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June 9, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8786

Visions Of The Post-Coronavirus World – Columnists In Saudi Press: The Pandemic Will Not Spell End Of Western Government Model; The West Will Emerge Strengthened From This Crisis

June 9, 2020
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 8786

After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the Arab media, and especially the Saudi media, published many articles about the allegedly poor handling of the crisis in some Western countries, presenting this as proof of the West's weakness and of the ineffective nature of its democratic system of government.[1] The articles claimed that the response of authoritarian governments, such as China's, to the virus was more effective that that of democratic Western governments, and made bleak predictions about the decline of the West and the rise of the East in the era after the pandemic.

In response, other journalists wrote articles rejecting this view, stating that the talk about the decline of the West stems from "a pathological hatred for everything the West, and especially the U.S., stand for." Despite the mishandling of the pandemic in some Western countries, they said, there is no doubt that the West surpasses the Arab world in the provision of healthcare and in concern for human rights; moreover, it is the West that is expected to develop a cure or a vaccine for Covid-19. The virus, they concluded, will not change the world order, and the  West will emerge strengthened from the crisis.

The following are translated excerpts from some of these articles.

Senior Saudi Journalist: The West Will Emerge From The Crisis Stronger, And World Affairs Will Resume Their Normal Course

Saudi journalist Mamdouh Al-Muhaini, director-general of the Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath television channels, dismissed the gloomy predictions about the world after the coronavirus pandemic. He assessed that the world will remain liberal, open and digitally-connected for a long time to come, since the coronavirus, for all its destructive potential, cannot reshape the world order, and the Western scientific knowledge, built up over centuries, will eventually defeat it. He wrote:

"Humanity is experiencing a mental breakdown because of the coronavirus [pandemic], which causes it to sink into dark [thoughts about] pessimistic scenarios of the day after the crisis. The sight of grounded planes and empty city [streets] intensifies these gloomy assessments, but if we rethink them, we will find that they are hardly correct or accurate.

"One of the prevailing notions today is that the world will be much more isolationist, and will never be the same again, because of the fear and the closure of borders. But the current crisis has actually revealed that the world desperately needs mutual cooperation [between countries], and that is [in fact] happening right now. In dealing with the coronavirus, the world seems to be more united than ever. The recent G20 summit in Riyadh demonstrated the power of international unity in overcoming severe crises. The international organizations, such as the World Health Organization, are the ones that enjoy the complete confidence [of the public], and all eyes are on [the WHO's] daily conferences, hoping for salvation.

"The crisis is global, and the world is not about to disintegrate into isolated villages! The insight is clear: nobody has the power to cope alone with this pandemic, which may recur in the future. Some say that [current] world order will collapse after the crisis, and remind us of the change that occurred in the world during the [Great Depression] of the 1930s and the entry of the U.S., under president Roosevelt, into the international arena. There are also assessments that, following the coronavirus [pandemic], the [global] power-center will shift to East Asia, but this is inconceivable, for two reasons: One is that the superpowers – China and the U.S. – were [both] harmed by the pandemic. That is, they did not manage to market themselves as victors in this war. The second is that the current world order was not shaped by epidemics and diseases, but by shifts in the military power [balance], as Germany collapsed and the U.S. rose up and imposed its liberal perception on the world. The coronavirus will not change the present character of the world order. It will remain liberal, open and digitally-connected for a long time, until some other forces rise up to destroy it. Bacteria and viruses do have invisible powers, but reshaping the world [order] is not one of them.

"The concerns about the strength of Western culture in the day after the coronavirus [pandemic] are exaggerated. The howls… about [the West] regressing to the Middle Ages are only wishful thinking and [baseless] predictions… [With its] science and knowledge, built over centuries, [the West] can overcome this severe crisis. [In fact,] the hopes and expectations of finding a vaccine for this disease are pinned on laboratories in the U.S., Britain and Germany. These superpowers are experiencing a severe crisis, but they will surely come out of it strong and hale. 

"The lockdown imposed by this microscopic virus has traumatized humanity. People never expected they might die in a pandemic, like their ancestors over a century ago. They thought we were past that stage. But despite this, their faith in the salvation offered by science is [still] strong. They pin their hopes on doctors' prescriptions and on the guidance of scientists, not of frauds and charlatans. After we overcome the coronavirus crisis, the faith in scientific thinking will surely grow  [even stronger], and the old perceptions… will wane.

"Will life resume its regular course the day after the coronavirus crisis? Regardless of all the pessimistic scenarios, history teaches us that humanity experienced world wars, deadly plagues, and severe financial crises, [but always] triumphed over them and resumed its natural course: one of optimism, with a short memory and a powerful will to survive and strive for happiness and personal success." [2]  

Saudi Writer: We Must Not Attack The West For Its Handling Of Coronavirus; The West Surpasses Us In Human Rights, Medical Research

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Hamad Al-Majed came out against some Arab intellectuals and media figures who accused Western governments of giving precedence to the economy over their citizens' health. Al-Majed, a member of Saudi Arabia's National Society for Human Rights,  wrote that the Arabs are poorly placed to criticize the West in this context, since the West is clearly more advanced than the Arab world when it comes to healthcare and human rights, and also because Arab criticism of the West's human rights record could prompt the West to address the many human rights violations in the Arab world. He wrote:

"Some Western countries were unsure of the suitable measures [to take against] the coronavirus. As the notion of 'herd immunity' or 'mass immunity' spread…. the West vacillated between two theories: that of fighting the virus through strict isolation [measures], and that of letting the virus spread naturally and cause fatalities until it peaks and then fades and disappears, as previous viruses have disappeared. [Amid this Western uncertainty], some Arab media figures and intellectuals in the conventional and new media launched a sweeping attack on certain Western governments, accusing them of being inhuman, of abysmally failing the coronavirus test and of caring more about business and money than about human beings and human compassion.

"This attack prompted some Arab countries, chiefly Saudi Arabia, to take special and early precautionary measures, on the medical and informational front, that helped to significantly curb the spread of the dangerous virus [within their borders], compared to large Western countries like the U.S., Italy and Spain, where the number of infections and fatalities leapt at an alarming rate. The West's muddled [response] reached the point of failing to supply the simplest protective and medical equipment, such as face masks and ventilators, which led some countries to resort to piracy [in order to obtain them].

"This Western failure or muddled [response] in coping with the coronavirus crisis led some Arabs to boast about the preventive measures taken by the [Arab] countries. [Pride in our achievements is our] undeniable right, and is [even] necessary... At the same time, true national [sentiment] and pleasure at the achievements of the homeland does not have to be accompanied by a vicious media war against the Western other focusing on the issue of human rights. For [our] digging around in this issue may prompt the other [i.e., the West] to start digging around in the issue of human rights in the Arab world, which suffers from a pandemic of [human rights] violations…

"Moreover, the sweeping attack on the Western countries for [alleged] human rights [violations] is not objective. For even if the criticism of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic is justified, the West has many achievements that cannot be denied in terms of [caring for] people in its countries… And even if the West has failed in terms of the humane handling of the [coronavirus] pandemic, it has had many other successes [that benefit] mankind and are known to the world… Taking the issue of epidemics that afflicted mankind, such as the bubonic plague, tuberculosis, typhus and cholera, it is the West – which, according to some Arabs, has mishandled the coronavirus pandemic – that gave mankind the chance to save itself from certain death or from crippling illnesses and disabilities, by means of its research factories, diligence and resilience. This is in addition to its innumerable medical innovations… whose benefit for humanity is beyond reckoning." [3]


The world gradually recovers from the coronavirus (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, June 8, 2020)

Lebanese Media Figure: Despite The West's Mishandling Of The Pandemic, The Western Model Will Maintain Its Dominance And Even Grow Stronger

In an article headlined "Will the Tenets of Dictatorship Triumph Thanks to the Coronavirus?," also in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, the director of the Voice of Lebanon radio station,  Sam Mansa,  wrote that the systematic media campaigns touting the immanent collapse of the West stem primarily from hatred of the West and especially of the U.S. He argued that the democratic liberal system, based on institutions headed by elected officials, is far better than the totalitarian model, based on leaders who rule for years and often even for life while oppressing their citizens. Adding that the West experiences recurring periods of decline, but always manages to overcome them and resume its leading position, he assessed that this will be the case in the current crisis as well.

