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COVID-19 in the Middle East: Life in the Shadows

09/30/2020 8:04 PM | Deleted user

By Wasim Baobaid

Almost three out of ten small and medium businesses have successfully increased their sales during the COVID-19 period by using online marketing channels. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), there was a recent study among small and medium businesses which found that the economy was lifting up during COVID-19 because of them. This report explores the Middle East’s public opinion before the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey estimates were from late June and early September 2020. Since the Middle Eastern culture is different from the Far East and North America, this report will offer some important understanding of how people think in the Middle East, and how they have reacted to this pandemic. 

The largest share of population in the Middle East think it will take up to a year to get back to the pre-COVID-19 normal. The younger generation (between 18-24 years) in the UAE do not believe their lives will get back to normal at all.  More than half of the participants think this pandemic is worse than what they thought at the beginning of the crisis. This blog post will highlight findings from studies by Ipsos and local researchers in other countries in the Middle East. 

Returning to Normal: Attitudes Post-Lockdown in the Middle East


A survey by Ipsos Egypt released on September 1, 2020 revealed that close to four in ten (37%) Egyptians believed it will take between 6 months to a year to get back to normal.  Thirty eight percent of women agreed compared with 36 percent of men, while close to a quarter of all Egyptians say that it may take only 3 to 5 months to recover.

COVID-19’s impact on different demographics revealed that the country’s health, economy and personal financial was worse than what citizens had expected. So, to balance the situation, 5 in 10 people prefer to slow down the spread of the virus and preserve the economy as much as possible, until the pandemic is over. In resilient times, people try to grow the proverbial camel’s hump. 

More than half of all Egyptians did not expect the country’s health (56 percent), the economic situation (50 percent) and their personal situation (51 percent) to be worse than what it is actually now. These are indicators of the unprecedented nature of crisis and how its impact shocked the public. 

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) 

More than half of the population in Saudi Arabia believe that there should be a balance between slowing down the spread of the virus and trying to uphold the economy as best as possible. However, 38 percent feel that the spread of the virus should be stopped completely even if it means keeping the country in total lockdown.

Thirty one percent believe that it will take between 3 to 5 months to feel like things are getting back to normal, while 44 percent see that it will take between 6 months and a year. Even with things going back to normal, the majority say that they will either make small permanent changes in their lives or change many things about the way they lived before the lockdown.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)

More than half of the people surveyed in the UAE believe that it will take between 6 to 12 months for things to return to normal post the lockdown. Even with life returning to normal, the majority say that they will either make small permanent changes in their lives or change many things about how they lived before lockdown. While people were divided between those who are comfortable going back to work (53 percent) and those who are not (47 percent), the vast majority still did not feel at ease dining out, going to the gym, cinema, attending live events, or even leaving home without a mask.

Life in the Shadow of COVID-19

The Department of Community Development in Abu Dhabi  (one of the United Arab Emirates) announced the final results of the survey it conducted in light of the emerging Corona Virus, and which was launched with the aim of analyzing the conditions accompanying the repercussions of the epidemic, and identifying community life patterns and bringing them to the attention of decisionmakers.

The results among families indicated that 87 percent of the participants had to change in their lifestyles as a result of the epidemic, and the most prominent change cited was staying away from public places. While 80 percent considered that the crisis contributed to strengthening their family relationships and spending more time with their children. Ninety nine percent of the participants said that they encouraged their family members to take the necessary measures to protect against the virus.

At the community level, 99 percent of the participants also confirmed that they believe in the need to cooperate with the government and all members of society to successfully confront this crisis, and 99 percent stated that facing the crisis is everyone’s responsibility, while 41 percent affirmed their desire to volunteer in the field of distributing medical needs and helping the elderly. Dr. Mona Al-Bahr, Advisor to the Head of the Community Development Department of Abu Dhabi, said: “The participation of community members showed positive and effective results in the first questionnaire (Life in Light of the Coronavirus), and accordingly we analyzed the inputs and studied the effects of the pandemic on the family and society through a set of research and scientific tools. By soliciting appropriate solutions from all partners from the relevant  authorities in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, taking into consideration the conditions of the previous period, there was an actual impact made on the ground during different phases of the pandemic, through initiatives and temporary solutions for each period.

Small Companies in the Emirates are the Most Sustainable 

Small and medium-sized companies in the UAE have achieved a very high percentage in the continuity of their business and the ability to generate revenues during the crisis caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, according to a recent survey conducted by Facebook in partnership with the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

According to the study entitled The Global Status Report of Small Businesses, small companies in the UAE achieved very positive results in business continuity despite the COVID-19 pandemic, and the results of the survey indicated that 65 percent of small and medium-sized companies in the Emirates are still continuing their activities. These businesses have been able to maintain their revenue-generating business activities.

Sixty-one percent of managers of small and medium-sized companies in the Emirates predicted optimism regarding the future of their companies after the pandemic.

The survey results also showed that 40 percent of small and medium-sized companies in the UAE achieved at least 25 percent of their sales during the past 30 days through digital channels.

Coping Beyond the Pandemic

The majority of survey participants cited believe that the norm will take a long time to return, and a majority of younger respondents think that their lives will never return to normal. Respondents in some studies praised the efforts of small and medium sized businesses to support the economy during the COVID-19 period, and six out of ten small business owners are optimistic about the future of their company after COVID-19.

More than 50,000 participants from citizens and residents of the Emirate of Abu Dhabi participated in the “Life in the Shadow of Coronavirus” survey, and the department launched the questionnaire in early April 2020, and the results suggested solutions to the challenges that coincided with the pandemic. The final results showed the participation of 52.3 percent of females and 47.7 percent of males, and that 95 percent confirmed their knowledge of preventive measures to stop the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wasim Baobaid is a Public Opinion Research Coordinator at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and a graduate of Algonquin College's Marketing Research and Business Intelligence Program (2019-20)

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