Bidding goodbye to a year of political turmoil, endless warfare and myopic leadership
In the blink of an eye, another year has passed.
Like the previous year, 2018 has been intriguing, exciting and alarming. We have witnessed several positive, and unfortunately, an equal number or even more negative events during the year.
These include SpaceX conducting a successful maiden flight of Falcon Heavy, Vladimir Putin getting elected for a fourth term as the Russian president, the United States withdrawing from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), and of course, France experiencing its worst civil unrest since the protests of 1968, to name a few.
Would I say the world is becoming scarier with each passing day? Probably yes! Do we live in hope of a better future? We must – despite what has happened, is happening or will happen.
Here are some of the major events that unfolded around the globe in 2018. Let these not dictate our future, unless the outcome is positive.
1. Saudi Arabia’s confused regime
Last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) dominated all the headlines as the progressive prince. During the summer of 2018, the Saudi regime announced women will be allowed to drive in the country. While celebrating this triumph, the world forgot about at least nine detained women activists who fought for the right to drive campaign. Their struggle was also partially overshadowed by the Saudi atrocities in Yemen, where more than 60,000 people have been killed since the war began (in 2016) in the Arab world’s poorest country.
Then came another blow to MBS’s progressive image. Jamal Khashoggi’s premeditated killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul raised lots of questions about the Saudi regime. The Washington Post and other media outlets even reported that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) came to the conclusion that MBS ordered Khashoggi’s assassination. Khashoggi’s murder presented itself as a test for the prince at an international stage like the G20 summit. From French President Emmanuel Macron’s consoling yet disconcerted dialogues like “…you never listen to me,” to getting side lined during the official ‘family photo’ of world leaders and other dignitaries, MBS appeared nervous and uncertain. His only solace came in the form of his bromance with Putin, as they high-fived and grinned rather obviously for the media.
2. Global warming – another issue Donald Trump has gotten wrong
Speaking of the G20, it emerged at the COP24 global climate change summit that at least half of the G20 countries are found to be major climate defaulters. The US and Saudi Arabia are at the bottom of the list, ranking at 59 and 60 respectively. The ratings are based on the country’s policies to regulate industrial and building emissions, and a successful renewable energy support scheme.
Many realists do wonder whether we have reached a point of no return. With the world’s last male northern white rhinoceros dying in Kenya and making the subspecies functionally extinct, and extreme weather wreaking havoc in several countries, the future at the moment looks bleak.
3. Power begets power
Earlier during the year, Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, was granted the status of president for life after constitutional amendments were passed to remove term limits for the president and vice president. He dethroned Putin as Forbes’ most powerful and influential person in the world. Putin previously held the title for four consecutive years.
While Jinping offered support to the ‘Muslim’ Saudi Crown Prince at the G20 Summit, reports of Uighur Muslims’ concentration camps in Xinjiang, China have also emerged. This only further strengthens the narrative that at the end of the day, so-called world leaders do not care about religion, human values or climate change. They are merely hungry for more power. Coincidentally, Jinping is also known for his policies and advocacy on social surveillance, especially via censoring the internet.
4. Let’s not forget Syria
Part of the Arab Spring, the Arab Winter and the spillover of the Iraq conflict, the Syrian conflict hasn’t resolved completely. About 560,000 people have been killed since the Syrian war began in March 2011, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported earlier this month.
With Bashar al Assad now controlling most of Syria, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) hopes that up to 250,000 Syrian refugees could return to their devastated homeland in 2019. According to UNHCR data, around 37,000 refugees have already returned to Syria in 2018. Sceptics and fear-mongers, are you reading these figures? No one becomes a refugee by choice; they are compelled to leave their country, their home, their belongings and sometimes their families as a result of war.
5. Brexit is still lurking
It is not just the vulnerable refugees people fear; they are wary of immigrants generally. Call it the fear of immigrants creating more competition, not assimilating in the culture, increasing budget deficit, abusing welfare or increasing crime rate, people will base their arguments on unfounded claims to disapprove of immigrants. And how can we ignore Brexit while addressing immigration?
Following 2016’s referendum and Prime Minister Theresa May triggering the process in March 2017, the UK is scheduled to leave the European Union on Friday, March 29, 2019. Stopping the process will require a law change in the country, and I shall not even attempt to predict what the future might hold.
6. Defying gravity
This year SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world, with a starting cost of $90 million per launch. The official SpaceX website is offering ‘modest’ discounts to take commercial customers to space and make space travel a reality.
More importantly, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) also launched InSight, an unmanned space probe, in May, which successfully landed on Mars in November. The main mission of this probe is to study the core, mantle and crust of Mars, making Mars the only other planet to be explored in such detail by humans.
7. The Yellow Vest protests
Around 287,000 people joined the Yellow Vest protests across France, which have been ongoing for more than four weeks. The violent protests started with an online petition to remonstrate against the fuel price hike. During the past year, the diesel price increased by 23% due to the hydrocarbon tax introduced by Macron, which had a massive impact on the cost of living.
While Macron argues the tax was introduced to tackle global warming, some people believe the current crisis is a direct result of Macron’s elitist reforms. The protestors are calling for the reintroduction of solidarity tax on wealth, raising minimum wage and Macron’s resignation.
Unsurprisingly, people are comparing these protests to the French Revolution. More than 1,000 civilians and 200 police officers have been injured due to violence, while 10 people have died and more than 2,300 civilians have been arrested during the unrest.
8. War of words and sanctions
Earlier this year, Trump accepted an invitation from Kim Jong Un for a meeting to discuss the denuclearisation of North Korea, with both leaders meeting in June. This was the first time leaders of the US and North Korea had met, and temporarily it seemed the talks were successful.
And yet, in just a month it was revealed that North Korea was continuing its testing. This led the US to chair a Security Council meeting to encourage tougher sanctions against North Korea, an idea supported by Japan and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). Despite this drama, a second summit is expected to be held next year between Trump and Kim. We shall wait and see how the New Year unfolds.
Hope 2019 is exciting, positive and productive!
Happy New Year!
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.