The coronavirus has caught the Middle East with its pants down, even before the pandemic Lebanon declared bankruptcy after their prime minister, Hassan Diab, announced his country’s inability to pay back its debts.
At the beginning of 2020 Egypt passed the threshold of 100 million people, which the regime there sees as nothing less than a threat to its own national security.
Iraq was in the midst of an economical crisis and none stop rioting due to the government’s ineptitude.
In Jordan the public’s discontent grew due to the rise in living expenses, unemployment, and the country’s shoddy infrastructure. And as for Syria, well we all know the tragedy there.
The big question is whether Middle East governments be able to survive the turmoil that threatens to engulf the entire global economy.
Jordan and Egypt are not only close neighbors to Israel, nor are they only strategic partners in the country’s fight against terrorism, they also two of the region’s most influential powers, meaning that anything happening within their borders will most likely effect Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the entire Middle East as a whole.
As of Tuesday, there had only been 166 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Egypt, although a Canadian research estimates that the true number of infected is closer to 20,000.
Anybody who knows anything about Egypt knows that the country’s public healthcare system is starved of modernization, and that many Egyptian citizens don’t have access to any medical services whatsoever, never mind the means to find out whether they have been infected by the virus.
Egypt has closed down schools, malls and shopping centers, and has also quarantined several neighborhoods and villages where with confirmed outbreaks of coronavirus.
But can a country with an unemployment rate of 11.5% truly survive a prolonged quarantine coupled with financial paralysis? What happens if the scenario in Italy replicates itself in Egypt?
Anyone who supports Egypt as the pinnacle of radical Islamic resistance in the Middle East should be concerned. While the entire world finds itself in an economical decline, Cairo will surely need a monumental financial care package in order to help deal with the crisis.
In Jordan, which houses hundred of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq, together with refugee camps for displaced Palestinians, the situation is not much better.
While the official numbers of infected in Jordan stands at 34, there is no way to know what the situation is at the refugee camps, poorest neighborhoods, and towns far away from Jordan’s capital of Amman.
Jordan closed off its borders and the infected have been put in quarantine, but it is clear a major outbreak in the country is only a matter of time.
Shortly before the outbreak, Jordan received a financial care package from Qatar that includes work permits for thousand of Jordanians to allow them to work in the rich Arab country But Qatar has also closed its gates due to the crisis.
Israel must keep a close eye on the events within its neighbors’ borders. Jordan has kept the shared frontier quiet for years, but if the country slips into chaos - which seems more of a reality than ever due to the civil unrest over the cost of living - the border between the two countries could be breached.
The coronavirus crisis is sure to hurt the weakest countries in the Middle East.
Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Libya are all in shambles, some of them are bankrupt, none of them an ally to the Western world.
They have no financial aid during this most desperate time. The only one who could intervene on their behalf is China, and it is unclear whom it will choose to help and why.
The Middle East will surely change following the coronavirus; regimes will fall, infrastructures will collapse, and chaos will reign.
Israel needs to keep an eye out on all potentially worrying developments in order to protect its own national security.