The United Arab Emirates is formed


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Year
1972
Month Day
December 21

On December 21, 1972, the United Arab Emirates is formed. The union of six small Gulf kingdoms—to which a seventh was soon added—created a small state with an outsized role in the global economy.

A number of kingdoms on the norther coast of the Arabian Peninsula came under British protection through a series of treaties beginning in 1820. Concerned with protecting trade routes and their prized colony of India, the British navy protected what became known as the Trucial States in exchange for their cooperation with British interests. During this period of British protection, the region’s vast oil reserves were discovered. As the Trucial States and nearby kingdoms like Bahrain and Qatar became major suppliers of oil, the British Empire’s influence receded due to a number of factors, the two World Wars chief among them. In 1968, the British government declared that it would end the protectorate, withdrawing its military and leaving the people of the region to their own devices.

Dwarfed by their neighbors in terms of size, population and military capabilities, the small kingdoms of the region attempted to organize themselves into a single political unit. The negotiations proved difficult, and Bahrain and Qatar elected to declare independence unilaterally. With the British treaty due to expire and both Iran and Saudi Arabia eyeing their territory and resources, the kingdoms of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai and Umm al-Quwain became the independent United Arab Emirates on this day in 1972. Ras al-Khaimah joined two months later.

Since then, the UAE has been a sovereign nation, enjoying the profits of its natural resources—its reserves of oil and natural gas are the seventh-largest in the world, and it has the seventh-highest GDP per capita. This wealth has turned the Emirates into a major hub of trade, travel, tourism and finance. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world, is emblematic of the Emirates’ dramatic construction boom and rise to global prominence. Though its cities are some of the most modern in the world, the nation remains a monarchy governed by religious law—its president and prime minister are the absolute monarchs of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, respectively, and apostasy, homosexuality and even kissing in public are punishable by law.

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Baghdad falls to U.S. forces

On April 9, 2003, just three weeks into the invasion of Iraq, U.S. forces pull down a bronze statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolizing the end of the Iraqi president’s long, often brutal reign, and a major early victory for the United States.

Dramatic images of the toppled statue and celebrating citizens were instantly beamed around the world. With Hussein in hiding and much of the city now under U.S. control, the day’s events later became known as the Fall of Baghdad.

“Saddam Hussein is now taking his rightful place alongside Hitler, Stalin, Lenin, Ceausescu in the pantheon of failed brutal dictators, and the Iraqi people are well on their way to freedom,” then-Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said in a Pentagon briefing.

The Iraq War was far from over, however. Hussein was captured by U.S. forces in December 2003 and executed in December 2006, but the United States would not formally withdraw from Iraq until December 2011, eight years after the conflict first began. 

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Saddam Hussein captured


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Year
2003
Month Day
December 13

After spending nine months on the run, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is captured on December 13, 2003. Saddam’s downfall began on March 20, 2003, when the United States led an invasion force into Iraq to topple his government, which had controlled the country for more than 20 years.

Saddam Hussein was born into a poor family in Tikrit, 100 miles outside of Baghdad, in 1937. After moving to Baghdad as a teenager, Saddam joined the now-infamous Baath party, which he would later lead. He participated in several coup attempts, finally helping to install his cousin as dictator of Iraq in July 1968. Saddam took over for his cousin 11 years later. During his 24 years in office, Saddam’s secret police, charged with protecting his power, terrorized the public, ignoring the human rights of the nation’s citizens. While many of his people faced poverty, he lived in incredible luxury, building more than 20 lavish palaces throughout the country. Obsessed with security, he is said to have moved among them often, always sleeping in secret locations.

In the early 1980s, Saddam involved his country in an eight-year war with Iran, which is estimated to have taken more than a million lives on both sides. He is alleged to have used nerve agents and mustard gas on Iranian soldiers during the conflict, as well as chemical weapons on Iraq’s own Kurdish population in northern Iraq in 1988. After he invaded Kuwait in 1990, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in 1991, forcing the dictator’s army to leave its smaller neighbor, but failing to remove Saddam from power. Throughout the 1990s, Saddam faced both U.N. economic sanctions and air strikes aimed at crippling his ability to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. With Iraq continuing to face allegations of illegal oil sales and weapons-building, the United States again invaded the country in March 2003, this time with the expressed purpose of ousting Saddam and his regime.

