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COVID-19: International Approach and “Egyptian Battle” against Pandemic”

On Monday, 6th of April fourth online seminar with was conducted as a part of the joint project of the Russian Middle East Association and the School of International Regional Studies of HSE University. The main speaker was Hany Soliman Kerba, Manager of Arab Center for Research and Studies (Cairo, ARE), who presented the topic “COVID-19: International Approach and “Egyptian Battle” against Pandemic”.

Traditionally the welcoming speech was given by the Head of the HSE School of International Regional Studies of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, Associate Professor Vera Vishnyakova, who expressed her sincere appreciation to all the participants of the online seminars. Professor Vishnyakova admitted also that it was the second week of the online meetings dedicated to COVID-19 and unfortunately the topic was still in agenda in all countries of the world. Therefore, it is crucially important to analyze the reaction of different governments, especially in the dynamic region of the Middle East. 

Professor Hany Soliman started his speech by underlining the example of Egypt's experience of preventive measures introduced by the government. For now, COVID-19 has become the biggest challenge for the whole Middle East, therefore the expert called the global pandemic as “first global war” with its distinctive features. First, unlike World War I and II, this metaphoric war has no defined geographical area – all the countries of the world are infected by the virus. Second, the virus has no social distinction and affects people of any gender, age, and nationality. Third, the virus is a hidden enemy, which in fact means that there is no enemy in this war and therefore there is no political will of victory – while the enemy is everywhere, everyone has to participate to fight it. And here Professor Hany Soliman draws one of the main failures of the international community, the late reaction to the spread of the virus. Due to that, the local institutions did not manage to react in time and to redefine their capabilities. 

Among different processes globalization was to suffer the most from the outbreak of the coronavirus: countries had to close their borders, international corridors and the transportation systems, as well as the freedom of movement of people, goods, and services, were stopped, the governments had to turn to nationalist ideas that caused the recession to the very idea of globalization. Simultaneously, totalitarian states, such as China, are now perceived differently due to the strict but effective measures that the government undertook to protect the state from the spread of the virus. Thus, in the future, we may see the change in the role of the state in the economy. 

The Egyptian expert emphasized also the change of the global order after coronavirus; the European Union had not fully recovered from the Brexit when it faced the new challenges brought by COVID-19 – the local governments had to deal with the pandemic by their own means, what affected the most Italy and Spain and caused the rise of anti-EU attitudes. Additionally, the pandemic will change one of the largest capitalist economies in the world, the United States that have to adapt to the emergency very fast. The key role here is played by US President Donald Trump, who is now trying to blame China for the spread of the virus and consequently the global economic recession. As for the rentier states, that are namely all the Gulf countries, they rely heavily on oil and therefore suffer great losses in revenue and profits and understand the pressing need of the economy diversification to overcome the crisis. 

The second part of the discussion was devoted to the strategy of the Egyptian government to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Hany Soliman Kerba noted that the government managed to provide the gradual plan of crisis management and raise the citizens’ awareness, especially the preventive measures of Egyptian Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly. The special role was given to the Egyptian army that not only controlled the people but also provided the sanitation for the medical equipment. Just like Russia, the Egyptian educational system had to change the format to online and distant learning revealing all the drawbacks and shortcomings of the system. However, the economy of Egypt now suffers greatly loses primary from the tourism industry and secondly due to the restrictions of transportation in the Suez Canal. 

The main challenge brought by COVID-19 according to the expert is the problem of solidarity, the individualism of big states and international organizations that fail to understand the multidimensional influence of the coronavirus and therefore fail to help people. But, answering the questions from the participants, Hany Soliman assured that there will be no new wave of Arab Spring, as each of the Middle East countries is now affected by the virus and understands perfectly the need of unification. 

At the end of the seminar, the expert traditionally answered all the questions from the participants and expressed his aspiration for further cooperation. 

Video is available to the link: https://youtu.be/myuzWxUYHzo