Editor’s Choice December 2020: COVID-19 in the Gulf

Matthew Johnson, Editor and Senior Lecturer in Politics, Lancaster University (m.johnson@lancaster.ac.uk)

As we might expect, this Editor’s Choice concerns COVID-19. Our focus lies on examining an underreported set of impacts on a region which has generally garnered coverage on account of human conflict: the Persian/Arabian Gulf. The legacy of resource scarcity and resource curses, socio-economic inequalities and sectarian and religious conflict has been to create significant vulnerabilities to communicable disease. As such, it was no surprise to see Iran, for example, a country long subject to international sanctions, particularly affected by the pandemic. Given that so much coverage of COVID-19 has focused on crises in Europe and the Americas, it is extremely important that we understand the nature of the pandemic in the Gulf insofar as it has both the possibility of exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and other, non-pandemic crises.

This special issue stems from a series of workshops held in collaboration between Qatar University and Lancaster University which took place in the summer of 2020. The workshops occurred within the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic and reflect on the short to medium term impacts of the pandemic on the Gulf. The special issue brings together scholars from a range of different disciplinary backgrounds and with a strong expertise on the Gulf area to articulate the complexity of on-going developments in the Gulf and their broader reverberations.

This Editor’s choice selection attempts to cover the breadth of this topic.

First, Marc Owen Jones, in Disinformation Superspreaders, examines the ways in which the pandemic has led to the cultivation and deployment of disinformation and fake news across the Gulf. It argues that the pandemic has presented opportunities for regional actors to increase their own legitimacy or to criticise rivals for their handling of the crisis.

Second, Lucia Ardovini, in Gulf States and Islamist Responses to COVID19: A Changing Relationship, argues that tensions between Islamists and governments are increasing, stemming from the use of increasingly authoritarian measures in response to the pandemic, yet states have become reliant on religious institutions as a means of deriving support for official responses to the pandemic, highlighting the mutual dependency between religion and politics in the Gulf.

Third, Karen Young, in Twin Crises Deepen Gulf States’ Policy Competition and Independence, examines the collapse of oil prices for the GCC economies. It analyzes possible outcomes and the policy implications in terms of budget restrictions, changes in the migration policies, job creation for national population and new taxes schemes.

Finally, Simon Mabon, in Dialogues in Pandemic Politics,looks at the impact of the crisis on relations between states across the Gulf, with a particular focus on Iran. Building on the work of Michael Barnett, Mabon argues that while the pandemic provided the capacity for states to re-imagine regional order, structural factors at a domestic level and concerns about the role of the US meant that a lasting and dramatic re-imagining of regional relations is unlikely.

Further reading

Lucia Ardovini: Gulf States and Islamist Responses to COVID19: A Changing Relationship

Rashed al Rasheed: COVID-19 and the Hatred of Expatriate Workers in the Gulf States

Sanaa Alsarghali: The ‘State of Emergency’ or the ‘State of Exception’: Bahrain and COVID19

Guy Burton: Rising Powers and the Gulf monarchies during the COVID19 Pandemic

Justin Gengler: Information, Peer Comparison, and Social Interdependence: Theorizing the Impacts of COVID-19 on Gulf Domestic Politics

Marc Owen Jones: Disinformation Superspreaders

Simon Mabon: Dialogues in Pandemic Politics

Jacopo Scita: The Impact of COVID19 on China-Persian Gulf Relations: A game changer or a spotlight

Steven Wright: COVID-19 and the Global Energy Market: Implications on International and Domestic Policies

Luciano Zaccara: The Impact of COVID19 on Iranian Politics

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