He wrote: "As the novel coronavirus [continues to] spread, heated debates continue to rage regarding the superior handling [of the pandemic] by the closed and tyrannical regimes, in contrast to the democratic regimes, which were careful to keep the strict policing [of the public] to a minimum and to preserve their achievements in the domain of rights and freedoms. The conventional and digital media are waging a noisy and systematic campaign [about this], showing footage of Chinese soldiers who greeted the doctors and nurses after they finished their work in Wuhan and returned to their hospitals, [presenting] this as proof of [China's] victory over the deadly virus. This is juxtaposed with shocking footage of thousands of coffins in the squares of Italy and Spain, waiting to be carried off to the cemetery. This campaign is [actually] directed against the U.S., and is meant to trumpet the decline of the American 'empire' and its imminent social and economic collapse.

"The goal of this systematic campaign is [to present] China – a dictatorship and the source of the Covid 19 [pandemic]  ̶  as the greatest victor in the trial [of the fight against the virus], and as [a country] that has already declared its recovery and its return to normal life (knowing that nobody can verify for certain what is going on there). Conversely, the Western democracies, against all expectations, are the greatest losers [in this fight], for the virus is flooding them to a disastrous degree, killing thousands of victims every day, while at the same time shattering the myth of the Western democracies… 

"These campaigns are not new; they are undoubtedly part of the well-known global political rivalry between the two camps, the East and the West. The Eastern camp has exploited the present health crisis to wage an immense deception campaign… exaggerating the impact of COVID-19, sowing fear and spreading an atmosphere of distrust [towards the authorities] in the Western societies…

"Objectivity compels us…  to recognize the democracies' failure in their initial response to the virus, which flooded them while they ignored it, and they will surely learn a lesson from this. However, the claim that this inadequate response proves the failure of the Western cultural model [as a whole], and of its capitalist, democratic and liberal path, and the declaration that the end [of this model] is nigh… constitute a simplistic and primitive analysis of history that attests to a pathological hidden hatred for everything that the West, and especially the U.S., represent. Decency compels us to take a rational and calm approach in discussing the two models and [the question of] which of them better achieves the lofty goal of [any form of] government – preserving the spirit of humaneness and humanity.

"The principles that underpin the world's liberal regimes, which are suppressed by the totalitarian and tyrannical regimes – including government turnover through fair elections, the separation of the powers, the independence of the judiciary, transparency and accountability, and the protection of civil society from the tyranny of the state – all originate in a set of social and moral principles which form the basis of regimes that champion human dignity and sanctify liberty. In contrast to what happens in countries like China, Russia and others, the regime in democratic and liberal countries is first and foremost a regime of institutions, not of [particular] individuals, since the heads of the institutions are elected… and are constantly held accountable.

"This is the clear difference between a [democratic-liberal] culture and a culture that believes that keeping the leader Putin in power until 2036 is a natural [measure to take]; that it is legitimate for the leader of China to remain in power for life, and that limiting free [access to] the internet, or jailing oppositionists without trial, disappearing them and murdering them with bullets or with poison, is an obvious [course of action] – a culture that not only fails to condemn these practices, but regards them as practices 'to be taken for granted.' Nor are we unaware of the role played by civil society organizations and by the media in the liberal regimes. It is enough to consider the role played by institutions like The New York Times and ABC [News], and other vast [media] bodies, in monitoring the activity of the authorities, without which the situation would have been completely different. Perhaps President Donald Trump's time in office will demonstrate [more than any other era] the importance of the media in the American pollical model.

 "It would also be helpful to take a glance at the roster of Nobel Prize [winners] since the launching [of this prize], in order to note that most of the winners, in the various fields, have been from the U.S. or the West, or else were affiliated with Western universities, institutions and research centers… A quick review of the ground-breaking companies [operating] around the world today, from Microsoft to Google and from Yahoo to Twitter… will lead us to conclude that it is very hasty to disdainfully proclaim that the American model and the Western model in general have collapsed. This [claim] is better characterized as [part of] the trend of hatred towards the U.S. and the West at large.

