Coronavirus challenges persist in some Arab countries

Short Url
Updated 30 July 2021

Coronavirus challenges persist in some Arab countries

Coronavirus challenges persist in some Arab countries
  • The continuing spread of the more-contagious delta variant mean that countries spared the worst effects early in the pandemic are now at great risk
  • During discussion on the Ray Hanania Radio Show, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were highlighted as success stories in the efforts to limit the spread of the virus

CHICAGO: COVID-19 remains a serious risk to Arab nations and the threat could escalate as the delta variant continues to spread, experts said on Wednesday.

Although many Arab countries were spared the most drastic infection rates seen elsewhere in the world during the first wave of the virus in early 2020, thanks to good health planning, the delta variant poses an even more serious threat, according to Dr. Zaher Sahloul, the president of MedGlobal, which coordinates the work of non-governmental organizations that provide healthcare to under-served populations and refugees in the Arab world, and Arab News journalist Rebecca Anne Proctor.

During a discussion on the Ray Hanania Radio Show, they highlighted Saudi Arabia and the UAE as success stories in the efforts to limit the spread of the virus, but warned that recent events, particularly in North African countries such as Tunisia, are a worrying sign that alarming rises in infection rates in some places could spread.

“The Gulf has been really on top of the game in terms of abiding by various restrictions and mask wearing and social-distancing measures,” said Proctor, who reports on the Middle East for Arab News. “We have seen that the Gulf has led the way in terms of vaccine campaigns. So I think right now we are seeing where a lot of the inequalities (are), and where the work might have been done better.

“Just a few weeks ago, Saudi Arabia closed its border to several countries. The UAE is now also issuing a few more restrictions, particularly over religious holidays. But where we have a big discrepancy is in various countries in North Africa, as we have seen in Tunisia, and then also in Syria, and Lebanon in particular, and Yemen — places that perhaps are not able to get access easily to (intensive care) beds, oxygen and vaccines.

“The countries that can handle this virus better, and the rise of delta, which seems to be the dominate variant … are the ones that have been able to really maintain their restrictions and have really strong vaccine campaigns.”

Perceptions of the pandemic affect how governments are responding. Many saw that infections seemed to be declining, which prompted governments to ease restrictions and created a sense of complacency.

“I would say, in general, many of the countries in the Arab world were spared … the large number of deaths and sickness because of the pandemic” in the early days, compared with the US, India and countries in Europe and Latin America, said Sahloul.

He added that some of those countries are being hit hard now, especially Tunisia but also Algeria and Morocco.

“Some countries have done very well, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar. And Jordan especially,” he said. This reflects the fact that some nations prepared and reacted more effectively as the virus spread while others did not, according to Sahloul.

“Some have not done well, including North African countries, and that is why we are seeing the spread of the virus there, and in Iraq, of course,” he said.

He is concerned about the effect the delta variant will continue to have. Because it is more contagious than the original version of the virus, and appears to be more dangerous to younger people, he said it is much more of a threat and continues to spread at a time when authorities in many better-off countries have begun a return to normal life and the start of economic recovery.

“What I am worried about is that the countries that felt immune to the pandemic in the beginning, they will be hit hard now by the delta (variant) because it spreads so much more faster and also it can cause more disease among the young,” said Sahloul.

“I am afraid that countries such as Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Sudan will be hit hard by the delta (variant) that is right now spreading in North Africa.”

The spread of this variant, which was first identified in India, is having “devastating” effects, Sahloul said. There are a number of reasons for this.

As vaccinations rates increase in some countries, authorities have started to ease some pandemic restrictions, including rules for face masks, social distancing and large gatherings.

In other countries, such as Tunisia, volatile political environments are exposing the public to COVID-19 risks, Proctor said. The problem, she added, is that when people start to see what appears to be a turning point in the pandemic, they start to take greater risks and infections start to climb again, “a bit like what has happened in Tunisia.”

“Politics plays a big role in COVID all over the world … we are seeing a lot of people that are just frustrated with being controlled — they don’t want to be controlled,” she said.

Sahloul said the challenges are compounded by the fact that many health professionals, including doctors and nurses treating COVID-19 patients, have themselves been infected.

“Doctors and healthcare workers were impacted in the same way as the general public — and even worse because, as you know, physicians and nurses are the front-line healthcare workers,” he said.

“At the beginning of the crisis we had shortages of personal protective equipment in the Arab world (especially countries that) have less means, such as Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt. Physicians in North African countries struggled to find masks, gowns, gloves and so forth.

