Middle East Notes and Comment: Getting the Pandemic Completely Wrong

Getting the Pandemic Completely Wrong

I was wrong, perhaps profoundly so. In the earliest days, few Middle Eastern governments were showing any capacity to halt the spread of the disease, and they seemed ill-prepared to protect their citizens from the economic ravages of the pandemic. With so many in poverty, and so many lacking formal employment, populations already were living on a knife’s edge. Covid-19 would disrupt economies, slash incomes, and demonstrate governmental ineptitude. It seemed poised to throw the region into chaos.

And almost two years later, we see that the pandemic has not thrown the region into chaos, or at least, not yet. In fact, the pandemic’s political fallout has been relatively modest everywhere around the world. For communities committed to understanding political economy, global security, and the drivers of political change, the pandemic’s modest political punch in the Middle East requires explanation.

Read Jon Alterman's commentary on the CSIS website .

From the Middle East Program

New Analysis

Political and economic dysfunction recently prompted a UN rapporteur to describe Lebanon as a "failing state." As basic services collapse, political gridlock is creating a humanitarian emergency for millions of vulnerable Lebanese, on top of the country's ongoing Syrian refugee crisis.

In a new brief, Will Todman and Caleb Harper argue that the current humanitarian architecture in Lebanon is no longer fit for purpose. They press for an independent review of the structure of aid programs for all of Lebanon's inhabitants as a necessary first step for donors, multilateral aid agencies, and NGOs to find effective ways to address the dysfunctions and ensure that aid reaches the most vulnerable.

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Babel: Translating the Middle East

In the most recent episode of Babel, Jon spoke with Dr. Kristin Diwan about how Gulf youths' eagerness for change finds public expression and how Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) tries to shape young peoples' attitudes for reform in Saudi Arabia.

We also a released two new mezze episodes: one on Saudi crowd-control technologies during the hajj and another on the use of water as a weapon in the Middle East.

You can see all past episodes of the podcast here .


On January 11, the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and House Foreign Affairs Committee drew from a piece Natasha co-authored in October on the Syrian regime's manipulation of currency exchange rates humanitarian actors can use, in a bipartisan letter they sent to the Biden administration on Syria policy.

On December 9, Jon spoke on a panel at the 2021 UAE Security Forum, hosted by the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington (AGSIW). Jon spoke about the changing nature of U.S.-Gulf relations, U.S. security interests, and U.S. engagement in the Middle East. You can watch a recording of the panel discussion here .

Natasha spoke to Middle East Eye about the dismissal of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commander in Syria and the normalization of the Assad regime among Gulf states. "Announcing the Syrian government expelled him [the commander] is a great story that the regime can give Gulf states to make them feel like they are progressing." (12/10/21)