2020 was unprecedented for the world, mostly due to 2019’s virus of Chinese origin that sneaked in to the rest of the world, killing almost 2 million people and infecting 83 million people across the world. The home became the workplace, the workplace the home, the ennui and the epiphanies were all at home. Other things did happen in the world, like the dethronement of Trump, Israel finding acceptance among 3 Arab countries. Here’s a brief look back at 2020 before we bid it bye!
Israel makes new friends in Arabia and North Africa
Israel became friends with more Arab countries in 2020. It had already established diplomatic ties with Egypt in 1979, leading to the assassination of then president Anwar Sadat, and with Jordan in 1994.
The United Arab emirates (UAE) was the first to recognise Israel, possibly under the nudging of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has emerged the regional hegemon opposed to the other hegemon, Iran. Bahrain became the second Gulf nation to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. Sudan and Morocco were not too far in forging deals with the Jewish state and reshaping politics in the Middle East. Though Rabat had been engaging Tel Aviv on the sly all this while, the sudden melting of age-old enmities has left the Middle East in an unforeseen space.
The United States brokered most of the deals. The peace agreements between Israel and four nations broke years of consensus among Arab and north African states that haven’t recognised Israel over its occupation of Palestinian territories and establishment of the two-state solution on the borders of 1967.
The year 2020 saw Palestinians a dispirited lot with feelings of betrayal from key supporters in the Gulf. Saudi Arabia was expected to sign along the dotted line too but that, now, looks like a 2021 possibility.
US Presidential Elections
In the month of November 2020, United States voted to elect its 45th President. The candidates in the race were Democratic Party’s Joe Biden and Republican Party’s Donald Trump, who was eyeing a second term as President. The election assumed more significance as it was held amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. It was being said it was going to be a referendum on Donald Trump’s presidency who has often been accused of downplaying covid-19 despite the fact that United States is worst-hit country by the pandemic with more than three lakh deaths and total cases inching towards 2-crore mark.
The bitterly fought election was won by Democrat Joe Biden who won 306 electoral college votes to Trump’s 232. The results were not without controversy as Trump went on to file suit after suit in different states alleging fraud, a claim he was unable to substantiate with any evidence. Even the Supreme Court in US has not been able to find any widespread fraud as alleged by Trump who is yet to concede defeat. Biden will be assuming the office on January 20, 2021, while Indian-origin Kamala Harris will be the first woman vice president of the US.
Donald Trump impeachment
For the third time in the history of the US Presidency, Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, was on trial for impeachment. The impeachment was initiated on December 18, 2019 when the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Trump was accused of asking the Ukraine government to announce an investigation into his political opponent Joe Biden, who is now the President-elect of the United States. To convince Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do so, Trump held back military aid to Ukraine and rejected a proposed White House meeting with Zelensky. Trump was also accused of seeking help from the Ukraine government to help himself get re-elected and to promote a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 US Presidential elections.
Both the articles were submitted to the Senate on January 16, 2020, commencing Trump’s impeachment trial. The trial saw no witnesses or documents being subpoenaed, as Republican senators, who made up the majority in the Senate by 53 members to 47, rejected attempts of Democrats to submit witnesses and documents at the start of the trial. The Senate acquitted Trump of these charges on February 5, 2020 as neither count received a majority 67 votes to convict. On Article I, abuse of power, 48 senators voted for conviction, while 52 senators voted for acquittal. On Article II, obstruction of Congress, 47 senators voted for conviction, while 53 senators voted to acquit.
Trump had denied any wrongdoing.
Qasem Soleimani Assassination
Iran’s most powerful military commander, General Qasem Soleimani, who spearheaded Iranian military operations in the Middle East as head of Iran’s elite Quds Force, was killed in US air strikes on January 3, 2020 ordered by President Donald Trump. Soleimani was considered the second most powerful figure of Iran after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Iran observed three days of national mourning with the rest of the world worried about the outbreak of hostilities.
He was killed at Baghdad airport, along with other Iran-backed militia figures, including the deputy chairman of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) and commander of the Iran-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah militia, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who had been designated a terrorist by the US and the UAE.
The US administration justified the killing of Soleimani saying he was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of US personnel and was plotting to kill many more. Donald Trump had said he should have been taken out many years ago and that he was both hated and feared within Iran and the country will never be able to properly admit it.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran escalated when the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran on May 18, 2018 and reimposed sanctions. The killing of Soleimani had further added to escalations. Khamenei said severe revenge awaits the criminals behind the attack.
The murder of Samuel Paty, a French middle-school teacher, took place on October 16, 2020 in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a suburb of Paris for showing Charlie Hebdo cartoons of Prophet Mohammad to his students in a civics class. He was beheaded by an Islamist terrorist. The attacker had said he wanted to punish Paty for his blasphemous act.