Despite proclaiming in early March 2003 that, “it is without doubt that the faithful will be victorious against aggression,” Saddam went into hiding soon after the American invasion, speaking to his people only through an occasional audiotape, and his government soon fell. After declaring Saddam the most important of a list of his regime’s 55 most-wanted members, the United States began an intense search for the former leader and his closest advisors. On July 22, 2003, Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay, who many believe he was grooming to one day fill his shoes, were killed when U.S. soldiers raided a villa in which they were staying in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Five months later, on December 13, 2003, U.S. soldiers found Saddam Hussein hiding in a six-to-eight-foot deep hole, nine miles outside his hometown of Tikrit. The man once obsessed with hygiene was found to be unkempt, with a bushy beard and matted hair. He did not resist and was uninjured during the arrest. A soldier at the scene described him as “a man resigned to his fate.”

After standing trial, he was executed on December 30, 2006. Despite a prolonged search, weapons of mass destruction were never found in Iraq.

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Terrorists attack Ahmadiyya mosques in Pakistan

Year
2010
Month Day
May 28

As Friday prayers came to a close on May 28, 2010 in Lahore, Pakistan, seven terrorists wielding guns, grenades and suicide vests stormed into two crowded Ahmadi Muslim mosques and opened fire, killing 94 victims and injuring more than 120. The coordinated attacks took place just minutes apart.

At the Bait-ul-Noor Mosque in Model Town—an upscale neighborhood in Lahore—people ran for their lives as three gunmen entered with AK-47 assault rifles and grenades, opening fire on security personnel and worshippers alike. The attack lasted more than one hour as the attackers shot into the horrified crowd. Twenty-seven people were killed.

Several miles away, near Lahore’s main railway station, another three attackers barged into the Dar-ul-Zakir mosque with the same destructive intentions. They sprayed bullets into the congregation and took several hundred people hostage. A three-hour standoff ensued, as police and terrorists exchanged gunfire. Two of the attackers then detonated their suicide vests, killing 67.

The nightmare didn’t end for survivors the day of the mosque attacks. A few days later, gunmen attacked the intensive-care Unit of Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital, where victims and one of the alleged attackers were recovering. Twelve more people, including police officers and hospital staff, were killed. The attackers escaped.

A Punjab provincial chapter of the Taliban took responsibility for all the attacks.

Although the incidents came as a horrifying surprise, a leader at the Model Town mosque expressed that they had been receiving threatening phone calls in the weeks prior to the attacks. When Mosque leaders reached out to the police for more security, they received no response.

Unfortunately, threats and violence are nothing new for the Ahmadi, who are always met with discrimination from majority Muslim sects. Though the Ahmadi consider themselves Muslim, Pakistani law does not. Even an act as simple as declaring themselves Muslim is considered blasphemy under the law, and can be punished with fines, prison time or death. Sunni Muslim conservatives have led a recent campaign to ostracize the Ahmadis, and Sunni extremists have made them the targets of violence.

The victims of the attacks were buried in Rabwah—the home to the Ahmadi’s religious headquarters. Although Pakistani ministers, politicians and other prominent figures issued statements of condemnation toward the attackers and their actions, none of them attended the services—likely due to fear of political and religious backlash for publicly supporting the much-maligned sect.

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Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto assassinated


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Year
2007
Month Day
December 27

On December 27, 2007, Benazir Bhutto, a former Pakistani prime minister and the first democratically elected female leader of a Muslim country, is assassinated at age 54 in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi. A polarizing figure at home and abroad, Bhutto had spent three decades struggling to stay afloat in the murky waters of Pakistani politics. To many of her supporters, she represented the strongest hope for democratic and egalitarian leadership in a country unhinged by political corruption and Islamic extremism.

Born in 1953 to a wealthy landowning family, Bhutto grew up in the privileged world of Pakistan’s political elite, receiving degrees from Harvard and Oxford. Her father, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, founded the populist-leaning Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in 1967. He then served as president and prime minister from 1971 to 1977, when he was ousted in a bloodless military coup led by General Mohammad Zia ul-Haq and charged with authorizing a political opponent’s murder.

Her father’s overthrow and subsequent execution in April 1979 thrust a young Benazir Bhutto into the political spotlight. She and her mother, Nusrat, whom she succeeded in 1982 as the PPP’s chairperson, spent several years in and out of detention for protesting his arrest and campaigning against General Zia. In August 1988, Zia died in a plane crash; three months later, Bhutto won the general election and formed a government, becoming the first woman—and, at 35, the youngest person—to head a Muslim state in modern times. Dismissed in 1990 after less than half a term as prime minister, she was reelected in 1993 and served again until 1996. Both times, she was removed from office by the sitting president—Ghulam Ishaq Khan in 1990 and Farooq Leghari in 1996—amid charges of corruption and incompetent governance.

After her second dismissal from office, Bhutto and her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, faced allegations of various forms of financial misconduct, including accepting multimillion-dollar kickbacks and laundering money through Swiss banks. Zardari spent eight years in prison, while Bhutto lived in exile in London and Dubai with the couple’s three children. In 2007, under pressure from Bhutto’s supporters within the U.S. government, President Pervez Musharraf granted amnesty to Bhutto, Zardari and other Pakistani politicians with pending graft charges. On October 18 of that year, despite a spate of death threats from Islamic militants, Bhutto returned to Pakistan with plans to participate in the 2008 general election. On the day of her arrival, she narrowly escaped a suicide bomb attack on her convoy that killed at least 136 people and injured more than 450.

On December 27, 2007, as Bhutto was waving to a crowd at a PPP rally in Rawalpindi, a gunman opened fire on her bulletproof vehicle. A bomb then exploded near the car, killing more than 20 people and wounding 100 others, including Bhutto. She was pronounced dead later that night and buried the next day in her hometown of Gardi Khuda Bakhsh, next to her father’s grave. The exact cause of her death remains in dispute: A subsequent investigation by Britain’s Scotland Yard ruled that Bhutto died of head injuries caused by the force of the explosion, while the PPP maintained that she died from gunshot wounds.

Bhutto’s death sparked widespread violence across Pakistan, with riots and demonstrations leading to violent police crackdowns. The political turmoil caused international fears of instability in a nuclear-armed nation already embroiled in a fight against Islamic extremists. In the weeks and months following Bhutto’s death, Pakistani moderates and Western leaders waited anxiously to see who would emerge as her successor. Zardari, who had taken the helm of the PPP after his wife’s assassination, was elected president of Pakistan in September 2008.

In the month following Bhutto’s murder, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and Pakistani officials named Baitullah Mehsud, a Pakistani militant with links to al-Qaeda, as the mastermind behind the assassination. Mehsud, who denied the charge, was killed in a U.S. drone attack in August 2009.

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Gamal Abdel Nasser elected president of Egypt

Year
1956
Month Day
June 23

On June 23, 1956, 99.95 percent of Egyptian voters mark their ballots to elect Gamal Abdel Nasser as the first president of the Republic of Egypt. Nasser, who toppled the Egyptian monarchy in 1952 in a military coup, was the only presidential candidate on the ballot. In the same ballot, Nasser’s new constitution, under which Egypt became a one-party socialist state with Islam as the official religion, was approved by 99.8 percent of voters.

Gamal Abdel Nasser was born in Alexandria in 1918. As a youth, he participated in demonstrations against British rule in Egypt. After secondary school, he studied at a law college for several months and then entered the Royal Military Academy. In 1938, he graduated as a second lieutenant. While serving in the Sudan during World War II, he helped found a secret revolutionary organization, the Free Officers, whose members sought to overthrow the Egyptian royal family and oust the British. In 1948, Nasser served as a major in the first Arab-Israeli war and was wounded in action.

On July 23, 1952, Nasser led 89 other Free Officers in an army coup that deposed the regime of King Farouk. A new government was formed by the Nasser-led Revolutionary Command Council, of which Major General Muhammad Naguib was the figurehead leader. In 1954, Nasser emerged from behind the scenes, removed Naguib from power, and proclaimed himself prime minister of Egypt. For the next two years, Nasser ruled as an effective and popular leader and promulgated a new constitution that made Egypt a socialist Arab state, consciously nonaligned with the prevalent communist and democratic-capitalist systems of the Cold War world. On June 23, 1956, Egyptian voters overwhelming approved the new constitution and Nasser’s presidency.

