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2017 in review: Key global events that shaped the outgoing year

From N. Korea's nuclear tests to upheaval in the Mideast, Dawn.com looks at the biggest stories across the globe.
Updated Dec 31, 2017 12:10pm

2017 has been a tumultuous year in more ways than one, starting from Donald Trump being sworn in as the president of the United States to the global reckoning on sexual harassment and abuse resulting from the #MeToo movement.

The outgoing year saw citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries ostracised under Trump's travel ban while tension between North Korea and US reached a tipping point with the threat of a nuclear war looming over the Korean peninsula.

The Gulf nations, for the majority of the year, made headlines — perhaps none as much as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which announced radical changes overnight on more than one occasion.

Here, Dawn.com looks at the key global events that shaped 2017.

A year of Trump: defying norms, creating boundaries

On January 20, Republican billionaire Donald Trump, 70, was inaugurated as the 45th US president, vowing to follow a policy based on “America first”. Suspicions of collusion between his election campaign and Russia, however, dogged the start of his term.

President Donald Trump raises his fist after being sworn in as the 45th president of the US.— Reuters/File
President Donald Trump raises his fist after being sworn in as the 45th president of the US.— Reuters/File

Through early morning tweets, Trump unpicked the achievements of his Democrat predecessor, Barack Obama. He pulled out of several international agreements: on climate, free trade, immigration and Unesco.

And despite a year-long court battle, the Trump administration was able to enact a ban on travellers from six mainly Muslim countries: Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Although the latest version of the ban also covers people from North Korea and a selection of senior officials from Venezuela, immigration and civil rights activists maintain it still essentially targets Muslims.

MBS: the crown prince who rules the Kingdom

The first major headline that Saudi Arabia made was on June 21 — "Saudi king upends royal succession, appoints son as crown prince".

Following the rapid ascent of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to the second-most powerful position in Saudi Arabia, a series of unprecedented changes occurred in the desert kingdom.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.─ AP/File
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.─ AP/File

The historic decision to allow Saudi women to drive from next year was a part of the government's major reform drive, conceived by Prince Salman, the de facto ruler of the country.

Along with his futuristic visions, the crown prince also talked of returning his country to ‘moderate Islam’.

Examine: Saudi prince in a china shop

But the events of one November weekend caused seismic shifts within the Saudi establishment. In one fell swoop, the crown prince rounded up highly influential figures in the kingdom, including princes, ministers and business magnates, as part of an anti-corruption purge.

In doing so, the young prince has made enemies of the Saudi aristocracy, its billionaire class and their foreign business partners, who will eventually be looking for revenge.

The ‘genocide’ of Myanmar’s Rohingyas

On August 25, the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar launched a crackdown on Rohingyas in the westernmost Rakhine state after militants from the stateless Muslim minority ambushed security forces there.

A Rohingya man stretches his arms out for food distributed by local volunteers at Kutupalong, Bangladesh.— AP/File
A Rohingya man stretches his arms out for food distributed by local volunteers at Kutupalong, Bangladesh.— AP/File

Nearly 650,000 Rohingyas were forced to flee Myanmar and find refuge in Bangladesh. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres, at least 6,700 Rohingyas, including 730 children, were killed in the first month of violence that erupted in Rakhine in August.

The UN and US denounced the “ethnic cleansing” while the UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein spoke of “elements of genocide”.

Read: Has UN failed the Rohingyas?

Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar, however, has offered no concrete solutions to stop the communal violence.

Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital hits a nerve

In a break with international consensus, Trump sent shockwaves around the world when he recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. The decision triggered protests across the Muslim world and drew strong condemnation globally.

US President Donald Trump holds up a signed memorandum after he delivered a statement on Jerusalem.— AFP/File
US President Donald Trump holds up a signed memorandum after he delivered a statement on Jerusalem.— AFP/File

The emergency session of UN General Assembly later declared Trump's declaration “null and void”, with the motion being adopted by a decisive vote of 128 to 9, with 35 abstentions.

The US remained defiant despite the vote, vowing to "put our embassy in Jerusalem".

Editorial: In one decision, Trump legitimised five decades of Israeli occupation

Trump had warned ahead of the vote in the 193-nation assembly that “we are watching” and threatened reprisals against countries that back the measure.

'#MeToo' opens the floodgates to stories of harassment

Millions of whistle-blowers rallied around the #MeToo hashtag on social media in the wake of revelations of systematic abuses perpetrated by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and other men.

