Key events that shaped the Middle East and North Africa in 2019 | Elections 2018 News


For many, the year 2019 had echoes of the protest movements, called the Arab Spring, which took over the region eight years ago.

Mass demonstrations erupted in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, Lebanon and Iran when citizens demonstrated against their governments for corruption and stagnant economies, among other issues.


The elections also caused an upset, with Israel facing an unprecedented third election in March 2020 after two indecisive trips to the polls, and Algeria holding a controversial presidential vote after two failed attempts amid widespread popular disapproval.

Elsewhere, the long-standing humanitarian crisis in Yemen and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories were overshadowed by seizures of oil tankers, which marked an increase in tensions between Iran and the West.

These are some of the key events that shaped the Middle East and North Africa in 2019:

1. Arab Spring 2.0?

Tens of thousands of Algerians took to the streets in February after it was announced that a long-time ruler Abdelaziz Bouteflika would run for a fifth term. In April, while demonstrations continued throughout the country, Bouteflika resigned after military chief Ahmed Gaid Salah requested his dismissal, but demonstrations continued while protesters demanded root and branch political reforms.

The presidential elections were held in December despite opposition from the protest movement, known as the Hirak, which dismissed the loyal candidates of Bouteflika as part of the old guard of the ruling elites.

Algerians have taken the streets en masse demanding deep political reforms (File: Zohra Bensemra / Reuters)

Elsewhere, Sudan leader Omar al-Bashir was dismissed on April 11 after almost 30 years in power after months of anti-government protests that began in December 2018. A deadly attack in June against a pro-democratic sit-in In the headquarters of the army in the capital, Khartoum, in which at least 120 protesters died, spoiled the largely peaceful protest movement.

A transitional government was sworn in September, and elections will be held in 2022.

Sudanese protesters sing slogans while attending a massive anti-government protest in front of the Ministry of Defense in Khartoum, Sudan, April 21, 2019. REUTERS / Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The former ruler of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, was removed from power amid national anti-government protests (File: Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah / Reuters)

Meanwhile, in October there were the greatest civil protests in Iraq since the fall of former leader Saddam Hussein in 2003. Nicknamed the Tishreen Revolution, the protests began in the capital, Baghdad, but quickly spread to other provinces.

Beginning with calls to end corruption, unemployment and inefficient public services, the protest movement intensified calls for the review of the country's political system, as well as the end of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs.

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, resigned at the end of November, but has remained a provisional leader while the main parliamentary blocs have struggled to agree on a successor.

In October there was also the eruption of mass protests in Lebanon, where citizens demanded a review of the country's confessional political system, in which power is distributed among religious groups.

The grassroots movement pressured Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign on October 26, and President Michel Aoun finally selected Hassan Diab as the new prime minister.

An overview of the protesters during a protest against the government in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, October 20, 2019. REUTERS / Mohamed Azakir TPX PICTURES OF THE DAY

Protesters in Lebanon have called for a government of independent experts to manage the country's crisis economy (File: Mohamed Azakir / Reuters)

Diab's nomination was received with more protests, as protesters who want a government of independent experts to get the country out of an economic crisis, criticized Diab for being nominated by Hezbollah and its allies.

In November, in a context of weakening the economy, the Iranians took to the streets in response to the government's decision to suddenly increase fuel prices by 50 percent.

According to officials, some 200,000 people participated in the protests, and the Amnesty International rights organization said later that at least 208 protesters were killed in subsequent government repression.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called the protesters violent actions as "thugs,quot; and accused the counterrevolutionaries and foreign enemies of increase The riots.

Iranian protesters gather around a motorcycle on fire during a demonstration against an increase in gas prices in the central city of Isfahan on November 16, 2019. (AFP)

Iranians took to the streets after the government announced a 50 percent increase in fuel prices (File: AFP)

2. Elections galore

In April, the Israelis went to the polls for legislative elections, but neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his main rival Benny Gantz could form a government, which led to a second election in September.

Once again, the results were inconclusive, since the two main political parties, the Likud of Netanyahu and the Blue and the White of Gantz, failed to secure a majority or build a coalition government. The result means that Israelis will vote in an unprecedented third election in less than a year on March 2.

In Tunisia, Kais Saied, a 61-year-old constitutional law professor who led a minimalist campaign and promised to fight corruption, won the presidential elections overwhelmingly, obtaining 72.71 percent of the vote.

Tunisian President Kais Saied gestures while speaking during a press conference in Tunisia (Anis Mili / AFP)

Kais Saied won the presidential elections in Tunisia on an anti-corruption platform (File: Anis Mili / AFP)

Algeria saw a more controversial election in December, when tens of thousands of protesters boycotted the event, demanding deeper reforms before any vote.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former prime minister, was elected as president, but protesters have decided to continue their weekly demonstrations on Fridays until the root political reform is enacted.

3. Bombing of Idlib from Syria

On April 30, Syrian government forces, aided by Russian fighter jets, launched an offensive to retake the "Great Idlib,quot; region, which houses three million people, some of whom were already internally displaced.

The goal of President Bashar al-Assad's forces was to take the M5 strategic highway and expel Hay & # 39; et Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a former al-Qaeda affiliate, from the last enclave of Syria's rebels.

the United Nations He estimated that some 400,000 people were displaced in the region during an escalation of attacks between April and August. Several ceasefire have since collapsed and a new wave of attacks in December displaced at least another 235,000, according to the UN.

Turkey seeks the expansion of the Syrian "safe zone,quot; for refugees

Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced in Idlib in 2019, according to the UN (File: Burak Kara / Getty Images)

4. Turkey launches military offensive in Syria

After the surprise announcement by US President Donald Trump that the United States would withdraw troops from northeastern Syria, Turkey launched a ground offensive in the area in October.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the aim of the military offensive was to expel the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) led by Kurds from the border region. Turkey considers the group to be "terrorist,quot; because of its links with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is banned in Turkey.

Kurdish demonstration

Kurds and allies around the world took to the streets to protest the Turkish offensive (File: Christian Mang / Reuters)

Erdogan said Turkey also wanted to create a so-called "safe zone,quot; that stretched about 30 km (20 miles) to Syria, in which some of the 3.6 million refugees currently living in Turkey could be resettled.

The operation culminated in an agreement reached between Turkey and Russia, who support the opposing sides in the Syrian civil war, on October 22.

Ankara and Moscow agreed to an agreement for Kurdish fighters to withdraw from the safe zone within 150 hours, as well as joint military patrols east and west of the area.

5. The workshop of the "business of the century,quot;

In June, the capital of Bahrain, Manama, organized the presentation of the first part of the long-awaited peace plan between Israel and Palestine, the so-called "agreement of the century." Introduced under the name "Peace to Prosperity," the economic component of the plan was presented by the White House chief advisor, Jared Kushner.

United States-led economic conference in Bahrain

Some Arab states sent low-level delegations to the event, which was boycotted by the Palestinians (File: Anadolu Agency)

The US plan included the creation of a global investment fund of $ 50 billion that in the course of 10 years would finance 179 investment and business projects in the occupied Palestinian territories and surrounding Arab countries.

Some Arab states sent low-level delegations, while several Israeli businessmen attended. But the event was boycotted by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rejected the plan for not addressing the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

"The real problem is the politician," said Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas.

The workshop was only one of a series of American movements that have significantly damaged relations with the Palestinians. In March, the United States closed its Jerusalem consulate, which had served as a direct link between the two sides for decades; In November, Washington said it no longer considers Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem illegal.

6. Tanker incidents

In May, the United Arab Emirates said four commercial ships were "sabotaged,quot; off the coast of Fujairah. The following month, two tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman. The United States blamed Tehran for the June incident and "recent similar Iranian attacks on the shipment." The accusation was rejected "categorically,quot; by Iran.

The incidents raised fears about the viability of the key shipping route of the Strait of Hormuz, which lies between Iran and Oman, and connects the Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.

