Middle East Forum director Gregg Roman spoke to participants in an MEF webinar (audio) about the response of Arab Gulf states to the coronavirus pandemic on March 23.
According to Roman, the "worst place to have been hit so far" among the Gulf states is Qatar, which despite its small size has the Arab world's second highest number of infections. One of the reasons for this is that 85% of its residents are foreign laborers forced to live in squalid conditions ripe for infection. "They're taking care of Qatari nationals, but ... not really doing too much to take care of the 85% of the population there that's not of Qatari blood."
The United Arab Emirates, on the other hand, has undertaken the "best response to the coronavirus" among the Gulf states, implementing social distancing precautions early on. "They've gotten down their reaction to the coronavirus to a science." Saudi Arabia has undertaken "the most draconian reaction to the coronavirus," including a "dusk until dawn curfew" and effectively closing down Mecca and Medina to religious pilgrims.
Asked about the pandemic's impact on Israel's relations with the Arab Gulf, Roman underscored that the outbreak has showcased how much the Jewish state can offer potential friends and allies in the region. It has made tremendous progress working on a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as developing other medical treatments and putting "cutting edge technology" to use fighting the virus. "There's even an app right now for tracking coronavirus carriers," he noted. Israelis should offer assistance "with their palms open to give as much goodwill as possible," Roman later added. "And hopefully the Arabs will reciprocate on the other end."
In response to a question about Iran's struggle against COVID-19, Roman offered a grim assessment. The number of infected is "in the tens of thousands. Every province is affected. Every city is affected, over a thousand are dead," he said. "And you know that when the Ayatollahs start spinning conspiracy theories about the United States being the origin of a special strain of the virus only meant to target Iran, then they're in trouble."
Iran is "ground zero of the coronavirus in the Middle East," said Roman in response to another question, but he cautioned against calls for U.S. sanctions to be lifted. "You can provide a country with aid without having to give them any cash."