No, Coronavirus Won’t Transform the Middle East

The great 14th-century Arab scholar and historian Ibn Khaldun wrote that the Black Death, which swept through Europe and the Middle East in his lifetime, “devastated nations and . . . swallowed up many of the good things of civilization,” leaving “the entire inhabited world changed.” It’s unlikely, writes Reuel Marc Gerecht, that the current pandemic will have anywhere near so great an effect. Indeed, the impact of COVID-19 on the Middle East will be less marked than in other places:

The big Middle Eastern countries have a distinct medical advantage over their Western counterparts: the median age is much lower. In Iran, the epicenter of the disease in the Middle East, it’s 29.5 years. In Italy, the hardest hit of European countries by COVID-19, the median age is 47.3. In Algeria and Egypt, the two Arab states whose political tumult inevitably reverberates throughout the Mediterranean littoral, the median age is even younger than Iran’s. The median age in Saudi Arabia, the newest coronavirus hotspot among the Arabs, is 30. The damage wrought by this malady on youth is vastly less than on the old.

Still, Gerecht sees some potential that the coronavirus might bring renewed potential for political change:

Muslim families, though smaller and less tightknit than yesteryear, are still bigger and more cohesive than in the West. It’s possible that if large numbers die from the contagion, the young men who watched their grandparents and parents perish will hold their rulers responsible and seek revenge—still a hallmark of Muslim ethics even in thoroughly detribalized metropolises.

Returning to the Black Death, Gerecht notes that its effects on European and Middle Eastern societies differed because of the different theological lenses through which each saw it. As one historian writes: “For the Muslim, the Black Death was part of a God-ordered, natural universe; for the Christian, it was an irruption of the profane world of sin and excruciating punishment.”

After the Black Death in Europe, Christians got rowdy. Peasant revolts occurred for years after. Old habits and institutions, first and foremost the Church, took a big hit as individuals started to reevaluate their lives and worth and how they communed with God. Intellectuals became more questioning, if not downright disrespectful. . . . By comparison, the Islamic world remained conservative, if not quiescent.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Coronavirus, Middle Ages, Middle East

Why Arab Jerusalem Has Stayed Quiet

One of Hamas’s most notable failures since October 7 is that it has not succeeded in inspiring a violent uprising either among the Palestinians of the West Bank or the Arab citizens of Israel. The latter seem horrified by Hamas’s actions and tend to sympathize with their own country. In the former case, quiet has been maintained by the IDF and Shin Bet, which have carried out a steady stream of arrests, raids, and even airstrikes.

But there is a third category of Arab living in Israel, namely the Arabs of Jerusalem, whose intermediate legal status gives them access to Israeli social services and the right to vote in municipal elections. They may also apply for Israeli citizenship if they so desire, although most do not.

On Wednesday, off-duty Israeli soldiers in the Old City of Jerusalem shot at a Palestinian who, it seems, was attempting to attack them. But this incident is a rare exception to the quiet that has prevailed in Arab Jerusalem since the war began. Eytan Laub asked a friend in an Arab neighborhood why:

Listen, he said, we . . . have much to lose. We already fear that any confrontation would have consequences. Making trouble may put our residence rights at risk. Furthermore, he added, not a few in the neighborhood, including his own family, have applied for Israeli citizenship and participating in disturbances would hardly help with that.

Such an attitude reflects a general trend since the end of the second intifada:

In recent years, the numbers of [Arab] Jerusalemites applying for Israeli citizenship has risen, as the social stigma of becoming Israeli has begun to erode and despite an Israeli naturalization process that can take years and result in denial (because of the requirement to show Jerusalem residence or the need to pass a Hebrew language test). The number of east Jerusalemites granted citizenship has also risen, from 827 in 2009 to over 1,600 in 2020.

Oddly enough, Laub goes on to argue, the construction of the West Bank separation fence in the early 2000s, which cuts through the Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem, has helped to encouraged better relations.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Jerusalem