This year brought about unprecedented calamity for humanity and can rightfully be called the worst year ever in most people’s memory. There are few still alive who lived through a year as terrible as 2020. The pandemic has affected every nation and every family across the world. Only centenarians remember the horror of the 1918 Spanish influenza and only those nearly 80 can recall World War II and the wars of aggression in the Middle East, Vietnam and other places.
When the coronavirus invaded its first human host somewhere in or around Wuhan in the Chinese province of Hubei, alarm calls about possible outbreaks spread throughout the world, but no one could have imagined that the virus would sweep across the globe at such an insane speed, leaving destruction in its wake. As Chinese authorities were arresting the doctors for “spreading rumors” about the "pneumonia of unclear cause,” the sustained human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus made it much more difficult to halt its rapid spread. Although Beijing belatedly acknowledged the severity of the disease, and every organ of the Chinese state has been harnessed to enforce an unprecedented quarantine on 50 million people across 15 cities, it was too late. The first case outside China had already been confirmed, and the further spread became irreversible. The interconnectedness of the modern world has been a boon for SARS-CoV-2, which claimed more than 1.79 million lives since it first emerged in December last year. The virus has infiltrated every corner of the world, leaving no other choice for states but to impose strict restrictions and introduce lockdowns across 188 countries, leaving their citizens isolated. On Jan. 30, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a global emergence, and the fears were not limited to health. While some people have managed to adjust to the changing reality and took advantage of the opportunity to work remotely, others who have been left without a job, have found themselves in a difficult situation, struggling to pay the rent and bills. With the global economy plunging into deep contraction, millions have lost their jobs worldwide. The coronavirus has infected over 81 million people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019.
Killing of top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani
The whole world held its breath when top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq on Jan. 3, days after pro-Iranian protesters stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Iran retaliated by launching a volley of missiles at bases in Iraq housing U.S. troops. The same day, it shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane "in error" shortly after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 people onboard. Tensions mounted again at the end of November when top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated, with Tehran blaming Israel.
The air thickened by smoke and ash had darkened the skies over a broad swath of Australia. Major bushfires had been raging for months and would not be quelled until midyear with thick smoke giving cities an apocalyptic feel. For months, major Australian cities were choked by toxic bushfire smoke, with air quality reaching hazardous levels in Canberra. More than 30 people died as a direct cause of the blazes and thousands of homes were destroyed. Nearly 3 billion animals were killed or displaced by bushfires in one of the worst wildlife disasters in modern history. On the other side of the world, the U.S. state of California was lying prone in its ashes. A relentless heatwave hit the state which helped fuel the fires and brought milky-orange skies and smothering smoke to the U.S. West Coast.
A massive explosion rocked the Lebanese capital of Beirut and its environs after 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate stored in a warehouse caught fire. The blast on Aug. 4 destroyed one-third of the port city, sending up a mushroom cloud and generating a shock wave. The blast killed more than 200 people, wounded another 6,000 and left 300,000 homeless. Dramatic footage and pictures that captured the moment of the horrifying blast have been imprinted on people's minds. Bloodied residents staggered through streets filled with debris and overturned cars. Windows and doors were knocked out for kilometers (miles). Beirut’s blast set back development agendas in the country and destabilized social and political structures. For six full years, Beirut’s officials ignored several warnings about the deadly cargo in one of the busiest ports in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Lebanese government – rife with corruption, factionalism and negligence – failed to protect its own population and led to the worst single-day catastrophe in Lebanon’s tragic history.
Will be missed
Precious lives of many people were wrested away in 2020. Public figures who has left a significant mark on our lives and made an enormous contribution to the world – Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Lewis, Chadwick Boseman, Kenzo Takada, Diego Armando Maradona – were gone. Each of them can rightfully be called civil rights warriors who marched against discrimination and racial injustice, with Maradona supporting Israeli-oppressed Palestinians, Ginsburg promoting women’s rights throughout her life and Lewis walking hand-by-hand with Martin Luther King Jr. to advocate for voting rights for black Americans.
'I can't breathe'
At the end of May, multiple surveillance cameras captured what appeared to be a routine interaction between George Floyd, a 46-year-old African American, and four police officers in South Minneapolis until one of them kneeled on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. Caught on a cellphone video, Floyd cried, "I can't breathe" as he lost consciousness and died. Hundreds of thousands of protestors took to American streets to call for racial justice after Floyd’s death. Massive demonstrations once again questioned institutional racism in the U.S. with outrage against excessive use of force during arrests of black and people from ethnic minority groups going global. Police used tear gas for days to break up protests, but there were also many more peaceful protests. Many of the demonstrations were driven by Black Lives Matter, a loose-knit group that had formed six years earlier after the police killing of another unarmed black man in Missouri. At least 25 Americans were killed during protests in 2020, a nonprofit organization (NGO), working in collaboration with a group of researchers at Princeton said. According to the data conducted by Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (ACLED), at least 11 Americans were killed while participating in demonstrations and another 14 died in other incidents linked to political unrest.
The United Kingdom looks to new chapter in relations with the European Union as the Brexit deal is signed. On Jan. 31, 2020, Britain became the first country to leave the EU. After three years of disagreement and delays over the divorce terms, the deadline for Brexit was pushed back three times from March 29, 2019. London and Brussels struck a post-Brexit trade deal on Dec. 24, just days from Britain's departure from the EU single market and customs union at on Dec. 31.
U.S. election 2020
All U.S. presidential elections have a global impact, but the vote in 2020 – after the weirdest campaign ever conducted – was arguably the most consequential in history. The first debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, was remarkable with no handshaking between the two candidates amid COVID-19 pandemic, 90 minutes of interruptions and mutual insults. The second debate was scheduled on October but was canceled due to Trump's COVID-19 diagnosis and refusal to take part in a virtual TV debate. The final debate took place on Oct. 22 and was labeled “the worst presidential debate in American history.” Deeply divided Americans voted in record numbers in the Nov. 3 election. After four days of nail-biting, Biden took the White House by 7 million votes. Trump still has not conceded defeat and contested the election results. Trump has been promoting unfounded claims that the election was rigged against him but has provided no proof that swayed any court to his side. His legal team has lost dozens of cases in the courts, and two cases brought by his allies were rejected by the Supreme Court. Trump is due to leave office on Jan. 20, the day that Biden will be inaugurated as the next U.S. president.
While the U.S. was divided along lines of race and class, Donald Trump’s thoughts were thousands of kilometers away as he was seeking to unite the Arab world with Israel. In September, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and fellow Gulf state Bahrain became the first Arab states in a quarter of a century to sign deals establishing formal ties with Israel, in an agreement that Trump helped broker and announced. All three countries signed a document dubbed the Abraham Accords on Sept. 15 after bilateral agreements, which were regarded as a “stab in the back of the Palestinian cause.” Shortly after UAE and Bahrain signed a deal with Israel, Sudan and Morocco joined the list, with Trump hurrying to fulfill his unilateral plan for the Middle East using different diplomatic stimuli to bring Israel and Arab states together. Trump formally removed Sudan from the U.S. blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism and fulfilled a decades-old goal of Morocco by backing its contested sovereignty in Western Sahara as part of a quid pro quo for normalizing relations with the Jewish state. While Arab countries were "building bridges" with Israel, the process was completed at the expense of the interests of the Palestinian people. The Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA), the Hamas group that runs the Gaza Strip alongside the country’s organizations, and leaders of major Muslim countries all have denounced the deal, asserting that the agreements ignore the rights of Palestinians. The deals broke with decades of Arab consensus that there would be no normalization of relations with Israel until it had made peace with the Palestinians and withdrawn from the occupied territories. Although, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has postponed his controversial plan to annex parts of the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Tel Aviv continues a policy of expanding settlements in flagrant violation of international law.
Race for the vaccine
When Chinese researchers publicly posted the genetic sequence of COVID-19, scientists all around the globe got busy. Nearly a dozen pharmaceutical companies launched programs to develop drugs or vaccines against the new virus. Since immunizing people against infections is the best way to prevent the further spread of the disease and protect populations, vaccines were preferable to drugs. As of December 2020, several companies had found success in developing a vaccine with German firm BioNTech, which was founded by a couple with Turkish migrant roots, and its American partner Pfizer taking the leading position in developing a vaccine against COVID-19. The U.K. became the first country in the world to approve the emergency use of Pfizer and BioNTech’s jab and has begun to roll out a major vaccination campaign, marking a historic moment in the fight against the disease. The U.S., Canada, Turkey, Israel, European countries and many other states followed the U.K. to green-light the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine. It was a triumphant moment for the American giant and its German partner BioNTech, who began work on their product based on experimental mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) technology just 11 months ago. The vaccine has been shown to be 95% effective in clinical trials involving some 44,000 people, and no major safety issues have been identified.
In September the French magazine Charlie Hebdo’s republication of cartoons mocking Islam and insulting the Prophet Muhammad unleashed a wave of anger across the Muslim world. The caricatures are viewed by Muslims as offensive and Islamophobic because they are perceived as linking Islam to “terrorism." Macron in October asserted he would not prevent the publication of cartoons, under the pretext of freedom of expression. France launched an extensive witch hunt against the Muslim community following Macron's claim that Islam is a religion “in crisis” that needs to be contained. Many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and mosques were shut down, while assaults against Muslims peaked. Macron's views have been called into question not just in protests across Muslim countries but also by English-language newspapers and international political entities. His remarks sparked huge controversy and a boycott of French goods, such as dairy products and cosmetics, by multiple Muslim countries, including Qatar, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Iran, Bangladesh, Turkey and Pakistan. Demonstrations also took place with posters of Macron set alight in some instances. Muslims in France – the former colonies of which include predominantly Muslim countries in North Africa and West Africa as well as the Middle East – are estimated at nearly 4 million, about 6% of the population.
The NBA star Kobe Bryant was among nine who died on Jan. 26, including his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. Bryant was 41, less than four years removed from the NBA, and on his way to a youth tournament. Bryant is the game’s fourth-leading scorer. He spent 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers and 18 as an All-Star, and won five titles. He was a generational player who left an imprint with his swoops and scores, his touch and grit. Purple and gold became colors of mourning.
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