Victims of sexual harassment and their supporters protest during a #MeToo march in Hollywood, California.— AFP/File
Victims of sexual harassment and their supporters protest during a #MeToo march in Hollywood, California.— AFP/File

On October 5, The New York Times published a bombshell investigative report: Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades.

Allegations of sexual misconduct have since been levelled at a long list of personalities in film, television, journalism and politics around the world.

Luminaries toppled from their perches included media stars Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, and several celebrity chefs and members of Congress.

Most recently, Trump accusers also urged Congress to probe the harassment claims against the president.

Qatar: the pariah of the oil-rich Gulf

Saudi, Egypt, UAE, Bahrain and Yemen isolate Qatar over 'terrorism' as rift deepens — this news story, published on June 5, was one of biggest to emerge from the region this year.

The four countries announced that they had severed ties with Qatar, sealing off the emirate's only land border in the wide-ranging boycott.

GCC leaders, including Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (C) pose for a photo.— AP/File
GCC leaders, including Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (C) pose for a photo.— AP/File

In the biggest diplomatic crisis to hit the region in years, they accused Doha of supporting “terrorists” and of being too close to Iran, Saudi Arabia’s regional rival.

Qatar denied the charges, claiming the dispute is an attack on its sovereignty.

Read: Qatar 'thousand times better off' without Gulf allies, says emir

Both parties in the crisis, the worst to grip the Gulf Cooperation Council in its 36-year history, have refused to back down despite mediation attempts by Kuwait and the United States.

North Korea's nuclear programme under Kim Jung Un intensifies tensions

On September 3, North Korea, which upped its missile strikes, conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test, escalating tensions with the US and its allies.

North Korean leader Kim Jung Un guides the test fire of a tactical rocket in this undated photo.─ Reuters/File
North Korean leader Kim Jung Un guides the test fire of a tactical rocket in this undated photo.─ Reuters/File

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in November said his reclusive country has completed its “state nuclear force” with the test of a long-range missile able to deliver a nuclear warhead anywhere in the United States.

Washington threatened to “utterly destroy” the regime “if war comes”.

Know more: North Korea is playing a longer game than US

A war of words has since ensued between the two leaders. At times, the taunts had a schoolyard flavor to them — a “dotard” versus “Little Rocket Man” — but they came from two world leaders with nuclear arms at their disposal.

'Triple talaq' divorce ruled unconstitutional in India

In a landmark ruling, India's top court in August struck down the controversial Islamic practice that allows men to divorce their wives instantly, deeming it "unconstitutional".

Indian Muslim women visit the Jama Masjid mosque in New Delhi on August 22.— AFP/File
Indian Muslim women visit the Jama Masjid mosque in New Delhi on August 22.— AFP/File

The Supreme Court (SC) ruled by a 3:2 majority that the practice of “triple talaq”, whereby Muslim men can divorce their wives by reciting the word talaq (divorce) three times, was both unconstitutional and un-Islamic.

A panel of five judges from India's major faiths — Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism — said triple talaq was “not integral to religious practice and violates constitutional morality”.

Also read: Why did India take so long to outlaw ‘triple talaq’?

Trump lambastes Pakistan over terrorist 'safe havens'

Fractious Pakistan-US relations got further strained when President Trump in August unveiled his administration’s policy on Afghanistan and South Asia.

US President Trump announces his administration's Afghanistan and South Asia policy.— AP/File
US President Trump announces his administration's Afghanistan and South Asia policy.— AP/File

Trump in his diatribe denounced Pakistan for allegedly allowing terrorists to maintain "safe havens" inside its territory. He also asked India to take on a bigger role in Afghanistan, stoking fears in Islamabad that India would use this opportunity to stir trouble in the bordering areas of Pakistan.

The new policy, which was seen in Islamabad as humiliating and disrespectful to Pakistani sacrifices in the fight against terrorism and indifferent to Islamabad’s security concerns, prompted a re-assessment of ties at the highest level.

Examine: Should Pakistan worry about US aid when its relationship with China is worth $110 billion?

Trump also cleared the way for the deployment of thousands more US troops to Afghanistan with a 16-year war seemingly nowhere near its conclusion.

Embattled Syria, Yemen face uncertain future; Lebanon in disarray

Syria’s President Bashar Assad has been embattled since war erupted in his country almost seven years ago. While his demise was widely predicted in the early stages, the leader is still holding on to power as the war appears to draw to a close.

Major military operations have tapered off, with Assad in control of key areas and the war against IS mostly concluded with the recapture of the cities it controlled.

