In the face of pandemic, a blossoming of Arab creative initiatives

From the production of 3D masks to disinfection operations and financial donations to help the most underprivileged, Arab citizens have been setting an example of empathy through their charitable and voluntary actions.
Sunday 26/04/2020
Tunisian designer Myriam Riza adjusts an embellished protective mask on a mannequin at the Tunis workshop of her haute couture Miss Anais brand, which donates masks daily to staff at hospitals that care for COVID-19 patients. (AFP)
Tunisian designer Myriam Riza adjusts an embellished protective mask on a mannequin at the Tunis workshop of her haute couture Miss Anais brand, which donates masks daily to staff at hospitals that care for COVID-19 patients. (AFP)

In spite of its immeasurable negative effects, the coronavirus pandemic has inspired people in the Arab world to come together and help each other. Countless initiatives have emerged in Arab countries, highlighting both creative genius and compassion.

From the production of 3D masks to disinfection operations and financial donations to help the most underprivileged, Arab citizens have been setting an example for weeks through their charitable and voluntary actions. At the forefront of efforts to find solutions are engineers.

In Morocco, a group of engineers in Tangier have decided to take action by manufacturing medical equipment for hospitals, especially masks, producing 2,000 units in fewer than 48 hours. A private company has donated the required Plexiglas free of charge.

Originally from the coastal city of Monastir, two Tunisian citizens have also decided to use their free time to support the country in its fight against the coronavirus: Afif Zaguia and Hichem Haddad are working to repair broken medical devices in hospitals.

The two maintenance engineers put out a call for volunteers and announced their willingness to repair all damaged medical equipment in Tunisian hospitals, free of charge.

“Ligne de Vie” or “Life Route,” a project developed by a team of Tunisian engineers and architects, is also attracting attention. The group of six came together to transform a train into a mobile hospital destined for disadvantaged areas, transporting medical teams, medicines and coronavirus screening tests.

Palestinian brothers Yazeed and Mufeed Alawneh, both engineers, have been working tirelessly in their small workshop in the town of Jaba, south of Jenin. They invented the “sterilisation accelerator device” to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. It took them two days to put the device together to help their town and neighbouring villages minimise the effects of the outbreak.

Palestinian engineers Yazeed and Mufeed Alawneh in their workshop.(Odai Daibas)
Palestinian engineers Yazeed and Mufeed Alawneh in their workshop.(Odai Daibas)


With a lot of time on their hands now, students are participating as well and helping out after the suspension of classes.

In Tizi Ouzou, east of Algiers, pharmacy and chemistry students from the Mouloud-Mammeri University were among the first to make hydro-alcoholic solutions. Besides medical equipment, volunteers in the port city of Oran also take care of food supplies, coordinating with authorities and delivering meals to hospitals.

Tunisians saluted the gesture of President Kais Saied, who officially supported the 3D-printed protective mask project launched by a team of young engineering students from the city of Sousse. The head of state decided to provide them with the necessary material and logistical support as a way to thank them for their idea, which has helped several hospitals and inspired others to take their own initiatives.

Students from the National Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology (INSAT), one of the most prestigious engineering schools in the capital Tunis, have used artificial intelligence to develop an app, based on X-rays, that detects the virus. The proposed algorithms have shown promising results with a 92% accuracy rate in record time, announced the institute’s online magazine.

In addition to engineers and students, other citizens are helping with efforts to fight the coronavirus on a daily basis.

In the United Arab Emirates, a citizen named Ali Ahmed Bani Yashas moved out of his house, located in Al-Nouf, Sharjah, and made it available to the Ministry of Health for quarantine purposes, if needed. He explained that this decision comes from his sense of social responsibility and duty towards his country and countrymen.

Similarly, a number of Egyptians living abroad, and currently in quarantine in their home country, launched an initiative to support the Egyptian efforts in the face of the virus by donating to the “Long Live Egypt” fund, which is responsible for the quarantine expenses for returnees from abroad.

Some Yemeni activists have also launched an action in which they call on property owners to exempt tenants from paying rent for this month.

Saudi businesswoman Maryam Mutairi was among the most talked-about personalities in recent weeks, thanks to her significant participation in the kingdom’s efforts to combat the spread of the virus.

She launched three separate initiatives, including the distribution of sterilisers, safety gloves and masks to police officers deployed on the roads; allocating her company’s cars to deliver orders from pharmacies to citizens’ homes free of charge until the end of the curfew; and donating a building with 30 medical beds to the Ministry of Health.

Citizens of all stripes have shown determination to help in their own way. An outstanding example has been recorded at Manouba prison in Tunisia, where female prisoners are voluntarily manufacturing nearly 750 face masks a day.

Haute Couture is also participating in national efforts to combat the virus. Following the example of Gucci, Armani and Prada, the Tunisian house Miss Anaïs has committed to manufacturing protective masks. Mother and daughter, Raoudha and Myriam, are offering their products for free to several hospitals in the country.

Women in the Zaatari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan are also doing all they can to help with the means at their disposal. Trained by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), they are making organic disinfectant soap from scratch to support their families and give a hand to the community.

Several countries, such as Oman, are focusing on citizens’ mental health given the difficulty and sensitivity of the unprecedented situation. Muscat’s Al Masarra Hospital launched an awareness initiative titled “Let us agree” to raise morale and highlight the stories of those recovering from the virus in a positive way.

Women inmates at Manouba prison. (Tunisian ministry of Justice)
Women inmates at Manouba prison. (Tunisian ministry of Justice)

The service is provided through social media, audiovisual or by phone and it aims to provide psychological support to everyone.

Arab expats are also participating and launching initiatives abroad. A group of Syrians have been the focus of German media attention for their act of compassion.

Aged between 14 and 23, six young people living in the city of Luneburg have been offering assistance to the sick and elderly. They have also given out their phone numbers so that anyone can call and ask for help if they need it.

Syrian volunteers of Lüneburg (R to L): Dr Ahmed Abdelgouad, Waled Alazooalabed, Ramadan Airout, Abdul Rahman Rashak and Muhammad Ammar Alsaadi. (Landeszeitung)
Syrian volunteers of Lüneburg (R to L): Dr Ahmed Abdelgouad, Waled Alazooalabed, Ramadan Airout, Abdul Rahman Rashak and Muhammad Ammar Alsaadi. (Landeszeitung)

“This initiative is not only a reciprocated gesture towards Germany, which welcomed the Syrians, but a part of their deep-rooted habits,” said the local newspaper Landes Zeitung.

An inspiring example also comes from Wuhan, China, where Moroccan student Bahaeddine El Idrissi Lamsarhri decided to remain rather than return home. He chose to devote himself to volunteering in the city where the coronavirus outbreak was first reported.

“I was one of the students who volunteered to manage the crisis with the university administration, helping to get food and supplies to the campus,” he proudly told local media.

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