Thoughts race through my mind as I observe the development and outcome of the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak in Egypt and the world. The virus is taking the media by storm, so much so that the headline of last week’s issue of Watani read “Coronavirus continues to sweep the media”. History will record that whereas COVID-19 is not unprecedented in its challenge as a pandemic or in the horrors it has worked, it is unique in that it broke out during the era of modern telecommunications, media technology, and the sway of social media. These have turned the world into a “small village” where distance and time fade as news are posted in real time.
I have been preoccupied by how various countries in the world have responded to the COVID-19 outbreak. After giving the matter some careful thought, I could see a thin line connecting responses in a number of countries; hence the title of this editorial: “Coronavirus and the unethical”. Analysts have been almost unanimous in that the world post-COVID-19 will be very different from what it was before the pandemic, elaborating on the collapsed standards of world leadership politically, militarily, and economically. I would add ‘ethically’ too as the most important. It remains to be seen how world superpowers would be rearranged post COVID-19, subject to how they would fare on all these levels.
Let me point out the unethical pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic:
The USA which always haughtily insists that it is the greatest, wisest, and strongest world power, has floundered on the COVID-19 pandemic. It was arrogantly late in adopting serious measures to protect the health of its people, imagining that the thousands of miles separating North America from China, where coronavirus first broke out, would protect its land and people against the disease. In the weeks that followed the outbreak of COVID-19, President Trump delivered a speech to his people in which he deliberately used “Chinese virus” in lieu of “coronavirus”, and that in a tone that reeked of haughtiness, indictment, and gloating. This condescending attitude was nothing new to President Trump who, ever since he stepped into politics, has chosen to isolate the US from the rest of the world and to lock horns with China. Little did he know that his motto of “America first” led to “America alone”. The US President’s speech did not sit well with China or the world; it pained and appalled China in its distress. It also shocked people all over the world who were still hoping that in hard times, conflicts would be put aside, and the world superpower would display ethical, wise leadership through direly-needed rapprochement, solidarity and synergy. The current American leadership, however, appeared shamelessly disgraceful. But what followed was beyond disgrace, it was pathetic. The pandemic swept the US at terrifying speed, and exposed the failure of its political, economic and health systems. The country was unable to swiftly deal with the crisis. Infection rates spiralled, taking the US to the top of the list of COVID-19 cases and fatalities. The economy tanked, and millions found themselves out of job. What happened then? The Chinese President called his American counterpart to express solidarity with the US and to offer to help it out on medical, scientific or service fronts. It was “ethical leadership” par excellence, and showed the world how global roles might be redefined once the pandemic recedes. For me, it also placed US behaviour in the context of this editorial’s title.
As to the European Union, I have long looked up to it as an outstanding achievement that took over half a century to painstakingly build. For me, it embodied a beautiful model of how ethnic, political and cultural differences can be ironed out, and how geographic, economic, financial, and legal obstacles can be overcome to unite countries. The united European family managed to rank high among world powers—regardless the recent Brexit. Yet unfortunately, it failed the coronavirus test.
The pandemic struck the EU and swept its member States with varying degrees. It was time for EU members to stand together and put in place policies of solidarity and synergy. But the European Parliament withdrew, and each of the members was left to fend for itself, oblivious to its other sister States struck as much if not more by the outbreak of the virus, with Italy and Spain topping the list. This perplexed EU members and shocked the world which looked on: the once open borders became high, closed walls under the pretext of “preventive measures”. This cast sombre, bitter shadows on Italy, with Italians hurling accusations at the EU and its allegedly leader States such as Germany and France. In dismay, Italians said the EU had let them down at a time when support was most needed. What then? China and Russia both rushed to the rescue, displaying solidarity in all forms with Italy. The spontaneous response of Italians was to bring down the flags of the European Union and to fly instead flags of China and Russia on their balconies. The obvious implication: “So long for the friends of yesterday who let us down, and welcome to the partners of tomorrow who came to our rescue.” Germany and France accused China and Russia of helping Italy out in order to achieve political gain. But again, their stance comes under the title of this editorial.
In an upcoming editorial I intend to broach the aftermath of COVID-19 in Egypt where a number of serious violations come under “coronavirus and the unethical”, true to the Arabic proverb: “Whoever is secure from retribution will misbehave”.
10 April 2020