2020: The Year We Stayed Away

Social distancing, wearing masks, scavenging for toilet paper while spraying disinfectant everywhere: what kind of year was this? A tragic one for many, but we end with a hope for vaccine somewhat realized.

A homeless person pushes his belongings through a deserted Times Square following the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 23, 2020. Carlo Allegri/Reuters.

… also known as Year of the Mask …

Attempting to adequately express and capture the significance and history-defining nature of the year 2020 will likely be a futile effort and fall far short. In part, this is because we won’t know how deeply and for how long 2020 will affect us. Will it be one of those years like 1789 or 1945, long remembered as milestones in the making of a world that will never be the same again, or are we exaggerating would-be history simply because we’re living it?

Perhaps events and experiences were shared more globally this year because of the nature of the modern world (read: globalization) and the Covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps these experiences were more pronounced because they were shared by nearly all 7.8 billion people on the planet as the world discovered it was unprepared for major international crises. Oh, and yes: even Antarctica has registered Covid-19 cases.

Going into 2020, there was already a several years-old nationalist, isolationist global sentiment rejecting the tenets of multilateralism and international cooperation, manifested by Brexit and the elections of Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, and others. There was also a very severe Australian bush fire which continued well into the new year. And, of course—most relevant in hindsight, but not of particular importance back then—there was a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China. 

Many of us have been locked at home, waiting for vaccines to be developed to offer some reprieve from the pandemic. We WFH—creating new acronyms (worked from home)—stared at computer screens, and sent connection invitations to colleagues around the world. Netflix, to those fortunate enough with internet access, became a lifeline, while toilet paper for some was worth more than gold.

New catchphrases such as “you’re muted” or “we’ll Zoom” emerged.

Our world was changing too quickly for our understanding.

At The Cairo Review, we went fully online and created an entire page dedicated to how the world coped with the pandemic. This is our year in review.


January 3 – The commander of Iran’s al-Quds Brigade of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, Qasem Soleimani, is assassinated by a U.S. drone strike near Baghdad, the Iraqi capital. Soleimani had spearheaded efforts against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS, also known as Daesh) in previous years. Iran blames the United States and launches a missile strike against Iraqi military bases housing U.S. troops in central and northern Iraq five days later. However, it warns the Iraqi government of the strike several hours prior to the missile launch. Talk of World War Three abounds on social media.

January 7 – In the United Kingdom, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, make a surprise announcement that they will be “stepping back” from their duties as senior members of the royal family. We predict Netflix originals about the Windsors will be coming fast and furious.

January 8 – Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 is mistaken for a hostile target by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and shot down, killing all 176 people on board, amid escalating tensions following the Soleimani assassination. 

January 9 – China announces its first death due to the novel Coronavirus, which it calls 2019-nCov, and traces it back to a seafood market in Wuhan, capital of Hubei Province in central China.

Security personnel wearing face masks to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walk along a street outside Forbidden City in Beijing, China March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC2CMF9VZ6A9
Security personnel wearing face masks to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) walk along a street outside Forbidden City in Beijing, China March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RC2CMF9VZ6A9

January 11 – China shares a draft genome of the virus responsible for an outbreak of pneumonia cases in Wuhan—SARS-CoV-2—as the number of infections begin to rise after the first human cases of COVID-19 are first identified in December 2019. The pathogen is identified as belonging to the Coronavirus family, which includes SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).

January 11 – President Tsai Ing-Wen wins reelection in Taiwan in a landslide by eight million votes, the most in the history of Taiwan’s elections.

January 13 – The first case of Covid-19 outside of China is recorded in Thailand. Two days later, Japan announces its first case.

January 21 – A new Lebanese government forms following months of protests against corruption and sectarianism.

January 22 – Greece elects Katerina Sakellaropoulou, its first female president.

January 26 – National Basketball Association great Kobe Bryant is killed in a helicopter crash in California.

January 28 – U.S. President Donald Trump announces the Middle East Peace Plan, which is rejected by the Palestinians and a few Arab countries.

January 30 – The World Health Organization (WHO) declares a Public Health Emergency of International Concern over the novel Coronavirus.

