April 21, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8707

Visions Of The Post-Coronavirus World – Part X: Arab Writers: Where Is The Arab Contribution To The Fight Against The Virus; How Long Will We Continue To Neglect The Fields Of Science And Research?

April 21, 2020
Special Dispatch No. 8707


Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Arab media has raised many questions regarding the absence of the Arabs countries from the world of scientific research. Many writers complained that, even now, the Arab world continues to devote its resources to internecine fighting and to the propagation of conspiracy theories about the origin of the coronavirus,[1] instead of joining the global effort to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. They wondered how long the Arabs will continue to receive inventions and innovations developed by others, and called to change the mentality and priorities in the Arab countries. An Egyptian journalist noted that the pandemic highlights the necessity of investing state resources in cultivating Egypt’s doctors, scientists and human capital in general, a sphere that has been neglected for years.

The Arab world swallowed by coronavirus (Al-Quds Al-Arabi, London, March 28, 2020)

The following are translated excerpts from some of these articles:

UAE Journalist: Why Don't Doctors, Research Centers In Arab Counties Take Part In Quest For Vaccine?

Muhammad Al-Dulaimi, secretary-general of the Dubai-based Arab Women Foundation and a columnist on the Saudi news outlet Elaph, wrote: "Describing the [COVID-19] pandemic, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the inspiring woman responsible for [Germany's] economic growth, said that [the pandemic] is the greatest challenge we have faced since World War II. [UK] Prime Minister… Boris Johnson advised his people to take leave of their loved ones because they may lose them.[2] Japan, the mother of technological [expertise], seemed to be in shock, and the health minister [of Italy], one of the seven industrialized states and the successor of the Roman Empire, said that 'we have exhausted all the measures on earth, and have no recourse but to turn to heaven.’ China, land of the Great Wall and the epicenter of this evil [pandemic], is not in an enviable state [either].

"The global stock markets collapsed within a few days, and trillions of dollars evaporated amid unprecedented, continent-spanning fear and alarm. Massive airlines are closing down and armies are not taking to the battlefields but rather to the streets and squares [to help maintain public order], a sight we have not seen since World War I and World War II. All this is happening before the cameras of the television and satellite channels, which relay the opinions of [various] analysts – most of them not [even] medical or healthcare professionals – who advise us to wash our hands with soap and water and not to touch our faces and noses…

"Do we not have the right to ask what our Arab doctors and scientists [are doing to meet] this challenge? Where are our research centers and universities?...

"The Arab governments have built the best healthcare facilities for their peoples, and made sure they have access to medicines. But the essential and natural question is: Where are the donations of Arab businessmen in the promotion of pharmaceutical and medical research? How many [Arab] businessmen have dedicated a sizable portion of their investments to the field of medicine and to establishing medical schools…? While Western businessmen bequeath all their wealth to universities, for building research centers and laboratories, most of the estates left behind [in our countries] are fought over by the heirs [of the deceased] in personal status court…

"Where are we [in this crisis], compared to the world?... It is the social, moral and human duty of all those with ability to first of all reassess our way of thinking, and there is no shame in recognizing our faults and incapacities… This pandemic has forced us to rethink the efficacy of the healthcare, administrative and economic systems, and even more than that, of the immigration systems and border crossings.

"We face the large and reasonable question: Where are the Arabs, compared to the world? Will be continue to be mere recipients, [just] responding to our fate and succumbing to it?..."[3]

Iraqi Columnist: The World Is Seeking A Vaccine Against The Virus, While The Arabs Are Busy Fighting And Neglect Scientific Research

Ma'd Fayyad, an Iraqi-British writer and journalist for the UAE-based daily Al-Roeya, wrote: "It's not news that the Arabs are a consumer nation of the first order. Other [nations] invent and manufacture, while we receive and buy, while talking on our television channels, writing, sitting comfortably in our living rooms, or [participating in] gatherings and boasting of the glory of our ancestors… But what have we [ourselves] accomplished? Nothing whatsoever! We only import ready-made ideas and inventions… Most Arab countries have been preoccupied with useless wars and internal fighting. We have witnessed and continued to witness regimes that kill thousands of their own people and squander funds, abilities and efforts on local and regional scheming, out of sectarian or political motivations, while neglecting the infrastructures, research and education [in their countries]. That is why [the Arab countries] have regressed by 50 years. 