Read: Middle East in 2018: A look at Saudi Arabia, Palestine, Syria and Iraq

People inspect damage after an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition on a target in Saada, Yemen.— AFP
People inspect damage after an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition on a target in Saada, Yemen.— AFP

The carnage in Yemen, however, is ongoing. The stalemated war by a Saudi-led coalition has killed more than 10,000 civilians and pushed the Arab world's poorest country to the brink of famine.

International rights groups have accused the coalition of bombing civilian gatherings, markets, hospitals and residential areas across Yemen since the beginning of its air campaign against Houthi rebels in March 2015.

Meanwhile in Lebanon, Prime Minister Saad Hariri on November 4 announced from Saudi Arabia that he is resigning – before later doing a U-turn – citing Iran’s “grip” on Lebanon.

The move was seen by many as being orchestrated by Saudi Arabia in a bid to damage Iran's influence in the region.

Madrid dismisses Catalonia’s govt, suspends region’s autonomy

On October 1, an independence referendum was held in Spain’s wealthy northeastern Catalonia region. The poll was deemed illegal by the central government.

People wave Catalan 'Estelada' flags and carry signs during a pro-independence demonstration on December 7 in Brussels.— AFP/File
People wave Catalan 'Estelada' flags and carry signs during a pro-independence demonstration on December 7 in Brussels.— AFP/File

Madrid moved to assert control but Catalan lawmakers voted on October 27 to declare independence from Spain.

Madrid reacted by calling new regional elections, while dismissing Catalonia’s government and suspending the region’s autonomy.

Read: Spain’s crisis re-ignited as Catalan separatists win vote

Deposed regional president Carles Puigdemont, who has been charged with sedition and rebellion, took refuge in Belgium.

Zimbabwe: Mugabe gives up after 37 years in power

On November 21, Zimbabwe’s veteran President Robert Mugabe resigned following a 37-year rule, after being abandoned by the military and his own party.

The 93-year-old had clung on for a week after an army takeover and expulsion from his own ruling ZANU-PF party, but resigned shortly after parliament began an impeachment process seen as the only legal way to force him out.

People danced and car horns blared on the streets of Harare at news that the era of Mugabe — who led Zim­babwe since independence in 1980 — was finally over.

Read: Delayed exit

IS defeated, not wiped out

Iraq on December 9 declared victory in its war to expel the militant Islamic State. After lengthy assaults, an array of forces drove the Islamic State from its two main strongholds — the city of Mosul in Iraq, and its self-styled capital, Raqqa, in Syria.

Iraqi fighters kick a billboard bearing the logo of IS in Hawija.— AFP/File
Iraqi fighters kick a billboard bearing the logo of IS in Hawija.— AFP/File

Iraq's fightback was launched with the backing of an air campaign waged by a US-led coalition, recapturing town after town from the clutches of the militants in fierce urban warfare.

Report: Weapons used by IS in Syria and Iraq traced to US, Saudi Arabia

Experts, however, warn that jihadists remain a threat.

The defeats left the Islamic State without significant territory in either Iraq or Syria, but affiliates elsewhere in the region, particularly in Egypt and Afghanistan, continued to operate.

London reaches landmark deal with EU on Brexit divorce terms

On March 29, London launched the process to leave the European Union, nine months after British voters opted to leave in a referendum.

British Prime Minister Theresa May meets European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels.—AFP/File
British Prime Minister Theresa May meets European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels.—AFP/File

On June 8, Britain voted in a snap general election called by Prime Minister Theresa May in a bid to increase her slender parliamentary majority. But her Conservatives instead suffered a major setback and lost their majority.

After months of negotiations, on December 8, Brussels and London reached a deal on Brexit divorce terms, opening the way to talks on their future relationship.

Examine: View from abroad: Bored of Brexit

Terror attacks that shook the world

The first big terror attack of 2017 came on New Year’s Day — a gunman killing 39 at a nightclub in Istanbul. Subsequent targets of global terror included an Ariana Grande concert in England, a bike path in New York City and the historic La Rambla promenade in Barcelona.

In October, a truck bombing in Somalia killed more than 500 people; in November, an attack on a crowded mosque in Egypt killed more than 300.

Police officers stop a man who drove down Tropicana Ave. near Las Vegas Boulevard. ─ AFP/File
Police officers stop a man who drove down Tropicana Ave. near Las Vegas Boulevard. ─ AFP/File

A 64-year-old high-stakes video poker player, after amassing an arsenal of weapons, unleashed a barrage of gunfire from a high-rise casino-hotel that killed 58 people and injured hundreds among a crowd attending an open-air concert along the Las Vegas Strip.

Weeks after the massacre, questions about the gunman’s motives remained unanswered.

With additional information from AFP and AP.