January 30 – The United Nations (UN) makes an urgent appeal for $76 million in emergency aid to help East Africa deal with an attack of some 80 million locusts on crops and food in what is called the worst such outbreak in decades.

January 30 – The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms Covid-19 is spread person-to-person. Over the next two months the CDC and the WHO recommend social distancing and limiting group meetings and gatherings.

January 31 – The United Kingdom leaves the European Union (EU) as Brexit comes into effect.


February 1 – Mohamed Tawfiq Allawi is appointed the new Iraqi prime minister following protests demanding the removal of the ruling class. Protests continue soon after his appointment. 

February 5 – The U.S. Senate acquits Trump of impeachment charges.

February 7 – Wuhan doctor Li Wenliang, who was reprimanded for raising the alarm concerning what would become the novel Coronavirus, dies due to Covid-19. 

February 8 – A soldier of the Royal Thai Army kills thirty and wounds fifty-seven others in a shooting spree in the city of Nakhon Ratchasima.

February 25 – Former President of Egypt Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed in the January 25, 2011 uprising, dies aged ninety-one.  

February 25 – In India, hundreds of Muslims are killed and injured as Hindu Nationalist mobs rampage through the capital New Delhi and other cities and towns following Parliament’s passing of a controversial new Citizenship Amendment Law which bars Muslim immigrants from citizenship.

February 29 – The U.S. and Taliban sign a peace agreement in Qatar, agreeing to U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan, talks between the government and the Taliban, and for the Taliban to prevent Al-Qaeda from operating in Taliban-controlled areas.


March 1 – Turkey increases military action in Idlib after a government airstrike kills thirty-three of its soldiers.

March 6 – ISIS-affiliated gunmen open fire in a gathering in Kabul, killing thirty-two and injuring eighty-one others.

March 9 – Italy, one of the earliest countries hit by severe Covid-19 outbreaks, goes into full lockdown.

March 9 – An impromptu oil price and production quota war between Russia and Saudi Arabia fuels drastic drops in the New York Stock Exchange with the Dow Jones recording its worst drop in history, falling two thousand points. The stock market had been falling due to Covid-19 since late February. The drop on March 9 serves as a precursor to the economic crisis that follows. 

Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers pose during an emergency meeting with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on the coronavirus outbreak in Vientiane, Laos February 20, 2020. REUTERS/Phoonsab Thevongsa – RC264F9SFOW5

March 11 – The WHO declares Covid-19 to be a pandemic as the number of cases begins to rise dramatically around the world.

March 16 – The United Kingdom announces a nationwide lockdown. By the end of March, thirty-two of fifty states in America have implemented some form of lockdown. In Egypt, the government imposes nighttime curfews.

March 23 – Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, calls for a global ceasefire to be immediately implemented to focus on fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

March 24 – The 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo are postponed to the summer of 2021, making it the first time the Olympic games are postponed for a reason other than war. 


April 2 – One million cases of Covid-19 are confirmed worldwide, with dramatic increases in Europe and the United States.

April 8 – Bernie Sanders drops out of the 2020 U.S. presidential race, leaving Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee. 

April 9 – Saudi-led coalition declares a two-week ceasefire in Yemen to face Covid-19 in the country.

April 10 – One hundred thousand deaths from Covid-19 are confirmed worldwide. 

April 14 – President Trump announces that the United States will withdraw its funding of the WHO.

April 18 – Almost four hundred Rohingya refugees are rescued at sea by the Bangladesh Coast Guard after setting out from Bangladesh two months prior, being turned back from Malaysia, and being turned back twice from Myanmar. At least thirty-two people died on the journey.

April 20 – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival, Benny Gantz, agree to form an emergency unity government and avoid a fourth election in a year.

April 20 – The price on futures for U.S. crude oil drop to negative territory for the first time in history, crashing from eighteen to negative thirty-eight dollars per barrel, and forcing producers to pay buyers for giving them oil.

April 22 – The Sudanese transitional government amends its criminal law to outlaw the practice of female genital mutilation. 

