COVID-19 Perceptions from the Gulf and Levant Countries

April 8, 2020

Fiorella Riccobono

As the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to spread across the globe, it has not impacted Middle Eastern countries as harshly as some Western countries. As of April 3rd, 2020, there have been 9,101 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Middle East where we have active contributor networks. Due to health and economic reasons, there is a high likelihood that the region could be severely impacted. Civil war continues to embroil Yemen while the humanitarian crisis on the borders of Jordan and Iraq does not have an end in sight. Meanwhile, the petro-states in the Gulf have seen the global price of oil plunge since January, part of a global sell-off in stocks and an overall decline in the global economy. 

Premise has been collecting responses about COVID-19 from our global network of contributors since mid-March 2020. This blog post will examine data sourced from sentiment surveys focusing on government response, information and messaging, and economic impact of COVID-19 from respondents in the Middle East. We will then examine the responses from the Gulf countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Yemen) compared to those of the Levant countries (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine) and Egypt. The data presented shows similarities in sentiment toward the government response and messaging towards COVID-19, as well as differences in economic impact and levels of concern about community spread in the region.

Sentiment Toward Government Response to COVID-19

Respondents from the Gulf countries show high levels of agreement, with nearly 50% of respondents strongly agreeing with the level of response from their government. An example of a strong government response can be found in the United Arab Emirates where they have conducted over 220,000 COVID-19 tests and have been one of five countries worldwide to have established drive-through testing clinics that can produce results in as little as 24-hours.

In the Levant and Egypt, levels of agreement are high but are not as enthusiastic as those responses from the Gulf countries. Levels of strong agreement come in just under 40% while levels of disagreement are around 10%. Several Levant countries are facing humanitarian crises at and within their borders. These situations are being addressed with the assistance of international organizations, such as the United Nations, as well as international aid organizations in conjunction with national governments.

Confidence Levels in Messaging from Local and National Government

In the Gulf countries, there is little to no variance in views of how accurate information is that comes from either local or national authorities.

Respondents in the Levant and Egypt showed higher levels of confidence in the messaging that is being provided by government authorities, with nearly a quarter (24%) of respondents being ‘very confident’ or ‘extremely confident’ in the accuracy of messaging that is being delivered. It is important to note that the majority of countries where our respondents are from are autocratic countries or are democratic countries that operate draconian measures in order to control messaging in times of crisis, as Egypt has expelled foreign journalists for what they say was reporting on the pandemic in bad faith.

Levels of Concern of COVID-19 Spreading in Communities

While confidence levels in information and messaging as well as the government’s response to COVID-19 are positive overall in the Gulf countries, respondents show higher levels of anxiety over the community spread of the virus. 27% of respondents are ‘concerned’ about the spread while 37% are ‘very concerned.’

Levels of concern are even higher in the Levant and Egypt, where 35% of the respondents are ‘concerned’ and 34% are ‘very concerned’ about community spread of the virus.

Economic Impact of COVID-19

In terms of the economic impact of COVID-19, respondents from the Gulf countries see the pandemic having a ‘minor effect’ (37%) to ‘no effect’ (16%) on their economies. This view appears optimistic as global oil prices have dropped nearly 50% since the widespread outbreak of the virus in January 2020 as well as the steep decline in international travelers through Emirates Airlines, a UAE state-owned airline and one of the biggest in the world.

Responses from the Levant and Egypt show a greater concern of COVID-19’s economic impact as 31% of respondents believe that there is a ‘moderate effect’ while 29% believe that it is having a ‘major effect.’ Egypt and Levant nations do not share in the same levels of wealth as their Gulf neighbors, and their citizens are facing harsher consequences as the result of local business shutdowns due to the spread of the virus.

While our Gulf country and Levant and Egypt contributors shared similar sentiments toward government response and messaging around COVID-19, their views began to diverge when it came to concerns over the spread of the virus and its impact on their economies. Governments will still try to control the narrative around the pandemic, however that may not be enough to alter the reality of the impact of COVID-19 as more people become infected and more people are unable to work and provide for themselves and their families.

You can visit to learn more about the data we are collecting about this global pandemic.   

Data for this blog was cultivated from three surveys conducted between February 3rd, 2020 and April 3rd, 2020 across 12 Middle Eastern countries (Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen) with a total of 26,617 respondents.

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