What were 2022's most important global stories?

The National's writers choose their memorable and most personal articles, including the World Cup, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and extreme weather events

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It was a year of tragedy, with countless numbers of people killed in wars and destructive weather events.

But 2022 was also a year of triumph, with climate change pacts agreed by global leaders and joy across the Middle East as the region hosted its first World Cup in Qatar.

Here, writers from The National's foreign desk, stationed in Cairo, Beirut, Tunis, Washington, London, Abu Dhabi and elsewhere around the globe, choose their favourite and most personal articles.

Jamie Prentis

What was the story?

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its immediate impact, particularly on those fleeing the war.

While the signs had been there for months that an invasion was imminent, it was still a shock when it finally happened. I was working the night shift when the story broke in the early hours — later that day I was in Poland to cover Europe’s largest refugee crisis since the Second World War.

I spoke to countless people who had fled Ukraine for a safer place — and also to some Ukrainian men who were heading back to protect their country.

Why was it an important story?

Away from the rhetoric, the misinformation and politicians, it gave a human side to how the invasion had upended the lives of ordinary civilians.

What was memorable about working on it?

It was a tough story to cover emotionally, but I think it was important to get across how difficult the situation was and how the invasion affected the people who experienced it up close.

Hungry residents visit an aid distribution centre in Kherson, Ukraine. AFP

Ghaya Ben Mbarek

What was the story?

Covering Tunisia’s World Cup games has to be my favourite this year. Knowing the hard times Tunisians have been going through for a long time, it was a welcome change, which brought the chance to talk to people with smiles or happy tears on their faces.

Why was it an important story?

If you are familiar with Tunisia, you would know that most people here of all ages are eager to leave the country, r to look for better livelihoods. However, seeing people gathering to watch one football game, some sitting and others standing, makes you realise how we have become eager to seize the slightest moments of joy.

What was memorable about working on it?

I feel emotional just thinking about those stories as I am well aware that the overflow of emotions we saw was not only for football; it goes way beyond that, to a place where Tunisians dare to dream.

Nada El Sawy

What was the story?

My piece on Cairo’s City of the Dead facing destruction to ease traffic jams.

Why was it an important story?

This story was very personal. My mother passed away from cancer in 2018 and she had requested to be buried in her family cemetery in Cairo's City of the Dead. The cemetery belongs to my great-great grandfather Ismail Sedky. It is a very special place with a beautiful mausoleum.

What was memorable about working on it?

It involved a lot of legwork that paid off. When we went to the cemeteries, we ran into inspectors from the Cairo governorate walking through the area. The lead architect of the project showed up at an event at the public library, which made for a very intense debate.

I believe that the public activism combined with media coverage made a difference in ultimately sparing at least some of the city’s historic cemeteries.

Sinan Mahmoud

What was the story?

The fifth anniversary of driving ISIS out of the northern city of Mosul.

Why was it an important story?

Mosul was the first city to fall into the hands of ISIS during their blitz in mid-2014. It was the crown jewel of the extremist group’s “caliphate” that was declared in large areas of Iraq and Syria. The last major urban battle in the more than three-year gruelling war took place in Mosul. The city and surrounding areas emerged from that war destroyed. Some areas were completely destroyed.

What was memorable about working on it?

With other colleagues, we produced a cross-format package on this important story not only in Iraq but in the region. It not only shows the damage caused by wars, but also the hefty price of these wars on people as they struggle to get their lives back at the same time they suffer from traumatic memories.

Hamza Hendawi

What was the story?

It was Cop27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in November.

Why was it an important story?

One can hardly think of a bigger or more impactful story than some 40,000 leaders, prime ministers, ministers and delegates from nearly 200 countries gathered in one place for two weeks to search for a way to save our planet from the existential threat of climate change.

What was memorable about working on it?

Given the magnitude of the story, The National dispatched to the Red Sea resort town a five-member team to cover the talks — three reporters, including myself, a video journalist and a social media specialist. A 12-hour day was the norm for us in Sharm, just as it was for most of the 3,000 journalists who descended on the town.