April 28 – The Brazilian Supreme Court approves an investigation of President Jair Bolsonaro for attempting to illegally interfere with the federal police.


May 1 – Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announces a ban on assault rifles following one of the country’s worst mass shootings in the province of Nova Scotia. Two weeks earlier, a lone armed man killed more than twenty-two people in several towns in the province before being shot and killed by local police.

May 11 – After months of prolonged meetings between Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan which ended in no agreement on the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), Cairo protests Addis Ababa’s announcement that it will start to fill the reservoir dam despite the lack of an accord. Egypt demands that Ethiopia halt construction on the GERD and return to the negotiating table.

May 12 – The Afghan government resumes its military campaign against the Taliban despite signing a peace agreement, in response to what it says are militant attacks across the country.

May 7 – The Iraqi Parliament approves a new prime minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, and his government, following the failure to approve former Prime Minister-elect Allawi’s government and continued anti-ruling class protests. 

May 19 – Protesters in Chile protest a lack of food amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

A demonstrator stands in front of New York Police Department (NYPD) officers inside of an area being called the “City Hall Autonomous Zone” that has been established to protest the New York Police Department and in support of “Black Lives Matter” near City Hall in lower Manhattan, in New York City, U.S., July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY – RC2CKH9BDSLA

May 25 – A white police officer in the United States is filmed kneeling on the neck of George Floyd, an African American man, for over eight minutes, with Floyd repeating the phrase “I can’t breathe.” Floyd dies. The video goes viral, triggering months of protests against police brutality and systematic racism. The Black Lives Matter movement is revitalized throughout the United States and globally as Floyd’s murder brings attention to the murder of other Black men and women in the country, including Breonna Taylor in March of 2020 and Ahmaud Arbery in February. 

May 29 – President Trump reverses his initial praise of the WHO and announces that the United States is to withdraw from the the global health organization. He accuses China of pressuring the WHO to “mislead the world.” Trump’s decision is criticized by world leaders and global health experts.


June 6 – President Putin calls for a state of emergency in the city of Norilsk in Krasnoyarsk Krai, north of the Arctic Circle as twenty thousand tons of fuel spill into the river.

June 8 – New Zealand declares itself Covid-free and lifts all restrictions.

June 10 – Militants believed to be linked to the ISIS-affiliated Boko Haram kill eighty-one people in a village in northeast Nigeria and kidnap seven others.

June 27 – Swarms of locusts invade Delhi as the Indian capital witnesses its worst locust invasion in decades.

June 28 – Ten million cases of Covid-19 and Five hundred thousand deaths are confirmed worldwide.

June 28 – The Chinese CanSino Covid-19 vaccine is approved for use for the Chinese military.

June 29 – China passes a controversial National Security Law for Hong Kong through Annex III, bypassing local legislation.


July 1 – Israel was scheduled to begin its plans to annex large parts of the West Bank by the first of July, but the plans are postponed. 

July 1 – A referendum on constitutional changes in Russia is passed with 78 percent of votes and a turnout of 65 percent according to Russia’s Central Election Commission. The referendum resets presidential term limits and allows President Vladimir Putin to potentially stay in office until 2036. 

July 1 – Over three hundred people are arrested in the annual July 1 March in Hong Kong.

July 10 – In a move decried by the world’s Christians and many Muslim leaders, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan orders that the Hagia Sophia Museum be converted back into a mosque. A major landmark of Istanbul’s history, the Hagia Sophia was formerly a sixth century Byzantine church turned into a museum in 1934.

July 20 – The United Kingdom orders one hundred million doses of the Oxford/Astrazeneca vaccine.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi poses for a photograph with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat at the opening of the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and the Government of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 9, 2020. Tiksa Negeri/Reuters.

July 21 – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announces that the first phase of filling the GERD is complete.

July 28 – The Muslim Hajj takes place in Mecca with no foreigners allowed due to Covid-19 restrictions. 


August 2 – The United Arab Emirates starts up the Barakh nuclear power plant, the first of its kind in the Arab world. 