"After China's concealment of the facts and silencing of the doctors who tried to warn against the virus brought [disaster] on the world, [China] will not succeed in its current attempts to assume the role of savior in this pandemic using its soft power. The romantic rejoicing at the return of Stalinist socialism and in particular at the collapse of globalization goes against the logic of history, for even China is no longer a socialist state, but a capitalist regime ruled by a government that curtails freedoms – just like Russia, which has now become an autocratic capitalist regime based on ending the activity of the [democratic] institutions and emptying democracy of content.

The West's current failure in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic may be a temporary defeat in one battle. [But] although it has seen periods of decline, the Western model continued to establish itself throughout history, starting in the Greek and Roman periods through the Renaissance, to the globalization [era]. The West will return to excel at human and cultural innovation, and will not be dragged into the deceptions of tyranny. Signs indicate that it will even increase its scientific and theoretic capabilities in order to overcome this epidemic, without neglecting the principles of its democratic model."[4]

Saudi Studying In The US: Muslims Should Appreciate The Academic Opportunities The West Provides Them

In an April 13, 2020 article in the Saudi daily Al-Riyad titled "The Coronavirus and the Disdain towards the West" in the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, Anas bin Muhammad Al-Thuweini, a Saudi studying in the U.S., slammed Muslims who express contempt for the West and point to Muslim scientists fighting the pandemic as proof of Islam's superiority. We must remember that most of these Muslim scientists were educated in Western universities or are sponsored by them, said Al-Thuweini; moreover, our justified pride in the achievements of Muslims does not have to be accompanied by disdain for others. He wrote:

"One thing you notice in the coronavirus crisis is some people trying to lavish praise on the Muslim world while expressing disdain for the West or the non-Muslim world. They do this in several ways. For example, they do everything they can to expose the Western anxiety and fear of the disease, [mentioning that] people [there] bought large quantities of face masks and disinfectant, and even weapons, while the Muslim world did not react the same way. [Another example] is a video by a certain preacher who praised the contribution of Muslims who have been prominent in [dealing with] this crisis, such as [Bangladeshi businessman] 'Omar Ishrak, CEO of the Medtronic company, who shared the patent for the ventilator manufactured by his company, and [Egyptian] Muslim doctor Heba Mostafa, who heads a [research] group at John Hopkins university trying to find a vaccine for the virus. He stated that there are thousands of Muslim doctors at the forefront of the fight against this pandemic… 

"It is true that 'Omar and Heba are Muslims, and that there are Muslims at the forefront of the fight [against the disease]. But the speaker [in that video] and those who share his views should not deny reality in referring to the West out of an inclination to tout [the superiority of] Islam or show the West that the Muslim world is advanced. There is nothing wrong with [mentioning] the progress of the Muslim world without trying to belittle the capabilities of the Western countries. 

'Omar Ishrak, for example, got his PhD at King's College London. He benefitted from the Western capabilities and became CEO of a Western company, not because he was a Muslim but thanks to the knowledge and expertise he gained, which qualify him [for this job]. As for Dr. Heba Mostafa, she [too] is a doctor who works at a Western university. Were it not for Allah and the West, she would not have been able to head that [research] group. Moreover, she is not the only [member of the group], and it is quite possible that some non-Muslim member will find the vaccine, and then the credit will go to the whole group, not to Heba alone. It should be noted that Heba [also] got her degree at a Western university, in Lawrence, Kansas.

"Lately there have been many cases of denial, and it is sad to read about them. I and others like me are in the West, trying to take advantage of all the opportunities it provides us, which would not have been available [to us] without the help of Allah and our countries [of origin]. There are over 90,000 Saudi students currently studying in the West, and many others studied there before them. Is it possible to deny this? All those slogans brandished in order to exalt Islam are very saddening. Must we disparage others in order to prove we are better than they, or can we do without this?!

"There are Muslim and non-Muslim doctors fighting [the pandemic]. There are Muslims and non-Muslims trying to find a vaccine. Muslim doctors have been martyred [fighting the disease], and non-Muslim doctors have died as well. Our pronouncements must be logical, for a logical statement is difficult to shatter, while an emotional one is very easily shattered. Imagine that the vaccine will be discovered by a non-Muslim doctor and, thanks to him and to Allah, all the patients recover. I hope this will happen. Just imagine it." [5]

 

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 2, 2020.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 14, 2020.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 6, 2020.

[5] Al-Riyad (Saudi Arabia), April 13, 2020.

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