"Today, as the coronavirus attacks the world and threatens nations, including our own Arab nations, and kills tens of thousands, we sit and wait for whoever will do us a favor and manufacture a vaccine that will save us from this pandemic. Worse, we devote our energies to arguing among ourselves about a conspiracy theory, according to which the U.S. manufactured this virus in order to destroy the Chinese economy! [This is] while scientists in China, Russia, the U.S., Germany and several other Western countries spend day and night in their state-of-the-art labs to develop a vaccine that will save humanity. [They] stay away from the conspiracy theories we use to excuse our failures, our helplessness and our laziness. I thank God that no Arab has opened his mouth to say that the coronavirus is a plot against the Arabs, the Arab nation and Islam…"[4] 

Saudi Columnist: The Arabs Expect The World To Solve The Coronavirus Problem, And Circulate Conspiracy Theories Regarding It

Saudi columnist 'Abdallah bin Bakhit wrote in a similar vein in the Al-Riyadh daily: "If you list the countries that have entered the race to fight the virus and finding a vaccine, you will not find a single Muslim country among them. Reading the statements in the press and the media of Islamic countries, and the statements of their doctors about the virus and about the possibility of finding a cure or a vaccine, you feel as though you are reading the sports pages or watching the local sports channels discussing the league games in Europe. That is, people enjoy the games and cheer without having any effect or taking part in the events.

"The problem is not only that we fail to ask ourselves why, given that we contract the disease like everyone else, we expect other nations to solve the problem and do not participate in [finding] the solution. [The problem is] that we do not even think of taking part in the solution. We are part of the problem, but not part of finding the solution. Moreover, we have become one of the main sources of creating and spreading delusions regarding this disaster that is afflicting the world. Some [among us] say that the coronavirus is [the result of] a conspiracy, others say that it is [an expression of] anger, and yet others say that it is [a result of] experiments that leaked from some lab. It has come to the point where these delusions are our sole contribution in situations of global crisis.  The same things we now say about the coronavirus we said in the 1980s about AIDS and in the 1990s about the tsunami. We said them about SARS and about swine flu, and have used them to explain every epidemic, catastrophe or war in the history of mankind…"[5]

Former Egyptian MP: The Coronavirus Crisis Highlights The Vital Need For State Investment In Scientific Research And Human Capital

In his column in the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, former MP 'Amr Al-Shobaki wrote that the coronavirus pandemic highlights the need for greater investment in the medical profession and in human capital in general, a sphere that the  Egyptian state has hitherto neglected. He wrote: "The danger that has struck Egypt and the world, [namely] the spread of the coronavirus, may prompt a reexamination of many policies around the world… In our country [Egypt], the situation is especially dire from an economic perspective. [Additionally,] our development priorities are different [from other countries’], and we still regard doctors as [mere] civil servants. The state's treatment of doctors in recent years may have caused many of them to emigrate… and [thus] harmed everyone, and even sprinkled salt on the wounds of medical staff in state hospitals who are frequently attacked without there being an adequate [official] response… [For the state], the important point is that they do their jobs, even if the reward is paltry and even if they pay with their lives…

"Egypt needs to invest in people, not in stones. The state must realize that one of its long-term sources of strength is its human capital: the intellectuals, scientists, doctors, writers, artists and enlightened clerics. The strength of countries is measured by their influence in the domains of science and culture, more than in the military and political spheres. China’s political power will grow because it overcame the virus using science, not by means of its vast army; America's power [likewise] lies in its scientists, even if it is governed by a president like Trump, and Europe will remain developed… thanks to its scientists, laboratories and investment in scientific research.

"Egypt needs new bridges and cities, but it has a much greater need for genuine investment in people, in the values of science, beauty and creation. It needs [people] to stop spreading negative phenomena everywhere... For a country that lets its people be harmed by the spread of negative phenomena and ignorance has no capacity to withstand any crisis or viral [epidemic]. What we need is a new social contract  and a new political formula that will correct our course and place [Egypt] and the world on a new human path."[6]





[2] Johnson said: "I must level with the British public: many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time" (, March 12, 2020).

[3], MaRCH 23, 2020.

[4] Al-Roeya (UAE), February 24, 2020.

[5] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), March 1, 2020.

[6] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), April 1, 2020.

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