August 2 – Boko Haram militants kill fifteen people in an internally-displaced peoples camp in Cameroon.

August 4 – A storage facility of ammonium nitrate, having been confiscated at the Beirut port and neglected without proper safety measures for six years, explodes, killing over two hundred people and injuring 6500 more. The blast devastates the city, displacing an estimated three hundred thousand people. Protests erupt soon after, resuming as part of the broader anti-government, anti-corruption protests since 2019. The Lebanese cabinet resigns shortly after.

August 9 – Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko announces that he has won 80 percent of the vote in the country’s election. Opposition forces cry foul and say the vote was rigged to allow him a sixth term in office. Thousands take to the streets in protest and clash with riot police in what becomes the largest protests in Belarus history. 

August 9 – Farmers begin protesting in India against agricultural reforms which have been described as anti-farmer and empowering corporations.

August 11 – President Putin announces that the Russian Sputnik vaccine has been authorized for early use before beginning phase three trials. 

August 13 – Israel and the United Arab Emirates announce that they have agreed to a normalization of relations under a U.S.-brokered peace treaty known as the Abraham Accords. Several Arab countries follow suit before the end of 2020.

August 18 – Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta dissolves parliament and announces his resignation as military men arrest him and his Prime Minister amid protests.


September 11 – Israel and Bahrain announce that they have agreed to a normalization of relations.

September 14 – Yoshihide Suga is elected as the new Japanese Prime Minister following Shinzo Abe’s resignation.

September 16 – A UN-appointed panel accuses Venezuela of crimes against humanity due to its actions against anti-government protesters.

A Libyan man waves a Libyan flag during a demonstration to demand an end to the Khalifa Haftar’s offensive against Tripoli, in Martyrs’ Square in central Tripoli, Libya April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah

September 17 – Prime Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord announces that he will step down by the end of October. He is later urged to stay on by German and other representatives.

September 27 – The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh War between Azerbaijan and Armenia and the breakaway state of Artsakh, with the involvement of Turkey and Russia, begins. 

September 28 – One million deaths from Covid-19 are confirmed worldwide. 

September 29: The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Sabah, dies aged ninety-one.


October 9 – The 2020 Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to the World Food Programme “for its efforts to combat hunger, for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in conflict-affected areas and for acting as a driving force in efforts to prevent the use of hunger as a weapon of war and conflict.”

October 15 – The Thai government declares a state of emergency and bans public gatherings in Bangkok amid protests demanding reform of the monarchy and resignation of the Prime Minister. Protestors defy the ban and continue to gather in Bangkok.

October 15 –  Kyrgyzstani Prime Minister Sooronbay Jeenkov resigns after protests against election fraud, corruption, and the government response to the pandemic.

October 22 – Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri returns to office a year after resigning in the face of anti-government protests.

October 16 – The Labor party in New Zealand wins the general election by a landslide as Jacinda Ardern is reelected as Prime Minister. 

October 18 – In Bolivia, the Socialist Party, led by former President Evo Morales, returns to power after it wins 55 percent in the country’s presidential election. Former Finance Minister and Morales ally, Luis Arce, is elected president. This seen as a correcting of the course after an election a year earlier ousted Morales in what many believed to be a U.S.-engineered coup.

October 23 – Israel and Sudan announce that they have agreed to a normalization of relations.

October 23 – A UN-brokered ceasefire agreement is signed by the Libyan 5+5 Joint Military Commission.

October 26 – The people of Chile vote to rewrite its Pinochet-era constitution, with 78 percent of the people showing support for the rewrite in a referendum. 

October 30 – A 7.0 magnitude earthquake strikes the Aegean Sea area, affecting the Turkish city of Izmir the most, with 116 deaths and over one thousand injuries. 


Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question as President Donald Trump listens during the second and final presidential debate at the Curb Event Center at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, U.S., October 22, 2020. Morry Gash/Pool via REUTERS – RC25OJ90R61W

November 3 – Elections in the United States take place amid controversy regarding mail-in ballots, which were mostly filed by Democratic supporters, have significantly increased in number compared to previous elections due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, there is no clear winner on election night, with counting and civil unrest, continuing for several days. Eventually, Democratic nominee Joe Biden is declared the winner by decision desks and media outlets. However, President Trump refuses to concede, repeatedly making unfounded allegations of election fraud. 

