After more than a decade of uprisings and strikes in the Middle East, the leaders of the regional countries have found their authority back in their hands and even approved by the very same people. The executives are announcing new laws and regulations which not only limit the previous limitation of personal freedom but also grant them more authority to exert control without being objected. Considering that the pandemic is a time of emergency for everyone, none of these new regulations are seen as a danger for the people to be left with less freedom and space for their rights like they have been even before Covid-19.
This very time of crisis is the unique opportunity for the establishments to expand the power and authority, since even the most democratic states around the world are now limiting the personal freedom by having more control over their citizens. With all the arguments over the success of democratic or non-democratic states to control the pandemic, obviously the main losers of these debates would be the citizens of the non-democratic states in the long term.
Data collection, tracking, ban on gathering, prohibiting the religious practices and ignoring the rights of the foreign labourers are all practices that are being conducted easily these months without any international supervision. The Middle Eastern governments, by practically ignoring the democratic values, are trying to consolidate their position in a troubled region intensely afflicted by uprisings, strikes, civil wars and proxy wars.
In fact bringing back the usual methods of empowering once more the leading elites in the Middle East, as a region with almost no democratic state, would not be such a difficult accomplishment at this very moment.
If tracking the citizens and collecting their data were not legal practices before, in the post-Corona era they would be used to track the activity and control any raising voice considered as a danger to the national security of the governments. Taking into account that national security of the majority of the regional regimes are not entirely in favour of their own nation but rather in their own interest, any opposition can be considered as a threat.
The ban over gathering because of the pandemic, came in fact as a gift to the leading elites of the countries affected by frequent protests and demonstrations by their people demanding for radical changes towards a more democratic approach. Prohibiting the religious practices can be an excuse for many regional governments to prevent the activities of other sects and religions which are in minority in the country or are simply different from the official one of their rulers. And, finally, the foreign labourers of most of GCC countries are already facing many difficulties because of quarantine. Joblessness and being deprived of the opportunity to fly back to their home countries, along with the sharp increase of hostile feelings against foreigners, are leaving them in even a more fragile condition than before to demand their rights, or simply not to be deported away.
Covid-19 has come to the Middle East in a sensitive period of time in which the local establishments were mostly seeing their legitimacy challenged. However this challenge is eased at the moment due to the global concerns over health and safety of the public. But in reality the longtime effort of the people in the region for demanding their basic rights seems to be jeopardised for the time being, since all the authorities are now back with limitations, even with seemingly legitimate reasoning. The questions here are, how much the life of people in the Middle East is going to be affected by the new regulation in post Covid-19 era? How much the tracking of citizens will be extended when there will be no more actual need? And, finally, in a region with many sects in every single country, what will be the consequences of the limitations of the rights of the minorities?
(You can read the last article by Ghazal Poorhasan and Alessandro Tomat here)