Team Y looks back at the biggest news stories that shaped 2016 – a year marred by an increase in terrorist attacks, a spike in celebrity deaths, a surprise new president for the US, and GCC economies struggling to cope with ballooning budget deficits.
Oman had a wet start to the new year as heavy rains battered the capital city as well as surrounding wilayats, causing wadis to overflow, clogging up roads, and causing gridlocks in many cities.
Meanwhile, news of nine-time Grammy-award winning singer Natalie Cole’s death on New Year’s Eve left many in mourning. The news of her death also left many of Natalie’s local fans in tears, as she had been due to perform at the Royal Opera House Muscat in April.
In news around the region, Iran’s nuclear deal went into effect just 16 days into the year. Sanctions on both financial dealings and oil were lifted by EU nations and the US after inspections proved that Iran had dismantled the weapons as agreed upon by the nuclear deal.
In what was shocking news, the Islamic extremist group of Boko Haram in Nigeria raided the village of Dalori, Nigeria, on January 30, killing at least 65 people. Meanwhile, the group also abducted many children and burned the remains of the village.
But on a brighter note, Y Magazine celebrated its eighth anniversary on January 29 with a bumper issue, which saw us give away numerous prizes over a seven-day period. Meanwhile, we also wrapped up our Coolest Fresher competition after weeks of searching for the “coolest” first year students in colleges across Oman.
In what caused a whirlwind of conspiracies across the world, North Korea launched its Kwangmyongsong (or shining star) rocket to send a satellite into orbit on February 6. While North Korean officials claimed it was for peaceful purposes, the US and South Korea condemned the move as a thinly veiled attempt to test their intercontinental ballistic missile technology.
Nigeria fell into the limelight again on February 11, when 58 people were killed in a refugee camp after two suicide bombers (girls wearing bomb vests) detonated themselves in the camp that was set up for people fleeing Boko Haram.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Government and opposition agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” on February 22, which was brokered in a joint intervention by the US and Russia to bring stability to the country. Earlier in the month, several countries such as the US, Germany, Norway and Kuwait came forward to raise US$10 billion (RO3.85bn) in aid to Syria.
Meanwhile, Team Y investigated a devastating road accident, which occurred on January 28, when a bus carrying 34 students was hit by a truck in Bahla, killing four children, one teacher and both drivers.
As Oman prepared to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we also conducted the grand finale of Y We Are Soulmates, a competition that was designed to test the bond that holds various couples across the Sultanate together.
The UN Security Council imposed another round of sanctions on North Korea following its satellite launch that had sparked debates worldwide. The new sanctions called for inspections on all cargo entering and leaving the country.
March also marked Barack Obama becoming the first US President to visit Cuba in over 88 years. Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro discussed issues surrounding human rights as well as the long-standing US economic embargo during a joint news conference.
In news that shocked the world, Islamic extremist group ISIS carried out three co-ordinated suicide bombings in Belgium: two at the Brussels Airport in Zaventem and one at the Maelbeek metro station in central Brussels, on March 22. The incident left 32 civilians dead and 300 others injured.
In other news, the citizens of Myanmar joined hands to elect scholar and politician Htin Kyaw as the new president of the country.
However, March brought yet more tragedy to the Sultanate when an accident involving a tourist bus, a truck and a car left 18 people dead and more than a dozen injured. Meanwhile, heavy thunderstorms also swept the country, causing widescale flooding and damage to property.
April turned out to be one of the most memorable months of the year, when the country celebrated the return of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said to Oman on April 12 after nearly two months of medical check-ups in Germany.
Meanwhile, the month also marked a lot of firsts for Oman, as F1 legend David Coulthard and Omani racer Ahmed al Harthy introduced Formula One to Oman, as thousands gathered around the Muttrah Corniche to witness the action. The month also saw airport taxis being fitted with electronic meters for the very first time. In other news, Oman also became the first GCC country to draw up its draft for implementing Value Added Tax (VAT) across the country.
In other news, the world was greeted to news of the “Panama Papers” leak on April 3, referring to the revelation of millions of confidential documents that were leaked from a Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The papers revealed details of how some world-renowned businessmen, businesswomen, politicians and celebrities funnelled their assets into secretive shell companies set up in lightly regulated jurisdictions.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman announced the approval for the “Vision 2030”, a 15-year plan to reduce reliance on crude oil, and focusing on growth in non-oil areas with the goal of increasing the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Closer to home, Y took an in-depth look at the future prospects of solar-powered homes in Oman, and also took a tour in one of the country’s self-sustaining homes.
We kicked off the month with ISIS claiming responsibility for a series of three bombs that killed 80 people and wounded scores more in Baghdad, Iraq. In other news, Barack Obama confirmed that the leader of the Afghanistan Taliban had been killed in a US drone strike that targeted his car in Pakistan. President Obama said the death of Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour was an “important milestone in the fight against terrorism”.
In Oman, the closure of Al Sawadi Beach Resort in Barka left more than 70 workers, including 30 expatriates, stranded with no pay, food or electricity, according to local media. The workers had not been paid since November 2015. However, a local trade union came to their rescue.
Meanwhile, Majid Al Futtaim, the UAE-based shopping mall operator, announced plans to pump R0515 million into Oman’s retail sector over the next three years, including the Mall of Oman, which is planned to open by 2020.
Confusion over No Objection Certificates (NOC) has been widespread since the beginning of this year, when expats expressed concerns that they were not allowed to start a new job despite having an NOC.
However, the Director General of Passport and Residences confirmed that the NOC law would remain unchanged.
Tennis fans were thrilled when Serbia’s Novak Djokovic defeated Britain’s Andy Murray to win the final of the French Open tennis tournament, becoming the first man since 1969 to hold all four Grand Slam titles at the same time.
June witnessed the UK’s referendum on whether or not to leave the European Union. In a decision that rocked the world’s markets, Britain voted to leave the EU (a move commonly known as “Brexit”), forcing the resignation of prime minister David Cameron. He was replaced shortly afterwards by Theresa May.
Later in the month, three terrorists stormed into Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport in Turkey. Armed with explosives and guns, the terrorists opened fire before detonating the explosives. More than 40 people were killed, and hundreds more were wounded.
In Oman, the economic downturn continued to bite, with Y Magazine launching an investigation into the expat exodus, which has seen thousands leave the country since the beginning of the year.
South African “blade runner” and Paralympian Oscar Pistorius was found guilty for killing his girlfriend on Valentine’s Day in 2013, and was jailed for six years.
Meanwhile, Nintendo released its augmented reality game, Pokémon Go, for Android and iOS devices, becoming one of the world’s highest-grossing mobile app games.
Tragedy struck France once again; this time when the country was celebrating its most important holiday, Bastille Day. A large truck was driven through a crowd in the southern city of Nice. The truck barrelled through the crowds, fatally crushing 84 people and injuring more than 200; children included.
Back in Turkey, there was an attempted coup by a group of soldiers within the country’s military. Gunfire and explosions were seen throughout the two major cities of Turkey, Istanbul and Ankara, as the government, the military faction, and the people of Turkey clashed in the streets. Around 60 people died and 300 were arrested for their participation in the coup. This left 71 Omani nationals trapped in Turkey after the failed military coup but they were flown home by the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO).
The most awaited sporting event of the year – the Rio Olympics – kicked off the month of August, which saw some of the world’s most talented athletes gather in the South American country. The United States topped the medal table for the fifth time, winning 46 gold medals and 121 medals overall. Four athletes represented Oman; this was the nation’s ninth consecutive appearance at the Summer Olympics.
Elsewhere, Russia launched an airstrike on Syria from an airbase in Iran. The United States was upset by this move, claiming that the airstrike out of Iran could violate the UN Security Council resolution 2231.
In August, Y magazine undertook an investigation as accidents involving speeding reached an all-time high and deaths on the road rose more than in any other GCC country.
Our investigation found that drivers in Oman had to do more to combat the problem. Our team witnessed speeding and tailgating, dangerous manoeuvring and illegal parking during an hour-long drive from Muttrah to Seeb.
The break-up of “Brangelina” – the marriage of Hollywood superstars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt – shocked millions of fans around the globe. The couple had been an item since 2004, married in 2014 and have six children together. Speaking to CNN at the time, Pitt said: “I am very saddened by this but what matters most now is the well-being of our kids. I kindly ask the press to give them the space they deserve during this challenging time.”
In the digital space, Yahoo!’s woes continued; this time confirming that more than 500 million accounts had been compromised after the company was hacked back in 2014 in a “state-sponsored” attack. According to Yahoo!, the hackers stole names, passwords, birthdates and email addresses while it was unclear in which country the hack had originated.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin secured his fourth term as president after his party won most of the seats in the Duma, or parliament. OPEC members announced the first oil production cut in more than eight years in a bid to halt the sliding oil price while the first presidential debate in the United States between presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was held at Hofstra University in New York.
Closer to home, organisers of the Muscat Marathon announced ambitious plans to make the capital an international venue for marathons, placing it on the same level as Boston and London.
And as the Sultanate prepared to celebrate Eid Al Adha, the Government announced that both public and private sector workers would receive a generous five-day break to mark the blessed occasion.
It was good news for the winners of the annual Nobel Prize, which are announced by the Nobel Committee over the first two weeks of October. But perhaps the surprise winner was singer/songwriter Bob Dylan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Earthquakes continued to hit Italy, with the small town of Visso, in the centre of the country, taking the brunt of two temblors measuring 5.5 and 6.1 magnitude respectively. These earthquakes followed the devastating quake that had killed 300 people in August, also in central Italy, which left scores injured and cut off from emergency services.
Still in Europe, France announced that it was finally shutting down “The Jungle” – the notorious migrant camp in the port city of Calais, where up to 8,000 immigrants were waiting to get access to the United Kingdom.
In Oman, the impact of record-low global oil prices continued to take their toll, with the budget deficit surging by 43 per cent to RO4.37 billion in the first eight months of this year.
Brexit was back in the news after the High Court of Justice of England and Wales ruled that the UK Parliament had to approve Britain’s exit from the European Union before the process of leaving could begin. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon maintained that Scotland (whose people voted resoundingly to stay in the European Union) was entitled to negotiate a separate treaty with the EU.
But in the biggest news event of the year, Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential election – despite earlier polls that had put Hillary Clinton in the lead. Trump will be the 45th president of the US and will be sworn in on January 20, 2017. The win shocked the world and in the days following the result, it was clear that Trump was just as surprised. This led to outgoing President Barack Obama promising to “coach” his successor before he moved into the White House.
Closer to home, Oman was planning to celebrate an historic 46th National Day on November 18, and Y Magazine was leading the way with its third annual Portrait By A Nation competition.
It was a bad start to the final month of the year, with Kurdish militants claiming responsibility for two bombs exploding outside a football stadium in Istanbul, Turkey. The attack killed 38 people and injured another 155. In Germany, another attack on a Christmas Market in Berlin killed 12 people and left many others injured.
Meanwhile, the ongoing conflict in Syria reached a crisis point, with President Bashar al Assad’s government taking control of the city of Aleppo for the first time in four years. However, government bombs continue to kill scores of innocent residents and reduce neighbourhoods to rubble. While evacuations have been completed since the rebels were overthrown, the United Nations has condemned the violence in Aleppo.
Back in Turkey, Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador, was shot dead by an off-duty policeman while giving a speech at an art gallery in Ankara, which was captured by the media. As the shocking images and video went viral around the world, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the attack was “an attempt to undermine Turkey’s relations with Russia”.
A decision by the Indian government to demonetise the INR500 and INR1,000 banknotes left millions struggling to change the banned notes, including expatriates in Oman. Meanwhile, Sohar officially changed its name to Suhar and Thai Air Asia X suspended its flights from Muscat to Bangkok, saying low passenger numbers were to blame.
Let’s hope the New Year brings the world peace, joy and happiness.
Here’s a snapshot of some of the famous people who passed away this year:
(To Kill A Mockingbird) Age: 89
(The Beatles) Age: 90
(Star Wars’ R2-D2) Age: 81
(Coronation Street) Age: 90
(Fawlty Towers) Age: 86