By Sara Kalil, Middle east Monitor
In the three months that countries around the world have imposed widescale lockdowns that paralysed their economies and decimated trade, we have seen the emergence of grassroots organisations which have supported those worst affected by the crisis.
In the UK, Mutual Aid has become synonymous with community projects that ask nothing in return for the good they do. People are now becoming acquainted with their neighbours, discovering that they are not isolated on their roads, rather the busy pace of the life they once lived left them unable to – or perhaps having never considered – spend time with those who are physically closest to them.
Fast forward three months and we know more about the communities we live in than we have in the decades we lived in them, we’ve checked on each other, shopped for one another and clapped for our carers in a moving tribute that has seen us shed tears together.
But while individuals connect in a raw and heartfelt manner, politicians are continuing their usual manner of isolating us. After all, a united community is strong and can change authority.
In the Middle East and North Africa governments have imposed new emergency laws which encourage people to spy on one another for the “good” of society (of course). Spreading “misinformation about the coronavirus” can lead to jail terms and large fines, as despotic leaders continue to ensure that they maintain their hold over “facts”.
Concentrating efforts on reducing the spread of panic and therefore protecting their seat in power and their economies, governments are ignoring vital – and potentially fatal – issues which are rising during the pandemic.
Rights groups in the MENA have said they are dealing with the same number of cases of domestic violence they would normally see in a year, and we have only just completed the first quarter of 2020!
But where are the government statements? Where are the emergency laws to protect women, children and anyone affected by such aggression?
Most Arab economies do not have the ability to provide the financial cushions their Western counterparts have put in place. While the UK offered companies, which are unable to continue trading, support to cover staff wages during the economic downturn, Middle Easterners have been facing the upheaval alone.
Predominantly cash economies, residents of Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan and the other 18 countries that make up the Arab League cannot claim help for incomes that have never been declared and which would be too low to register should a system exist. The increase in poverty rates are exacerbating the situation for domestic violence sufferers and those who have always struggled to make ends meet.
Global economies have always depended on one another, the rich northern hemisphere relies on having poorer countries to help provide lower income workers or provide a “safe place” to dispose of their harmful waste.
As the West continues to tackle the coronavirus pandemic with a view to ensuring its economies withstand the unrest, so too should governments help those in countries which could not afford to cushion the blow to their economies and peoples.
In 2016, the EU inked a deal with Turkey which saw it pay €6 billion ($6.6 billion) in exchange for Ankara containing the flow of Europe-bound migrants and refugees who were fleeing war and economic unrest.
Yesterday UNICEF announced that without urgent action, the number of children living in poor households across low- and middle-income countries could increase by 15 per cent, to reach 672 million this year as a result of the coronavirus.
“The scale and depth of financial hardship among families threatens to roll back years of progress in reducing child poverty and to leave children deprived of essential services. Without concerted action, families barely getting by could be pushed into poverty, and the poorest families could face levels of deprivation that have not been seen for decades,” Henrietta Fore, UNICEF executive director, warned.
As poverty and desperation increase, so too will the number of people willing to risk their lives in the hopes of reaching Europe or other countries they deem as providing them the resources to support their starving families.
Making this journey forces many to take out loans at extortionate interest rates from local loan sharks, leaving their families not only at risk of hunger but also at the mercy of these brutal gangs. Failing to succeed is not an option.
Trapped in Dubai as a result of the coronavirus, and with no income due to the closures, Bipul (not his real name) fears for his family as he has been unable to send home the money needed to pay the loan sharks.
“I really need a job so I can repay it,” he told the Guardian. “I also need to earn money to help my family. This is such a big problem.”
His situation is not unique, but it is no less heart breaking as a result.
If we do not come together to tackle the economic downturn which has been caused by the global pandemic, we risk watching as millions drown in poverty, while Western governments do what they can to swat them away and ensure they do not become a “burden” on their societies.
Economies which are built on capitalism and globalisation. But in the true sense of capitalism, we are only interested in the good we can take from it – cheap labour that is often too scared to speak up – and we have no interest in anything that can slow us down.
Western governments are only too happy to “help” oil rich Middle Eastern states overthrow some of their despotic leaders and force their replacements to squander their people’s wealth on defence systems and wars as their countries remain fractured.
Iraq and Libya have both been pushed to the brink, as a result they are playgrounds for migrants looking north in the hope of change.
Isn’t it time economic investments in these countries grew to entice nationals to stay? A stable Middle East makes for a better world and leaves Europe with less to fear.