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


Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security