One month later, President Nasser faced a major crisis when the United States and Great Britain reversed their decision to finance a high dam on the Nile River in light of an Egyptian arms agreement with the USSR. In response, Nasser nationalized the British and French-owned Suez Canal, intending to use tolls to pay for his high dam project. At the end of October 1956, Israel, Britain, and France attacked Egypt in a joint operation. The Suez Canal was occupied, but Soviet and U.N. pressure forced Israel, Britain, and France to withdraw, and the Suez Canal was left in Egyptian hands in 1957.

The episode greatly enhanced Nasser’s prestige in the Arab world, and in 1958 he oversaw the unification of Egypt and Syria as the United Arab Republic, of which he became president. He dreamed of bringing all the Arab world into the United Arab Republic, but in 1961 Syria withdrew from the entity following a military coup, leaving Egypt alone. From 1962 to 1967, Egypt intervened in a civil war in Yemen on behalf of the anti-royalists.

In 1967, increased Arab-Israeli tension led Egypt to mobilize its forces and demand the withdrawal of U.N. peacekeepers from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Egypt and five other Arab nations prepared for a united strike against Israel, but Israel preempted the attack, beginning the Six-Day War with the destruction of Egypt’s air force on June 5. Egypt and the other Arab belligerents were decisively defeated, and Israeli forces captured all the Sinai and crossed the Suez Canal. In the aftermath of the military disaster, Nasser attempted to resign, but popular demonstrations and a vote of confidence by the Egyptian National Assembly persuaded him to remain in office. After the Six-Day War, Nasser accepted greater Soviet military and economic aid, compromising Egypt’s status as a “nonaligned” state, such as Josip Broz Tito’s Yugoslavia or Jawaharlal Nehru’s India.

In July 1970, the Aswan High Dam was completed with Soviet assistance, providing a major boost to the Egyptian economy. Two months later, Nasser died of a heart attack in Cairo. He was succeeded by Anwar el-Sadat, a fellow Free Officer. Despite his military defeats, Nasser was a consistently popular leader during his 18 years in power. His economic policies and land reforms improved the quality of life for many Egyptians, and women were granted many rights during his tenure. His ascendance ended 2,300 years of rule by foreigners, and his independent policies won him respect not just in Egypt but throughout the world.

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Military seizes power in Egypt

Year
1952
Month Day
July 23

In Egypt, the Society of Free Officers seizes control of the government in a military coup d’etat staged by Colonel Gamal Abdal Nasser’s Free Officers. King Farouk, whose rule had been criticized for its corruption and failures in the first Arab-Israeli war, was forced to abdicate and relinquish power to General Muhammad Naguib, the figurehead leader of the coup.

The revolutionaries redistributed land, tried politicians for corruption, and in 1953 abolished the monarchy. In 1954, Nasser emerged from behind the scenes, removed Naguib from power, and proclaimed himself prime minister of Egypt. For the next two years, Nasser ruled as an effective and popular leader and promulgated a new constitution that made Egypt a socialist Arab state, consciously nonaligned with the prevalent communist and democratic-capitalist systems of the Cold War world. In 1956, he was elected, unopposed, to the new office of president. He died still in office in 1970 from a heart attack. Nasser was a consistently popular and influential leader during his many years in power.

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Palestine Liberation Organization is founded

Year
1964
Month Day
May 28

On May 28, 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization was founded. In February of 1969, Yasir Arafat was elected as its leader. By 1974, when he addressed the United Nations, Arafat had made significant strides towards establishing new respectability for the PLO’s campaign for a Palestinian homeland. But gaining legitimacy hinged on cooling down terrorism, and Arafat found it increasingly difficult to reconcile the moderate and extremist segments of Palestinian politics.

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Shah flees Iran


Year
1979
Month Day
January 16

Faced with an army mutiny and violent demonstrations against his rule, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, the leader of Iran since 1941, is forced to flee the country. Fourteen days later, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the spiritual leader of the Islamic revolution, returned after 15 years of exile and took control of Iran.