We had the additional task of learning the seemingly endless terminology used by climate experts as well as trying to understand and reproduce in easy-to-grasp language the science that is at the heart of the key tasks of tracking and dealing with global warming.

Khaled Yacoub Oweis

What was the story?

The Syrian doctor who was imprisoned and tortured after being apprehended at a regime roadblock in Damascus while on his way to treat victims of the regime in the second year of the revolt against five decades of Assad family rule.

Why was it an important story?

I think the story was important to cover because it is about forgotten, non-violent victims of the conflict in Syria, and the horrors they witnessed or were killed in.

The story is set in the context of the continuing trial in Germany of a pro-regime physician who around the same time as Dr Shady's detention, according to prosecutors in Germany, was participating in the torture and murder of demonstrators.

What was memorable about working on it?

The story was hard to work on because it was about killing and torture and the details made it more harrowing.

Dr Shady gave graphic accounts of the suffering of other inmates. “Three died, one of them in front of me, and I could do nothing,” he said of the events a decade ago. “From a medical perspective, I never saw anything like this.”

Robert Tollast

What was the story?

Not the most important, but the most fun story was a piece on whether the CIA used pop music to help get a president of the Philippines elected.

Why was it an important story?

After some archival research with historian Hugh Wilford at Stanford University, we uncovered cables sent between famed US spy Edward Lansdale and the CIA headquarters in 1953.

What was memorable about working on it?

We found Lansdale not only co-produced a music record in support of favoured US candidate Ramon Magsaysay, but likely wrote the lyrics. By coincidence, a colleague’s mother was the daughter of Lansdale’s Filipino colleague — also a CIA agent — so I was able to get great colour on life in 1950s Manila, and Lansdale, their family friend “uncle Ed”.

From left: Dario Arellano, Manny Manahan, Edward Lansdale, Johnny Orendain and Oscar Arellano at Manila International Airport, in December 1960. Photo: Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Centre, Maxwell Air Force Base

Nada Al Taher

What was the story?

The mines left behind by Israel during the war in southern Lebanon, found and used by Yemen's Houthis in a more lethal form.

Why was it an important story?

The world already knew about the Iran-Hezbollah-Houthi link, but to have it documented in this way, using specific technology and tracing it back to the Israel-Lebanon war, was really interesting and important for me to learn about.

When the story broke, I was really surprised that experts were able to make that connection between Hezbollah, which presumably kept some of the mines for themselves, and then exported that technology to the Houthis who enhanced it and used it against civilians and children in Yemen.

What was memorable about working on it?

I thought it was a very painful reminder of the truly disgusting tactics used in war — and in this case, a side of the war that is widely reported on, but the nature of which is not quite explored.

Taniya Dutta

What was the story?

The unprecedented heatwave that gripped the country as early as March — usually the pleasant time of spring when the flower bloom is in its glory and light pullovers are still worn. But across northern India, the mercury was already hitting high levels by March. It was shocking as we had not seen such a situation before.

Why was it an important story?

Several parts of the country experienced scorching heat and, in the capital Delhi, my home city, temperatures rose beyond 43°C — the hottest March in nearly 75 years. More than 30 people died in the intense heat.

What was memorable about working on it?

The extreme weather was a grim reminder of the effects of climate change that have already started showing. By the end of the year, harsh weather events including heatwaves and flooding left at least 2,500 people dead.

Nada Homsi

What was the story?

The death of more than 100 people heading to Italy by sea has not deterred Lebanon's increasingly desperate population.

Why was it an important story?

Life in Lebanon is hard. It may never get easier, and the hardship may never bear fruit, except for the monied few. So I understand wanting to leave Lebanon by any means possible, given the impoverished circumstances of two-thirds of the population. At least 104 people — Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinians — died at sea trying to reach a better life.

What was memorable about working on it?

