Nizar Yazaji confronts coronavirus with Syrian Arab Army mindset …through luxury cars and provocative statements
In a country like Syria, where nine years of war raised the poverty rate among the population to more than 80 percent, according to the United Nations’ latest reports, Syrian citizens became preoccupied with news related only to the economic situation, the rise of prices, the exchange rate of the Syrian Pound, and also decisions and decrees related to their living conditions.
Syrians paid little interest to decisions made by ministries other than the Ministry of Economy and Trade; however, the Ministry of Health became the center of their attention, especially after it announced four coronavirus confirmed infections.
Minister of Health Nizar Yazaji, is one of the few ministers, along with the Minister of Endowments, Mohammed Abdul Sattar al-Sayyed, and the Foreign Minister, Walid al-Muallem, who have remained in the cabinet since their appointment in 2014, despite the several changes and amendments that occurred in the ministerial government.
Nevertheless, the global spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a (pandemic) a few weeks ago, highlighted the role of Yazaji as the official authority to provide information on the health conditions in regime’s controlled-areas, to announce the confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, if there is any.
Yazaji’s statements became the focus of media outlets, whether local, Arab, or international, to follow up on the latest developments regarding the coronavirus spread in Syria.
On 22 March, The Minister of Health released a statement announcing Syria’s first coronavirus infection for a 20-year-old girl coming from abroad, this announcement was met with a broad resonance, and followed by warnings from some international organizations.
Some of these organizations warned of the great danger that awaits Syria in case of coronavirus outbreak situation whether in regime controlled-areas or opposition-held regions before the number of reported coronavirus cases in Syria rose to four infections on 25 March.
The international warnings included what the International Rescue Committee (IRC) mentioned on 24 March, that Syria would witness one of the most severe coronavirus outbreaks in the world, due to years of war and the weak health systems.
Syrians mock Yazaji’s statements
Yazaji, who was born in Damascus, 1961, holds a Bachelor’s degree in human medicine in the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology from Damascus University. He came under the spotlight long before he was appointed as a minister, as his name appeared several times in the recent past years.
However, Yazaji was getting attention for reasons far from talking about projects to improve health conditions, but for his statements that were ridiculed by Syrians on social media, which led some, including the People’s Council member, Nabil Saleh, to demand his dismissal due to his “megalomania” condition.
Al-Jamal, a local Syrian website, published what Saleh said on his Facebook page in June 2017, that “some people seek greatness and get megalomania instead.” Saleh also wrote “as a story writer analyzing the Health Minister’s character, yazaji, whether in his appearance, pronouncements, or condescending views regarding the complaints of the underprivileged, he seems to have paranoia; therefore he matches the old saying ” only a hypocrite does not practice what he preaches.”
Last October, Syrians made fun of Yazaji after what he said at one of the Syrian People’s Council sessions that the Health Ministry is unable to administrate “Saleh Haider National Hospital” located in Salhab town, in the western countryside of Hama province. The hospital was founded with people’s donations; nevertheless, Yazaji announced that the lack of human resources, and insufficient finance, hinder the ministry from operating the hospital.
Back then, al-Arabiya.net website shared the video of Yazaji’s announcement which went viral on social media; however, the video could not be found on YouTube anymore.
As for Yazaji’s second video recording, who served as a specialist physician in the General Authority of al-Zahrawi Hospital from 2004 to 2010 and as the deputy director for the same hospital’s General Authority from 2010 till 2013, was on 10 March during an interview with a state-run Syrian News Channel, al-Ikhbaria.
In this interview, the channel asked Yazaji to deliver a reassuring message to the Syrian citizens who fear the spread of the coronavirus, to which Yazaji responded by saying that “the Syrian Arab army has cleansed several bacteria on Syria’s territory” dropping hints on those who opposed the regime.
The video recording was mocked on social media sites, as some considered it a mockery of citizens and not dealing seriously with the danger of the coronavirus reaching Syria.
Yazaji, a mysterious man with a lot of question marks
The Minister of Health is considered one of the mysterious prominent names listed in the European Union’s sanctions since 2014, amid rumors of his closeness to the regime’s ruling circle, which could explain his six-year position as a minster in the cabinet; however, Enab Baladi could not verify speculations of Yazaji’s relation to the regime.
One of the incidents that raised more questions about him, was the vaccines’ case in which his assistant, Huda al-Sayyed, was accused of ruining 200,000 doses of vaccines worth 1 billion Syrian Pounds (775193 USD) due to negligence, and improper storage that resulted in their effectiveness loss.
Al-Sayyed was held responsible for her misjudgment in the issue and was transferred to prosecution by the Central Authority for the Supervision and Inspection in 2017, according to the regime’s media outlets, including the pro-government newspaper, al-Watan.
At that time, the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, issued a legislative decree, exempting al-Sayyed from her position before her leaving from Syria, as she declared through her Facebook account, which activists considered as a way of dodging accountability.
Last May, Kamal Rostom, the founder of the so-called Syrian Organization for Anti-Corruption, published a video recording on his Facebook page in which he accused Yazaji of smuggling drug substances such as (Lexotan, Dormicum, CEMO Codeine) to Iraq and Lebanon.
Yazaji was the center of attention again when the state-run newspaper Tishreen reported on July 2017, that he owns 13 cars, including a Lexus, three Hyundai Tucson for house service, Honda C.R.V, and Toyota Prado.
The newspaper added that the rest of the vehicles are distributed to the service of the Minister and his office, including Toyota Prado, Nissan Safari, Nissan Almera, Toyota Land Cruiser, Honda H1, Honda C.R.V.
Regardless of Yazaji’s luxurious cars and provocative statements, he remains the center of attention for Syrians to get the latest updates and news of the coronavirus outbreak in Syria, and the measures the Health Ministry will take to curb the spread of this virus.
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