November 4 – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sends troops into Tigray in the country’s north as he accuses the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking federal troops in the region. Meanwhile, the TPLF accuses Abiy of ‘harming’ the region due to his decision on September voting that was held in defiance of the federal government. At the time, Abiy decided this voting was illegal and the federal government withheld some funds that were dedicated to social welfare programs in Tigray. Currently, Ethiopia is sending troops from around the country to Tigray as armed conflict between the government and the TPLF unfolds.

November 9 – Militant extremists linked to ISIS behead more than 50 people in a football field in the Muatide village in northern Mozambique. 

November 9 – The Congress of Peru votes, with 105 for and sixteen against, to remove President Martín Vizcarra from office following allegations of corruption during his time as governor of Moquegua. 

November 9 – The Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire Agreement is signed by Ilham Aliyev, the President of Azerbaijan, Nikol Pashinyan, the Prime Minister of Armenia, and Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, ending the Nagorno-Karabakh War. 

November 18 – The Thai government approves some constitutional reforms, but rejects others pertaining to reforming the monarchy. Protests continue. 

November 18 – Pfizer and BioNTech announce the conclusion of the primary efficacy analysis of their vaccine’s data, announcing that the vaccine meets all primary efficacy endpoints and is 95 percent effective. Moderna makes a similar announcement for its vaccine shortly after, claiming 94.5 percent efficacy, followed by the Oxford and Astrazeneca-developed vaccine with 70.4 percent efficacy. 

November 18 – Mass protests erupt in Uganda as presidential candidate Bobi Wine is arrested.

November 27 – Mohsen Fakhrazideh, a leading Iranian nuclear scientist, is assassinated near the Iranian capital. Formerly an academic, he had held prominent positions in the Iranian military as a deputy defense minister and a Revolutionary Guard brigadier-general. Iran blames Israel for the assassination and vows revenge. 


December 2 – The United Kingdom becomes the first country to authorize the Pfizer and BioNTech-developed vaccine for emergency use.

December 2 – Coca-Cola, Pepsico, and Nestle are named the foremost plastic polluters in the world by Break Free From Plastic’s annual report for the third year in a row. They are followed by Unilever, Mondelez, Mars, P&G, Phillip Morris, Colgate-Palmolive, and Perfetti Van Melle. 

December 9 – Ghanaian President Akufo-Addo of the center-right New Patriotic Party wins reelection in a tightly-contested affair with 51.59 percent of the vote. The main opposition party led by the former President John Mahama two weeks later says it will challenge the poll results.

December 10 –  Israel and Morocco announce that they have agreed to a normalization of relations. The United States promptly recognizes Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara in return. 

December 10 –  Lebanese judge charges caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab with criminal neglect over the Beirut port explosion.

December 11 – Hundreds of students are kidnapped by gunmen from a school in the Katsina state in the northwest of Nigeria. Boko Haram claims responsibility for the kidnappings. The students are quickly recovered as local bandits are identified. 

December 12 – Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres urges world leaders to declare a global climate emergency.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden gestures to reporters as he arrives to announce nominees and appointees to serve on his economic policy team at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., December 1, 2020. REUTERS/Leah Millis – RC2HEK94JZSM

December 14 – The Electoral College confirms Joe Biden’s election.

December 14 – A new variant of SARS-CoV-2 is discovered in the South East of England and announced by health officials in the United Kingdom. Early studies claim that it is 70 percent more transmissible and does not increase mortality. Similar but independent strains are later found in South Africa and Nigeria. 

December 28 – After easing lockdown restrictions in September and due to a sudden surge of cases, South Africa imposes stricter measures including having police officers on patrol to make sure residents are abiding by the 9:00 PM to 6:00 AM curfew. This is due to a sudden surge of cases.

December 30 –  Argentina’s Senate approves a bill which legalizes abortion for up to fourteen weeks of pregnancy.