This year brought about significant changes to our region of the world. From leaders stepping down to strict Islamic laws being lifted off of women, 2019 brought its fair share of developments.
Here are our top five events in the Middle East this year:
After months of peaceful protests Sudan’s president was ousted after 30 years in dictator-like power.
Last December 2018, citizens marched in protests and price jumps in bread and fuel, two basic necessities. These protests quickly changed to a call for Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir to step down.
The MENA Collective partners with multiple churches in Sudan and we earnestly prayed for their wellbeing. Yet we soon received word that not only were the churches open, but church members and leaders were ministering to protestors handing out food and water, opening their doors to those in need of rest after marching, and sharing the Gospel with those waiting in day-long lines for gasoline.
On April 11, 2019, Al-Bashir stepped down as president and the military took over. All through the summer months citizens continued protesting asking for equal representation through a democratic, civilian appointed administration. On August 4, 2019, the military and civilian committee signed a power-sharing document. The document states the two sides will work together for the next three years to form a cohesive government.
This year was monumental in the number of reforms made by Crown Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia.
Just a year ago women first received the rights to drive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And today, they can now travel and apply for passports independently, a right previously withheld. Women are also now allowed to obtain family documents from the government and are required to receive equal treatment in the workplace.
These reforms are unlikely to produce an immediate change for Saudi women, but it is paving the way for equal treatment.
Saudi Arabia also has opened its doors to international tourists for the first time in its history. Previously only those with business or government-work visas or those traveling as religious Muslim pilgrims to Meca were permitted entrance into the nation.
Lebanese citizens flood the streets for 11 weeks, protesting for a complete government change
Hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets after Prime Minister Saad Hariri of Lebanon threatened to raise the tax on messaging and calls. “Enough is enough,” was the general feeling of protestors. Just days before, forest fires ravaged through northern Lebanon as firefighters tried to battle the flames with outdated and minimal equipment. Protestors demanded a complete change in government. And on October 29, Hariri resigned.
Lebanon is unique in the Middle East, as it is home 40% Christian, 55% Muslim diverse religious populations. Thus the government is composed of multiple political parties share rule. Unfortunately, this has led to widescale corruption. Many areas of Lebanon suffer daily electric and water cuts. Trash overflows in many downtown streets due to a lack of waste collection services.
Our partners in Lebanon set up a tent in the middle of the city square and are holding prayer and worship services open for anyone to join. Our partners reported multiple testimonies of non-Christians asking for prayer and cases of individuals accepting Christ as their Savior on the spot.
However, the protests have not been easy. The number of people in the streets blocked many from getting to school, work, and church. In December alone 2600 businesses closed their doors and many more were scheduled to shut down by the end of the year. The Lebanese pound plummeted in value, leaving many without hope. Our partners hear of people committing suicide because of the economic situation.
Protests are continuing to take to the streets, but it is unsure of what will come in the next few weeks.
Turkey invades Northern Syria displacing thousands more Syrians and Kurds
On October 9 Turkey launched airstrikes into towns along Syria’s northern border. Its goal was to create a 30km safe zone between Turkey and Syria to both secure itself against the Kurdish military and create a space to return Syrian refugees.
Turkey currently hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees, 3.6 million individuals. And resentment among Turkish citizens toward refugees is growing.
Turkey’s invasion of what previously was the most stable region of Syria displaced over 130,000 civilians and killed dozens. The Kurdish military, the YPG, which previously functioned separately to the Syrian army, was forced to sign a deal with the Syrian government to help fight off the Turkish invasion.
Our partners in northern Syria brought food, medical supplies, and necessities to the thousands of displaced families many of whom were already in their second or third relocation since the Syrian war began in 2011.
Iraq joins in with protests for reform
The peaceful marches and sit-ins which largely characterized Lebanon’s protests contrasted with Iraq’s largest and bloodiest protests since Saddam Hussein’s removal in 2003. Similar in their demands, citizens from all walks of life, expressed their anger at corruption, unemployment, and lack of public services.
Our partners in Iraq run one of Iraq’s two Christian radio stations broadcasting scripture, encouragement, and Biblical teaching to over seven million citizens. At the start of the protests, they began posting Bible verses paired with pictures of the protests on their social media. The photos gained thousands of likes and shares as Iraqis found hope in the words. Protestors even began spray painting some of the verses on walls across the city.
The protests are mostly men under the age of 30 who have clashed with security forces, blocking roads and ports. Due to increased violence toward protestors, over 420 people have been killed and 17,000 injured. Similar to Lebanon as well, the protests are hurting the economy and leading to the temporary closing of businesses and public institutions.
Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned on November 30 asking current lawmakers to decide on a successor as quickly as possible.
Pope Francis became the first Pope to ever visit the Arab Gulf. He attended an interfaith conference, then led a two-hour mass in Zayed Sports City Stadium, attended by over 100,000 people.