“Hospitals were affected because of the large number of hospitalizations. There were shortages of oxygen, especially. This was the first time in my life that we were seeing this shortage of oxygen. What is killing patients in Tunisia more than anything is a shortage of oxygen.”

Sahloul said there is little official data on the number of doctors, nurses and other medics who have died as a result of the pandemic, but the numbers he has seen are “staggering.”

It was reported several months ago that more than 200 doctors had died in Yemen, he said, and there are similar reports from Syria.

“This is a tragedy because it is not easy to replace a physician, a doctor or a good nurse,” he added.

Proctor and Sahloul appeared on the July 28, 2021 edition of The Ray Hanania Radio Show, broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News. The show is broadcast live in Detroit and Washington DC on WNZK AM 690 and WDMV AM 700 radio, and is available to stream at Facebook.com/ArabNews.


Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home
Updated 5 sec ago

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home

Guilt-riven Lebanon expats ship aid as crisis bites at home
  • Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption
  • Lebanon is running out of fuel and gas to medicine and bread
DUBAI: Lebanese expats in the wealthy UAE, many of them riven with guilt, are scrambling to ship essential goods and medicine to family and friends in their crisis-stricken home country.
“How can I sit in the comfort of my home in air-conditioning and a full fridge knowing that my people, my friends and family, are struggling back home?” asked Jennifer Houchaime.
“Oh, the guilt is very, very real,” said the 33-year-old resident of Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates which is home to tens of thousands of Lebanese.
“It’s guilt, shame and nostalgia.”
Lebanon’s economy has collapsed under a long-running political class accused of incompetence and corruption.
Its currency has plunged to an all-time low, sparking inflation and eroding the purchasing power of a population denied free access to their own savings by stringent banking controls.
Lebanon is running out of everything, from fuel and gas to medicine and bread, and more than three-quarters of its population is now considered to be living under the poverty line.
Social media platforms are filled with posts by Lebanese appealing for contacts abroad to send basic goods such as baby formula, diapers, painkillers, coffee and sanitary pads.

Aya Majzoub, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said trust in the Lebanese government is at an all-time low.
“It is unsurprising that local and grassroots initiatives have sprung up to fill this gap while bypassing the government that they view as corrupt, inefficient and incompetent,” she told AFP.
With no faith in the Lebanese authorities, expats have taken it upon themselves to transport aid.
Houchaime and a number of her Lebanese friends fill their bags with over-the-counter medication and food items every time they travel home.
The Dubai-based airline Emirates is allowing an extra 10 kilos (22 pounds) of baggage for passengers to Beirut from certain destinations until the end of this month.
For Dima Hage Hassan, 33, a trip to Lebanon opened her eyes to the unfolding disaster.
“I was in Lebanon, and I had money, and I had a car with fuel, and I went around from pharmacy to pharmacy unable to find medicine for my mother’s ear infection,” she said.

A fellow Lebanese, Sarah Hassan, packed for her second trip home in less than two months, taking only a few personal items while the rest was supplies for family and friends.
This time, the 26-year-old was taking a couple of battery-operated fans, painkillers, sanitary pads, skin creams, and cold and flu medication.
“A couple of my friends are going as well to Lebanon, so all of us are doing our part.”
It’s the same story in other parts of the Gulf, where Lebanese have long resided, fleeing from decades of conflict and instability in their own country.
“It’s hard not to feel guilty. When I went to Lebanon a month ago, I hadn’t been for two years. When I stepped out into the city, I was so shocked,” said Hassan.
“Then you come back here to the comfort of your home and everything is at your fingertips... it’s such an overwhelming feeling of guilt.”

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2
Updated 20 September 2021

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2

East Libya forces say 2 helicopters crashed, killing 2
  • The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus
  • The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad

CAIRO: Forces loyal to a powerful Libyan commander said two military planes crashed on Sunday over a village in eastern Libya, killing at least two officers.
The self-styled Libyan Arab Armed Forces, led by Gen. Khalifa Haftar, said the helicopters collided in the air over the village of Msus, 130 kilometers (81 miles) southeast of the city of Benghazi.
A two-officer crew, including Brig. Gen. Bouzied Al-Barrasi, was killed in the crash, while the second helicopter crew survived, the forces said in a brief statement. It did not give the cause of the crash and said the helicopters were on a military mission.
Mohammad Younes Menfi, head of Libya’s Presidential Council, mourned the two officers.
Haftar’s forces control eastern and most of southern Libya. The crash came as they have been battling Chadian fighters in Libya’s southern areas on the border with Chad.
The clashes erupted last week and could further destabilize the wider Sahel region, after Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was killed in April in battels between his government and Chadian rebels.


Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week
Updated 22 min 48 sec ago

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week

Erdogan to meet Greek Kyriakos Mitsotakis next week
  • Regional rivals have been at odds over a host of maritime issues in the Mediterranean and migration

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that he would meet Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly next week in New York.

The NATO members and regional rivals have been at odds over a host of maritime issues in the Mediterranean and migration.
Mitsotakis said on Friday that Turkey was an important partner in tackling any new migration challenge to Europe and needed support.
Speaking at a news conference before departing for New York, Erdogan said Turkey, which hosts some 4 million refugees — most of whom are Syrians — was “suffering the biggest burden and the heaviest downsides” of migration, adding that Turkey would take the necessary steps if its counterparts did not.
The Turkey’s president also said his country was ready for talks with Armenia but added Yerevan needed to take steps toward opening a controversial transport link through its territory.
Armenia and Turkey never established diplomatic relations and their shared border has been closed since the 1990s.
The ties have deteriorated due to Turkey’s support for its regional ally Azerbaijan, which fought with Armenia last year for control of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.
But earlier this month, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said Yerevan was prepared to hold discussions on repairing relations with Ankara.
“If he (Pashinyan) would like to meet with Tayyip Erdogan, then certain steps should be taken,” Erdogan said.
He was referring to the creation of a transit corridor that would have to go through Armenia to connect Azerbaijan to its Nakchivan enclave that borders Turkey and Iran.
“We are not closed to talks (with Armenia), we will hold the talks,” Erdogan said.
“I hope that not a negative but a positive approach will prevail there,” he said. “God willing, the problem between Azerbaijan and Armenia will be overcome with the opening of the corridors.”


Morocco’s Justice and Development Party decries ‘violations’ at polls

Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
Updated 20 September 2021

Morocco’s Justice and Development Party decries ‘violations’ at polls

Abdellatif Ouahbi, president of Morocco's Authenticity and Modernity party (C), gives a speech after his party came in second in parliamentary and local elections, in Rabat on September 9, 2021. (AFP)
  • Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has named businessman Aziz Akhannouch to lead a new government after his National Rally of Independents, considered close to the palace, thrashed the Justice and Development Party, winning 102 seats

RABAT: Morocco’s moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party, which was thrashed at last week’s elections, on Sunday denounced “violations and irregularities” at the polls.
The party had headed Morocco’s governing coalition for a decade but saw its support collapse at the Sept. 8 vote, dropping from 125 of parliament’s 395 seats to just 13.
Local elections held the same day confirmed the party’s crushing defeat.
The party “denounces the violations and irregularities” at the polls, including “massive use of money,” “manipulation of reports” and “names crossed off the electoral lists or appearing twice,” it said in a statement following Saturday’s extraordinary session of the party’s national council.
These “forms of electoral corruption ... led to the announcement of results that do not reflect the substance of the political map and the free will of the voters,” the statement added.
Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit has said the voting process took “under normal circumstances” apart from isolated incidents.

SPEEDREAD

• Interior Minister Abdelouafi Laftit says the voting process took ‘under normal circumstances’ apart from isolated incidents.

• On voting day, the Islamists had alleged ‘serious irregularities,’ including ‘obscene cash handouts’ near polling stations and ‘confusion’ on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has named businessman Aziz Akhannouch to lead a new government after his National Rally of Independents, considered close to the palace, thrashed the Justice and Development Party, winning 102 seats.
On voting day, the Islamists had alleged “serious irregularities,” including “obscene cash handouts” near polling stations and “confusion” on some electoral rolls, with some voters finding they were not listed.
The National Rally of Independents has started coalition talks, but the Justice and Development Party has announced that it would switch to its “natural” position as the opposition.
The party “is at an important turning point,” outgoing secretary-general Saad-Eddine El-Othmani said Saturday at the party’s closed-door meeting.

