The impact of COVID-19 on people-powered protests in the Middle East

Protestors in Lebanon, January 2020

What will be the impact of COVID-19 on people-powered protests in the Middle East? That was the topic of the discussion of the latest installment of Foreign Policy (FP) Virtual Dialogues, in partnership with the International Republican Institute.

This session examined the impact of COVID-19 on protest movements in the Middle East.

The panel discussed how ruling elites have attempted to take advantage of the pandemic to clamp down on grassroots organizing and reassert their control. But, it was concluded, that the pandemic may bring renewed fervour to protest movements as the situation deteriorates and amplifies grievances that had brought citizens to the streets in the first place.

While the conversation echoed short-term pessimism about the lack of accountability of those governments and the added economic stresses brought about by the pandemic, for the long-term, the speakers voiced some optimism:

  • "The pandemic has triaged the protest scene: it has forced certain people out, and forced others to change their strategy. It has not so much allowed for new voices, but rearranged current voices and created an opportunity for protestors to forge new political alliances. As seen, for example, in the heightened role of unions and other civic actors in these protests." by Patricia Karam, International Republican Institute
  • "Protests never really stopped in Baghdad despite the government restrictions on movement. They will increase in size, number and spread in the coming months as the new government will not be able to quickly respond to the existing grievances." by Sajad Jiyad, European Council on Foreign Relations
  • "Algerians are renegotiating their social contract and are willing to do it at any price." by Dalia Ghanem, Carnegie Middle East Center
The panellists comprised Patricia Karam, from the International Republican Institute, based in Washington DC; Sajad Jiyad, from the European Council on Foreign Relations, based in Iraq; and Dalia Ghanem, from the Carnegie Middle East Center, based in Beirut, Lebanon, though she is an expert on Alger
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Wednesday, 21 April 2021