Mideast States Help US Battle Coronavirus

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Despite financial, political challenges, Ankara, Cairo and Amman send medical aid

Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, three Middle Eastern countries, namely Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, have shipped medical aid to the United States, which has been dealing with the highest numbers of patients and deaths.

Two Turkish Air Force cargo planes have arrived in the US, loaded with supplies to combat the novel coronavirus. An April 28 letter from President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to President Donald Trump accompanied one of the consignments. In the missive, Erdoğan stressed the importance of cooperation in facing the challenges posed by the epidemic in Turkey, the United States and the world at large.

Yusuf Erim, chief political and Middle East analyst for TRT, the national public broadcaster of Turkey, told The Media Line that throughout the coronavirus period, Turkey has been playing a very successful role in battling the pandemic, thanks to the country’s strong manufacturing capabilities and investment in the healthcare system over the past two decades.

“It [that investment] has paid off dividends and uniquely positioned Ankara to help other nations as well − 57 countries and counting to be exact,” Erim elaborated. “Turkey believes that solidarity is key to beating the virus and takes a ‘no one is healthy until we are all healthy’ approach to combating the pandemic.”

He added that Turkey had extended aid to additional countries such as Spain, Italy and the United Kingdom but that Ankara’s medical aid to the US was especially significant, given the fact that it was the richest country in the world and that Washington’s relations with its NATO ally had been cold of late due to disagreements on a number of foreign policy issues.

“But Ankara has put aside its differences and sent two cargo planes full of much-needed medical masks, protective overalls, gloves, disinfectant and other personal protective equipment to Washington,” he said.

Erim said Erdoğan and Trump had a strong relationship and that despite the threat of US sanctions on the Anatolian nation for its purchase of the Russian S-400 surface-to-air defense system, Ankara’s removal from the F-35 stealth fighter aircraft program, and US support for groups in Syria that Turkey viewed as terrorists, “Ankara wants to improve its relations with Washington.

“Important gestures like medical aid, while it comes with no strings attached, show Turkey’s goodwill toward the US and could help thaw relations,” Erim said.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has also ordered medical aid sent to the US to help tackle the virus. The presidential spokesman in Cairo posted a video on his official Facebook page on April 21 showing medical aid being loaded on an Egyptian military plane, as the equipment was supplied by the armed forces.

Amani El-Tawil, an Egyptian lawyer and director of the Women’s Program at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, previously worked as a consultant for the UN in Sudan. She told The Media Line that Egypt’s medical assistance was more of a symbolic message to a number of countries, to promote cooperation between states. “It’s especially [significant] since it’s coming from an important country in the Middle East that belongs to the Afro-Arab and Islamic civilization,” she said.

El-Tawil said such actions might help people understand the difference between “this sophisticated and cooperative behavior, and the behavior of Western countries that have practiced piracy on medical equipment from other countries.”

Jordan, despite its ailing economy and limited financial resources, has sent modest aid packages to the US, which supports the Hashemite Kingdom with millions of dollars in aid each year.

Oraib Rintawi, a Jordanian political analyst, stressed to The Media Line that Amman’s help came as a symbolic, humanitarian act. “This doesn’t mean that strategic, economic and financial balances have changed in the world, but that countries which used to receive aid from superpowers are trying to return the favor in a symbolic way,” he said.

Nevertheless, Rintawi said that such a thing would never have happened if the US medical system were efficient and fair. “The American medical sector adopted a model which provides the best medical services only to those in the {United] States who are financially capable.”

He criticized the Trump Administration’s management of the crisis, saying it had left the country in an embarrassing situation. “Three years ago, Trump’s administration launched a campaign against Obamacare [the Affordable Care Act, former president Barack Obama’s health care law], which was designed to assist the middle and poor class in the US, in addition to restoring balance in terms of medical services provided to American citizens. It [the American administration] canceled most of its elements.

“Trump and his administration destroyed Obamacare and became exposed in front of the world,” Rintawi said.

The US has identified 1.22 million cases of infection with the novel coronavirus. Of those, 70,161 people have died and about 188,000 have recovered.

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