Has Corona brought Peace to the Middle East? – Labour Article
On Tuesday 4 August, a massive explosion in a warehouse in Beirut led to over 100 reported deaths, thousands of people injured and dozens still missing. With this, the Middle East is now back in the headlines of the world news after what seemed like a short ‘corona break’.
Ever since the pandemic broke, the focus all over the world has been on the virus. Coverage of the Middle East has been so low that it almost seems that the region is finally achieving peace. There has been no news of rebel forces engaging with dictator regimes; terrorist attacks; immigrants drowning in the Mediterranean Sea; engagement of NATO forces; and above all, no clash of big powers in the Middle East’s battlefields.
Like the rest of the world, Covid-19 has limited the movement of all groups. Even extremists who are willing to die for the sake of their cause seem afraid of the fatal virus. IS issued a newsletter guiding its people to be careful during the pandemic. Apart from a few attacks in Afghanistan, there hasn’t been a major incident in the region for a few months.
The June 2020 report by UN Counter Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED) indicated that the pandemic was responsible for the limited movement of terrorist groups. Strict borders, limited supplies of both food and weapons, and fewer targets have all played a part in reduced terrorist activity.
However, is it actually Covid-19 that has allowed the dust to finally settle after decades of unrest in the Middle East? Or is it just that it is out of sight, out of mind? Our main link to the situation is the media. The UN CTED report discussed the role of media coverage of terrorist activities, highlighting that reporting has become near non-existent due to an overwhelming focus on the pandemic.
Due to this lack of attention from the media, the world has become unaware of what is happening in the Middle East. We become ignorant to issues we don’t hear any news from. Just like we are unaware of the situation of the Kashmiris, the Rohingyas and the Uyghurs.
This is the great power of the media. No matter how much innocent blood is being shed, if it doesn’t interest the media, it won’t be given coverage. And without coverage, we won’t ever know the hell other people are living through. When our biggest worry is to wait for restrictions to ease and businesses to open, others are uncertain if they will survive another day or not.
The UN CTED report also links the importance of the media with the spread of terror. It states that the most basic aim of terrorist groups is to spread terror amongst the public. The media plays a great role in doing so by giving these groups coverage. However, as previously noted, since the outbreak of Covid-19, the media has been busy therefore taking terrorists out of the limelight. They now can no longer achieve their goal of spreading fear and terror through large attacks in the hopes of media attention.
Despite this, the media is also failing us on this issue as they are supposed to keep up updated on this situation. We don’t know how many people are stranded on the borders trying to escape war, or how intense the threat of terrorism is, or if the rebel forces are still fighting the sitting regimes, or how much land is still under the control of IS. And hence, all of a sudden, we’ve become less concerned about people in the Middle East ‘apparently’ suffering under dictatorships rules.
And here comes the third main stakeholder of the crisis, the “World Powers”. A few years ago, when the Arab Spring Rise was spreading, the world powers seemed very concerned about the people in the Middle East suffering under dictatorships. It looked as if the flag bearers of political freedom and peace would finally end forced regimes and terrorism, and bring democracy to the region.
However, as the pandemic broke, everyone started to look out for themselves rather than “worrying” about the Middle East. As soon as the so-called concerned powers became occupied with their own issues, we’ve stopped hearing any news regarding the atrocities of the forced regimes in the region.
So whether it is due to the limited movement of terrorists; the reduced media coverage; or the world powers having no free time to play their game of chess on the board of the Middle East; one thing is clear: the coronavirus, to an extent, has given a break to the unrest of Arab world.
This does not, however, mean that people are not suffering. Millions of people are displaced, hundreds of thousands stranded on borders, and we are not even talking about the people of Yemen who are in an entirely different situation. But the everyday clashes and constant fear of death has surely reduced to a certain degree.
We, the rest of the world, have a chance to learn something from this pandemic. After experiencing a hint of how it feels to live under a constant fear of death, we must do what we can to let peace and life prevail in the Middle East.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Shamamah Dogar
Point of Information
Conflict exists, but the media is ignorant – A Liberal Response
Shamamah’s article is needed now more than ever. I strongly share her concern that the media is failing us, particularly the Western media. This, sadly, is not a surprise. Western Media has misrepresented the Middle East for decades. It has little regard for the people of the region beyond eye-catching headlines, rooted in a feeling of superiority that guides the media’s focus. This has encouraged our current ignorance. The Western Powers, and their media outlets, have forgotten about the Middle East. Their silence is criminal.
Yet, Shamamah’s article falls victim to this same silence. Coronavirus has not given the Middle East a break. Do not be fooled by the apparent lack of instability. Conflict still rages on.
Protests, wars and instability are still present. In July, Iraq was rocked by anti-government protests in which two people were killed. Yet, the Western media is silent. Civil Wars in Yemen and Syria rage on. There’s no significant reporting on this either. Tensions are mounting in Libya, but we are blind. The media has failed to do justice to any of these events.
Terrorism has not subsided either. Shamamah is right to say that ISIS has reduced their attacks. However, ISIS has been all but eradicated. In fact, terrorists worldwide are seeing a resurgence. For example, Hamas has sent incendiary balloons into Southern Israel, re-igniting conflict. Yet again, the media has been silent! Terrorism still continues even despite the pandemic. The UNCTED report is outdated.
Barely covered internal conflicts are also being worsened by the pandemic, not relieved. The Gulf states are paying the price for the inhumane treatment of their migrant workers. Covid-19 is ravaging worker communities, leaving many starving. The threat of death looms over more than ever. Where is the outrage that once existed over this?
As my links show, almost all the outlets reporting these tragedies are based in the Middle East. Granted, the Guardian has released a few articles. Yet, coverage by the Western Media is scant.
The media’s silence has given a false impression that the coronavirus is a break for the Middle East. However, I agree with Shamamah that once the pandemic has subsided, we must act to promote peace. After the media’s inexcusable silence, this is imperative.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
Merely a pause – A Conservative Response
My response to a confused article? No.
I think it incredibly naïve to say that Covid-19 will usher in a new wave of peace. Covid, in this context, will change nothing: the same underlying structures still exist – the structures that create the conflict.
What structures you ask? The deep ideological split between Sunni & Shia Muslims (and the proxy conflicts that follow), the historical legacy of arbitrary borders (Sykes-Picot), the Israeli-Arab chasm, the underlying cruciality of oil (non-local interference), the Kurds vs. just about everyone else, etc. All of these things are still there. Regular service will resume.
These lead, necessarily, to conflict: Israeli annexation of the West Bank, Lebanese domestic turmoil, the proxy war in Yemen, the current situation in Syria, the Turk-Kurd conflict, ISIS & ISIL, etc. I think I have made my point.
Where I do agree with Shamamah, is the mistake in taking ’the reported’ for ‘the happening’. The media has had plenty else to focus on closer to home: COVID, BLM, exam results, the economy and covid-19 again. People are still dying, perhaps of deprivation rather than a gunshot, but now they die against the backdrop of media silence.
It is also a mistake to think of non-Middle Eastern actors as a ‘we’. Amongst the international community, there is no consensus on the Middle East. In fact, non-Middle Eastern actors often use the Middle East as a proxy battleground for their geopolitical games (see Syria). There will be no collective ‘learning’.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis