LONDON - With the year drawing to a close, The New Arab looks at ten key moments for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)region from 2022.
A journalist's assassination, a full-blown war in Eastern Europe, and the twists and turns of a certain football tournament – with 2022 coming to an end, The New Arab looks at some of the most significant moments for the Middle East and North Africa region from the past year.
1. Most violent year for Palestinians in nearly two decades
2022 has been the deadliest year for Palestinians since 2005.
More than 200 Palestinians, including more than 50 children, have been killed by Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank and Gaza this year.
Since March, Israeli forces have launched near-daily raids into the occupied West Bank, killing, injuring or arresting hundreds of Palestinians. It was during one of these raids that they shot and killed veteran Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh.
For three days in August, the Israeli military launched hundreds of airstrikes on the besieged enclave of Gaza, killing at least 49 Palestinians, including 17 children.
With the re-election of the hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu at the head of an extremist government, things look even bleaker for the Palestinians in 2023.
2. Russia's invasion of Ukraine
Russia's invasion of Ukraine late in February was inevitably going to have a global impact.
Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa are heavily reliant on food and agriculture imports including wheat, sunflower oil and fertilisers from both Russia and Ukraine.
In Egypt, the new unreliability of supply plus a crumbling economy has caused the price of bread to soar.
People from the Middle East and North Africa, many of them students, were among the millions of people who fled Ukraine as Russia invaded. They and other people of colour faced racism from border guards and other refugees in the scramble to leave the country, and were at the mercy of authorities in their countries of origin who were ill-prepared for the exodus.
As European countries quickly went into rescue mode and took in Ukrainian refugees, a question of double standards was raised; why are refugees from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere not welcomed by Europe in the same way?
3. The killing of Shireen Abu Akleh
Celebrated Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot dead by Israeli forces on 11 May, sparking global outrage and shining a spotlight on Israel's brutal occupation of the West Bank.
Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American, was in the West Bank city of Jenin covering an Israeli raid when she was shot by an Israeli soldier. Israel’s government denied its role in her killing for weeks, before finally admitting there was a 'high probability' that its soldiers may have shot her 'by mistake'.
Israeli forces later attacked mourners at her funeral, beating the pallbearers with batons to the point where Abu Akleh’s coffin nearly fell to the ground.
Several international investigations concluded that Abu Akleh was shot by an Israeli soldier, while even the US - Israel’s strongest ally - has opened a probe into her killing.
In December, Abu Akleh’s family submitted her case to the International Criminal Court in an effort to hold the Israeli forces accountable for her killing.
4. Migrant massacre in Melilla
Tragedy struck in June at the gates to the Spanish enclave of Melilla in mainland Africa.
At least 23 migrants were killed in a stampede at the border fence. Spanish and Moroccan authorities used "unlawful and lethal force" on the migrants at the border, Amnesty International found.
Investigations by journalists and human rights groups found that Spanish and Moroccan border guards were at least partly responsible for the deaths, but Spain’s public prosecutor closed its investigation into the massacre this month, effectively absolving the Spanish authorities of blame.
5. Biden's Middle East visit
In July, Joe Biden made his first visit to the Middle East as US President, with stops in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the occupied West Bank.
Much was made of Biden's decision to visit Saudi Arabia. Before he became president in January 2021, Biden had made his disapproval of Saudi Arabia’s rulers clear, particularly in light of the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He had vowed to make Saudi a "pariah state" because of the murder.
But tensions between Riyadh and Washington thawed as his presidency progressed - partly because the US wanted Saudi Arabia to ramp up oil production to provide an alternative to Russian energy, which the US had sanctioned due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The Saudis did not latch on to the idea, and kept their oil production steady - infuriating the US. Biden's in-person persuasion apparently did not work either, and Riyadh have toed the OPEC+line.
The announcement of the trip also whipped up speculation over a US-brokered plan to encourage normalisation with Israel, although that does not appear to have been realised.
6. Iran protests
In early September, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd was picked up by Iran’s notorious morality police for allegedly wearing her mandatory headscarf 'improperly'. Allegedly beaten in custody, she was rushed to the hospital where she died soon after.
She was Mahsa Amini – also known by her Kurdish name, Jina Amini – and her death sparked a social revolution.
Amini’s death led to widespread protests against the country; demonstrations entered their fourth month in December. Initially calling for women’s freedom and an end to their draconian dress code, Iranians are now protesting against their country's clerical rule and calling for its leaders to step down.
The Islamic Republic has responded violently, killings hundreds of protesters and arresting thousands. According to the rights group HRANA, at least 508 people have been killed, including 42 women and 69 children. More than 18,000 have been arrested, at least two of whom have been executed for participating in the demonstrations.
7. Alaa Abdel-Fattah and COP27 in Egypt
This year’s UN climate summit COP27 was hosted in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt. Its intended focus was the climate crisis, but Cairo’s crackdown on dissent and the brutal incarceration of human rights activists – especially Alaa Abdel Fattah – attracted attention from all over the world.
Abdel Fattah, a British Egyptian software engineer, writer and activist, has been in and out of prison for nearly a decade for 'broadcasting false news'. He went on a hunger strike for around six months this year to protest his detention, and escalated this by refusing to drink water during COP27 from 6-18 November.
Multiple rights groups and governments have put pressure on the Egyptian leadership to set him and other political prisoners free. In November, several Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) slammed Egypt for its oppression of civil society, and urged Cairo to free Abdel Fattah.
8. Web of warming ties
2022 saw some of the Middle East's most powerful actors look to mend bridges.
Turkey continued its attempts from last year to improve its ties with Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Ties between Turkey and Egypt had been strained since the ousting of Erdogan-backed Mohamed Morsi was pushed out of power in a military coup in 2013. Relations between Ankara and Riyadh had been tense since the Khashoggi murder.
Turkey and Israel also took steps towards each other, with Erdogan accepting an Israeli ambassador to Turkey, and just this week, the Syrian and Turkish defence ministers met publicly for the first time since 2011.
Israel has sought to continue its normalisation streak with Arab countries, with efforts made to improve ties with both Oman and Saudi Arabia - though apparently to little success. New Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly pushing anew for normalised ties with Saudi Arabia.
Some MENA states have this year taken emphatic (though largely symbolic) stances against normalisation with Israel. Both Algeria and Iraq moved to criminalise relations with the country.
9. Qatar World Cup
The World Cup in Qatar attracted record-breaking viewership and numbers of spectators in stadiums, despite widespread criticism from western media outlets.
Some of the criticism was on mistreatment of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ people by the host country, but some came from more puzzling sources – like Qatar's gifting of Argentina captain Lionel Messi with a bisht.
The first World Cup held in the Middle East saw several displays of pan-Arab solidarity and Arab culture.
Though not competing in the tournament Palestine emerged as a big winner. Palestinian flags were waved at nearly every game. Israel journalists were widely shunned, as was evidenced by several groups of fans refusing to be interviewed by them.
From a footballing point of view, the tournament delivered thrilling matches, and in what was one of a few possible fairytale endings, Lionel Messi and Argentina finally held aloft the golden trophy in what was his last World Cup match.
10. Morocco’s heroic World Cup run
Going into the World Cup, Morocco were a team full of promise. Many in the squad are indispensable at the European sides they play club football for, and the Moroccan academy system had started to bear fruit.
Few would have seen them as challengers for the trophy, however. They had just gone through a change in manager, with inexperienced coach Walid Regragui taking on the job in August and having to quickly mend ruptures in the team.
But the French-Moroccan coach's leadership and the team's almost impenetrable defending led them all the way to the semi-finals of the tournament, with victories over Belgium, Spain and Portugal under their belt.
The Atlas Lions were the first Arab or African team ever to make it to the World Cup’s last four, breaking the hold of European and South American teams over the later stages of the tournament.
Though they were knocked out by France in the semi-finals, the trailblazing performance, overt display of love for family, and shows of Palestine solidarity saw the Atlas Lions pick up legions of fans.