In 1941, British and Soviet troops occupied Iran, and the first Pahlavi shah, who they regarded with suspicion, was forced to abdicate in favor of his son, Mohammad Reza. The new shah promised to act as a constitutional monarch but often meddled in the elected government’s affairs. After a Communist plot against him was thwarted in 1949, he took on even more powers. However, in the early 1950s, the shah was eclipsed by Mohammad Mosaddeq, a zealous Iranian nationalist who convinced the Parliament to nationalize Britain’s extensive oil interests in Iran. Mohammad Reza, who maintained close relations with Britain and the United States, opposed the decision. Nevertheless, he was forced in 1951 to appoint Mosaddeq premier, and two years of tension followed.

In August 1953, Mohammad Reza attempted to dismiss Mosaddeq, but the premier’s popular support was so great that the shah himself was forced out of Iran. A few days later, British and U.S. intelligence agents orchestrated a stunning coup d’etat against Mosaddeq, and the shah returned to take power as the sole leader of Iran. He repealed Mosaddeq’s legislation and became a close Cold War ally of the United States in the Middle East.

In 1963, the shah launched his “White Revolution,” a broad government program that included land reform, infrastructure development, voting rights for women, and the reduction of illiteracy. Although these programs were applauded by many in Iran, Islamic leaders were critical of what they saw as the westernization of Iran. Ruhollah Khomeini, a Shiite cleric, was particularly vocal in his criticism and called for the overthrow of the shah and the establishment of an Islamic state. In 1964, Khomeini was exiled and settled across the border in Iraq, where he sent radio messages to incite his supporters.

The shah saw himself foremost as a Persian king and in 1971 held an extravagant celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the pre-Islamic Persian monarchy. In 1976, he formally replaced the Islamic calendar with a Persian calendar. Religious discontent grew, and the shah became more repressive, using his brutal secret police force to suppress opposition. This alienated students and intellectuals in Iran, and support for Khomeini grew. Discontent was also rampant in the poor and middle classes, who felt that the economic developments of the White Revolution had only benefited the ruling elite. In 1978, anti-shah demonstrations broke out in Iran’s major cities.

On September 8, 1978, the shah’s security force fired on a large group of demonstrators, killing hundreds and wounding thousands. Two months later, thousands took to the streets of Tehran, rioting and destroying symbols of westernization, such as banks and liquor stores. Khomeini called for the shah’s immediate overthrow, and on December 11 a group of soldiers mutinied and attacked the shah’s security officers. With that, his regime collapsed and the shah fled.

The shah traveled to several countries before entering the United States in October 1979 for medical treatment of his cancer. In Tehran, Islamic militants responded on November 4 by storming the U.S. embassy and taking the staff hostage. With the approval of Khomeini, the militants demanded the return of the shah to Iran to stand trial for his crimes. The United States refused to negotiate, and 52 American hostages were held for 444 days. Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi died in Egypt in July 1980. 

READ MORE: U.S.-Iran Tensions: From Political Coup to Hostage Crisis to Drone Strikes

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American journalist Terry Anderson kidnapped


Year
1985
Month Day
March 16

In Beirut, Lebanon, Islamic militants kidnap American journalist Terry Anderson and take him to the southern suburbs of the war-torn city, where other Western hostages are being held in scattered dungeons under ruined buildings. Before his abduction, Anderson covered the Lebanese Civil War for The Associated Press (AP) and also served as the AP’s Beirut bureau chief.

On December 4, 1991, Anderson’s Hezbollah captors finally released him after 2,455 days. He was the last and longest-held American hostage in Lebanon. Although his seven-year ordeal was the longest of the 92 foreigners abducted during Lebanon’s civil war, he was saved the fate of 11 hostages who died or were believed murdered. Anderson spent his entire captivity blindfolded and was released when the 16-year civil war came to an end.

In 1993, Anderson published Den of Lions, a memoir of his time in captivity. In 2002, he won a lawsuit against the Iranian government and was granted a multi-million dollar settlement. The next year, Anderson ran for the Ohio Senate as a Democrat, but was defeated.

READ MORE: Hostage Terry Anderson freed in Lebanon

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