2021 Yearender: Soaring tensions across the globe

Haitham Noury, Saturday 1 Jan 2022

If anything, 2021 revealed that the year ahead will see an escalation of tensions and conflicts in several parts of the world, including in Ethiopia, Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan, the US, China, and Russia.

A Ukrainian soldier take a rest near a fighting position on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Friday, Dec 31, 2021. President Joe Biden has warned Russia s Vladimir Putin that the U.S. could impose new sanctions against Russia if it takes further military action against Ukraine. AP

Ethiopia's civil war and famine

No sooner had 2021 begun than Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa, was mired in civil war, which was the height of ethnonational tensions -- that distinguished it since the establishment of the empire in the second half of the 20th century -- between the Amhara, who make up 27 percent of the population, the Tigray (seven percent), the Oromo (34 percent), the Somali (seven percent), and other, smaller ethnic groups. 

The war, which resulted in one of the worst humanitarian crises of the year, ranged from a victory for the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to a defeat for his army and allied militia, and finally, the restoration of cities captured by his opponents during the summer of 2021.

2022 is yet to unfold in the country the government of which had announced that its forces (made up of pro-government ethnic militias) would not advance to the fortified stronghold of Tigray in the north.

Meanwhile, Ethiopia's neighbours are holding their breath. Eritrea fears a calm situation and the building of the strength of Tigray, Sudan fears a renewal of the war and its eastern provinces are filled with refugees, adding to its heavy burdens, and Somalia fears the weakness of a strong ally against Al-Shabab terrorist group.

The famine will not hold the fragile alliances after the United Nations had announced 23 million Ethiopians need urgent humanitarian aid.

Sudan’s open scenarios 

2021 began in Khartoum with a conflict between the civilian and military components, the "partners of the transitional period," and ended with the army seizing power on 25 October.

Despite the agreement between Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and army commander Abdul-Fattah Al-Burhan in November, the majority of civilian forces opposed the deal and protests erupted in the capital, Khartoum.

All the cards are on the table in Sudan and the future scenarios are yet vague. Internal protests continue, the conflict in Darfur has not subsided, and border tensions with Ethiopia may escalate. 

Regional calm in the Gulf

The end of the Arab Quartet's boycott of Qatar after three years of an unprecedented crisis was meant to unify the efforts of Gulf states to confront Iran, especially with the resumption of negotiations over Tehran's nuclear programme.

Iran's nuclear front

In 2021, Iran, the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and China returned to the Vienna talks to reach an agreement over the Iranian nuclear programme after former US President Donald Trump had withdrawn from the accord struck by his predecessor Barack Obama with Hassan Rouhani in 2015.

Iran is led by a hard-line president, Ibrahim Raisi, while Joe Biden is a liberal, which explains why negotiations are in their eighth round without any significant result.

US and China 

As soon as he arrived at the White House, Biden began putting pressure on his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, on all fronts, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, trade relations, investigations about the coronavirus, and last but not least the technological conflict.

Relations included threats and sanctions against China concerning freedom, the Tibet, Uyghur, and Hong Kong, with strong warnings to prevent China from occupying Taiwan by force.

Western incitement against Huawei, the Chinese technology conglomerate, was most prominent after it had prevented the establishment of fifth-generation mobile networks in several Western countries.

Washington vs Moscow

President Biden's administration was quick to confront Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s over the issues of Syria, arming Turkey, Russian gas pipelines to Europe, and the Ukraine.

The confrontation with the Russian and Chinese giants could end with Beijing and Moscow allying strongly against Washington and its Western allies, which would mean that 2021 had apparently drawn the new Cold War lines.

Return of the Taliban

After nearly two decades of the US occupation of Afghanistan, the Taliban returned to power after President Biden had decided to withdraw "quickly" from the "graveyard of empires."

The fall of Kabul into the hands of the Taliban has worried China, India, Russia, and of course Iran, and 2022 is seemingly open to unprecedented developments.

Migrants' graveyard 

In 2021, the Mediterranean turned into a graveyard for migrants, with 1,600 people drowning in its waters.

The year ended with the tragedy of the English Channel, when 28 migrants drowned after they had left the French city of Calais for Britain, turning that small sea into another graveyard for the world’s poor and those fleeing from man-made disasters.

Short link: