A series of unfortunate events

Hany Ghoraba
Saturday 19 Dec 2020

For many people worldwide 2020 has been a lost year that can barely be accounted part of their normal lives

It is an arduous task to describe 2020, whether with a simple adjective or an even a long article, for this has been truly an unprecedented year for those who have witnessed or survived its ordeals. 2020 was the year in which an economic depression occurred that was very much worse than a simple economic recession

The year that started with the Australian wildfires that burnt through 47 million acres of land and killed millions of animals in one of the worst disasters of its kind in modern history then brought the worst viral pandemic since the Spanish Flu outbreak in the early 20th century that killed 50 million people. 

The “year of the coronavirus” could thus be an adequate name for 2020, since the year saw the infection of over 72 million people around the world and the deaths of 1.6 million in over 210 countries as of 13 December. The numbers, which are rapidly growing by the day, have not spared a single country without hitting it hard. 

The worst-affected countries were also among the most advanced in the world, starting with the United States, Russia, the UK, Spain, France and Germany. The Covid-19, dubbed the “Chinese virus” by outgoing US president Donald Trump, has become a major event of the 21st century, affecting the global economy in a major way, which plummeted to recession levels across the world. Even so, a handful of countries have seen their economies score positive GDP growth, including China and Egypt.

2020 has now passed, and almost every citizen on the planet believes that the year was a lost one and almost cannot be accounted part of their lives. 

All the planning, projects and prospects of the New Year have also been placed on hold, including various megaprojects. However, global political conflicts have not stopped, and even old conflicts have resurfaced such as the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region. 

Turkish expansionist ambitions in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and even Central Asia led by Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have also not stopped, though they were faced this year by tougher resistance from developing alliances such the Egyptian-Greek-Cypriot alliance that has been joined by France and the UAE, or the European Union and the United States that have enforced a number of sanctions on Erdogan’s Turkey. 

Global terrorism has not stopped either, and in 2020 it has targeted new countries such as Austria. Terrorism is still rampant in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and some African nations such as Nigeria. All of these have witnessed hundreds of their citizens and law-enforcement officers fall victim to vicious terrorists. 

“Lone-wolf” attacks in Europe also did not stop this year, forcing countries such as France, Austria and Belgium to follow other EU countries in taking measures against Political Islam in a bid to curb the extremism and radicalism that has infested these societies over recent years. 

In 2021, tougher measures are expected to be taken by the EU, as Erdogan finds himself more and more cornered by the day. This is not to mention the plummeting Turkish economy and currency thanks to the huge costs of his expansionist ambitions. 

2020 was promised to be a year with amazing sports events, but alas the world’s stadiums became empty as a result of the lockdowns intended to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Even sports events that survived the cancellations were almost all played without live spectators.

Major sports events that were marked for 2020 such as the Tokyo Olympics have been postponed to 2021, and a similar fate was met by football tournaments such as Euro 2020 and Copa America 2020. 

These sports events are supposed to be held next year provided that the gloomy coronavirus situation changes and it is safe for countries to host such events that involve millions of spectators arriving in stadiums from all over the world. 

The situation remains unclear since many countries around the world are still in either partial or full lockdowns. The sporting world’s blues also did not end there, and a number of well-known athletes and footballers passed away in 2020 including Argentinean football legend Diego Maradona and Italian wonder Paolo Rossi. 

The major losers of the unprecedented viral outbreak remain the international airlines and hospitality businesses such as hotels and restaurants which witnessed a series of closures and bankruptcies. Many shopping malls and commercial outlets met the same unfortunate fate. 

2020 also witnessed the most controversial US presidential elections in the country’s history, eventually won by Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden against incumbent Republican Party president Donald Trump. However, even now Trump has not recognised the results of the elections, and he has refused to concede to Biden as according to the Republican camp the elections were marred with fraud, especially when it concerns mail-in ballots. 

Trump has ignored the Biden camp’s pleas to concede or to acknowledge the results of the elections amidst unprecedented tensions in a country swept by the coronavirus and affecting the results in favour of Biden.   

As news of new Covid-19 vaccines surface, the promise of a better future ahead starting from 2021 is starting to emerge. 

But many questions still remain on how to tackle the world’s most challenging catastrophe since World War II and how normal life can resume even in the case of containing the virus. A large number of economic stimulus packages have been introduced by the EU, the US and Japan, among others, to maintain economic stability in the midst of uncertainty. 

That said, some countries such as Egypt have managed to remain stable without such measures and to deliver economic growth through careful planning, though the same thing cannot be said for most countries in the world that are now scrambling to face the onslaught of the economic recession caused by the outbreak. 

2021 will be the year that such recovery plans go into effect, though they are unlikely to yield tangible results before 2022. 

This year has provided major lessons to governments to increase their funding for medical and scientific research, which could be the saviour in case similar outbreaks occur again in future. Moreover, the crisis will force countries to prepare special emergency funding as well as stock up on both food and medical supplies for any such emergencies in future. 

All is not doom and gloom on the political side of matters. A number of Arab states signed peace and normalisation deals with Israel in 2020, marking a historic step towards a possible permanent peace. These countries are the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, with the deals brokered by Trump who has thus attained the first tangible step towards peace since 1994. 

There is potential in the new year that more peace deals with Israel will be signed. But the stances of newly elected US President Biden on the Middle East peace process remain unclear.  

At the end of the year when medical facemasks became a common wearable item, a glimpse of hope surfaced in the form of approved vaccines emerging from pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer and AstraZeneca. 

Yet, added to the initial wariness about receiving the vaccine among many citizens across the world, who fear its possible side effects, the distribution of the vaccine to all possible recipients around the world will take months and possibly years. Nevertheless, the introduction of such counter-measures seems to be the first piece of good news to have surfaced since the coronavirus crisis first erupted. 

While major lockdowns still dominate many Western countries, spoiling this year’s Christmas celebrations, this year it was not the “grinch who stole Christmas,” as was the case in one of the Dr Seuss children’s books, but the Covid-19 virus. It is to be hoped that thanks to medical advances and the vaccine, it will not have the opportunity to steal another year or another Christmas from us. 

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring and the Winding Road to Democracy.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 17 December, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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