not address Gaza Health Ministry reports that nine children were among 24 Palestinians killed overnight.
In Gaza, most of the deaths were attributed to airstrikes. However, seven of the deaths were members of a single family, including three children, who died in an explosion in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun and it was not clear if the blast was caused by an Israeli airstrike or errant rocket.
More than 100 Gazans were wounded in the airstrikes, the Health Ministry said.
In one, an Israeli missile hit the upper floors of an apartment building in the Shati refugee camp on the edge of Gaza City early Tuesday, killing two men and a woman inside, according to health officials.
Israel had struck scores of Gaza homes in its 2014 war with Hamas, arguing it was aiming at militants, but also killing many civilians. The practice drew broad international condemnation at the time.
Israel’s tactics in Jerusalem have drawn angry reactions from the Muslim world.
Regional power house Saudi Arabia said in a statement that it condemns in the strongest terms what it said were attacks by Israeli forces against the sanctity of Al-Aqsa and the safety of its worshippers. The Saudi Foreign Ministry called Tuesday on the international community to hold Israeli forces responsible for any escalation.
Separately, the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation is holding an emergency meeting of its permanent representatives in Jiddah to discuss the tensions.


Security experts offer a road map for NATO’s future in MENA region

Security experts offer a road map for NATO’s future in MENA region
Updated 11 May 2021

Security experts offer a road map for NATO’s future in MENA region

Security experts offer a road map for NATO’s future in MENA region
  • Arab News Research & Studies webinar examined how the military alliance can better engage with its partners in the Middle East and North Africa
  • Expert says NATO should appoint a special representative and enlarge the Mediterranean Dialogue as well as the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative

DUBAI: In the 30 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which heralded the start of the post-Cold War era, there has been much discussion about what role NATO ought to play in the world. How might it adapt to new and evolving challenges emanating from regions beyond its traditional geographic remit, particularly the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)?

Although Article 6 of the 1949 North Atlantic Treaty, the organization’s founding document, defines its area of responsibility as “the North Atlantic region north of the Tropic of Cancer,” a new report from the Arab News Research & Studies unit aims to highlight why the MENA region is important to NATO, what common interests they share, and how the organization might better engage with the region.

“While not strictly part of its area of responsibility, NATO cannot ignore the MENA region,” writes Luke Coffey, the report’s author and director of the Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy at the Heritage Foundation, in the document’s introduction. “Historical and recent events show that what happens there can quickly spill over into Europe.”

Coffey highlights several sources of instability emanating from the region, which stretches from the eastern Atlantic Ocean through North Africa and on to the Middle East. These include demographic pressures, increased commodity prices, interstate and intrastate conflicts and tribal politics.

“A decade after the start of the so-called Arab Spring, many geopolitical challenges remain in the region, from the rise of transnational terrorism to the nuclear threat and state-sponsored terrorism from Iran. Many in NATO therefore have rightly decided to place a renewed focus on working with regional partners on the southern periphery of the alliance.”

Competition over water and other natural resources, religious tensions, revolutionary tendencies, terrorism, nuclear proliferation and proxy wars involving regional and global actors offer further cause for concern at NATO HQ.

And because the region contains some of the world’s most vital shipping lanes, energy resources and trade choke points, seemingly minor conflicts and disasters have been shown to have major ripple effects on global trade, oil prices and distant economies.

The alliance will need to adapt its relationship with MENA states (below) beyond matters of defense to areas like trade, according to Iulia-Sabina Joja. (AFP)

“NATO has gone through many such debates about what its purpose is,” Coffey said at an Arab News Research & Studies Briefing Room webinar conducted on Monday to launch the report.

“There’s been talk about focusing NATO on counterterrorism, there’s been a debate about China, there has been debate about Russia remaining the big threat. Personally, I’m more of a traditionalist on this.

“I do believe that NATO was created and designed to, where necessary, defeat Russia and deter it from aggression. However, I do also understand that there are other challenges that the alliance must deal with.”

Yet, as Coffey points out, NATO’s 2010 Strategic Concept, which was intended to serve as a guide for dealing with future challenges, includes barely any mention of the MENA region and these shared challenges.

Coffey believes the document is woefully out of date following the seismic events of the past decade, including the rise of China, a more assertive Russia, the Arab Spring, the conflict with Daesh, the ongoing war in Syria, the European migrant crisis and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic.

As NATO prepares to draft its new Strategic Concept, Coffey argues now is the time for the organization to build on its existing partnerships with MENA states and search for new ways to cooperate.