 


Iranian oil fails to end Lebanon’s fuel wars

Lebanese police stand guard in front of the central bank building, where anti-government demonstrators protest against the deepening financial crisis, in Beirut. (AP/File)
Lebanese police stand guard in front of the central bank building, where anti-government demonstrators protest against the deepening financial crisis, in Beirut. (AP/File)
Updated 20 September 2021

Iranian oil fails to end Lebanon’s fuel wars

Lebanese police stand guard in front of the central bank building, where anti-government demonstrators protest against the deepening financial crisis, in Beirut. (AP/File)
  • Lebanon has not asked for fuel from Iran, says PM Mikati
  • Maronite patriarch calls on government to end the smuggling of Iranian fuel from Syria

BEIRUT: Armed men opened fire at a gas station in the Bekaa valley on Sunday and threatened to kill the owner as Lebanon’s fuel wars continued to spiral out of control.

The incident in the town of Beit Chama came amid long queues at gas stations, frequent power cuts and a 20-liter canister of gasoline selling on the black market for 500,000 pounds ($327) when the official price is 180,000 pounds.

The fuel shortage has not been eased by the arrival last week of tanker trucks of diesel from Iran, smuggled across the border from Syria in a deal brokered by Hezbollah in breach of US sanctions. A third tanker is at sea on its way from Iran to the Syrian port of Baniyas.

Neither the arrival of Iraqi fuel to Electricité du Liban nor that of Iranian diesel has yielded positive results yet.

In his Sunday sermon, Maronite patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi denounced the smuggling of Iranian fuel from Syria. “The state cannot be built on practices or positions that contradict its entity and institutions,” he said.

Al-Rahi said the new government under Prime Minister Najib Mikati should “work as a united national team to stop the collapse and confront the continuous attack attempts against the state and its democratic system.”

“The state cannot be built on practices or positions that contradict its entity and institutions,” he said, adding that the recent entry of fuel tankers and the obstruction of the investigation into the Beirut Port explosion were “among such practices.”

Al-Rahi expressed the hope that the new government would “work as a united national team to stop the collapse and confront the continuous attack attempts against the state and its democratic system.”

He urged the government to “carry out reforms, mobilize the financial and economic cycle, solve the fuel and electricity crises, and close the smuggling crossings on the border.”
The state cannot be built on practices or
positions that contradict its entity and institutions.
Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi
Lebanese Maronite Patriarch

Meanwhile, Mikati dismissed fears that Lebanon faced US penalties for breaching US sanctions by importing Iranian oil.

“The Lebanese government didn’t approve this … so I don’t believe it would be subject to sanctions,” Mikati told CNN on Saturday in response to a question about Hezbollah bringing Iranian fuel into Lebanon

“I am saddened by the lack of Lebanese sovereignty," he said.

A source close to Mikati told Arab News on Sunday: “The state of Lebanon has not asked Iran for fuel. This position had been officially expressed and has not changed.”

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh commented on Mikati’s statements to CNN, saying on Sunday that sending Iranian fuel to Lebanon “happened according to a standard purchase process by Lebanese merchants. If the Lebanese government also wants to buy fuel from Iran, we would be happy to oblige.”

HIGHLIGHTS

 

• On Monday, PM Mikati’s government is expected to receive parliament’s vote of confidence with approximately 100 votes out of 128. It is expected that a vote of no confidence will be limited to the MPs of the Lebanese Forces bloc and several independent MPs.

• The Lebanese are still floundering with a series of never-ending crises, the foremost of which is the fuel crisis. Long queues at gas stations have remained the same, and the power rationing hours have not improved either.

On Monday, Mikati’s government is expected to receive parliament’s vote of confidence with approximately 100 votes out of 128. It is expected that a vote of no confidence will be limited to the MPs of the Lebanese Forces bloc and several independent MPs.

Politicians, meanwhile, were preoccupied with the repercussions of Halliburton winning a contract to explore oil and gas in the disputed maritime border area between Lebanon and Israel.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to “take urgent and immediate action before the Security Council and the international community to verify the possibility of a new Israeli attack on Lebanese sovereignty and rights because any exploration contract with Halliburton or other companies in the disputed area undermines the framework agreement sponsored by the US and the UN.”

Lebanese-Israeli negotiations over the disputed area were held under US auspices and stopped in April after the Lebanese delegation insisted that negotiations start from Line 29 of the border, which enlarges the size of the disputed area to 2,290 km instead of 860 km.

This area was based on a map sent in 2011 to the UN, but Lebanon later considered this map to be based on wrong estimates, so it demanded an additional area of 1,430 square km, including parts of the Karish gas field, in which a Greek company works for Israel.

The current Lebanese proposal is known as Line 29, and Israel has accused Lebanon of obstructing negotiations by expanding the disputed area.