The 18-year-old perpetrator, Abdoullakh Abouyedovich Anzorov, a Muslim Russian refugee of Chechen ethnicity, killed and beheaded Paty with a cleaver. He was shot dead by police minutes after the incident.
Paty showed Charlie Hebdo’s 2012 cartoons in his class on freedom of expression. These cartoons were seen by many Muslims as offensive. Ten people have been charged with assisting the killer, including an imam, a parent of a student, and two students at Paty’s school.
Days after the beheading incident, a knife-wielding assailant, said to be shouting Allahu Akbar, killed a woman and two others at a church in the French city of Nice on October 31, 2020. Reports suggested that both the incidents were linked to each other.
French President Emmanuel Macron denounced radical Islam and said the incident was a typical Islamist terrorist attack. The response of the French government has been criticized by many Muslims, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, some of whom have called for a boycott of French goods.
Harvey Weinstein #MeToo Verdict: In a landmark verdict in the month of March, former movie producer Harvey Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for rape and sexual assault. One of Hollywood’s most powerful figures, Weinstein was found guilty of the charges by Manhattan criminal court. The disgraced producer was accused of sexual misconduct by more than 100 women. The widespread #MeToo movement, which saw many women coming out and sharing stories of sexual harassment at workplaces with hashtag MeToo , was also fuelled following Harvey Weinstein’s sexual assault cases. Weinstein however, continues to maintain that any sex was consensual. He said he feels for the thousands of men who are being denied due process in the #MeToo era.
Weinstein had won an Academy Award for producing Shakespeare in Love. He has also produced many other acclaimed films including Pulp Fiction, The English Patient and Gangs of New York. Weinstein was dismissed from The Weinstein Company (TWC) and expelled from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and other professional associations. Following his conviction, his lawyers had said they would appeal against the court’s decision.
George Floyd Killing
George Floyd, a 46-year-old man, was killed by a White police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota while he was being arrested. The policeman, Derek Chauvin, knelt on Floyd’s neck for about nine and a half minutes after he was handcuffed and lying face down. Two other policemen, J. Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, assisted Chauvin while one more police officer Tou Thao prevented bystanders from intervening. Floyd had complained about breathing problems before being shoved to the ground, but after being restrained he became more distressed and called for his mother as he feared he would die. After several minutes, Floyd stopped speaking and laid motionless on the street. Despite this, Chauvin refused to lift his knee of Floyds neck until medics told him to but by then, Floyd was dead.
Videos of the incidents surfaced online and all four officers were dismissed. Autopsies found Floyd’s death to be a homicide. While Chauvin was charged with second-degree unintentional murder, Kueng, Lane, and Thao were charged with assisting and abetting second-degree murder. Their trial is to begin March 8, 2021.
The incident triggered worldwide protests against police atrocities, intolerance and violence attacks against black people, and lack of police accountability. The Black Lives Mattermovement returned to international headlines after the killing of George Floyd. An estimated 20 to 26 million people participated in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, making it one of the largest movements in the country’s history.
Black Lives Matter began in July 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who shot dead African-American teen Trayvon Martin.
A UNESCO world heritage site, Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul was turned into a mosque in Turkey after a court annulled the site’s museum status. The move drew widespread criticism from secular opposition leaders in Turkey as well as political leaders across the world who considered it as a bridge between two faiths, and a symbol of co-existence. However, Turkey president Recep Tayyip Erdogan defended the move and said the country had exercised its sovereign right by turning the museum into mosque. He said the mosque will be open to locals , foreigners, muslims and non-muslims alike. Critics slammed the move and said it was done to divert the attention from the economic damage suffered by the country in the wake of Covid-19.
Hagia Sophia was built1,500 years ago as an Orthodox Christian cathedral and was turned into a mosque in 1453. In 1934 it was converted into a museum. The decision to convert the world-famous museum into a mosque was taken despite UNESCO’s request to not change its status without discussion. The move was also slammed by head of the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as Greece.
Namaste Trump: In the month of February, US President Donald Trump came to India on his maiden visit. The highlight of the tour was the Namaste Trump rally held in Ahmedabad in response to Howdy Modi event held for PM Modi in 2019. Around 1 lakh people attended the event at Sardar Patel Stadium.
During the Namaste Trump tour, US President visited Taj Mahal in Agra along with his wife Melania. He later headed to Delhi and attended the dinner banquet hosted by the President of India Ram Nath Kovind. During the visit, Trump and PM Modi addressed several common issues such as 5G connectivity and trade deals. They also inked a US$3 billion defense deal.
The Namaste Trump tour was marred by controversy as a wall was built by Gujarat government ahead of it. Social workers had opposed the construction of the wall saying it was built to hide the slum area. However, officials said it was built for security reasons. The 2020 Delhi riots, which resulted in widespread violence across the capitals also coincided with US President’s visit to India. The opposition had slammed the government on extravaganza and advised the government to use the opportunity to address key issues.
Input: Shivani Chauhan and Prerna Ahuja