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How COVID19 Redefined Government Citizen Relationship in the Middle East

LDI Director, Dalia Ziada, participated in "Middle East and North Africa Think Tanks Summit 2020" organized by the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Program of The University of Pennsylvania.

Dalia Ziada spoke at the fourth panel of the summit, titled "The Post Pandemic Renaissance: An Era of Resilient, Responsive and Inclusive Government."

Dalia's presentation was about: How COVID19 Redefined Government Citizen Relationship in the Middle East, with a special focus on Egypt's case and the role of the Armed Forces in managing the crisis.

Talking points:

To limit the spread of the Coronavirus, each country had to close its borders and isolate itself from the rest of the world, while domestically forcing a curfew or a complete lockdown. Accordingly, every government, in every country, found itself forced to face the crisis alone in a tough battle to rescue peoples’ lives, while also preserving a stable economy and an unwavering system of governance.

Ironically, the illiberal and non-democratic governments were the ones that performed better in this battle, Perhaps because these governments have stronger control on private sector businesses and individual citizens and most of the wealth of the country is under government’s control.

But, In the process, the relationship between the citizen and the state has been redefined in several ways, that will positively affect the political future of the region, if not the whole world.

1. Citizens are becoming more active and civil society becoming more engaged with grass-roots citizens on issues that are immediately relevant to them, like economic reform and health care.

Unlike before, the civil society in Egypt and other MENA countries was only focusing on political rights and civil freedoms, which upset the government and made less grass-roots citizens engaged in what they considered the talk of the elite.

This newly expanding role of the civil society helped put civil society organizations under a new light in the eyes of the government which started to see them as essential partners, rather than a challenging group of activists.

2. The pandemic is redefining the way citizens and governments approach the conversation on human rights.

At least, since the Arab Spring revolutions erupted in 2010, the focus is mainly on political and civil rights, as trans-national human rights issues. In contrast, economic and social rights (such as healthcare, education, and housing) have always been viewed as internal issues that each country should work to reform on its own. But, thanks to the pandemic economic and social rights are now becoming a trans-national tans-border issue that countries can cooperate and work on together. As we have seen for example in the exchange of medical supplies and medical technology between countries, in the past few months.

3. The pandemic redefined the role of the military within the civil government:

It renewed the old debate on the “non-traditional role” (the political and economic role) of the armed forces, within the civil state. For long, the economic autonomy of the armed forces, in Egypt, is being criticized for its potential negative influence on market competition and the opportunities provided to the private sector. But, the pandemic put this argument to test.

Since the beginning of the Coronavirus crisis, in Egypt, for example, the private sector hesitated to aid the government in managing the crisis. Rather, private sector leaders deliberately abused the state of panic among the people and attempted to increase their profits by practicing monopoly over basic food and medical commodities. At that moment, the armed forces and its affiliated food and medical factories intervened to provide a ‘parallel arrangement’ ready to satisfy people’s needs and force the private sector to cooperate.

4. Helped with upgrading government’s capacity in terms with using information technology:

- The pandemic accelerated the pace of technological transformation of public services and educational institutions in Egypt (as a country example).

- Relaying on technology in managing government programs.

- A technological revolution in education sector.

- Judicial systems using technology to manage legal cases and video-conferencing to run judicial cases that does not require moving the prisoners to the court (like the pre-trial detention cases).

- Also, the technology was heavily used by candidates for parliamentary elections to do their electoral campaigns which indirectly participated in limiting the scope of corruption practiced by some candidates in public gatherings that happen before the voting day.


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