On July 4, the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 was captured by the British Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar on suspicion of violating European Union sanctions against Syria.

Two weeks later, Iran seized British oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz in what was widely seen as an eye-to-eye movement. Grace 1 was released on August 15 by Gibraltar, while Stena Impero was released on September 27.

Map of the Strait of Hormuz

7. Aramco attack

In September, drone attacks affected two of the oil processing facilities of Saudi oil and natural gas giant Aramco in the east of the country.

The Houthi rebel group in Yemen claimed responsibility, but Riyadh, along with the United States, blamed Iran for the attacks. Iran denied their participation.

Pre-dawn attacks destroyed more than half of the production of the world's leading exporters, 5 percent of the world's oil supply, or about 5.7 million barrels per day.

An employee rides a bicycle next to the oil tanks at the Saudi Aramco oil facilities in Abqaiq

Aramco made headlines in 2019 after a surprise attack destroyed half of its oil production (File: Maxim Shemetov / Reuters)

8. High profile criminal cases

Benjamin Netanyahu was charged with bribery, abuse of trust and fraud in three corruption cases at the end of November. The cases focus on accusations of receiving gifts, including champagne and cigars, from a film producer and an entrepreneur, as well as accusations of media manipulation.

The Israeli prime minister denies acting badly and said he is the victim of an "attempted coup,quot; and a "witch hunt." Despite the criminal charges filed, Israeli law does not require him to resign, and the veteran prime minister intends to lead the right-wing Likud party in the next election.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu chairs a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the charges against him as an "attempted coup,quot; (File: Gali Tibbon / Reuters)

Sudan al-Bashir was sentenced to two years in a state reform center for financial irregularities and corruption charges on December 14. The case against the 75-year-old man focused on suitcases full of multiple coins worth more than $ 130 million that were found in his home and he was The first of several cases against him.

Later, in December, Saudi Arabia sentenced five people to death for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed and dismembered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.

However, two important figures who were investigated for the murder, former royal adviser Saud al-Qahtani and deputy chief of intelligence Ahmed al-Assiri, were exonerated in the secret trial, which according to rights experts did not meet international standards of due process.

9. Notable deaths

In July, the first democratically elected president of Tunisia, Beji Caid Essebsi, died at the age of 92. He was a polarizing figure in the country of North Africa. Supporters praise his successful management of the transition to democracy, but critics say he also undermined the democratic process.

In October, the leader of the ISIL group (ISIS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, died during a US military operation in the Syrian province of Idlib.

Trump said al-Baghdadi detonated an explosive vest and killed himself and three of his children. His death was the last setback for ISIL, after the loss in 2018 of the last territory he had in Syria.

The late leader of the Islamic State Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is seen in an undated image published by the US Department of Defense. UU.

Al-baghdadi He died during an American military operation in the Idlib province of Syria (File: United States Department of Defense / Brochure via Reuters)

Algeria's powerful military chief, Ahmed Gaid Salah, who emerged as the de facto leader of the country after Bouteflika was removed, was credited with the decision to prevent the army from interfering with the protest movement, but criticized for boosting the elections presidential, died in December at the age of 79.

10. Political football in the Gulf

On February 1, the Qatar national football team won its first Asian Cup with a 3-1 victory over the four-time champion of Japan. The event was organized by the United Arab Emirates, one of the four countries that have imposed a land, sea and air blockade in Qatar since 2017. Qatar beat the United Arab Emirates in the semifinal with a resounding four goals to zero, which He led Emirati's supporters not to be impressed. throw bottles and shoes in the field.

Bahrain players and coaches celebrate winning the Gulf Cup after the game

Bahrain won the Gulf Cup for the first time in Doha (File: Showkat Shafi / Al Jazeera)

Fast forward nine months to another soccer tournament, this time organized by Qatar. The 24th Arabian Gulf Cup was attended by three of the blocking nations: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the eventual Bahrain winners, who at the last minute reversed an earlier decision to boycott the event.