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Managing the Pandemic

Session XIII-09, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 1:30 pm

Panel Description
  • Tracking the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic worldwide has generally focused on the spread of COVID-19, numbers of cases, recoveries, vaccination rates, and deaths, but has also generated efforts at tracking policy responses by governments across the globe. This paper focuses on one such policy tracker, the “COVID-19 Policy Tracker: MENA Government Responses to the Crisis”. It comprises twelve Middle Eastern and North African countries: Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, and the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, UAE), for the period of February 1, 2020, to December 31, 2021, tracking government policies, interventions, and measures in the fields of public health, economic and fiscal, and social policy. The paper situates this policy tracker in the wider landscape of policy metrics and indexes, discusses its unique features, and presents key results on the policy responses to the pandemic in the MENA region. The key conclusions are that stringency, intensity, effectiveness, and sustainability of public health measures varied widely across the sample countries and over time; economic and fiscal policy measures looked essentially similar across the sample but varied greatly in terms of their intensity, sustainability, and the public investments made; and social policy measures, for the most part, appear to have been disproportional to the obvious social challenges linked to COVID-19 across the MENA region, to varying degrees.
  • As studies have examined various state responses to COVID-19, state capacity has emerged as a major explanation. It is often argued that the higher the state capacity, the better the outcomes. The state capacity is often measured as the state's ability to tailor and implement policies, extract resources, and effectively communicate with its citizens while the outcomes are usually measured as the total death, death rate, hospitalization rate, infection rate, etc. Accordingly, states with high capacity, such as the Gulf countries with rich rentier resources, rank high on success indicators, such as mortality rates, vaccination numbers, infection rates, and the like, while low-capacity states, such as Yemen, Syria, Egypt, and Syria, rank low. This paper starts with the conviction that the common conceptualization of state capacity respect to the COVID-19 pandemic responses is incomplete and misleading as it bypasses the gender link. In other words, this understanding of state capacity fails to acknowledge women's roles as “hidden actors”. During the pandemic, women’s unique roles ranging from providing child and elderly care, homeschooling, food preparation and home maintenance to the sick care at hospitals have been key. How can we re-conceptualize state capacity so that the women's roles are integrated? As part of a book project that examines multiple MENA countries, this paper deals with this theoretical question of re-conceptualization of state capacity. This effort is significant because only then we can measure the often-neglected women's roles during this process and make policies accordingly. This paper will review literature on state and state capacity from a feminist angle and propose a new framework.
  • Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) play an increasingly vital role in today’s social, economic, civic, and personal domains, a condition accelerated following COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions. However, the availability and impact of ICTs are not equally distributed between or within countries―a situation starkly illustrated in the Arab Middle East, where economic and technological inequalities are amongst the highest in the world. Within the region, Kuwait’s ICT environment occupies a privileged position, ranking as one of the world’s most digitally connected countries on several indicators. The state further seeks to foster a “digital transformation” of society as part of its larger strategy of economic diversification. However, little is known about the differing levels of ICT access, skill, and uses among its diverse residents, nor why relative to other Gulf states, Kuwait ranks near the bottom in global comparative assessments. This study examines changes in ICT access, skills, and usage rates following the COVID-19 outbreak in Kuwait. Government data from 2015 to 2019 are contrasted against recent surveys from 500 households and 1,200 individuals collected in 2020 during the height of a pandemic lockdown. Theoretically, the study applies Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory, examining relationships between traditional notions of economic, social, personal, and cultural capital on one hand, and what can be referred to as digital capital on the other. Those who enjoy greater levels of offline capital are presumed to have greater advantages in translating these into forms of online capital, perpetuating existing social inequalities. This approach suggests that statewide mobility restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic can inadvertently led to disproportionate opportunities or obstacles for various populations depending on the levels of “capital” at their disposal. Comparisons between the time periods demonstrate both expected and unexpected changes. Increases in internet consumption, mobile broadband subscriptions, computer ownership, and mobile-only internet access are evident. However, declines are seen in a range of unexpected areas, including the use of portable devices, fixed-line access, frequency of internet usage, and ownership of tablets, gaming consoles, or smart devices. Some digital skills also show minor declines. What aggregate data fail to illustrate is how, and why, these changes unequally affect differing communities. By assessing the effects of gender, age, education, employment status, and nationality on ICTs access, skills, and uses, it becomes clear that the underlying distribution of Bourdieusian forms of capital prior to the pandemic remain relevant to understanding the persistence of a digital divide within Kuwait.