Lebanon is a tiny country at the mercy of a corrupt, negligent regime and its multiple geopolitical backers. That regime (many of its members, absurdly, are ex-warlords from the 1975-90 civil war) has sidestepped and rejected accountability for the multiple crises in Lebanon — foremost of which is the nation’s economic collapse.

To me the bank hold-ups, public sector collapse, bread shortages, power vacuum, increasing feudalism — they all come together to illustrate a level of desperation felt by residents who would rather die than stay in a nation that has repeatedly failed them and itself.

A relative carries the coffin of a woman who died when an inflatable boat sank off the Lebanese port of Tripoli, at her funeral in the city. Reuters

Mina Aldroubi

What was the story?

The situation of Mosul’s healthcare system, five years after the city was liberated from ISIS.

Doctors told me that the city had only about 1,000 beds to cater to nearly 1.5 million people. Promises of reconstruction by the government have not yet been fulfilled. Many say that corruption is so high in Mosul’s council that efforts to rebuild have been near to nothing.

Why was it an important story?

I hoped the story would help put pressure on the government and local authorities to do more to help civilians. To build hospitals, provide adequate health and public services.

I thought it was important to write stories on health to raise awareness of the suffering that ordinary Iraqis are going through. I hoped that it would also create an opportunity for investment in the health sector or for people to gain further assistance from humanitarian groups.

What was memorable about working on it?

It gave ordinary people a platform to speak and let the world know what was going on in the war-torn city. It’s not the best story to cover, it’s actually frustrating to know that Iraq has a lot of wealth but it is largely being mismanaged.

Kamal Tabikha

What was the story?

The fire at the Abu Seifein Church in Imbaba, a poor neighbourhood in Egypt's Giza, during which 44 people died. I was in shock when the story broke. When I arrived at the scene and spoke to members of the victims' families, many of whom were children, all I could think was what a terrible day it was.

Why was it an important story?

It was a tragedy that affected millions across the country and the world and highlighted some of the problems that come with living in a poor, densely populated area. It was also important as a means of acknowledging the experiences of an Egyptian minority community.

What was memorable about working on it?

To be honest, I did not enjoy covering it. It was a very stressful situation and fast-paced, in-between going to the site of the fire and then rushing to the hospitals where the victims were taken, and seeing their families' grief. It was a bit taxing.

Ellie Sennett

What was the story?

The story I most enjoyed working on this year was Captagon Crisis: US Congress moves to crack down on Syria-linked drug trade, which profiled Washington’s first step to create a coherent strategy to combat Captagon trade linked to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s regime.

The story tackles how Washington can be a “force multiplier” in efforts to combat the drug trade that has affected vast parts of the Middle East and helped to financially bolster the Assad regime amid international sanctions.

Why was it an important story?

The Captagon Act is important because it’s a first step in mandating a coherent, inter-agency strategy from Washington to address the drug-trade crisis in the Middle East. But the vagueness of its language, namely its complete lack of specifics for what that “inter-agency strategy” might actually entail, is also important as Washington grapples with shifting regional tides.

What was memorable about working on it?

The National has dedicated substantial coverage to the Middle East’s Captagon trade, so as a reporter in our Washington DC bureau with a particular Syria focus, it was meaningful for me to contribute to our outlet’s leading reporting on the regional crisis from all the way in the US.

Willy Lowry

What was the story?

Our deep dive into the impact that Elon Musk and his ambitious space project Space X was having on a small, impoverished Texas city.

Why was it an important story?

The story exposed the darker sides of Mr Musk's effect on this Texas community, which for generations got by on trade with Mexico, and revealed the uneasy balance that the city was trying to strike by simultaneously courting Mr Musk and trying to keep its working class ethos intact.

What was memorable about working on it?

It was fascinating to travel to Brownsville and explore the southernmost city in Texas. The progress that Mr Musk has made on Space X in only a few short years is nothing short of amazing and staring up from just a few meters away at these giant pieces of machinery that will travel to space is humbling. But most importantly I enjoyed getting to explore this vibrant community and some of the interesting characters that make it up.

Updated: December 29, 2022, 5:02 PM
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