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Coronavirus stokes Middle East boiling points

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BBC:The Middle East has many reasons to fear the coronavirus pandemic, but it has one big advantage when it comes to resisting it. Most people in the region are young.

A rough average is that at least 60% are under the age of 30. That makes them less susceptible to developing Covid-19, the illness that has killed so many people in countries with older populations.

Most governments in the region saw what was happening elsewhere and had time to impose curfews and social distancing measures.

But that is where the Middle East’s advantages end. Years of strife in the world’s least stable region have left weaknesses that the pandemic is sure to deepen.

Medical capabilities vary widely. The best hospitals in Israel are as good as any in the world. The healthcare systems in Yemen, Syria and Libya – never strong – have been severely damaged, and in places destroyed, by years of war.

Yemen was already in the grip, the UN said, of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. Now it has cases of Covid-19, which could spread fast in impoverished, overcrowded communities.

Aden, in the south, is in political turmoil. Even after two Covid-19 deaths were announced last week local residents were reported to be ignoring a curfew, still flocking to markets and mosques.

Troubled outlook

Those same young people who have the best chance of resisting the virus were, before it hit, leading demonstrations against their governments.

Every country has its own grievances, but in the Arab Middle East the protests have centred on corruption, cronyism and reform. Corrupt elites are accused of siphoning off public money that should have gone into public services, not least hospitals.

In Algeria, Lebanon and Iraq they forced out a president and two prime ministers. Protesters who refused to budge occupied the main squares of capital cities. In Iraq, they stayed put even after around 600 protesters were shot dead and thousands more were wounded.

Young people who refused orders to clear the streets for months will not be enjoying the irony that the coronavirus has forced them indoors.