Across the Middle East, Daesh was supplanted by new strategic threats, giving rise to increasingly dispersed terrorist insurgencies and the ascendancy of transnational paramilitaries beholden to Iran. The fall of Aleppo in 2016 heralded the slow strangulation of Syrian aspirations to free themselves of the murderous Assad regime. In Libya, the international community’s repeated failure to follow through on peace initiatives resulted in predictable reversals back into bloodshed. Lebanon appears to be hovering on the brink of either renewed internal instability or being reduced to rubble through conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, who spent much of the past year provoking one another.
The genocide of the Rohingya people shamed a global system that no longer even pretended to act on behalf of the dispossessed. The reason we can’t hear the voices of the unprecedented 65 million people displaced worldwide is because governments have exerted so much energy into locking them out. Meanwhile, rogue states like Iran and North Korea competed over who could most fundamentally destabilize global security.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia gloated over its enhanced ability to manipulate cyberspace and meddle in far-off trouble spots. Moscow’s increasingly bellicose posturing toward Europe and the West has seen warships deployed in the North Sea and new naval facilities in the Mediterranean. China, meanwhile, purposefully feels its way toward global pre-eminence. While the lifting of millions of Chinese out of poverty represents a remarkable achievement, the emergence of this leviathan authoritarian state with its weak human rights record promises a less benevolent global climate for rights, freedoms and open nations to flourish.
Yet 2017 has also been distinguished by green shoots of hope emerging amidst this litany of despair. It was the year when millions of people who normally would never have dreamed of taking a political stand were motivated by colossal injustices, beginning with the Women’s March coinciding with President Donald Trump’s inauguration and extending to all those who stood up against racism, Islamophobia and intolerance. This includes millions worldwide who demonstrated against the proposed US travel ban against Muslim states. Others selflessly donated time and money in support of refugees.
Sometimes a crisis is required to bring us to our senses, and we spent much of 2017 lurching from one crisis to the next. America’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was catastrophic for Palestinian aspirations, yet the worldwide UN rebuke against this declaration helped consolidate consensus toward Jerusalem, leaving pro-Israel hard-liners isolated on the international arena. However, there are massive obstacles to overcome before we can even talk about a return to the peace process, which is just as Benjamin Netanyahu wants it — peace postponed indefinitely. In 2018, good intentions toward the Palestinians must be converted into action, enshrining the vision that a just and lasting peace can only emerge through a viable and contiguous Palestinian state, with Jerusalem — a shared city open to all faiths and peoples — at its heart.
We can perhaps see light at the end of the tunnel after a traumatic year in Yemen. By purging the Saleh loyalists, the Tehran-backed Houthis are left exposed in regions where they dominate hostile populations at gunpoint, so 2018 may see a reversal in their fortunes. Nobody can claim victory in Syria, but the defeat of Daesh may at least allow for a reduction in the intensity of this conflict.
Everything we have can evaporate in the blink of an eye. Among Syrian, Yemeni and Rohingya refugees are once-prosperous doctors, intellectuals, teachers and engineers. Only for the grace of God is it them, not us, making perilous journeys across oceans and mountains to find sanctuary.
2017 was the year where it became impossible to hold onto the liberal belief that the world inevitably tends toward increased development, justice, progress, stability and prosperity.
In the US and Europe, the #MeToo movement dominated public discourse. Until recently, a complaint of sexual harassment usually rendered the female complainant unemployable in the fields of politics, media and business. However, during 2017, a flood of empowered women spoke out about sexual abuse; changing work environments forever and bringing down a succession of powerful men who were previously considered untouchable, like movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. In the reddest of Republican states in the US Deep South, a Democrat candidate won against impossible odds after Republican challenger Roy Moore faced accusations of inappropriate behavior toward underage girls. The timely message is that nobody who mistreats, abuses or disrespects women can consider themselves safe.
By the end of 2017, “Brexiteer” politicians who claimed that Britain could expect to sail off into a prosperous sunset after its divorce from Europe were forced to face reality. Firstly, they were compelled to accept a minimum two-year transition period to provide businesses with a soft landing. And, secondly, it became obvious that a hard Brexit was not just economically ruinous, but also was perhaps impossible, given huge practical challenges like the requirement for an unpalatable border with Ireland. In the face of vilification from populist right-wing newspapers, moderate MPs began rebelling against their leaders in favor of a gentler approach that didn’t cut Britain off from its European markets.
The 71 deaths in a 2017 fire at the Grenfell Tower block in one of the wealthiest areas of London epitomized Britain’s yawning wealth gap. Cheap and unsafe exterior cladding allowed the fire to spread with terrifying speed. Fatalities hailed from the most vulnerable segments of society, living meters away from some of the most expensive homes on the planet. Here also, inhumanity and injustice allowed us to see humanity at its best, as across divides of religion and ethnicity locals opened their homes to those who had lost everything, including recently arrived refugees who found themselves dispossessed twice over.
The world often seems darkest before the dawn. If 2017 was an unremittingly bleak year, the darkness at least allowed us to glimpse the few points of light, in the form of individuals forced to take a stand against these rampant injustices. As a determined optimist, I firmly believe that these glimpses of hope offer our best starting point for the coming year. We enter 2018 confronted by daunting global challenges, yet with a growing awareness that we cannot stand passively by and allow the triumph of evil.
2017 was the year where it became impossible to hold onto the liberal belief that the world inevitably tends toward increased development, justice, progress, stability and prosperity. There is hope for 2018, but only if we embrace our personal responsibility toward the world.
If we aspire to a liberal and progressive future free of intolerance, extremism, hatred and injustice, then the onus is on all of us to fight for that future.
• Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.