If NATO were to follow Coffey’s advice, it is likely to find a receptive audience. According to him, not only do MENA governments share many of the security concerns of NATO member states, some of them have demonstrated a willingness to cooperate, even to the point of contributing troops to NATO-led missions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.

Iulia-Sabina Joja and Luke Coffey joined Tarek Ali Ahmad for a discussion on NATO's future in the MENA region. 

In particular, Coffey highlights NATO’s training operation in Iraq, the NATO-led Operation Ocean Shield to combat piracy off the Horn of Africa, and the NATO-enforced no-fly zone over Libya as part of its Operation Unified Protector in 2011.

NATO has already established ties in the region under the umbrellas of the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative. Launched in 1994, the Mediterranean Dialogue forms the basis of NATO’s relations with its Mediterranean partners Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.

The Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, meanwhile, which was launched in 2004, currently forms the basis of NATO’s relations with Arab Gulf states. Although all six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council were invited to join, only Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the UAE have done so. Saudi Arabia and Oman have expressed only a passing interest in joining.

“To me, the report highlights the newness and fragility of NATO-MENA relations,” Iulia-Sabina Joja, a senior fellow at the Frontier Europe Initiative and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, said during Monday’s Arab News Research & Studies webinar.

Although there has been some institutional reluctance to participate, including Tunisia’s rejection in 2018 of a NATO proposal to station personnel at a planned military operations center in Gabes, Joja said there have been several positive engagements at a practical level that bode well for future cooperation.

“Reluctance or willingness among individual NATO member states, their visions when it comes to MENA, with different actors and increasingly shared areas of cooperation and threat assessments, show it is not necessarily valid anymore to artificially separate the issues that Europe or the transatlantic community address from the issues that MENA region countries are to address,” she said. “There is a lot of common ground there.”

Joja said the relationship between NATO and MENA ought to extend beyond security and defense, and be built around “tiered cooperation” on specific issues such as trade, the economy and humanitarian intervention.

Coffey’s report sets out some practical steps that NATO can take to improve its relations with the region, including the appointment of a special representative for MENA — a step that would carry weight in a part of the world “where personal relationships are paramount.”

NATO should also push to expand membership of the Mediterranean Dialogue and the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative, he argues. To encourage this, the alliance should establish a Mediterranean Dialogue Regional Center, modeled on the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative Regional Center in Kuwait.

Finally, to build confidence and a sense of shared mission, NATO should emphasize the geopolitical importance of the MENA region by including high-level meetings for both groupings at the next alliance summit.

Indeed, one of the main issues preventing closer ties is the ongoing reluctance among some states that are mistrustful of NATO’s aims.

“This isn’t about NATO expanding an empire. This isn’t about NATO trying to plan its next military intervention anywhere,” Coffey said during the webinar. “This is about identifying a key region to NATO’s stability and security, and finding willing and like-minded partners that are willing to cooperate and work together to achieve common goals and common results.

“As NATO goes through this process of deepening its relationships with certain countries in North Africa and the Middle East, it must be mindful of sensitivities and it should only go at the pace that the particular country desires to.

“Interoperability brings trust and trust builds relationships. And that will keep us all safer.”


Arab League Council holds urgent session to discuss attack on Jerusalem

Arab League Council holds urgent session to discuss attack on Jerusalem
Updated 10 May 2021

Arab League Council holds urgent session to discuss attack on Jerusalem

Arab League Council holds urgent session to discuss attack on Jerusalem
  • The session aimed to discuss the Israeli attacks in the occupied city of Jerusalem

CAIRO: The League of Arab States held an urgent session of the League Council among Arab foreign ministers on Monday, at the request of Palestine, which was supported by a number of Arab countries.

The session aimed to discuss the Israeli attacks in the occupied city of Jerusalem, the Islamic and Christian holy sites, especially Al-Aqsa Mosque, and plans to force Palestinian families out of their homes, particularly in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Hossam Zaki, assistant secretary-general of the Arab League, said that it was decided to upgrade the meeting to the ministerial level from that of the permanent delegates level.

Diab Al-Louh, Palestinian ambassador to Cairo and Palestine’s permanent representative to the Arab League, said that the urgent meeting was to discuss the seriousness of the brutal attacks on worshipers at Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Al-Louh said a request for an urgent meeting was submitted based on the directives of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the directives of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riyad Al-Maliki.


