The story of 2023: Ordinary tragedies with glimmers of hope

From Gaza and Syria to Sudan and Morocco, it was a year of bloodshed and natural disasters, alongside some brighter moments amid the gloom

The story of 2023: Ordinary tragedies with glimmers of hope

A heavy year – steeped in blood from Syria and Iraq to Yemen, Gaza, Sudan, and Libya – has ended.

The tragedies of 2023 did not stand out, however. Its rundown of violence and conflict felt unexceptional as if we had become friends with death.

Syria: Natural disasters, war and crippling poverty

Not least in Syria, where the year brought an additional tragedy with an earthquake that struck the country’s north and the south of Turkey. Thousands died, and there was widespread destruction, compounding the devastation caused by the war waged by the regime and its allies against the Syrians.

President Bashar al-Assad saw an opportunity and did not conceal his satisfaction with the calamity. From the outset, he sought to leverage the earthquake for political gain, blaming delays in dealing with its victims on the international sanctions against his regime.

Nations swiftly mobilised to extend aid, yet, as anticipated by Syrians, the assistance failed to reach those in need. For days and weeks on end, people dug through the rubble with their bare hands to retrieve the bodies of their loved ones.

It was also the year Syria re-joined the Arab League, and al-Assad visited Riyadh, the UAE, and various other Arab nations. As anticipated by the Syrians, his regime failed to comply with any of the stipulations outlined in the Arab initiative.

The anticipated return of refugees did not materialise, and the flow of drugs exported by al-Assad and Iran to Arab nations did not cease. Progress on the political solution front and the implementation of Resolution 2254 remained conspicuously stagnant.

Israel persisted in its air strikes within Syria, including on bases in the country run by Iran-backed militias. It also hit Damascus and Aleppo airports multiple times, putting them out of service.

Israel assassinated Lebanese, Iranian, and Syrian figures. In response, the regime intensified its bombardment of Syrian civilians, killing more children.

The voices that traditionally rallied behind al-Assad began to rise against him in response to the widespread economic crisis, rising hunger and a surge in corruption.

Read more: Is an Alawite protest movement emerging in Syria's coastal areas?

In Syria, an earthquake in February compounded the devastation caused by the war waged by the regime and its allies against the Syrians.

Lebanon's multi-tiered crisis

In 2023, Lebanon grappled with persistent crises. The vacuum in the presidential and wider governmental spheres persisted, economic challenges remained unresolved, and depositors found no relief in recovering their funds at beleaguered banks.

Throughout, Hezbollah remained dominant, extending its grip beyond politics to control the destiny of the Lebanese people. Along with the rest of the world, they waited to see if the secretary-general of this ruling militia would steer the nation into a conflict with Israel in solidarity with Gaza or if he would keep military action within the established rules of engagement.

The rules held — not out of concern for the lives of the Lebanese people but in line with the strategic considerations of Hezbollah's sponsor, Iran.

Gaza: An October surprise followed by a slaughter

In Palestine, thousands have been slaughtered for no good reason. The Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' military wing, executed a military operation that killed hundreds of Israelis and shattered the perceived invincibility of the Israeli army.

Read more: Hamas deals Israel yet another October surprise

In retaliation, Israel waged a ruthless and indiscriminate war, targeting combatants, the elderly, women, and children alike. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed the war — which has devastated Gaza and killed more than 22,000 Palestinians in only three months — will continue throughout much of 2024.

Israel's war — which has devastated Gaza and killed more than 22,000 Palestinians in only three months — will likely continue throughout much of 2024.

Iraq: Militias continue to carry out Iran's orders

In Iraq, 2023 unfolded in a manner consistent with previous years, with some nuanced details. What else can be expected from a nation governed by militias receiving directives from external sources and unabashedly willing to sacrifice Iraq for the interests of Iran?

Despite their common allegiance to Tehran, these militias are entangled in internal disputes over who could exploit Iraq more or who could inflict more harm and more rapid displacement upon the Iraqis. Somehow, it all seems acceptable, as long as all the outcomes ultimately conform to Iran's strategic interests.

Read more: Iraq: A land riven by fighting and laced with militias

Sudan, Libya and Morocco

In Sudan, the ongoing war between two generals persists. Both are vying to control the ruins left by Omar al-Bashir's regime in a state immersed in tragedy, sin and the blood of its own people.

In Libya, the complexities of the conflict have reached a point where defining the parties involved and the motivations behind their struggle has become increasingly elusive.

Adding to the chaos, those who managed to survive the war found themselves facing yet another catastrophe when Hurricane Daniel struck the eastern part of Libya, submerging the city of Derna and killing thousands more Libyans who had survived the war.

Read more: Libya floods: As families search for loved ones, politicians trade blame

Morocco experienced a devastating earthquake that struck the city of Marrakech, resulting in thousands of casualties and extensive destruction in the surrounding villages.

Despite their common allegiance to Tehran, these militias are entangled in internal disputes over who could exploit Iraq more.

Glimmers of hope

All of this hardship does not tell the full story of the Arab world in 2023. Amid all the difficulties and challenges, there were moments of joy, achievement, and success.

The United Arab Emirates maintained its steadfast commitment to its Hope Probe mission to Mars, initiated in 2021. In a significant development, Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi undertook a mission into outer space, marking a notable achievement for the nation.

Dubai also hosted the COP28 World Climate Summit, the largest international event in the ongoing series of global summits addressing climate change.

Saudi Arabia hosted numerous regional and international summits and meetings aimed at addressing diverse global crises and exploring potential settlements and resolutions.

Among them was a session convened in Jeddah to address the Ukrainian crisis, attended by national security advisors from approximately 40 nations. The country also orchestrated the first summit between the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Read more: Jeddah summit on Ukraine crisis showcases fresh perspectives on global security

Qatar hosted the 2022 World Cup, a remarkable achievement, drawing global attention to the country and its significant capabilities despite its small size. The tournament's success has instilled widespread national pride.

Currently, Qatar has taken on an important role as a mediator in various complex international issues, including ongoing negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

A few weeks ago, my Lebanese friend and I called a Saudi friend. We expressed our admiration for Saudi Arabia's achievements. "Look at what you have accomplished compared to where we are currently," we said.

As the year concludes, our collective wish is for wider prosperity for nations charting a course toward a better future.

Nonetheless, there persists a lingering ache for a dream that appears elusive: a yearning for an end to the prolonged decline in our countries, which have been marred by decades of death, destruction, and regression.

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