DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — War and natural disasters ravaged an increasingly unsettled Middle East throughout 2023, further straining countries already hit by worsening economic conditions and affected by extreme weather fueled by climate change.
By the end of the year, a multitude of heads of nations gathered for the United Nations climate talks, COP28, in Dubai, the skyscraper-studded city-state in the United Arab Emirates. But that luxury contrasted against the raging war in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, sparked by the militant group’s unprecedented Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Meanwhile, the aftermath of other conflicts and political uncertainty simmered across the wider Mideast.
The Hamas attack saw its militants attack Israeli farming communities and military posts just outside of the Gaza Strip, taking away over 200 hostages as they sped back to the coastal enclave. The attack killed some 1,200 people in Israel and raised questions over why the Israeli security services were unprepared. The families of some victims and protesters blamed Netanyahu and his hard-right government for failing to act as they faced months of widespread demonstrations over their plans to change the judiciary.
The Israeli military retaliated by enforcing a siege stopping food, water, fuel and medicine from entering the Gaza Strip, home to some 2.3 million people. It also pummeled the enclave with a massive campaign of airstrikes, followed by a ground offensive, killing more than 16,200 people in two months, according to health authorities in the Hamas-ruled territory.
The war depressed the Middle East’s economy and threatened to ignite a wider regional conflict, as protests of all kinds over the fighting spread across the world.
Meanwhile, Iranian-backed groups in the Middle East launched attacks targeting both Israel and America, which saw the U.S. deploy two aircraft carriers, troops, fighter jets and other equipment into a region it only just started trying to leave after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In the cold of winter on Feb. 6, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Syria and Turkey, followed by a series of powerful aftershocks for days. The United Nations later estimated the temblors killed some 50,000 people, the vast majority in Turkey. The shaking toppled thousands of buildings and heaped more misery on a region wracked by Syria’s 12-year civil war and refugee crisis. Many blamed lax building codes in Turkey, as well as a slow government response there, for exacerbating the crisis.
Months later, two crises hit North Africa within days of each other.
On Sept. 8, a magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck Morocco’s Atlas Mountains, killing over 2,900 people. The region’s mud-brick homes left those trapped underneath little air, and hindering rescue operations.
In nearby Libya, a massive rainstorm on Sept. 11 overwhelmed two dams and sent water rushing down to the eastern city of Derna, washing away whole neighborhoods full of people into the Mediterranean Sea. Government officials and aid agencies gave varied death tolls ranging from about 4,000 to over 11,000. Angry protesters demonstrated against government officials in a Libya that is still divided after the 2011 Arab Spring saw rebels seize and kill dictator Moammar Gadhafi, saying that the problems in the dam were well-known before the disaster.
Women remain barred from school beyond the sixth grade in Afghanistan, more than two years after the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul’s Western-backed government in 2021. They also aren’t allowed in public spaces like parks, or to hold most jobs. The Taliban also have ordered beauty salons to close. Meanwhile, the West still doesn’t recognize the Taliban government as economic conditions worsen in the drought-hit country. Compounding the problem is the crackdown neighboring Pakistan enforced on migrants which saw over 400,000 Afghans return home.
Pakistan is also approaching a crucial parliamentary vote next year as former Prime Minister Imran Khan — facing a slew of court cases against him — was sentenced to three years in jail over corruption charges and unable to run.