Middle East Notes and Comment: Assad Tries To Keep Opposition-Held Areas Vulnerable To Covid-19

New Analysis 

COVID-19 has exacerbated Syria’s economic crisis to unprecedented levels. In recent weeks alone, the Syrian pound has lost more than half its value. President Bashar al-Assad argued that Syrians could not endure any more economic hardship. He reopened businesses and markets after a two-month lockdown in late April and lifted a daily curfew completely on 26 May. 

But it is not “business as usual.” In fact, as he has opened the country Assad has tried to ensure that those in opposition-held areas are more vulnerable to the pandemic. He is seeking to weaponize COVID-19 to help win his civil war. 

Read Will Todman's full piece on the The Hill.

Babel: Translating the Middle East

In the most recent episode of Babel, Jon Alterman was joined by Greg Gause from Texas A&M University to discuss the changing economies of the Gulf during Covid-19. They discuss Saudi Arabia's labor markets, economic reforms under MBS, and the future of the kingdom.

In another episode, Jon interviewed the Los Angeles Times' Nabih Bulos about disinformation during Covid-19. They discuss alternatives to state run media, disinformation bots, and information lockdowns during the pandemic.

We also released pieces from our mezze series on addressing issues in the region and divorce parties in Saudi Arabia

External Panels

Jon spoke on a Chatham House panel with Jonathon Fulton, Yu Jie, and Niu Xinchun, moderated by Champa Patel, on how China's relations with the Middle East are evolving during the Covid-19 pandemic. During the panel, Jon remarked that "there is a sense that the U.S. has spent too much time getting bogged down in security issues in the Middle East and not enough time thinking about Asia."

Will spoke on a SetaDC panel on "U.S. policy in Syria during the age of coronavirus" with co-panelists Colonel (Ret.) Richard Outzen and Jomana Qaddour, moderated by Kadir Ustun.


On July 10, the UN's mandate for accessing opposition-held areas of Syria through cross-border operations will expire. Ahead of the July 10 deadline, Will released a short video to accompany his report on why ceasing cross-border aid is dangerous.

In the News

Will is quoted in an article in the Guardian on how authoritarian leaders are allowing the virus to wreak havoc on its people, saying "Covid-19 has provided Assad a new opportunity to instrumentalize suffering.” (05/15/20).