Medical profession protests ‘unfair’ Lebanon court ruling in favor of girl

Medical profession protests ‘unfair’ Lebanon court ruling in favor of girl
Updated 10 May 2021

Medical profession protests ‘unfair’ Lebanon court ruling in favor of girl

Medical profession protests ‘unfair’ Lebanon court ruling in favor of girl
  • Doctors and private hospitals refuse to receive patients due to court ruling in favor of a child who had her limbs amputated
  • Parent Hassan Tannous praises ‘honest judiciary’

BEIRUT: All Lebanese doctors have stopped working from Monday until the end of the week in protest against a court verdict.

The medical profession in Lebanon is protesting against the judicial decision to pay high compensation to Ella Tannous, who had her limbs amputated due to a medical error six years ago.

The protesting doctors have been joined by private hospitals, which have stopped receiving patients, except in emergency cases.

The girl’s father Hassan Tannous, however, praised the “honest judiciary.”

Many doctors, including the head of Lebanese Order of Physicians, Dr. Sharaf Abu Sharaf, and the head of the Syndicate of Private Hospital Owners, Suleiman Haroun, staged a sit-in in front of the Palace of Justice in Beirut, calling the ruling “unfair.”

The Tannous case goes back to February 2015, when she was admitted to Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil due to her high temperature.​

Ella was diagnosed with a cold at the time, but her condition deteriorated and the child suffered septic shock, which led to gangrene that caused the amputation of her limbs.

The girl’s father had taken her to the Hotel Dieu Hospital, which refused to receive her.

He transferred her to the American University of Beirut Medical Center, where doctors decided to save her life by amputating her four limbs.

The tragedy led her parents to file a complaint in March 2015 before the Lebanese Order of Physicians against the doctor who examined her and Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil, on charges of neglecting the child’s health and not providing her with the necessary care.

More than one doctor was arrested and released on bail.

Those involved in the case exchanged accusations for years. The girl’s family objected to a medical report issued by the medical committee of the Lebanese Order of Physicians two months after the incident, calling it a “distortion of the facts.”

The final ruling, issued unanimously at the end of last week, by the Beirut Appeals Court, headed by Tarek Bitar, gave the girl’s family a positive surprise, while the Lebanese medical profession reacted to the ruling in a state of amazement and condemnation.

The ruling obligated the American University of Beirut Medical Center in Beirut, Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil and the two doctors — Essam M. and Rana Sh. — “to pay in joint and several liabilities to the child Tannous an amount of LBP 9 billion ($5.9 million) for damages, in addition to a monthly income for life estimated at four times the minimum wage.”

The ruling also stipulated “obliging the convicts to pay in joint and several liabilities an amount of LBP 500 million to the father of the child and LBP 500 million to her mother in exchange for damages.”

Medical errors committed against patients have often resulted in settlements. Some cases are still pending in the courts.

The head of the National Health Authority, Dr. Ismail Sukkarieh, told Arab News that the judicial ruling “is based more on emotions than wisdom, justice and scientific facts.”

Sukkarieh added: “The judiciary focused on the tragedy of the child’s condition, which cannot be compensated with money, without checking the stages of the disease and the accumulation of its causes.”

He said: “Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil was not equipped with intensive care for children. As for the doctors who saved the child through the amputation, they were spiritually affected.”

Hassan Tannous said that although the ruling “does not compensate for the loss of Ella to her limbs, it is a moral compensation.”

The father said the ruling “is a very strong message in the face of the perpetrators of medical errors, that there is an honest judiciary capable of restoring the rights of the owners.”

The girl’s family moved to France for her rehabilitation but continued to pursue the lawsuit until the end.

“It is a public rights issue to protect all Lebanese children from medical neglect,” said Hassan.

During the sit-in at the Palace of Justice on Monday, Dr. Abu Sharaf said: “There are complications that occur as a result of the medicines, and mistakes happen sometimes, but the doctors have no criminal intent. After today, no doctor will dare to work on difficult and rare cases.”

Dr. Ashraf called for “work to remove the effect of the judicial decision, and to establish a body specialized in medical matters in the judiciary to study medical problems.”

Hotel Dieu Hospital de France announced that it would stop receiving patients in all its departments and private clinics.

“It is unacceptable for doctors to pay the price for a health policy that does not exist in the first place,” said Elias Shallal, head of the hospital’s medical committee.

“It is unacceptable to applaud doctors for their role in the fight against coronavirus and after the Beirut Port explosion, and then attack them because of a medical error.”

The administration of Hôpital Notre Dame des Secours in Jbeil described the ruling as “unfair.”

It stopped receiving patients except in emergency cases.

The American University Medical Center in Beirut closed its clinics until further notice and stopped receiving patients, except for emergency cases.